All theology, if it is true to itself, is biblical, for it is defined as a discourse about God. This God, who "dwells in light inaccessible" (2 Tm 6.16), has revealed Himself; and the Bible is the record of this revelation. In the sense that any true theology's point of departure and primary datum is the Bible, it is of necessity biblical. But, if all theology is biblical, not every theology is biblical theology. This term, which might have sounded tautological to the Fathers and surprising to the scholastics, is of relatively recent coinage even as the sacred discipline it designates is still in quest of sharper definition. It is the purpose of this article to study the meaning of the term "biblical theology" mainly by tracing the general lines of its development and by considering its formulations in recent theologies of the OT and the NT. This, at the present stage in the progress of biblical theology, is as near a definition of the science as one can come; for no satisfactory definition has yet been formulated. There is, however, nothing surprising in this. Often in the history of the Church a reality is lived for centuries before its definition is formulated; and the newness of a term to designate such a reality is no argument against either its verity or its validity (an example from the mid-20th century is the term "collegiality").
Sacred Scripture is God's word to man; theology is man's word about God. This word of man about God, in its prophetic, sapiential, priestly, evangelical, or apostolic formulation, was and remains a theology. To understand God's word—to expound its meaning, elucidate its content, and interpret its message—has been the task of the Church from its very inception. This task has ever been conditioned by the needs and circumstances of successive generations.
Patristic Age. In the first centuries of the Christian Era, patristic exegesis was determined by the vital needs of a nascent Church. Early controversies and scripturally founded apologetics, whether with Trypho the Jew or with the pagan celsus, paved the way for a progressive elaboration of orthodox expressions of dogma and the attempt to synthesize in a systematic theology the datum of revelation with human knowledge. This was not simply the preference of a so-called Greek bent of mind, but the response to a conscious need to grow in the understanding of the faith. The world in which the Church was born and the very circumstances of its early growth conditioned the formulation of its message and oriented its theological speculation for centuries.
The Fathers put the rational speculations of their culture at the service of the faith. In their orthodox expressions of dogma and their systematic formulation of a theology they used Sacred Scripture, not merely as a support for their tenets, but also as a norm for their formulas and as a source for their theological vocabulary. But the expanding needs of their culture exerted pressures that caused their exegetical methods to multiply into an everincreasing number of so-called senses. In their interpretation of the OT they followed, and greatly enlarged upon, the method already discernible in the NT: the quest for the "spirit" behind the "letter," projection of the mystery of Christ, and recourse to typology as its foundation for allegory. In exploring the action of the mystery of Christ upon the Christian soul and in reflecting upon its eschatological consummation, the Fathers sought to see what the facts of Christ's life symbolized. As, in principle, their exegetical interpretation of the OT was justified by the NT, so their understanding of the NT received its general guidelines from the Fourth Gospel. Thus the cultural milieu of Hellenism favored a systematic development of Pauline allegory and Johannine symbolism. While the mystery of Christ was and remained the unique object of biblical revelation, its elucidation was conditioned by the day-to-day needs of the Church. Pastoral care and the liturgy required a preponderance of allegory and symbolism; apologetics and controversies necessitated a stress on the historic and literal sense of the Scriptures.
Medieval Age. In the Middle Ages, as long as the pastoral care of souls predominated, the patristic method was followed both by compilers, such as St. bede, the Venerable, and by creators, such as St. bernard of clairvaux. But from the 13th century on, a double trend, systematic (starting with the lectio of the pagina sacra and terminating in the summae ) and apologetic (refuting the claims of the Jews and the Muslims) became evident. In both trends a strongly rational reflection was discernible, for Aristotelian dialectic had furnished theology with an instrument that was then judged to be adequate. Consequently, whereas in the early Middle Ages, in the use of Sacred Scripture, the principles of St. au gustine were adhered to and the practice of St. gregory i the great was followed, in the later Middle Ages it was St. jerome's authority that was in the ascendancy. Jerome's attention to the original text, care to translate well, effort at literary analysis, and regard for the historical references of the biblical narrative made his work most valuable for the theologizing of men, such as hugh of saint-victor and St. albert the great. But it was left to the great genius of St. thomas aquinas to achieve a new synthesis between biblical revelation and rational speculation. He stressed the literal sense of Scripture as that alone on which a theologian can base his work. His exegetical method still remained faithful to the principles found in the NT and followed by the Fathers. His theology, like that of the scholastics and the Fathers, drew its inspiration from the Bible, rested its arguments upon it, and attempted to interpret and systematize its message. In that sense it was biblical.
Thus, from its earliest days, confronted by the need both of apologetics and controversies with the enemies without and of the pastoral care for its members within, the Church's use of the Bible followed lines of development that increasingly came to regard it as an arsenal for its polemics, a storehouse of premises for its dogmatic syntheses, and a rich mine of wisdom for its pastoral ministry. The drift away from the Bible as an integral entity that merited study by itself and for itself was accentuated in post-Tridentine times, whether by the instinctive reaction against the Reformers' sola scriptura or by the very educational system of the clergy. It was to culminate in the reduction of the Bible to ciphers cited as proof texts that had priority of place over patristic references and Denzinger numbers. The biblical message thus underwent the myriad procrustean coercions to which minds sharply honed in Aristotle's Organon chose to subject it in the defense of the faith (e.g., justification, predestination, Redemption) and the codification of Christian morals (e.g., divorce, the Sabbath rest, mental reservation).
17th to 19th Centuries. The term "biblical theology" was not always used with the same technical connotations and nuances that it possesses today. One of the first to use it, Abraham calov (1612–86) in his Systema locorum theologicorum (12 v. Wittenberg 1655–77), employed it to describe the whole field of biblical and exegetical studies. But it was Johannes Cocceius (1603–69) who first attempted to "theologize in a purely biblical manner," to formulate a theology drawn from the Bible alone. His Summa doctrinae de foedere et testamentis Dei (Leipzig 1648) belongs to a school that came to be known as "Federal theology." This school was a reaction against the aridities of scholasticism not unlike the reaction evident in the pietism of that age, which was exemplified in the work of Philipp Jakob spener (1635–1705). Toward the end of the 18th century Gottlieb Christian Storr (1746–1805) published his Doctrinae christianae e solis sacris libris repetitae pars theoretica (1793), in which he too attempted to develop a system of theology drawn solely from the Bible. Though these theologies foreshadowed future trends, they exerted no direct influence on the development of the discipline of biblical theology.
This discipline, ironically enough, owes its beginnings much more to the collegia biblica, the collections of scriptural proof texts that were then used in dogmatic theology. Although the texts were accompanied by exegesis and appropriate comment to facilitate their use, there was very often no attempt to distinguish the OT from the NT, or to differentiate various authors and modes of composition. The traditional order of subjects was followed in such collegia as Sebastian Schmid(ius)'s Collegium biblicum … iuxta seriem locorum communium theologicorum (1671). But the biblical theology of that era, which most approximated what modern usage understands by the term, was Carl Haymann's Biblische Theologie (1768).
New Hermeneutics. There was, however, no real possibility for the rise of biblical theology in the modern sense until a revolution in hermeneutics took place, allowing a less rigid understanding of the principles of analogia fidei and analogia scripturae. Two 18th-century scholars, Johann Salomo Semler (1725–91) and Johann August Ernesti (1707–81), did much to bring this revolution about by stressing the need to interpret the Sacred Scriptures in a purely grammatical and historical way. From that time on, books began to appear that used the classical proof texts with greater independence of dogmatic tracts and their structure. It was Anton Friedrich Büsching (1724–93) who gave, in his dissertatio inauguralis at Tübingen in 1755, what has been considered a first sketch of pure biblical theology. He followed it in 1757 with his work Epitome theologiae e solis literis sacris concinnatae. In 1785 and 1789 Wilhelm Hofnagel published the two volumes of his Handbuch der biblischen Theologie that sought to discover the meaning intended by the original author through an examination of the classical proof texts arranged in a theology-anthropology-soteriology pattern. But the man whose work "seems to stand at the point of transition between the old dogmatic interest in the proof texts and the science of biblical theology which was shortly to be born" (Dentan, 21) was Gotthilf Traugott Zachariae (d. 1772). His Biblische Theologie (1772–75) attempted the study of the Bible as a whole according to a plan derived from the Bible itself and not limited simply to the study of isolated dicta probantia.
Biblical Distinguished from Dogmatic Theology. Opinion is almost unanimous in crediting Johann Philipp Gabler's Oratio de justo discrimine theologiae biblicae et theologiae dogmaticae regundisque recte utriusque finibus, which was his inaugural lecture at the University of Altdorf, March 30, 1787, with being the starting point of the modern discipline of biblical theology. Gabler (1753–1826) set up a distinction between dogmatic theology and biblical theology: whereas dogmatic theology is a philosophizing on divine things ("theologia dogmatica e genere didactico, docens, quid theologus quisque pro ingenii modulo, vel temporis, aetatis, loci, sectae, scholae similiumque id genus aliorum, ratione super rebus divinis philosophetur," Opuscula Academica, ed. T. A. and I. G. Gabler, 2 v. [Ulm 1831] 2:183–184), biblical theology is basically historical, setting forth the thoughts of the inspired writers on divine things ("e genere historico tradens quid scriptores sacri de rebus divinis senserint" [ibid. 183]). The method advocated by Gabler for the study of biblical theology consisted of (1) the interpretation of the scriptural passage on purely grammatical and historical grounds; (2) comparison of passages with each other to note both similarities and differences; and (3) the formulation of notiones universae, but without distorting them.
The biblical theologians who followed in Gabler's wake were, like Gabler himself, rationalists. This is perhaps why they could make such a break with dogmatic traditions and traditional modes of theologizing. Among them was Georg Lorenz Bauer (1755–1806), who was the first really to follow Gabler's distinction and write a biblical theology that broke away from the proof texts and was independent of dogmatic theology. His Theologie des A.T. oder Abriss der religiösen Begriffe der alten Hebräer (1796) not only separated the OT from the NT, but clearly distinguished persons, periods, and books of the former. It comprised two parts—theology (God's relation to man) and anthropology (man's relation to God)—and was intended as a preparatory step toward the study of NT theology. What had hitherto been a study of the literary, exegetical, and historical questions raised by the Scriptures would henceforth also be a study of the religion of the Bible, of its "religious ideas." Shortly after Bauer's work there appeared the three volumes of G. P.C. Kaiser's Die biblische Theologie (1813–21), which was the first work to apply systematically the Religion sgeschichtlich method to biblical interpretation. This work was followed by D. G. C. von Cölln's Biblische Theologie (1836), which insisted on the need of treating the biblical ideas "genetically" and conceived biblical theology as but the first chapter in the history of dogma.
Adoption by Conservatives. Rationalism and Religionsgeschichte (history of religion or comparative religion), however, were not the only factors operative in the formative years of biblical theology. Hegelian dialectic in the philosophy of religions was bound to be applied to the study of the religion of the Bible. Care to present the matter chronologically was, of course, quite characteristic here as is seen, for example, in Die biblische Theologie (1835) of J. K. Wilhelm Vatke (1806–62). To this triple threat to biblical orthodoxy the conservative reaction furnished a necessary and needed counterweight. As often happens initially, the opposition to the methods and the principles behind them led to a rejection of the discipline; but as happens no less often, the initial opposition yielded to a moderated tolerance and ended in the adoption of biblical theology by the conservative circles, which were by no means slow to recognize that it was not incompatible with devoted acceptance and orthodox interpretation of Sacred Scripture.
A representative work of the conservative circles was the Vorlesungen über die Theologie des A.T. (1840) of J. C. F. Steudel (1779–1837), which, using a strictly grammatical-historical method, attempted to show the content of the OT in such a way as to make it possible to understand the religious notions of a particular period in history. Steudel's student G. F. Oehler published a work that dealt exclusively with the theory and method of OT theology. His Prolegomena zur Theologie des A.T. (1845) stated that the function of OT theology was to discover the "idea" that formed the basis of OT religion, namely, "the divine Spirit." "Old Testament religion," Oehler wrote, "is rather mediated through a series of divine acts and commands and through the institution of a divine state" (quoted by Dentan, 45).
Methodological Refinement. In the latter half of the 19th century there was another clash of opinions that proved both illuminating and fruitful. In 1878 Julius wellhausen published his Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels, which for a while at least seemed to have dealt the death blow to all OT theology. By insisting that Israel's religion was but another instance in the field of Religionsgeschichte, it reduced OT theology to an erudite history of the religion of Israel, to one more instance of a general pattern of religious development discernible in any of the religions of the ancient Near East. But reaction to this trend was not slow in coming. The Handbuch der alttestamentlichen Theologie of August Dillmann (1823–94; posthumously edited and published by Rudolf kittel in 1895) pointed out the inadequacy of Well-hausen's approach by underlining the uniqueness of Israel among its neighbors as well as the uniqueness and incompleteness of the OT "religion of holiness." It was, however, Hermann Schultz who produced the greatest work on OT theology in the 19th century. His Alttestamentliche Theologie: Die Offenbarungs-religion auf ihrer vorchristlichen Entwicklungsstufe went through five editions between 1869 and 1896 and was translated into English (OT Theology [Edinburgh 1892]). Schultz pointed out that the method of biblical theology is historical; its function, to supply material needed by systematic theology and furnish a rule against which to measure later development; and its unifying principle, the kingdom of God on Earth. Consequently, as the subtitle of his work indicates, OT theology without its NT counterpart is onesided and incomplete, while NT theology without an OT theology remains unintelligible. Fortunately the great work of Schultz on OT theology was paralleled by the Lehrbuch der Neutestamentlichen Theologie (1896–97) of Heinrich Julius Holtzmann (1832–1910) and the Über Aufgabe und Methode der sogennanten neutestamentlichen Theologie (1897) of William Wrede (1859–1906).
Incomplete Success. From the early beginnings of biblical theology, the theology of the OT and that of the NT were closely linked together. The successes and failures, the merits and shortcomings of the various biblical theologies inevitably influenced later theologies of both Testaments. Throughout the various periods, the Augustinian principle of Novum in Vetere latet, Vetus in Novo patet was never very far from the minds of those who attempted to write a biblical theology. Many of the authors saw in their theologies of the OT but a first step toward the formulation of a NT theology. In the study of the NT, no less than in that of the OT, the influence of the en lightenment and the effects of rationalism, Religionsgeschichte, and Hegelianism were in evidence (see hegelianism and neo-hegelianism). Both the literary-critical and the historical methods, in OT and NT theologies alike, were greatly enriched by the improved understanding of biblical languages and the extensive contributions of archaeology to the history of the biblical period. Both methods shed light on the progress of biblical revelation and its successive steps. As G. L. Bauer had divided his biblical theology into a study of the religion of the Jews before Christ, the religion of Jesus, and the religion of the Apostles, so similarly, Wilhelm M. L. De Wette, Biblische Dogmatik des A. und N.T. (1813), distinguished two steps in the OT, the religion of Moses and the religion of the Jews, and two levels in the NT, the religion of Jesus and its interpretation in the message of the Apostles.
In both OT and NT theologies the influence of Well-hausen was greatly felt, and with the triumph of his school, theological interest declined in favor of the historical. The contributions of Religionsgeschichte were numerous, but its failure to evaluate the matter of both Testaments theologically was serious and damaging. The influence of G. W. F. hegel was greatly felt in both Testaments also, and here too a serious failure threatened to bring biblical theology to a halt. Hegelian dialectic might have succeeded in analyzing phenomena, but it failed to comprehend the living experience underlying them. There were some not wanting those who carried Hegelian dialectic to absurd extremes, e.g., Eduard Zeller (1814–1908) and Albert Schwegler (1819–57) in the NT and Wilhelm Vatke and Bruno bauer in the OT. Thus they did great disservice both to the method they employed and the science in which they employed it.
Varied though the attempts were, both in method and in achievement in the biblical theology of the 18th and 19th centuries, the discipline began its growth into maturity only in the period that preceded and followed World War II. Apart from the many trends in thought and the reactions to them, solid scientific contribution in a variety of fields contributed a great deal toward the maturation process of biblical theology. The work of Sir James George Frazer and W. Oesterly in anthropology; of Max Weber in sociology; of Gustav Dalman (1855–1941) in geography; of A. Alt, W. F. Albright, and M. Noth in history and archaeology; of Emil Schürer, Wilhelm bous set, and Richard Reitzenstein (1861–1931) in the background of Christianity—all were contributions that made the study of biblical theology not only possible but necessary. That biblical theology is a modern discipline owes as much to these various contributions as to the fact that the orientation of thought and interest in theology before the 18th century lay elsewhere.
Old Testament Theologies. In the period between the two world wars biblical theology received a fresh and new start along a path that has proved most rewarding and rich in possibilities. The number of works on the theology of either Testament has been so great since the 1920s as to preclude anything resembling even a quick survey of the field. The most that can be hoped for in this brief space is to mention some indicative works in a field that has produced much of lasting worth and interest. The aggregate of biblical and allied sciences continues to widen scholars' knowledge of, and increase their acquaintance with, the biblical world. The school of Form-geschichte, or biblical form criticism, and its application to the literature of the OT, the better understanding of Israel's cult and worship as well as the various influences operative therein, and the growing appreciation of the Prophets and their function in the life of Israel all made, and continue to make, the study of OT theology more fruitful and rewarding.
Eissfeldt and Sellin. Otto Eissfeldt's article "Israelitisch-jüdische Religionsgeschichte und alttestamentliche Theologie" (Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 44  1–12) could well be taken as a starting point of the most recent and the richest period in the development of OT theology. Eissfeldt insisted that OT theology has religious faith as its only organ of knowledge and divine revelation as its subject. Accordingly, after a historical investigation of Israelite religion, OT theology must undertake a systematic presentation of the timeless truths of OT revelation. It was Ernst Sellin who first elaborated an OT theology according to Eissfeldt's conception. His Alttestamentliche Theologie auf religionsgeschichtlicher Grundlage (2 v. Leipzig 1933) was divided into two parts: the first treated the religion of Israel; the second presented OT theology according to the categories of God, man, and eschatology. The "holiness of God" was seen as the central and ruling idea throughout.
Eichrodt. Though Walther Eichrodt's "Hat die alttestamentliche Theologie noch selbständige Bedeutung innherhalb des alt. Wissenschaft?" (Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 47  83–91) challenged Eissfeldt's conception of OT theology three years after its publication, it was not until 1933 that the first volume of Eichrodt's monumental Theologie des A.T. (3v. Leipzig 1933–39; Eng. tr. of v. 1, London 1961) appeared. The work was completed in three parts: God and People, God and the World, and God and Man—a plan that Eichrodt derived from his teacher, Otto Procksch, whose own Theologie des A.T. did not appear until 1949 (Gütersloh). Eichrodt was consciously engaged in describing a living process. He described his work as "taking a cross section [Querschnitt ] of the realm of OT thought"; hence it had to maintain throughout a constant interplay between a historical survey and a theological synthesis. Eichrodt sought to delineate the religion of the OT as a "self-contained entity" that, despite the mutability of historic conditions, manifests "a constant basic tendency and character." The operative principle of this constancy is covenant theology, which, as T. C. Vriezen pointed out later, underscored the communion aspect rather than the contract aspect of the relation between Yahweh and His people. Moreover, even though the Prophets often seem to have avoided the term "covenant," it must be realized that for them "election" was but the beginning of a permanent intercourse between Yahweh and His people. Thus they too could make their valuable contribution to covenant theology. The work of Eichrodt, which has gone through several editions, will always remain a major milestone in the development of OT theology.
Vriezen. T. C. Vriezen's Hoofdlijnen der Theologie van het Oude Testament (Wageninen, Holland 1950), Eng. tr., S. Neuijen, An Outline of OT Theology (Oxford 1958), stresses, more than Eichrodt did, the OT as an integral part of the Christian Scriptures. For Vriezen biblical theology is not a purely descriptive and historical science, nor is it sufficient to present it systematically by taking a cross section through the history of the religion of Israel. The OT, first and foremost, is a book bearing witness to a divine revelation. This witness is not systematic, nor can it be forced into a system. To present it efficiently and faithfully, a thematic exposition of the most representative themes of Israel's faith and their interrelations would be required. Accordingly, Vriezen presents his Theology in themes of God; man; intercourse between God and man, between man and man; and God, man, and the world present and to come. This loose thematic pattern allows Vriezen to include Israel's cult and piety into his OT theology, two basic elements of OT life and thought that many another OT theology has not succeeded in including.
Von Rad. Since Eichrodt's, several other OT theologies have appeared (by the Protestant scholars Otto J. Baab, Edmond Jacob, George A. F. Knight, and G. Ernest Wright; and by the Catholic scholars Paul Heinisch, Albert Gelin, Jacques Guillet, and P. van Imschoot); but one of the most important among them is Gerhard von Rad's Theologie des A.T. (2 v. Munich 1957–60; Eng. tr., Edinburgh 1962–65). It is important, not simply because of the respect commanded by its author in the field of OT studies, but because it embodies an approach and a point of view that are bound to leave their mark on the evolution of biblical theology. Von Rad objects to Eichrodt's approach to the OT because of the fact that Israel's witness is primarily to what Yahweh has done in history. This witness is not a structured pattern of religious concepts; and consequently, biblical theology cannot be limited to a Begriffsuntersuchung (investigation of concepts) that, of its nature, tends to abstraction and generalization. salvation history (heilsgeschichte) dominates the OT, and biblical theology must elaborate this sacred history within a theological framework. OT theology must assume a historical form; it must be a retelling of the narrative (Nacherzählung ) of Yahweh's redemptive acts. (See G. E. Wright, God Who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital [Chicago 1952].)
New Testament Theologies. Theologies of the NT have kept pace with those of the OT. Here, however, apart from the theologies as such, one major phenomenon stands as a unique accomplishment in the field: Gerhard kittel's Theologisches Wörterbuch zum N.T. (Stuttgart 1935– ; abbreviated Kittel ThW or TWNT), which has as yet no comparable counterpart for the OT. Of course, Kittel's dictionary itself gives due attention to the vocabulary of the OT, and several recent biblical dictionaries (by J. J. von Allmen, X. Léon-Dufour, and A. Richardson) that treat OT concepts are available; but none treats the OT vocabulary with the thoroughness with which Kittel's monumental opus treats the NT. Whatever may be said in criticism of the method used in Kittel ThW, it will long remain an indispensable tool of far-reaching consequences in NT theologies, however diverse their approaches and their points of view.
Moreover, there are two opposing points of view that have been expounded in the realm of NT interpretation. Their protagonists are the Swiss theologian Karl Barth and Marburg's Professor Rudolph Bultmann. Their main concern, and it is a crucial one, is the role of reason vis-àvis the divine message: whether a philosophy is necessary to make the categories of this message meaningful, and, if so, which philosophy? Bultmann responds affirmatively and opts unequivocally for Heideggerian existentialism as the philosophy best suited to achieve self-understanding by encounter with the message.
Special Problems. Still another factor in contemporary NT theology is the result of the method of Redaktionsgeschichte (investigation of the editorial work done by biblical authors on earlier material). After the work of W. Marxsen on Mark and H. Conzelmann on Luke, not only has the Synoptic question changed radically, but the individual theological genius of each Synoptist has come to the fore. If previously there were Pauline and Johannine theologies, henceforth there should be Marcan, Matthean, and Lucan theologies as well. Another factor operative in the NT and one of far greater complexity here than in the OT is the passage from the doctrine of the NT to the dogmatic formulations of the Council of chalcedon. The intertestamental period has, in recent times, been brought into sharper focus both through a better knowledge of later Judaism and rabbinic literature and through the epoch-making discoveries at Qumran. (see dead sea scrolls.) But the period immediately following NT times is far more complex and problematic both because of the controversies that are discernible even in the evangelical and apostolic formulations of the NT itself and because of the introduction of categories other than the Semitic into the formulation of the message in post-Apostolic times. All these factors must be taken into account in NT theology; but beyond all this, it must be remembered that, even more than for the OT, NT theology is theology within the Church, of the Church, and for the Church. With this in mind, not the least important of the problems that must be confronted in NT theology is that of the canon. (See Stendahl, 428–430.)
Modern Studies. To see what has been done concretely in NT theology, only a few examples can be given here. Bultmann's Theology of the N.T., tr. K. Grobel (2v. London 1952–55) for all the shortcomings noted even by its favorable critics (such as extreme critical positions, failure to take the Synoptists as serious theologians, a somewhat too rigid adherence to lexicographic method, and insufficient attention to the influence of the OT on the NT) is an important landmark in the evolution of NT theology. Of two possibilities of presenting NT writings, "as a systematically ordered unity" or in their variety in which they can then "be understood as members of an historical continuity" (2:237), Bultmann chooses the latter. His rejection of the first alternative raises the question of the possibility of presenting NT theology as a single system composed of the ideas of the different writers, a NT "system of dogmatics."
Ethelbert Stauffer's N.T. Theology, tr. J. Marsh (London 1955) first appeared in Germany in 1941 and antedates Bultmann's by more than 10 years. In it Stauffer follows precisely the alternative rejected by Bultmann. Accordingly, he divides his Theology into three parts: the development of primitive Christian theology, the Christo-centric theology of history in the NT, and the creeds of the primitive Church. The dominant theme of the theology is well summed up by the title of the second part: the NT presents a theology of history, a redemptive history of God's redemptive acts centered in Christ. Bultmann objects that this method "transforms theology into a religious philosophy of history."
The differences between the two approaches are as yet not resolved. NT theologies have appeared using one or the other alternative in their elaboration: Richardson and Oscar Cullmann, for example, favor the"synthetic" approach, whereas the two major Catholic contributions to the field, Joseph bonsirven's and M. Meinertz's, opt for the other. The differences between the two are crucial, not because either approach would deny the evident Christocentricity of the NT or its historical element, but because ultimately they differ on what precisely NT theology in particular, and biblical theology in general, is all about.
Complexity and Unity of Biblical Revelation. Differences in method and in object both in the theology of the NT and of the OT are due ultimately to the complexity of the subject of biblical theology itself. It is not sufficient to classify it either as the first chapter in the history of dogma or an intermediary step between exegesis and dogmatic theology; nor is it enough to say its task is merely descriptive or merely systematic; nor is it accurate to characterize it either as a historic science or a theological discipline. Biblical revelation is in history, and thus historical; it is the revelation of a personal God, and thus theological; and it is addressed to man in a community, and thus anthropological and sociological. This revelation inexorably moves toward its climax and plenitude in the revelation of Christ; hence it is both Christological and Christocentric. But in revealing Christ to man God revealed man to himself; therefore, in this profounder sense it is anthropological. Moreover, through all the periods of Heilsgeschichte, through the endless succession of events, civilizations, cultures, and languages, there is both a community of spirit and of expression among the sacred authors and a unity of purpose and direction in the sacred books. The unity of the Bible, an essential datum of faith, is verified at the concrete level of language at the same time that it is, in essence, theological.
Because of this unity of the Bible it is possible to have a biblical theology that strives to be a direct echo of the immediate content of the inspired message in it. Such a theology can assume any of the various points of view that mark the principal moments in the development of revelation: Yahwist or Deuteronomic history, priestly or sapiential tradition, the Synoptic Gospels, Pauline doctrine, apocalyptic frescoes, or Johannine mystique. But beyond all this, a biblical theology can assume a broader point of view, seek to comprehend the unity of the Bible as an integral whole, and attempt to grasp the organic continuity and intelligible coherence that guarantees the profound unity of all the moments of the history of salvation. Then, and perhaps only then, can one hope to formulate a strict definition of biblical theology, its function, and its purpose.
Vatican Council II and Biblical Theology. Under the heading "The Revision of Ecclesiastical Studies" the council's "Decree on Priestly Formation" directed that "Dogmatic theology should be so arranged that the biblical themes are presented first" (Optatam totius 16). According to this statement, dogmatic theology is to begin the consideration of doctrine from Scripture and (methodologically speaking) from Scripture alone. The approach is to consist in an organic presentation of the meaning of the biblical passages that have bearing upon a particular doctrine so that a comprehensive grasp of the content and the actual state of the doctrine in Scripture is achieved. Only then is tradition (i.e., the later comprehension of biblical doctrine as it has occurred historically in the Church) to be considered. Finally, the contemporary understanding of the doctrine is to be taken up.
This conciliar directive on Scripture as the methodological starting point for dogmatic theology logically emerges from the council's comprehension of the Bible's place in the totality of divine Revelation, outlined in the "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation". Scripture itself attests to a variety of ways in which God has made Himself and His will known: in historical events; in the divinely inspired understanding and communication of the religious meaning of these events; in the choice of the OT patriarchs as vehicles through whom an initial understanding of His existence and of His plan for the human race was made known; in the activity and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, and especially in His death on the cross and His resurrection (Dei Verbum 1–6). In this context of variety in God's communication of Himself and His will Sacred Scripture has arisen, willed by God as a perpetual record of His self-communication and in itself another form of that communication (ibid. 7). The origin of Scripture is not an accident of human history, but one of the ways in which God chooses to manifest Himself and His will. Just as the OT Scriptures arose to enshrine and to continue God's self-communication to the people of Israel, so the NT Scriptures arose, again at the inspiration of God, to enshrine and continue the divine self-communication in and through Jesus Christ and through the Apostles (ibid. 7–8).
The grasp of the religious content of Scripture in terms of totality, whether the totality be fully developed doctrine or doctrine on its way to completion or contained in Scripture only inchoately, lies among the general aims of biblical theology. Vatican II accepted this particular function of the discipline and directed that it be employed in dogmatic theology.
The methodological separation of the Bible from tradition and from contemporary theology possesses evident values. The acceptance of Scripture as the starting point of doctrine helps to prevent the distortion of the meaning of the biblical text that occurs when theological conceptions and understandings of a later time are introduced into it. Second, the idea of tradition as development in the understanding of biblical doctrine becomes clearer and, at least in its positive aspect, is legitimated. Third, the foundational importance of Scripture opens the way to interaction among the various branches of theology: biblical, patristic, historical, dogmatic, moral, liturgical, and pastoral. The whole of theology, including exegesis and biblical theology, has constantly to reevaluate itself in terms of its relationship to Scripture; each branch can illumine the other out of its own experience with Scripture. Finally, seeing Scripture in its totalities provides a balanced view of its religious content and better enables those who have teaching functions in the Church to convey its meaning to their contemporaries.
The Nature of Biblical Theology. When the terms "Bible" and "theology" are merged to create the term "biblical theology," a question of meaning automatically arises. Historically, biblical theology originated out of the desire to bring the religious thought of Scripture into clear focus. Throughout its history the discipline has stood as a reaction to the inadequate relationship between dogmatic theology and Scripture, to the reduction of the content of Scripture to the phenomenon of religion as such by "the history of religion school," and to a biblical exegesis that became primarily preoccupied with linguistic, historical, archaeological, and literary considerations raised in the material of the Bible. The historical origins of biblical theology, however, do not shed effective light on the nature of the discipline. The terms "Bible" and "theology," and not historical origins, are of essential significance in the determination of the discipline's nature.
The Bible is God's Word to man. It contains both His self-communication as well as the inspired writer's reflection upon that communication. Theology is the science of faith. As a science it consists in the methodological reflection upon the content of faith. In the context of this understanding of the nature of the Bible and the nature of theology, biblical theology may be understood as the methodological reflection, undertaken in the light of faith, upon the religious content of Scripture. Since the discipline has the religious content of the Bible as the object of its study, it is biblical; since it reflects upon the content of Scripture in a methodological way, it is theological: hence the term "biblical theology." As a discipline it makes the claim that methodological reflection on the religious content of Scripture for the purpose of understanding its thought in an organic manner is feasible and illuminating. It is in this claim, inherent in the discipline itself, that both the strength and weakness of biblical theology lie.
Strength of Biblical Theology. For the materials with which it works biblical theology has necessarily to depend on exegesis. It is the science of exegesis, and not biblical theology, that achieves direct contact with the thought of the biblical author, the actual meaning the inspired writer wished to convey to his contemporary listener or reader (the literal sense of Scripture). Since the biblical writers did not present their religious conceptions in a systematic fashion, their understanding of religious themes (e.g., faith, hope, love, resurrection, judgment) must be gleaned from the results of the exegesis of those passages where these themes occur or in which they play a part. One cannot understand, for example, faith in St. Paul from single passages in his letters but only from the totality of his writings. The task of the biblical theologian is to penetrate and organize the results of exegesis so as to arrive at the totality of the Apostle's conception of faith as he has bequeathed it to us.
When biblical theology has pursued the study of individual themes in the various authors and books of the NT as well as in the OT to the extent that the themes are present there, it has been at its fruitful best. The articles on biblical themes in modern encyclopedias of the Bible attest to the success of the discipline when it takes this approach to Scripture. In the field of the NT the discipline has enjoyed a similar success in studying the theological thought of Paul, John, and to a limited extent, the Synoptic Gospels. The letters of Paul, the Johannine literature (1–2 Jn, Jn, Rv), and the Synoptic Gospels readily lend themselves to an organic grasp of their thought, since each group of writings possesses fairly constant perspectives, ideas, and aims. The literature of the OT, however, does not contain groupings of material that derive from a single author or circle. Accordingly, in terms of literary units the theological thought of the OT has to be ascertained book by book and in the case of the Pentateuch with the help of the different sources that lie behind it.
The Problematic for a Biblical Theology. The strength of biblical theology consists in the tracing of individual themes throughout the Bible and in coming to grips with the thought of its literary units. In performing these functions it aims at a descriptive presentation of biblical thought, organized in a logical way, couched in modern language and resting solidly on the results of exegesis. These successful approaches to Scripture, however, arrive at the conclusion that it contains different types of methodological reflection on God's self-communication. Materially speaking, it is not a unified but a divergent presentation of thought, even on the same themes. St. Paul's conception of faith, for example, and the theological use he makes of it differ from the conception of faith and the use to which it is put in the Fourth Gospel and in the Synoptic Gospels. The same differentiation exists on many themes among authors and between books in the Bible.
This factor of different "theologies" in Scripture creates a serious difficulty for the ultimate goal of biblical theology: to create a theology of the OT, of the NT, and finally of the entire Bible. As long as the discipline works with themes and literary units in Scripture, its organic presentation of the thought of Scripture remains attached to the biblical books and authors, for it bases itself on the results of exegesis. But once it attempts to overcome the factor of differentiation in the theological methodologies in Scripture, its work takes a step away from biblical books and authors to biblical categories of thought (e.g., God, man, creation, grace, sin). Although it adheres to the results of exegesis, it places these results in new contexts. Thus it creates a personal construction of the theology in the Bible. The aphorism that there are as many biblical theologies as there are biblical theologians becomes verified. How this difficulty is to be overcome, if it can be overcome, constitutes a challenge to biblical theologians. Many NT scholars simply prefer to present its theological thought in terms of its principal literary units: the Synoptic Gospels, Paul, and John. In their view the factor of differentiation simply has to be accepted as a reality in the theological methodology of Scripture.
Biblical Theology and Hermeneutic. As far as Scripture is concerned, hermeneutic involves the question of communication and understanding. The Bible is a divinely inspired, religious communication through the written word. By the very fact that it is written word it is, like all literature, confined to time, place, culture, and a particular set of addressees. The original audiences for whom it was written could normally understand it as communication more easily than people of a later time. For the latter it is communication in a translation from Hebrew and Greek, which limits understanding, and it employs thought-patterns and types of literature no longer in vogue, at least in the Western world. Therefore it requires interpretation beyond translation that will bridge the gap between ancient communication and contemporary understanding.
Exegesis and biblical theology both have a role to play in bridging the gap. The first step belongs to exegesis. It is its task to establish the original meaning of the biblical text in its own time, place, and circumstances. The second step belongs, quite naturally, to biblical theology. It organizes the results of exegesis into a total focus that brings the necessary balance to the comprehension of biblical thought. In the performance of its role in the process of the interpretation of Scripture, however, biblical theology is as historical a discipline as is exegesis. In seeking a totality in the understanding of a biblical theme or of a biblical book or author, it must adhere faithfully to the original meaning of Scripture. Exegesis is the criterion by which biblical theology is fundamentally judged. No more than exegesis may it introduce later theological conceptions or religious views into scriptural thought.
Biblical theology makes its contribution directly to those whose knowledge of the Bible has been achieved through exegetical study or through sound exegetical instruction, for they are already in position to appreciate the thematic approach to scriptural understanding as well as the approach in terms of literary units. Finally, both exegesis and biblical theology are stimulated to reexamine their assessment of scriptural data by contemporary questions having a bearing upon biblical teaching, e.g., divorce and remarriage, social responsibility, the meaning of resurrection. The biblical theologian is in good position to consider such questions from his vantage-point in order to contribute to their contemporary solution from the theological implications of Scripture. In this role the biblical theologian joins with the patristic, historical, and contemporary, systematic theologian to contribute to the mature judgment of the magisterium of the Church.
Bibliography: v. hamp et al., Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 2:439–451. j. hempel and h. riesenfeld, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 1:1256–62. k. stendahl, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, ed. g. a. buttrick, 4 v. (Nashville 1962) 1:418–432. o. betz, ibid. 1:432–437. x. lÉon-dufour, ed., Vocabulaire de théologie biblique (Paris 1962) xiii–xix. j. alonso, "La Teología Bíblica a través de la historia: Consideración de lagunas tendencias," Miscelanea Comillas 29 (1958) 9–27. f. m. braun, "La Théologie biblique," Revue thomiste 53 (1953) 221–253. s. lyonnet, "De notione et momento Theologiae Biblicae," Verbum Domini 34(1956) 142–153. r. a. f. mackenzie, "The Concept of Biblical Theology," Catholic Theological Society of America. Proceedings 10 (1955) 48–73. c. spicq, "L'Avènement de la théologie biblique," Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 35(1951) 561–574; "Nouvelles réflexions sur la théologie biblique," ibid. 42 (1958) 209–219. p. s. watson, "The Nature and Function of Biblical Theology," Expository Times 73 (1961–62) 195–200. j. gray, "Towards a Theology of the O.T.: The Contribution of Archaeology," ibid. 74 (1962–63) 347–351. n. w. porteous, "The Present State of O.T. Theology," ibid. 75 (1963–64) 70–74. c. k. barrett, "Ethelbert Stauffer's Theology of the N.T.," ibid. 72 (1960–61) 356–360. j. c. fenton, "Rudolph Bultmann's Theology of the N.T.," ibid. 73 (1961–62) 8–11. k. grayston, "Alan Richardson's Theology of the N.T.," ibid. 73 (1961–62) 45–50. c. l. mitton, "A. M. Hunter's Theology of the N.T.," ibid. 73 (1961–62) 77–80. a. richardson, "Present Issues in N.T. Theology," ibid. 75 (1963–64) 109–113. r. c. dentan, Preface to O.T. Theology (rev. ed. New York 1963), with bibliographies: before a.d. 1787 (127–128); 1787–1949 (128–135), and 1949–63 (135–144). r. schnackenburg, N.T. Theology Today, tr. d. askew (New York 1963), with copious bibliog. h. vorgrimler, ed., Dogmatic va. Biblical Theology (Baltimore 1965). g. s. glanzman and j. a. fitzmyer, An Introductory Bibliography for the Study of Scripture (Westminster, Md. 1961) 79–86. w. j. harrington, The Path of Biblical Theology (Dublin 1973). g. hasel, Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Grand Rapids, Mich.1972); New Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1978). j. l. mckenzie, A Theology of the Old Testament (New York 1974). r. h. schelkle, Theology of the New Testament, v. 3, tr. w. a. jurgens (Collegeville, Minn. 1973). h. schlier, The Relevance of the New Testament, tr. w. j. o'hara (New York 1968) 1–25. Biblical theologies: w. g. kÜmmel, The Theology of the New Testament, tr. j. e. steely (Nashville, Tenn.1973). j. l. mckenzie, op. cit. h. ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, tr. j. r. dewitt (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1975). k. h. schelkle, Theology of the New Testament, 4 v., tr. w. a. jurgens (Collegeville, Minn. 1971–76). Current Protestant discussion: k. stendahl, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, ed. g. a. buttrick, 4 v. (Nashville, Tenn. 1962) 1:418–432. j. barr, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, supp., ed. k. crim et al. (Nashville, Tenn. 1976) 104–111. b. s. childs, Biblical Theology in Crisis (Philadelphia 1970).
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c. p. ceroke]