What is Biblical Theology? The smart aleck answer is “a theology that is biblical.” But that definition will not do. The practice of biblical theology requires much more to be said. Biblical theology is viewing the whole canon of Scripture as many parts of one book, inspired by one God, telling one story. It seeks to understand individual parts of Scripture by discovering their significance in the whole of it. The culmination of the biblical storyline is the redemptive work of Jesus Christ gathering a people for himself.
Why is it essential the church utilize biblical theology to help interpret the Scriptures? There are at least three reasons:
All of the Bible is about Jesus
Really? Every part of the Bible is about Jesus–– even those hard to read parts in Leviticus and Numbers? Yes, they are! At least that was Jesus’ own assessment (Luke 24:25-27, 44). Paul also shares this conviction. The Apostle claimed the Old Testament Scriptures, which he refers to as “the sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15), were able to make one “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” He does not see a sharp distinction between what the Old Testament taught about salvation and the core teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. On the contrary, Paul understood the Old Testament revealed Jesus and is essential for the Christian life.
Biblical theology finds the numerous ways the whole Bible is pointing to Jesus. When many Christians think of Jesus being revealed in the Old Testament, they think of the smattering of messianic prophecies found throughout its chapters. That is not enough. The Old Testament contains a treasure trove of Christ. Its pages contain scores of patterns, types, allusions, institutions, and promises that find their ultimate meaning and fulfillment in Jesus.
By utilizing biblical theology, the exodus account is not simply an interesting historical example of God’s liberating power, freeing Israel from Egyptian slavery. For the Christian, the exodus account, while historic and true, is also a shadow of redemption that finds a greater fulfillment in God’s rescue of his people from their bondage to sin through the work of Jesus.
God is a Storytelling God
Biblical theology presupposes the unity of the Scriptures. If God inspired the entire Bible, then the entire Bible will be cohesive and possess an over-arching message. Skilled authors use foreshadowing to drop hints about what is yet to come in the story. Biblical theology finds the many examples of divine foreshadowing peppered throughout the Word that leads us to Christ’s redemption.
One example is the story of Abraham’s willing sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22. The account is dripping with divine foreshadowing. First of all, God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in a very specific place. He led Abraham to take his son and sacrifice him on the mountains of Moriah (Gen 22:2). This meant a road trip for Abraham, who was sojourning in Beersheba. Mount Moriah was the site where David propitiated God’s wrath against Israel through sacrifices (2 Sam 24:18-25; 1 Chron 22:1). Similarly, it was the place Solomon built the temple and thousands upon thousands of animals were sacrificed for the sins of God’s people (3:1). Not coincidentally, those hills also played host to the most important sacrifice ever made–– the sacrifice of God’s son.
Divine foreshadowing is likewise exhibited in Abraham’s answer to Isaac, as the boy pondered the whereabouts of the sacrificial animal. The father spoke profoundly to his son, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son. (Gen 22:8)” These words formulate the heart of the gospel. God provided from himself the perfect lamb who would die for the sins of the world (John 1:29). Fittingly, the sacrifice was God’s own son, his only son–– the son he loved (Gen 22:2). The Bible is filled with these powerful hints about the overarching message of history. Biblical theology allows the church to glory in the omniscient storyteller who prepares us for his Son’s work from the beginning of the canon.
We Have a Place in God’s Story
Does the Old Testament give Christians anything other than a history lesson of God’s dealings? Yes, it does. Biblical theology allows Christians to understand we have a place in God’s story.
Paul compares the New Testament Corinthian Christians with the Old Testament Israelites, as they wandered in the wilderness. He warns them of falling prey to the same of dangers of idolatry, putting Christ to the test, and grumbling.
Significantly, in 1 Corinthians 10:6 he writes, “Now these things took place as examples (literally “types”, typos) for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.”
Paul is putting Christians into the biblical narrative. Just as Israel was on their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land, so Christians are wandering and sojourning in the wilderness on our way to the New Jerusalem. We must be vigilant to not take God’s miraculous redemption lightly as the ancient Israelites did. The account of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness is not merely a historical reality. It is that, but it also serves as a pattern that Christians today can identify. It contains warnings and examples for us to follow and to avoid.
Christians would be foolish to miss out on the vast riches found throughout the pages of the Bible. We are not just a New Testament people; we are a biblical people. Biblical theology is necessary because the entire Bible is about Jesus. There is a redemptive story penned by God revealing His Son and we are, by his grace, included.