Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation


In recent years, biblical theology and has seen a remarkable resurgence. Whereas, in 1970, Brevard Childs wrote Biblical Theology in Crisis, the quest for the Bible’s own theology has witnessed increasing vitality since Childs prematurely decried the demise of the movement. Nowhere has this been truer than in evangelical circles. It could be argued that evangelicals, with their commitment to biblical inerrancy and inspiration, are perfectly positioned to explore the Bible’s unified message. At the same time, as D. A. Carson has aptly noted, perhaps the greatest challenge faced by biblical theologians is how to handle the Bible’s manifest diversity and how to navigate the tension between its unity and diversity in a way that does justice to both.[1]

What is Biblical Theology? And how is Biblical Theology different from related disciplines such as Systematic Theology? These are two exceedingly important questions that must be answered by anyone who would make a significant contribution to the discipline. Regarding the first question, the most basic answer might assert that Biblical Theology, in essence, is the theology of the Bible, that is, the theology expressed by the respective writers of the various biblical books on their own terms and in their own historical contexts. In essence, Biblical Theology is the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. What is more, Biblical Theology is the theology of the entire Bible, an exercise in whole-Bible theology. For this reason Biblical Theology is not just a modern academic discipline; its roots are found already in the use of earlier Old Testament portions in later Old Testament writings and in the use of the Old Testament in the New.

Biblical Theology thus involves a close study of the use of the Old Testament in the Old Testament (that is, the use of, say, Deuteronomy by Jeremiah, or of the Pentateuch by Isaiah). Biblical Theology also entails the investigation of the use of the Old Testament in the New, both in terms of individual passages and in terms of larger christological or soteriological themes. Biblical Theology may proceed book by book, trace central themes in Scripture, or seek to place the contributions of individual biblical writers within the framework of the Bible’s larger overarching metanarrative, that is, the Bible’s developing story from Genesis through Revelation at whose core is salvation or redemptive history, the account of God’s dealings with humanity and his people Israel and the church from creation to new creation.

In this quest for the Bible’s own theology, we will be helped by the inquiries of those who have gone before us in the history of the church. While we can profitably study the efforts of interpreters over the entire sweep of the history of biblical interpretation since patristic times, we can also benefit from the labors of scholars since J. P. Gabler, whose programmatic inaugural address at the University of Altdorf, Germany in 1787 marks the inception of the discipline in modern times. Gabler’s address bore the title “On the Correct Distinction between Dogmatic and Biblical Theology and the Right Definition of Their Goals.”[2] While few (if any) within evangelicalism would fully identify with Gabler’s program, the proper distinction between dogmatic and Biblical Theology (that is, between Biblical and Systematic Theology) continues to be an important issue to be adjudicated by practitioners of both disciplines, and especially Biblical Theology. We have already defined Biblical Theology as whole-Bible theology, describing the theology of the various biblical books on their own terms and in their own historical contexts. Systematic theology, by contrast, is more topically oriented and focused on contemporary contextualization. While there are different ways in which the relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology can be construed, maintaining a proper distinction between the two disciplines arguably continues to be vital if both are to achieve their objectives.

The present set of volumes constitutes an ambitious project, seeking to explore the theology of the Bible in considerable depth, spanning both Testaments. Authors come from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, though all affirm the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. United in their high view of Scripture, and in their belief in the underlying unity of Scripture, which is ultimately grounded in the unity of God himself, each author explores the contribution of a given book or group of books to the theology of Scripture as a whole. While conceived as stand-alone volumes, each entry, like the canon, thus also forms a contribution to the larger whole. All volumes provide a discussion of introductory matters, including the historical setting and the literary structure of a given book of Scripture. Also included is an exegetical treatment of all the relevant passages in succinct commentary-style format. The biblical theology approach of the series will also inform and play a role in the commentary proper. The commentator permits a discussion between the commentary proper and the biblical theology that it reflects by a series of cross-references.

The major contribution of each volume, however, is a thorough discussion of the most important themes of the biblical book in relation to the canon as a whole. This format allows each contributor to ground Biblical Theology, as is proper, in an appropriate appraisal of the relevant historical and literary features of a particular book in Scripture while at the same time focusing on its major theological contribution to the entire Christian canon in the context of the larger salvation-historical metanarrative of Scripture. Within this overall format, there will be room for each individual contributor to explore the major themes of his or her particular corpus in the way he or she sees most appropriate for the material under consideration.

This format, in itself, would already be a valuable contribution to Biblical Theology. But there are other series that try to accomplish a survey of the Bible’s theology as well. What distinguishes the present series is its orientation toward Christian proclamation. This is the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation commentary series! As a result, the ultimate purpose of this set of volumes is not exclusively, or even primarily, academic. Rather, we seek to relate Biblical Theology to our own lives and to the life of the church. Our desire is to equip those in Christian ministry who are called by God to preach and teach the precious truths of Scripture to their congregations, both in North America and in a global context.

It is our hope and our prayer that the 40 volumes of this series, once completed, will bear witness to the unity in diversity of the canon of Scripture as they probe the individual contributions of each of its 66 books. The authors and editors are united in their desire that in so doing the series will magnify the name of Christ and bring glory to the triune God who revealed himself in Scripture so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved—to the glory of God the Father and his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and for the good of his church. To God alone be the glory: soli Deo gloria.

[1] D. A. Carson, “New Testament Theology,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (ed. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 810.

[2] The original Latin title was Oratio de iusto discrimine theologiae biblicae et dogmaticae regundisque recte utriusque finibus.