Importance of Biblical Theology

In this article Ian Grant, Teaching Elder, from North Shore Presbyterian Church and Grace Theological College helps us to see the importance for Biblical Theology.

Many of us have grown up hearing classic Old Testament stories; Noah and the ark, Moses and the burning bush, Jonah and the “whale.” Do these accounts relate to each other at all or are they simply a collection of isolated tales? Many of us have learned isolated, individual verses of scripture, never really knowing or understanding how they relate to the paragraph, chapter or book they are found in.

So why do Christians have the tendency to read the bible stories in isolation from their literary or historical context and from one another. Or why do we read, or even memorise, a verse here and a verse there and give little attention to the context and the point the writer is making. We don’t read any other form of literature that way. When we read an editorial or a

magazine article, or a letter from a loved one, we don’t read a sentence here or there, we read and consider what is being said, in its context, the context of the whole. Context is key, to a right understanding of any literature and especially the Bible.

When you hear the statement; “The Bible is The word of God”- what does that imply for you? Biblical Christianity says that God reveals the true story of God’s creation, the rebellion of mankind and God’s resolution of this ‘Problem.’ It is all recorded for us in the scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments. So when we confess the Scripture as “The Word of God” it implies a consistent, coherent message within a unified whole, a single comprehensive message. Consequently there is a context into which any particular passage fits within the over-arching Biblical story-line.

The Bible tells a story. Like all stories, the biblical drama has a sequence that must be honoured in the retelling. For it to be the story that it is, we must tell about the way things were at the beginning, what went wrong, how it was resolved, and how it ended. Each episode sets the context for the next...if you don’t you end up with a different story.” [1]

If we do not appreciate the Word of God, as a coherent message, we end up with a different story, a different Gospel. The church is called to proclaim God’s message, his Gospel not our own.

We can summarise the revealed Biblical story-line, in its simplest form, as follows:

Creation / Rebellion [Fall] / Redemption / Consummation.

That is CRRC:

• The Context - Creation

• The Conflict: the dramatic problem of the story - Rebellion & ‘Fall’

• The Resolution of the conflict - Redemption

• The Conclusion - Consummation

Biblical theology is the study of the Word of God which enables us to appreciate the scripture, as it is revealed and the implications that this progressive, redemptive, historical revelation brings to our christian faith and practice.

The Bible records God’s words and acts given in the course of history. This revelation was not given at one time, nor in the form of a theological dictionary. It was given progressively, for the process of revelation accompanies the process of redemption. Since redemption does not proceed uniformly but in specific periods of time determined by God's acts, manifested and marked in the scriptures. There are great divisions in the history of redemption (e.g., revelation through Abraham, Moses, David and Christ), however there is a living relationship between these successive eras, as developing manifestations of one gracious design.[2]

Biblical theology formulates the character and content of the progressive revelation in these periods, observing the expanding horizons from age to age. BT is the fruit of such contextual studies and an essential step in the formulation of summary statements concerning the teaching of the bible as a whole.3

Biblical theology enables us to understand what it means when the NT declares the OT to be incomplete without Christ. We come to understand the OT in the light of its goal, which is Christ. Jesus is indispensable to a true understanding of the OT as well as the NT. Consider the words of Jesus as he spoke with the men on the Emmaus road (Lk 24:13-35) and to the disciples (Lk 24:36-49).

So what are the implications of Biblical Theology and of this revealed story, to how we read scripture?

• The scripture is primarily about God and his revelation through word and deed, his historical action in his world.

• The scripture is not an A-historical account. All of the parts do fit into the overall story, God’s Story.

• We must read with ‘the grain’, with the very form of scripture as one comprehensive story, rather than a collection of isolated, unrelated stories, because ‘the grain’ informs the message of how God addresses the problem of mankind’s rebellion and sin.

• The scripture is not simply a set of beliefs - it is God’s revelation, his authoritative word given in historical contexts.

However, we have typically separated truth from story, or doctrine from history, thus abstracting the truth, taking verses out of context. We need to be aware of this danger when we exalt our theological systems rather than first coming to the Bible as God gives it, as a comprehensive and united story.

Let us then recognise that we are all part of a more comprehensive overarching story and in so doing we can read our Bibles well and become more convinced that we are called to directly participate in this grand story as Image Bearers of God, loving God and loving neighbour, wherever we are.

Remember - Context is Key.

[1] Michael Williams, Far as the Curse is Found:The Covenant Story of Redemption, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2005), 1.

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[2] Edmund P Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 1961), 15 3 Clowney, 15-16.

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