The Relationship Between Biblical Theology And Systematic Theology -- By: Gerhard F. Hasel

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 05:2 (Fall 1984)
Article: The Relationship Between Biblical Theology And Systematic Theology
Author: Gerhard F. Hasel


The Relationship Between Biblical Theology
And Systematic Theology

Gerhard F. Hasel

Andrews University

The problem of the relationship between biblical theology and systematic theology reaches back into history by about two hundred years and cannot be treated outside of this historical perspective. It will, therefore, be necessary to review briefly historical developments before we enter the arena of the issues involved in the relationship in our own time.

I. The Historical Perspective

The classical definition for both biblical theology and systematic theology was provided in the age of the Enlightenment by’ the late Neologist and rationalist Johann Philipp Gabler (1753–1826). Gabler at the appointment to the University of Altdorf began his teaching career in the typical fashion of the Continental tradition with an inaugural lecture on March 30, 1787, in a presentation delivered in classically-based Latin, Oratio de justo discrimine theologiae biblicae et dogmaticae regundisque recte utriusque finibus (“Address About the Correct Distinction of Biblical and Dogmatic Theology and the Right Definition of their Goals”).1 The descriptions that he gave and particularly the definition of the two disciplines that he provided have become classical. The definition of both disciplines has been quoted ever since in every leading textbook or discussion on the subject. We cannot afford to bypass it: “There is truly a biblical theology, of historical origin, conveying what the holy writers felt about divine matters; on the other hand there is a dogmatic theology of didactic origin, teaching what each theologian philosophises rationally about divine things, according to the measure of his ability or of the times, age, place, sect, school, and other similar factors.”2 Biblical theology is

a historical enterprise alongside dogmatics or systematic theology which is a theological undertaking.

We need to recognize first of all that “biblical theology” is defined as “historical” in nature. For Gabler, history “was more than just facts; history was concerned with the whole outlook of an age, its ways of perceiving and expressing truth.”3 For Gabler, human understanding is determined by the historical limitation of each particular age; but truth is transhistorical, and truth must be abstracted from the historical shell in which it is embedded. The historical is like the peel of an orange; the truth is the fruit.

For Gabler, then, the task of “biblical theology”...

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