biblical theology


biblical theology
Systematic theology derived from or based on the Bible. Many such theologies have been published, especially by Protestant scholars, since an early formulation of the task in 1787, by the German Johann Gabler. He maintained that it was necessary to expound the theology or theologies contained in the Bible and then to relate that theology to modern doctrines of God, the Incarnation [[➝ incarnation]], the Holy Spirit, redemption, the Church, the sacraments, and resurrection life.
The second part of the task was undertaken throughout the 19th cent. by theologians who used biblical terminology with modern meanings in tune with current philosophy and culture. Rigorous historical examination of the Bible led to the view that God had revealed himself to human understanding gradually over the centuries; atrocities in the OT came to be regarded as primitive, and subsequently, it was thought, higher ethical standards were progressively recognized. Biblical categories such as ‘sin’ and ‘redemption’ were redefined by these theoreticians; the concept of miracle was rejected; the teaching of Jesus about the coming of the Kingdom was expounded in language congenial to liberal democratic, optimistic Western society.
After the optimism had been shattered by the world war of 1914–18, the biblical categories of human depravity became more believable and the Calvinist theology of K. Barth's [[➝ Barth, Karl]] interpretation of Paul's Epistle to the Romans (1919; ET1933) heralded a new movement of ‘Biblical Theology’ in a specialized sense. This was dominant in America and Britain from about 1935 to 1965; it was fashionably pessimistic about human nature, opposed the idea of ‘progressive revelation’, and its slogan was ‘God who acts’. NT eschatology was proclaimed as a relevant interpretation of human history. The movement did not reject the methods of historical criticism of the Bible, and this openness was one of the factors which made it as acceptable in universities as its prophetic potential popularized it in pulpits.
Biblical themes of redemption, resurrection, freedom were held to have a validity of their own which made sense of human life and experience. NT concepts such as kingdom [[➝ kingdom of God]], salvation, sacrifice, grace were to be understood by their OT background; and the OT usage of such terms seemed to be straining forward to a fulfilment which was reached in the NT. Thus, Biblical Theology was a theology of unity rather than diversity, and as such could be presented as a coherent and attractive intellectual proposition. It had, too, ethical consequences. NT assertions about family and social life, such as the husband's precedence over his wife (Eph. 5:22) or the authority of the State (1 Pet. 2:13) were cited as a norm of Christian obedience: such hierarchies were regarded as definitive. Biblical Theology was therefore inclined to interpret categories like ‘time’ in a Hebraic rather than Greek way; everlasting life in the NT was said to be in terms of resurrection, not of immortality—and this could be presented as attractive to modern Christians. For the ‘resurrection of the body’ implies that the richness and variety of human and social life will be fulfilled in eternity. It is a confident affirmation of the meaningfulness of historical existence.
As a movement in scholarship, Biblical Theology as expounded in its heyday faces many objections. Its emphasis on revelation and history, exodus [[➝ Exodus, the]] and covenant, do not speak to burning issues of today, such as racism, the values of other religions, and the exploitation of natural resources. Feminist [[➝ feminism]] theologies have exposed the patriarchal presupposition of much biblical literature; and it is difficult for many modern readers of it to be comfortable where women are regarded as subordinate and sometimes maligned. The Bible cannot be forced into a theological unity round one or two chosen themes; on the contrary, the sheer diversity of the material, even within the NT alone, is striking. And the insistence on the Hebraic background (and permanent validity) of NT concepts does not do justice to the proven penetration of Greek thought and culture even in Palestine of the 1st cent. Above all, historical criticism has made categories unusable that depended upon history that has turned out to be non-history. The Biblical Theology movement did, however, influence ecumenical cooperation and also the worship of the Churches. ‘Outlines of Biblical Services’ for students were published, and since 1970 many of the official liturgical developments have shown the influence of Biblical Theology. It is assumed by the lectionaries [[➝ lectionary]] that events in the life of Jesus are anticipated by similar events in the OT and that the parallels somehow constitute the divine plan or pattern which can be celebrated in worship. Modern liturgies therefore contain many quotations and echoes of biblical words, assembled sometimes in a way seemingly innocent of modern NT scholarship, and criticized for phrases of vacuous tautology.

Dictionary of the Bible.

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