Biblical and Systematic Theology

Biblical theology aims at tracing the themes and individual theologies that are situated in and run through a particular biblical writing. Once this is accomplished the next crucial task is to integrate that material across the entire Bible.[1] A biblical theological approach initially focuses on the historical and literary context of a writing and then relates that epoch to the epochs of writings that precede or follow.[2] According to Gerhard Hasel,

the task of biblical theology is to provide summary explanations and interpretation to the final form of these blocks of writings, with a view to letting their various themes emerge, to indicate their dynamic interrelationship, including their continuities and discontinuities with one another, and to expose the progressive revelation of divine matters.[3]

Systematic theology, as the name implies, focuses on organizing the message of the Bible according to a particular system.[4] The aim is to determine the theological facts of the Bible and then arrange them into a logical system.[5]  John Frame writes, “Systematic theology seeks to apply scripture by asking what the whole Bible teaches about any subject.”[6] Also, systematic theology utilizes outside sources such as other ancient jewish writings and ancient faith creeds while incorporating philosophical and logical techniques.

In view of these definitions, the presenting challenges in relating biblical and systematic theologies revolves around the ordering of principles─biblical theology is diachronic and systematic theology is synchronic. Also, the hermeneutical goals pursued by each presents relating challenges in that biblical theology is committed to an inductive interpretative process whereas systematic theology engages in a topical, logical and hierarchical interpretive process. Lastly, biblical theology is limited in its cultural engagement due to its literary focus whereas systematic theology is closer to cultural engagement due to its use of diverse rationalities. [7]

[1] Marvin C. Pate, et al. The Story of Israel: A Biblical Theology. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 12. [2] Gregory K. Beale.  A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 9.[3] Gerhard F. Hasel. Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate. (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998), 112. [4] D.A. Carson. “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology.” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by Alexander, T. Desmond, and Brian S. Rosner, (Leicester (England): Inter-varsity, 2000, pp. 89-104), 101. [5] Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 51. [6] John M. Frame. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 8. [7] Carson, Systematic, 102-103.

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