Biblical theology opened up my mind to understand the Bible. It is no understatement to write that God through Biblical theology transformed my life. I find my experience similar to the strangers on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. They were talking about the resurrection of Jesus and probably everything else leading up to it. And now Jesus is missing from the tomb. Jesus appears before them, but Jesus was just another stranger. In all the talk and discussion of Jesus, they failed to recognise Jesus when he appeared right before them. Their failure was a failure of the heart. Jesus said that their hearts were slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Their failure was a failure to believe.
It was at this moment that Jesus conducted that most amazing Bible study session in the history.
27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Jesus interprets Scriptures and teaches that it is all about Jesus! The Incarnate Word of God, opens up the Word of God to interpret that the Word of God is about, the Word of God, Jesus!
Jesus is a biblical theologian. Biblical theology is the concern with the “overall theological message of the whole Bible”. It is concerned about the meta-narrative. It seeks to understand how the parts fits in relation to the whole. The Bible is not a collection of many stories, but rather it is one big story, of a big God, who makes a big promise and fulfils it. The Bible is not a hall of heroes that we are to try to emulate. There is only one true hero in the Bible who is not merely our model, but our substitute-Jesus.
More much can and ought to be said of the merits of biblical theology. I love it. But I read the opening chapter from John Piper’s ‘The Future of Justification‘ last night (whilst playing Monopoly Deal with my children and I reached out for a book from my shelves) and he sounded “a not so common caution on biblical theology”. It’s not common because “biblical theology aims to read the authors of Scripture along the trajectory of redemptive history insight of the author’s own categories that are shaped by the historical milieu in which they lived. Done properly, this is an essential part of responsible exegesis and theology”. They key word there is “properly”. Just as other theologies (systematic, historical) can be abused, biblical theology can also be abused.
The claim to interpret a biblical author in terms of the fist century is generally met with the assumption that this will be illuminating. Some today seem to overlook that this might result in bringing ideas to the text in a way that misleads rather than clarifies. But common sense tells us that first-century ideas can be used (inadvertently) to distort and silence what the New Testament writers intended to say. -John Piper, The Future of Justification, p.34
I’m thankful for Piper’s sounding of this not so common caution. For when I hear or read any hint of biblical theology, I immediately get excited to receive and let down my guard of discernment thinking that, “Ok, now there’s something really worthy learning from here”. However, recently some of my experience has been that even though something can appear from biblical theology, it’s concluding message has more than once confused me. I remember thinking to myself, “how can I like so much of how everything has been presented and yet feel so uncertain with it’s concluding message and application?”.
Piper’s caution was what I needed to heed. It helped me understand why I was struggling with some of my readings and classes. There is a way of that biblical theology can be distorted and thus becomes confusing and unhelpful.