What is the academic field of Biblical Theology?
Theology is the study of God. Biblical theology, therefore, is the study of God based on the teachings of the Bible. However, in academic study, Biblical Theology focuses on the theology presented in the books of the Bible or by certain human authors of the Bible rather than on a particular theological topic. For example, Biblical Theology includes Old Testament and New Testament Theology, yet also covers areas such as Pauline Theology (the theology of Paul's writings) and Lukan Theology (the theology of Luke and Acts).
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Historically, many point to German scholar J.P. Gabler as the pioneer in this field of study. He sought to understand how each particular biblical book presented theology related to areas of Christian belief. For example, one can look at the Christology of the Book of Hebrews or Joshua's view of miracles. Each is an example of theology focused within a particular Bible book.
One helpful way to understand Biblical Theology is in comparison with Systematic Theology. In Systematic Theology, effort is focused on what the entirety of the Bible teaches about a particular theme or topic. In Biblical Theology, the emphasis is on a particular theme within a certain book or author or at times what a particular book or author says regarding multiple areas of theology.
For example, in Matthew, Jesus is presented as the Jewish Messiah. As such, much attention is given to connections with Jewish prophecies; titles related to showing Jesus as the Messiah are given; the Sermon the Mount provides documentation of His royal teachings; and His miracles, parables, and His resurrection help show His power over the other powers presented in Matthew (human, natural, and supernatural). In Luke, Jesus is presented as Son of Man, emphasizing His humanity to a Gentile audience. He is both human yet a healer of humanity. Jesus comes to earth to live among earthly beings, yet holds power over evil spirits, resists the temptations of Satan, and holds power over death.
In Systematic Theology these same areas are examined across all 66 books of the Bible. Jesus is studied under the subsection of Christology, looking at the predictions found in the Old Testament, the fulfillment of these prophecies in the earthly life of Christ recorded in the Gospels, the teachings of the apostles related to Jesus, and as yet unfulfilled predictions by Jesus and His coming return.
Both Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology are important for study. Biblical Theology allows a more intense focus on areas of emphasis in a particular book or author, providing tremendous insight in the unfolding of the narrative within a particular part of the Bible. Placing the Biblical Theology of the various books within their contexts and then combining the insights found throughout the Bible in Systematic Theology enriches Bible study and gives a more profound understanding of God.
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