Tackling Old Testament Theology -- By: Elmer A. Martens
JETS 20:2 (June 1977) p. 123
Tackling Old Testament Theology
Several recent books set the agenda for Biblical theology, an agenda that includes such questions as the relationship of history and faith, the unifying theme of OT theology, and the relationship of the OT to the NT, as well as the question of methodology generally.1 This paper selectively addresses itself to two questions. One is the issue of method, and the other is the issue of substance. Following a summary analysis of each, some suggested options for each will be elaborated.
By Biblical theology I mean that approach to Scripture which attempts to see Biblical material holistically and to describe this wholeness or synthesis in Biblical categories. Biblical theology attempts to embrace the message of the Bible and to arrive at an intelligible coherence of the whole despite the great diversity of the parts. Or, put another way: Biblical theology investigates the themes presented in Scripture and defines their interrelationships. Biblical theology is an attempt to get to the theological heart of the Bible.
Biblical theology should be distinguished from exegesis on the one hand and from systematic theology on the other. Exegesis revolves around single units of Scripture, even if the unit be the entire book, and asks for the message that arises from these single units. Biblical theology asks for the message which is extrapolated from all the books, and so is dependent on exegesis but not identical with it. Biblical theology should not be confused with systematic theology. Both are systematic, and each works with Scripture texts; but systematic theology operates within philosophical categories, such as being, nature, or process, whereas Biblical theology attempts to work within Biblical categories, such as sacrifice, land, or kingdom of God. Customarily, systematic theology asks about the nature of God and answers in ontic categories by listing attributes. Biblical theology answers the question, What is God like? with such rubrics as creator, warrior, judge, shepherd. Biblical theology is not the antithesis to systematic theology, however. Rather, Biblical theology is prior, chronologically, to the formulations of systematic theology. Biblical theology therefore can be understood as a descriptive discipline that stands between exegesis and systematic theology.
I. A Methodological Question:
From Exegesis To Biblical Theology
Part of the reason for the dissimilar conclusions in Biblical theology lies in the variety of the presuppositions that govern exegesis itself.
*Elmer Martens is professor of Old Testament at Mennonite Brethren Seminary, Fresno. California.
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