BIBLICAL STUDIES Kinds Of Biblical Theology -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 70:1 (Spring 2008)
Article: BIBLICAL STUDIES Kinds Of Biblical Theology
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Kinds Of Biblical Theology

Vern Sheridan Poythress

Vern S. Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Penn.

In 1976 Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. published a programmatic article on “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology,” building especially on the work of Geerhardus Vos and John Murray.1 Much has happened since then in developments in biblical theology. So I propose to reassess the present-day possibilities for biblical theology’s relation to systematic theology.2

I. History of the Expression “Biblical Theology”

First, what did Gaffin mean by the crucial term “biblical theology”? And does the same term today designate more than one thing? In fact, it designates several things, and some of them are not as healthy as what Gaffin envisioned.

Gaffin and Vos before him indicate that the label “biblical theology” has historically designated several disparate things.3 “The name was first used to designate a collection of proof-texts employed in the study of Systematic Theology. Next it was appropriated by the Pietists to voice their protest against a hyper-scholastic method in the treatment of Dogmatics.”4 Later (1787) “biblical theology” was defined by Johann P. Gabler as a distinct historical discipline, engaged in discovering “what in fact the biblical writers thought and taught.”5 But the

discipline was vitiated by Gabler’s rationalistic assumptions, which rejected the Bible’s authority. Gabler drew a sharp line between the task of describing past biblical writers, whose views allegedly could not be accepted today, and the task of propounding present-day belief, which was supposed to be “in agreement with the deliverances of Reason.”6 Gabler’s thinking was also corrupted by evolutionism, which expected to find religious progress from primitive error to enlightened truth.7

James Barr uses the term “biblical theology” in still another sense, to label a movement that attempted to find authority for modern preaching not in the teaching of the Bible but in biblical “concepts,” through a word-based approach to uncovering key theological meanings....

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