Editorial -- By: Andreas J. Köstenberger
JETS 55:1 (March 2012) p. 1
Yesterday, as part of my preparation for a couple of plenary addresses on biblical theology at regional ETS meetings this spring, I read through Johann P. Gabler’s De justo discrimine theologiae biblicae et dogmaticae regundisque recte utriusque finibus over a cup of Starbucks coffee. (I wish I could say I did it in the original Latin, but it was just in English translation.) It had been a while since I’d looked at Gabler’s address, and reading it again, and perhaps more thoroughly than before, I was struck by its relevance. (Gabler originally gave his address in 1787, the same year the U.S. Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia, and just two years prior to the French Revolution.) To be sure, at the end of his address Gabler seems to fall short of a fully evangelical view of the Bible’s inspiration, opining that “we must investigate what in the sayings of the Apostles is truly divine, and what perchance merely human.” And there may be other shortcomings as well. But on the whole, I found Gabler’s proposal hermeneutically sound, theologically astute, well argued, and altogether timely. Indeed, it’s quite remarkable that Gabler’s inaugural address, delivered to a group of colleagues and students at the University of Altdorf, a small German university town, is still read 225 years later in English translation.
The discipline of biblical theology, which many say Gabler inaugurated that day (March 30, 1787), despite a rather checkered history has shown remarkable resilience and today represents one of the most promising fields in biblical and theological studies. This was not always a foregone conclusion. After Gabler, the discipline split into Old and New Testament theology. Later, scholars found not one, but many theologies in the respective Testaments. Later still, William Wrede delivered his well-known lecture “Task and Method of So-called New Testament Theology,” contending that the very pursuit of the theology of the New Testament was misguided and ought to be replaced with a history-of-religions approach. Talk about a slippery slope: from Biblical to Old and New Testament theology; from Old and New Testament theology to Old and New Testament theologies; and finally to no Old or New Testament theology at all! At that point, clearly the discipline had no place to go but up. The years that followed saw a variety of salvation-historical approaches, including that of Adolf Schlatter, whose grasp of the essence of New Testament (and Biblical) Theology à la Gabler was second to none.
In the Foreword to Das Wort Jesu (1909), Schlatter wrote, “The New Testament writings present us with the task of identifying their teaching and of clarifying their origin. We customarily call this branch of ...
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