Biblical Theology

“Biblical theology is principally concerned with the overall theological message of the whole Bible. It seeks to understand the parts in relation to the whole and, to achieve this, it must work with the mutual interaction of the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of the various corpora, and with the inter-relationships of these within the whole canon of Scripture.”

This definition is taken from the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Biblical theology (BT) is one of the most rewarding ways to study the Bible and especially if you have good tools. Here are a few of the best BT resources I have used in the past:

From Eden to the New Jerusalem: Exploring God’s Plan for Life on Earth by T. Desmond Alexander ($14). Often BT is theme-centered and here Alexander takes the theme of God’s dwelling place and walks from Genesis to Revelation. God’s hope of global presence on the earth (Eden) was shattered by sin. Later, God’s presence on earth is concentrated with a nation (Israel), then in a tent (tabernacle), then in the city of Jerusalem (the temple), then to the Savior (Christ as the tabernacle; John 1:14), then to a group (the Church), and—in the future restoration—God’s presence will dwell across a rejuvenated planet (New Earth). If you have never read any BT, this little book by Alexander is a wonderfully developed and well-written example of how BT is done.

Also, on this topic of God’s dwelling presence it should be noted that a more detailed work is G. K. Beale’s contribution to the New Studies of Biblical Theology series (edited by D.A. Carson), titled: Temple and the Church’s Mission: Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God ($20). I highly recommend it. But if you are new to BT stick with Alexander.

Another very good general intro to BT and it’s major themes of study see According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy ($16).

Biblical Theology by Bruce Waltke and Gordon Fee ($60). This collection of 23 lectures (29 hours in length) was recorded in 1995 at Regent College. Waltke covers an intro to BT and OT BT in 12 lectures. Gordon Fee covers NT BT in 11 lectures. The collection is packaged with two PDF files: a massive 390-page OT lecture outline (Waltke) and a 125-page NT lecture outline (Fee). An outstanding resource.

The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology by Charles H. H. Scobie ($36). A thematic approach to BT that sketches out the connections between the OT and the NT on 20 major themes of the Bible under four broad headings of God’s Order, God’s Servant, God’s People, and God’s Way. A one-volume BT of the entire Bible will leave the reader unsatisfied at times but for thematic scope Scobie is useful and especially if you are new to the discipline of BT.

New Dictionary of Biblical Theology ($34). Contributions from the best biblical theologians including D.A. Carson, Alexander, Scobie, and Graeme Goldsworthy. It’s comprised of three sections: (1) essays that provide a wonderful intro to BT, (2) a look at the theology of each canonical book of the Bible, and (3) articles on the 200 most prominent biblical themes. It illustrates how BT is done canonically and thematically.

I came to value the NDBT when I took a BT course at RTS-DC (Futato/VanPelt). It is the most often referenced dictionary in my library as evidenced by the fact that I own three copies—one printed copy in my home office, one printed copy in my work office, and an easily searchable electronic version in Logos. Some books would be a bargain if they were twice the cost. The NDBT is one of them.

Old Testament Theology by Paul R. House ($27). The most readable single-volume BT of the OT, House is always inspiring and packed with theological punch. Slightly more advanced readers will appreciate Bruce Waltke’s An Old Testament Theology: A Canonical and Thematic Approach ($30).

Introduction to Biblical Theology by D.A. Carson. I list this out of personal curiosity. This is a course taught each autumn at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I’m told that after an intro to BT, Carson teaches through 20 various themes from Scripture. As hard as I’ve tried, I have been unable to find any existent audio recordings of this course or even copies of personal notes from students of the course. If you do have notes from this course, and you are willing to share them, please let me know in the comments. [UPDATE: Daniel passed along two versions of student notes from the course. Thanks a ton!]

Other works that come to mind (like Geerhardus Vos) but I’ll stop.

So what about you? What other BT works have you benefited from?

Mt Sinai + Mt Transfiguration

I find it interesting how Mark’s version of the Mount of Transfiguration echoes the Mount Sinai episode in the Old Testament. At least seven parallels surface:

  • The most obvious is that Moses is present at both Mount Sinai and the Mount of Transfiguration (Ex, Mark 9:4)
  • Both accounts take place on a high mountain (Ex 24:12–15, Mark 9:2)
  • In both cases a cloud covers the mountain (Ex 24:15–16, Mark 9:7)
  • A six-day interval leads up to the climactic events (Ex 24:16, Mark 9:2)
  • In both cases God speaks from the mountain on the seventh day (Ex 24:16, Mark 9:2,7)
  • At Mt Sinai, Moses’ face shines (Ex 34:29–35); at Mt Transfiguration, Jesus’ clothes shine (Mark 9:3)
  • The fear of the people in seeing Moses is paralleled by the fear of the disciples (Ex 34:30, Mark 9:6).

And another interesting connection links Moses and Jesus together in the Transfiguration. In the OT Moses says to look forward to a coming prophet—a new prophet—and when he comes, listen to him. Compare this to God’s words at the Mount of Transfiguration:

  • Moses: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Deut 18:15).
  • God: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7).

Exactly what Mark intended us to understand through this parallelism is not immediately clear. But it does seem to indicate two things:

  1. As God delivered revelation through Moses at Sinai, so now Jesus is a new revelation of God. Everyone should be listening.
  2. Jesus’ redemptive work is the outworking of an ancient redemptive lineage. After his transfiguration, Jesus turns his thoughts and his words to his approaching death and resurrection (see Mark 9:10-11, 31). This work is firmly rooted in the OT promises.

William Lane, in his commentary on Mark (NICNT), summarizes the data well when he concludes:

When the cloud lifted, Moses and Elijah had vanished. Jesus alone remained as the sole bearer of God’s new revelation to be disclosed in the cross and resurrection. Moses and Elijah had also followed the path of obedience, but having borne witness to Jesus’ character and mission, they can help him no more. The way to the cross demanded the submission of the Son and Jesus must set out upon it alone.

Creation and Salvation

Typically we do not think of the topics of creation and salvation together. The topic of creation typically arises for discussions about origins and science and even marriage. But not deliverance. Yet the topics belong together.

One benefit to living through 50 inches of snow in 5 days is that you get a chance to work on your core muscles. The second benefit: lots of reading time. And in my reading I came across several unexpected references that in some way wed the themes of creation and salvation/deliverance. I’ve typed them out for my own future reference and reproduced them here for anyone interested:

1. Creation and deliverance as the structure of the Pentateuch. John Sailhamer: “In the Pentateuch, as elsewhere in the Bible, the twin ideas of creation and salvation are inseparably linked. This is expressed compositionally at the macrolevel in the fact that the Pentateuch begins with an account of creation (Gen 1:1) and reaches its culmination point in the salvation story of the exodus (Ex 14). … The compositional macrostructure of the Pentateuch (Gen 1–Ex 15) therefore is a witness to the centrality of creation in the biblical notion of salvation.” [The Meaning of the Pentateuch, pp. 578–579]

2. Creation and covenant. Francis Watson: “Creation represents the beginning of the history of God’s covenant relationship with mankind. It is only the beginning of that history, and not the totality; it establishes the foundation or stage upon which the rest of history can unfold. And it is truly the beginning of that history, and not an independent topic that can be considered in isolation from its narrative context.” [Text and Truth, p. 267]

3. Creation as deliverance. The creation account seems to presume some type of primordial dualism. Bruce Waltke: “the creation narrative is a story of redemption, of the triumph of light over darkness, of land and sky over water, both of which are essential for life” [An Old Testament Theology, 181]. Rolf Knierim: “Creation and Israel’s own history are correlated under the aspect of Yahweh’s salvific actions. Creation out of chaos is seen as the first in a chain of salvific actions. Here, world order and Israel’s history are united under one purpose, liberation from chaos and oppression. Thus, it can be said that Yahweh is the creator of the world because he is its liberator from chaos, just as he is the creator of Israel because he is its liberator from oppression. Therefore, the notion of liberation belongs to both creation and Israel’s history.” [The Task of Old Testament Theology, p. 209–201]

4. Creation and deliverance in Psalm 136. Note the connection between vv 4–9 (creation) and vv 10–22 (deliverance). God the creator is God the deliverer.

5. Creation as deliverance in Psalm 74:12–17. John Goldingay: “God won a victory at the Beginning as one who effected great deliverance. ‘Deliverance’ [v 12] usually refers to God’s acts in Israel’s experience … But reference to smashing the sea monsters’ heads would more directly suggest a conflict at the time of creation. That is confirmed by the subsequent reference to God’s establishing the plants” [Old Testament Theology, 1:67].

6. Cosmic order and social order in Isaiah. L. H. Osborn: “The prophetic use of creation imagery is even more striking in many parts of Isaiah 40–55; the prophetic promise to the exiles is built upon reminders of God’s creative activity. If God can bring the cosmic order into being God can certainly restore order to Judah. The correspondence between cosmic order and social order is also implicit in the OT concept of salom” [New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 431].