What is Biblical Theology? Thoughts from Graham Goldsworthy and Edmund Clowney

What is biblical theology?  Prior to coming to seminary, the phrase ‘biblical theology’ was unfamiliar to me–unfamiliar, not in the sense that I had never heard the phrase before, but because I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant.  “Of course we want our theology to be biblical,” I thought,  “That seems like an obvious point to make.”  I was unaware that biblical theology was a specific branch of study, akin to systematic theology or disciplines like Old Testament and New Testament studies.  For a season it was frustrating to constantly hear the refrain, “We need biblical theology,” and not really understand what people were talking about.  Perhaps, you have had a similar experience.  If so, I hope these few quotes from Graham Goldsworthy and Edmund Clowney will help you better understand what biblical theology is and why we should view it as a valuable discipline.  The following quotes, however, will provide you with a general idea of what biblical theology entails, but they only scratch the surface.  The books from where these quotes are taken would be a good place to start your investigation into this important discipline.

What is biblical theology?
Biblical theology is a means of looking at one particular event in relation to the total picture.  This total picture includes us where we are now, between the ascension of Jesus and his return at the end of the age.  Biblical theology enables us to see ourselves in relation to the far off events in the Bible narratives.  To uncover our relationship to a particular event is to uncover meaning for us.–Graham Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 21

Biblical theology is a way of understanding the Bible as a whole, so that we can see the plan of salvation as it unfolds step by step.  It is concerned with God’s message to us in the form that it actually takes in Scripture.–Graham Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 29

Biblical theology is a formal way of determining and describing the theological plan and significance of the whole Bible.–Graham Goldsworthy, Gospel Centered Hermeneutics, 259

…Vos defines biblical theology as ‘that branch of exegetical theology which deals with the process of self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.–Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, 15

How should we do biblical theology?
“As to the method, I prefer a biblical theological investigation of any theme or subject to begin with the gospel, because it is through Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, that we are put in touch with truth and ultimate reality.”–Graham Goldsworthy, Gospel Centered Hermeneutics, 68

First, diligent Bible reading is essential.  No scholarly technique can be substituted for knowledge of the Bible.  The NT writers commonly assume in their readers a knowledge of the OT beyond that possessed by many of today’s ministers.  The points of connection that illuminate the structure of biblical theology may be brought to light by light by the exhaustive research of the scholar, but they are often evident on the surface to the Christian knows his Bible.–Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, 112-113

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