Confessional Hermeneutics: Old Testament Biblical Studies within Broader Christian Theology


Christian theology, which put most simply is the study of God,[1] has endured disciplinary splintering over the two thousand years of the Church. This is especially true for the previous century. In many ways this has been necessary and beneficial as disciplinary specialization has allowed for focussed study that is not possible for a generalist approach. The fruit of multiple foci is a deeper and more robust scholarship within any given research interest. On the other hand, disciplinary isolationism, which is the result of this scholastic explosion, prevents adequate academic synthesis to undergird the reason for theological study in the first place. This reason being to better know and understand God. Disciplinary territorialism naturally defends ever heightening boundaries to the detriment of all, for in so doing the quest to better know God is eclipsed by the eagerness to acquire knowledge that ought to point to God, but instead threatens to become a god in itself.[2] Therefore, as we pick up the mantle of theology that has been passed on to us from generations past our challenge will be to carefully measure the broad theological enterprise in order to contextualize our individual disciplinary contributions within. And as we do, it will be vital that we package our academic offerings in such a way that generalists can come behind us, gleaning from a vast array of disciplines in order that they might chart our course toward a deeper intimacy with the God whom we seek by our study.

This paper will seek to contextualize Old Testament biblical studies within the broader venture of Christian theology. In order to do this, a brief history of Old Testament studies will be outlined and a vision for the future of the discipline will be suggested. This vision will include two parts. First, the role and placement of Old Testament studies within the Christian theological encyclopaedia will be articulated. Second, a confessional hermeneutic for all Christian theological disciplines, Old Testament studies included, will be proposed.

A Very Brief History of Old Testament Biblical Studies

Libraries are required to fill the many publications that fall within the discipline of Old Testament biblical studies. A multivolume tome is required to trace the intricacies of the trends and contours of Old Testament biblical studies over the past centuries and millennia. This paper only has space to capture a snapshot of the discipline and mention notable names of scholars who have advanced it along the way.

To begin, a word about the central role of Old Testament studies throughout the life of the Church. From the time of the apostles and the formulation of a New Testament canon, the Church has been completely aware that Jesus of Nazareth cannot be fully understood in a vacuum (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:3 asserts that Christ died “according to the Scriptures,” which is a reference to our Old Testament). With the exception of Marcion and like-minded heretics, the Old Testament has always played a foundational role in the Christian understanding of God and all things pertaining to theology. The New Testament writers consistently refer to the Old Testament as they endeavour to identify Jesus of Nazareth as their absolute fulfillment.[3] Evidently these writers received this hermeneutic from Jesus Himself, who claimed to be the telos and subject of the Hebrew Bible (Matt. 5:17, John 5:39 and Luke 24:44). We can trace various schools of Christian theology based upon their understanding of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture through every century of the last two thousand years. The two major streams have been the Alexandrian and the Antiochian schools, the latter stressing the historical nature of the Old Testament more than the former, which has been prone toward allegory.[4] Though this might risk simplicity, it seems fair to say that every great tension and transition in approach can be captured broadly by these two streams.[5] The impetus for historical-critical methodologies is a modern expression of Antioch while the desire for greater literary exegesis is akin to Alexandria.

There is a vast diversity of scholarship over the course of the first sixteen hundred years of the Church, which cannot be treated by this paper. However, a general hermeneutic from these centuries can be vaguely sketched by identifying six main aspects shared in common: “(1) conviction of the present reality of God; (2) presumption of a unified narrative (from the Bible and applied to the Bible); (3) the Rule of Faith; (4) Scripture treated as diverse yet a unified whole; (5) scriptural texts treated as having their own ‘historical’ meaning yet ‘meant for us’; (6) the scriptural text as mystery.”[6] It is interesting to observe that these six hermeneutical aspects are alive and well in many evangelical congregations today.

In wake of the Enlightenment, a major shift occurred in the West during the seventeenth century.[7] Many refer to this transition as a shift from pre-critical to critical scholarship.[8] Gignilliat asserts, however, that these very terms betray a bias in favour of historical critical methods. It is better, he writes, to acknowledge a shift from pre-modern to modern scholarship.[9] Otherwise the implication is that brilliant scholars before the seventeenth century, such as Augustine,[10] Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, were not critical in their work.

The shift from pre-critical to critical, or pre-modern to modern, gave birth within the academy to an intense study of the history behind the biblical text. Many have pointed to J. P. Gabler’s 1787 lecture at the university of Altdorf, which in English is titled, “An Oration of the Proper Distinction between Biblical and Dogmatic Theology and the Specific Objectives of Each” as a defining moment in the move to separate confessional study from academic study of the Bible.[11] Within Old Testament studies, scholars such as Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677),[12] W. M. L. de Wette (1780-1849),[13] Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918),[14] Bernhard Duhm (1847-1928),[15] Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932),[16] and Gerhard Von Rad (1901-1971),[17] dedicated themselves to the history and religion of Israel, as well as the historical diachronic development of the Hebrew Bible.

By the middle of the twentieth century a wave of scholarship emerged to challenge the agenda of historical criticisms. Rather than focussing on the world behind the text or the world from which the text came into being, a renewed interest in a focussed study of the text itself began to assert itself. Whereas historical criticisms view the text as means to discover the real world behind the text, narrative and poetic criticisms synchronically investigate the story/poetic world.[18]

Canonical analysis emerged in the late 1970s to study the Bible in its canonical form by asking why the canon is shaped the way that it is and how the canonical context informs each text within. Brevard Childs (1923-2007) was a leader in canonical approaches for more than thirty years.[19]

More recently, postmodern analysis has moved the discipline of Old Testament studies toward a careful study of the biases and worldviews of the contemporary reader. Reader-response criticism recognizes that the meaning of a text is derived by the interaction of a literary text and a reader.[20] Therefore, a text does not have meaning until it is read.[21] The contemporary reader, both individual and communal, cannot help but contribute to the meaning of the text.[22] This meaning will be informed by the relevant social contexts, theological commitments, and other biases important to the reader.[23] Therefore, postmodern critics posit that it is not possible, nor desirable, to be an objective reader.

Today all three of these major thrusts to Old Testament study continue to flourish and spawn a plethora of methodologies. The historical critical camp continues to seek to understand the world and religion of ancient Israel. The text focussed camp continues to study the literary contours of the canonical shape of the Hebrew Bible. The reader-response camp continues to investigate these ancient texts through the lens of contemporary life and intrigue. Each stream and tributary has something valuable to contribute to our understanding of the Old Testament. Looking forward our task will be to ensure that whichever methodology we employ it somehow makes a contribution to the broader scope of Christian theology. To this broader canvass we now, therefore, turn our attention.

A Vision for Old Testament Biblical Studies

The articulation of a vision for Old Testament studies requires careful thought about the role that the discipline ought to play within Christian theology in a broad sense and the hermeneutical approach to the study of the Scriptures. The remaining pages of this paper will examine each in order.

 The Role and Placement of Old Testament Studies within Christian Theology

 It is essential that the big picture of Christian theology remain in focus even while we struggle to understand our individual disciplines, which in my case is Old Testament biblical studies. The makers and tinkerers of anything complex must be able to see both the whole and the parts that comprise the whole. A car is not much good without an engine, and an engine needs a battery, and a battery needs acid. On the other hand, acid outside a battery serves no purpose, and a battery without an engine is useless, and an engine without a car to power is futile. To fully appreciate a car, every part must be studied in its context according to its purpose. So it is with the disciplines of Christian theology. A discipline that has been uprooted from the bigger picture is as useful to Christian theology as battery acid spilled on the garage floor.

The Christian theologian of any discipline must be able to adjust his or her focus to the various levels of Christian theology. In order to do this the ultimate goal of theological reflection, which is to know God, must be evident to all and must drive individual efforts regardless of discipline or sub-discipline. If we were to conceptualize Christian theology as a mountain, let us suggest that reaching the summit would be akin to knowing God. From this high altitude we can organize the various disciplines of Christian theology in the following order from summit to base: practical theology, systematic theology, historical theology, biblical theology, and biblical studies. Within biblical studies, the New Testament is at a higher elevation than the Old Testament. The reason being that it is not possible to understand the New without properly drawing on the Old and the Old cannot be understood as Christian theology unless it is filtered through the theology of the New. Both New and Old Testament studies narrow in scope from exegesis to linguistics to grammatical studies.[24]

The obvious weakness of this approach is that it would seem as though the “higher” disciplines are closer to God than the “lower” disciplines. It is not the intent of this paper to suggest such a thing, especially given my own loyalty to Old Testament biblical studies! Rather, each discipline has a role to play in the journey toward knowing God. As the figurative mountain climber ascends to the summit, he or she will traverse through different disciplines, each making an important contribution for reaching the peak.[25] Just as Old Testament biblical studies require the above disciplines in order to establish a clear and intimate view of God, so too practical theology depends upon the disciplines below as foundational in relating to the God of the summit.

Within this conceptual scheme, every discipline must build on those that are beneath and intentionally contribute to the disciplines that are above. In one sense Christian theology begins in Old Testament studies, working its way through New Testament studies, biblical theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology. In another sense, Christian theology begins with the practical theology and moves toward Old Testament studies in the other direction. Both movements are happening simultaneously to give theology both a “top down” and a “bottom up” hermeneutical dynamic. This dynamic replaces the need for feedback loops between the disciplines because there is an acknowledgement that all disciplines impact all other disciplines to one degree or another. This impact will be either top down or bottom up and each discipline will either feed into a discipline directly or through the mediation of a bridge discipline. The ideal vision presented by this paper is that all disciplines would endeavour to influence one another in both directions through the mediating influence of other disciplines as stated in the diagram above.

What is most important for the theological enterprise is that each discipline is aware of its placement in relation to the other disciplines. If scholars could rely on the work of others from disciplines below and intentionally produce for scholars in disciplines above, then Christian theology could reap the best of both specialization and generalization. There is a sense in which scholars can and do produce for scholars in disciplines below. This downward contribution is the equivalent of a “feedback loop,” which serves to inform and sharpen the theological convictions of scholars in lower disciplines and help to identify areas that require further investigation. This cooperative and collaborative approach to Christian theology would preserve the disciplinary boundaries while also fostering interdisciplinary scholasticism. Let us look at each discipline and its placement more closely.

We begin with biblical studies, which establish the foundation of Christian theology. Biblical studies are divided into New and Old Testament studies. New Testament studies are at a higher elevation than Old Testament because biblical revelation is progressive, culminating in Jesus Christ.[26] In order to conduct Christian theology within the Old Testament, some awareness of this fuller revelation must be remembered and applied.[27] This does not mean that every Old Testament publication must name Jesus. However, the Christian Old Testament scholar ought to have a personal understanding of how revelation given before the Incarnation fits into the bigger theological picture. Old Testament studies contribute upward by establishing the basis of special divine revelation. New Testament scholars would be unable to decipher the New Testament without the Old Testament. New Testament studies contribute downward by articulating the Christological quality of all Christian Scripture. Together, the Old and New Testament disciplines contribute the full biblical witness, which is synthesized by biblical theologians, studied by historical theologians, expressed for contemporary relevance by systematic theologians, and put into practice by practical theologians.

Above biblical studies is biblical theology. Biblical theology is a synthetic discipline which articulates the broad themes and contours of the Old and New Testaments and their theological culmination in the Person and work of Christ.[28] Its major contribution upward is a wide perspective on the flow of salvation history as recorded in the Bible. It has been well noted that biblical theology bridges the disciplines of exegetes and systematic theologians.[29] Not only does biblical theology bridge these disciplines, but it also serves as a bridge to historical theology when historical theologians seek to understand the many ways the Bible has been synthesised over time.[30] Biblical theology’s major contribution downward is an articulate reminder to biblical scholars that a bigger picture exists. Therefore, biblical scholars can toil in their areas of the canon or specialization with a wider canvass in mind.

Just above biblical theology is historical theology, which occupies the middle-altitude in Christian theology. Historical theologians are tasked with the articulation of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy throughout the two thousand years of the Church. Their major contribution upward is to investigate and articulate the many ways certain biblical passages and ideas have been understood and practiced throughout this history. The systematicians can then make historically informed decisions, which impact the practical life of the Church. The major contribution of historical theologians downward is to help biblical theologians and exegetes to identify theological areas that have been neglected or have been exceptionally controversial and are, therefore, in need of further exploration or fresh insight. More than that, historical theology impacts every theologian personally and directly insofar as every tradition of Christianity has run through time and space. Therefore, all Christian theologians come to their work with particular lenses that cannot be easily removed, but can be identified.[31]

Systematic theology exists as the discipline which pulls together the many disciplinary layers of theological reflection, articulating the massive amount of thought and detail in concise packages. Systematicians live in close proximity to the culture and to practical theologians. Their major contribution upward is the digestion of the fruit of biblical studies, biblical theology, and historical theology, so that practical theologians can proceed to apply their orthodoxy and their orthopraxy. For example, the conclusions of a systematician about the Lord’s Supper can be applied in the local Church. Or, the conclusions about the nature of the Triune God can be articulated in debate and conversation by apologists and homileticians. Their major contribution downward is to provide “lower” theologians with an orthodox lens through which to conduct their study. For example, Christological conclusions by systematic theologians cannot help but to inform and influence even the Old Testament biblical scholar.

Finally we come to practical theology. Included in practical theology are many sub-disciplines including, but not limited to: homiletics, liturgy and worship, pastoral care and counselling, apologetics, missiology, and ethics. I have grouped each of these sub-disciplines under the umbrella of practical theology because each requires the full import of all other theological disciplines. In other words, each sub-discipline listed here is the fruit of the cumulative theological project. For example, when preachers step into the pulpit, they stand on the full mountain of the theological disciplines, and their homiletics are best practiced with a firm understanding of systematic theology that is extracted from historical theology, which in turn has developed over time and space via biblical theology, which naturally depends upon the biblical studies of the New and Old Testaments.[32] Yes, expositional preaching directly exegetes particular texts. However, all of the theological disciplines ought to come to bear on the preacher’s exegetical lens. The same is true for each sub-discipline in practical theology. Liturgy and worship that is divorced from the mountain of Christian theology risks becoming superstition or magic. Pastoral care and counselling risk becoming motivational and merely self-help. Apologetics risk becoming philosophical rhetoric. Missiology risks becoming social welfare. And Christian ethics risks becoming secular ethics. Indeed practical theology depends upon a careful study of the Scriptures, which is synthesised by biblical theology, tested over time by historical theology, and set for today’s cultural horizon through systematic theology. When practical theologians, pastors, elders, and church-goers allow their practice of Christianity to float unanchored, then legalism and empty traditionalism encroaches to kill the very fabric of the Church. Likewise, when the other disciplines of Christian theology fail to see the practical implications of their work, then they toil for no purpose.

This overview of the disciplines of Christian theology has endeavoured to show how the pieces fit together into a coherent whole. It is intentionally broad without any exploration of sub-disciplines or the complex history of methodologies within each discipline. The goal has been to articulate a big picture vision for a collaborative effort within Christian theology. Instrumental in this vision of a unified group of disciplines working together to better know and understand God is the application of a confessional hermeneutic that might be shared by all Christian theologians. The third part of this paper will establish some boundaries within which this hermeneutic ought to be defined.

A Confessional Hermeneutic for Christian Theology, including Old Testament Biblical Studies

It is not self-evident that faith in God through Jesus Christ is required for Old Testament studies. For one, Christian scholars can and should work side by side with Jewish scholars given that we share the Hebrew Bible as the official canons for our respective faith communities. Furthermore, Christian scholars labour alongside secular scholars whose interest in the Old Testament is not theological. However, only the scholar who believes in the Triune God and in Messiah Jesus can truly be said to be doing Christian theology.[33] The ideas and assertions of a non-believing scholar who toils within a discipline of Christian theology – or within a twin discipline of the social humanities – may indeed be interesting and helpful, but they cannot truly be called theological.[34] Rather, the non-believing scholar contributes to our grasp of mythology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, psychology, archaeology, or even religionology. Whatever it is, it is not theology, for the goal of theology must always be the study of a God who exists and is known to exist by those who profess to be theologizing. As we move forward into a new century, Christian theologians of every discipline, including Old Testament scholars, must find the courage to confess in and through their scholarship that they believe in the God they are studying and in the fullness of His self revelation in the Person of Jesus the Messiah.[35] The ways in which we do this may require careful plotting within certain contexts. However, the vision of this paper is that Old Testament studies would fortify its role as a critical and foundational discipline for Christian theology. Scholars from secular disciplines will undoubtedly intersect with Christian Old Testament theologians. However, Christian scholars need not abandon their first love in the name of the academy.

Christian theology is built upon four necessary presuppositions: (1) a belief in God, (2) confidence that God has revealed Himself to humanity in a way that can be recognized and understood, (3) trust in a canon of authoritative Scriptures, and (4) a commitment to understanding God most fully in the Person of Jesus Christ.[36] When scholarship undermines any of these pillars it ceases to be Christian theology. For, there can be no study of God if there is no God. It would be pointless to try to seek God unless God had revealed Himself to us in some meaningful and observable way. Without a canon of Scriptural authority, theology morphs into philosophy. And, Christian theology without Christ is nonsensical. Therefore, the Christian theologian, including Old Testament scholars, must approach his or her study with these four major presuppositions. More than that, these presuppositions ought to be evident, either explicitly or implicitly, within the published work of the theologian. Determined scepticism regarding the existence of God, the reality and accessibility of His self-revelation, the authority of the canon, or the centricity and supremacy of Christ is absolutely devastating to the enterprise of Christian theology to the extent that it kills it entirely.[37] Let us look more closely at each of these hermeneutical requisites.

Belief in God

One aspect to the legacy of the Enlightenment is a sincere cynicism about the existence of God and the supernatural.[38] Modernist worldviews have sought objective facts through the scientific method, logic, and intellectual reason alone.[39] The effect that this has had on Christian theology, both good and bad, is impossible to ignore.[40] Without question, post-Enlightenment modernity has rightfully called into question bad theology that had developed from common superstition and not from biblical revelation. It has also elevated the use of reason in our understanding of the world, the Bible, and theology.[41] These contributions ought to be celebrated by Christian theologians. Indeed, modernity has not been an entirely depraved worldview from which to conduct serious theological reflection. However, some strands of modernity have sought to attack the very existence of God and called into question the legitimacy of theological reflection at all.[42] During the twentieth century a great chasm increasingly separated evangelical fundamentalists from society and even from the academy, which had by and large adopted historical critical methodological approaches to the Bible. In hind sight it may be that the breadth and depth of this chasm need not have been as great as it was. However, the fundamentalist reaction to modernity was a reaction against what they perceived to be the dismissal of the supernatural and humanity’s relationship to it.[43] Many philosophers have espoused the “death of God”[44] and in so doing they have gone too far so as to try to render Christian theology obsolete.[45]

Recognizing the overreach of some expressions of modernity, postmodernity burst into the western world kicking and screaming against the claim that objective knowledge is attainable.[46] A by-product of this push back has been space for spiritual reflection to blossom in ways that had been largely quenched under modernity’s watch.[47] Renewed interest in the spiritual world has given Christian theologians new room in which to move and breathe.[48] However, the relativistic nature of postmodernity, which espouses the possibility for the cohabitation of multiple competing and sometimes contradictory truths, has undermined Christian theology from the other direction.[49] Truth claims, by Christian theologians or by any other, have become diluted in the secular nirvana that revels in the mantra that what is true for me is not necessarily true for you.[50]

Therefore, modernity and postmodernity have each presented advantages and disadvantages, opportunities and challenges, for the Christian theologian.[51] Our task will be to navigate our times, just as Christian theologians of the past have charted a course through their times, with a dogged conviction that God exists and can be known. More than that, we must find ways to communicate with a dialect that can be heard.[52]

            Confidence in Revelation and Illumination

A real confidence in the possibility of divine revelation must exist for Christian theology to be viable.[53] Christian theologians of every discipline must endorse and defend the dependability of general, specific, and Christological revelation. This means that we can and should appeal to the universe as a means of knowing who God is and what God is like. It means that we can and should engage reason as an important scaffold for theological reflection.[54] It means that we can and should prioritize the Christian Bible as the revealed Word of God, believing that through the Bible God is speaking to us.[55] And it means that we can and should make sense of every theological thought in light of the Person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.[56]

In addition to, and in concert with, revelation given by God is the reception of that truth by humanity. It is one thing for God to reveal Himself and it is quite another thing to assert that humanity is able to recognize and make sense of that revelation. For example, we can affirm that God most fully revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15, 19, 2:9), but unless we are able to comprehend some part of that revelation it remains eclipsed from our view and is, therefore, pointless. When Peter affirmed the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16), Jesus responded that the Father was the One who illuminated Peter’s mind in order for him to receive this revelation (Matt. 16:17). Paul, likewise, attributes his conversion to a revelation of Jesus Christ by God (Gal. 1:16). This revelation required both the appearance of Jesus and Paul’s understanding of the implications of this appearance, which came from God. In other places the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit must reveal the truth of Christ to believers (John 14:26, 1 Cor. 2:10, Eph. 3:3-5).

The hermeneutical principle at work here is the idea of illumination.[57] Erickson articulates a succinct definition of illumination: “As traditionally understood, this doctrine teaches that the Holy Spirit of God does a supernatural work of grace in the believer’s mind and life, making possible understanding of the Scripture that He has inspired.”[58] The concept of illumination deserves greater attention than this short paper is able to give it. However, it is important to note that a confessional hermeneutic must affirm both the general, specific, and christological revelation of God to humanity and God’s illuminating work in the heart/mind of humanity in order that we might be aware and make sense of that revelation. Closely related to these affirmations is the need to trust in a canon of authoritative Scripture.

            Trust in the Canon[59]

To trust in the canon is to affirm a divine and human partnership in the writing, editing, and preservation of the Christian Bible.[60] A scholar who lacks confidence in the divine inspiration of Scripture will ultimately undermine the Christian theological enterprise by reducing biblical reflection to a study of history, religion, or anthropology.[61] If the Bible does not originate from a divine source then it cannot be a helpful resource for getting to know the God, which is the priority of Christian theology.[62] Historical, religious, and anthropological knowledge is necessary in the theological pursuit of God only insofar as each informs us about real encounters between God and humanity in space and time. Therefore, the idea that the Bible is the fruit of mere human imagination and creativity is an insufficient hermeneutical supposition for Christian theology.[63] Furthermore, reducing the absolute meaning of a biblical text to the intent of the human author fails to consider the possibility that the divine author had more in mind than the human author was aware.[64] The New Testament suggests this very thing in 1 Pet. 1:10-12.

At the same time, a scholar who denies the role of human participation in the entire process of writing and preserving God’s revelation, thus denying the incarnational quality of the canon, is prone to naive and shallow theological reflection.[65] Therefore we ought not to avoid rigorous and penetrating study of the Scriptures, or fail to make use of a wide variety of historical critical methodologies. Indeed, God has revealed Himself to real men and women in real places at real times in history. It is, therefore, incumbent on us as scholars to understand the specific historical and cultural context of these original revelations and the human contribution to the development and safeguarding of our sacred writings. Otherwise, our understanding of any given text will be warped and misleading.[66]

The Christian theologian ought to accept by faith that underneath all the hypotheses and questions is a genuine revelation of God, preserved by human hands and institutions through the centuries.[67] In the end, the Christian theologian must defend that God has spoken through prophets and apostles and God has preserved His Words in a canon of Scripture that carries full authority for belief and behaviour.[68]

            Cohesion in Christ

Binding Christian hermeneutics together is the central and supreme role of Jesus Christ. There are two aspects to a hermeneutic that finds cohesion in Christ. The first is that Christ is the hermeneutical key for fully understanding the deep meaning of any given biblical text or theological idea.[69] An assertion that excludes Christ has missed the fullest meaning of a biblical text or theological idea. The second aspect to hermeneutical cohesion in Christ is the requirement that all theological reflection contributes something to our understanding of who Jesus is, thus uniting the various disciplines of Christian theology in a single pursuit. Let us examine each assertion more closely.

That Christ is the hermeneutical key is evident from the New Testament Scriptures themselves, which take seriously the direction given by Jesus as described in Matt. 5:17, John 5:39-40, and Luke 24:25-27, 44. In each text Jesus is speaking directly of the Old Testament Scriptures, which he asserts find their fulfillment in Him. Therefore, as Goldsworthy simply and boldly asserts: “The person and work of Christ are at the heart of our hermeneutics.”[70]

There are many diverse ways that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. [71] We need not be limited, therefore, to typology, though typology has been an important hermeneutical device since the Church’s earliest days.[72] For example, as the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus is present in and as Yahweh. Therefore, in the Old Testament Jesus does not exert a merely typological presence, but He is in fact present as the LORD and God of Israel.[73] This is evident in the assertion that Isaiah beheld the glory of Christ (John 12:41). There are other ways to see Jesus in the Old Testament. Jesus is the telos or climax of a redemptive-historical narrative.[74] In other words, all saving acts before Christ are intentionally and directly moving Salvation History toward Him. More than that, Jesus is the fulfillment of specific promises of God to His people. As Paul writes in 2 Cor. 1:20, all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. Put another way, God has had a plan from before the foundation of the world and that plan has always intended to find its fullest expression in Christ (Eph. 1:3-10). Analogies can be drawn between God and Israel and Christ’s relationship with the Church, as is the case with the imagery of Israel as the bride of God (Isa. 54:5-8, 61:10) and the Church as the bride of Christ (Mark 2:19, Eph. 5:25-32, Rev. 19:6-8). Themes that run throughout the full breadth of the Christian canon converge and crescendo in the life and ministry of Jesus. The themes of life and death (Rom. 5:12-21), sin and punishment (2 Thess. 1:5-10), faith and salvation (Rom. 3:21-30), slavery and freedom (Rom. 6:6-7, 15-23), and blessing and curses (Gal. 3:10-14) are all teased out most fully by New Testament reflection on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The Incarnation of Jesus also introduces stark contrasts between the Old and New covenant. Jesus captured this very idea when he said that new wine requires new wineskins (Luke 5:37-38). As we can see, there are many ways to responsibly interpret the Old Testament with a purposefully Christological hermeneutic.

Secondly, the hermeneutical principle of cohesion in Christ means that Christian theologians from all disciplines must also be able to articulate the relationship that their work has with Jesus Christ. This does not mean that Jesus must be named in every article or book. However, every contribution within every discipline of Christian theology must add something that will enable us to better understand the God who is most fully known in Jesus. Simple reflection by scholars about the Christological aspect of their work will ensure harmony in direction and purpose within the broader theological enterprise, even while vast disciplinary diversity is preserved.


Christian theology requires a confessional hermeneutic where scholars in all disciplines confess the existence of God, the reality of God’s self-revelation, the illumination of our hearts/minds to perceive and understand this revelation, trust in a canon of authoritative Scripture, and the centricity of Jesus in all that we study and publish. These necessary presuppositions will tie all of the disciplines and sub-disciplines together while enabling the great disciplinary diversity to continue. Without question employing this confessional hermeneutic will affect our participation in certain academic societies. It may even require some level of professional sacrifice within certain guilds. However, if it is done creatively, responsively, and respectfully, this kind of confessional scholasticism ought to transform the academy, contribute to the building of the Church, and bring glory to God.


This paper has aimed to contextualize Old Testament biblical studies as one discipline of many within the greater effort of Christian theology. A very brief history of Old Testament studies was outlined and a vision for Old Testament theological reflection was put forward. Within this vision is a purposeful contextualization of Old Testament studies as the foundational discipline of Christian theology. Secondly, a confessional hermeneutic was presented as the starting point for Old Testament scholasticism. May the God of the Old Testament bless us as we seek to know Him better in and through Jesus our Messiah by the power of the Holy Spirit.




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———-. The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism. Bloomington: 1985.

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Boda, Mark J. “Biblical Theology and Old Testament Interpretation.” In Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address. Edited by Craig G.  Bartholomew and David J. H. Beldman. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

Bowald, Mark Alan. Rendering the Word in Theological Hermeneutics: Mapping Divine and Human Agency. Burlington: Ashgate, 2007.

Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove: IVP, 1988.

Carson, D. A. “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology.” In New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, 89-104. Downers Grove: IVP, 2000.

———-. The King James Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979.

———-. “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: The Possibility of Systematic Theology.” In Scripture and Truth, edited by D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, 65-95. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1992.

Childs, Brevard S. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979.

———-. Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985.

Clarke, Greg. “Postmodernism: Blown Away” In A Spectator’s Guide to Worldviews: Ten Ways of Understanding Life, edited by Simon Smart, 59-80. Sydney: Blue Bottle, 2007.

Clowney, Edmund P. Preaching Christ in all of Scripture. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003.

Cosgrove, Charles H. “Toward a Postmodern Hermeneutica Sacra: Guiding Considerations in Choosing between Competing Plausible Interpretations of Scripture.” In The Meanings We Choose: Hermeneutical Ethics, Indeterminacy and the Conflict of Interpretation, edited by Charles H. Cosgrove, 39-61. London: T&T Clarke, 2004.

Daley, Brian E. “Is Patristic Exegsis Still Usable? Reflections on Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms.” In Communio 29 (Spring 2002): 194-204.

Davies, Philip R. “The Hebrew Canon and the Origins of Judaism.” In The Historian and the Bible: Essays in Honour of Lester L. Grabbe. Edited by Philip R. Davies and Diana V. Edelman, 194-206. New York: T & T Clarke, 2010.

De Wette, W. M. L. Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 2 vols. Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1971.

Duhm, Bernhard. Das Buch Jesaia. 5th ed. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck &Ruprecht, 1968.

———-. Israels Propheten. Tubingen: Mohr, 1922.

Erickson, Millard J. Evangelical Interpretation: Perspectives on Hermeneutical Issues. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993.

Evans, Craig A. and Emanuel Tov (editors). Exploring the Origins of the Bible: Canon Formation in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

Frei, Hans W. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics. Chelsea: Yale University, 1974.

Freedman, Diana et al. The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism. Durham: Duke University, 1993.

Fretheim Terence E. and Karlfried Froehlich. The Bible as Word of God in a Postmodern Age. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998.

Fuller, Daniel P. “The Holy Spirit’s Role in Biblical Interpretation.” In Scripture, Tradition, and Interpretation, edited by W. Ward Gasque and William Sanford LaSor, 189-198. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

Gamble, H. Y. “The New Testament Canon: Recent Research and the Status Quaestionis.” In The Canon Debate, edited by L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders, 267-294. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002.

Geisler, Norman L. and William C. Roach. Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.

Gignilliat, Mark S. A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism: From Benedict Spinoza to Brevard Childs. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.

Gilkey, Langdon. “Cosmology, Ontology, and the Travail of Biblical Language.” In  Concordia Theological Monthly 33 (1962): 143-154.

Goldsworthy, Graeme. Gospel-Centred Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove: IVP, 2006.

———-. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000.

Green, Garrett. Theology, Hermeneutics, and Imagination: The Crisis of Interpretation at the End of Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2000.

Greidanus, Sidney.  Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes: Foundations for Expository Sermons. Cambridge: William B. Eeerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

———-. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament. A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.

———-. The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.

Gunkel, Hermann and Joachim Begrich. Einleitung in die Psalmen.: Die Gattungen der religiösen Lyrik Israels. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1933.

———-.“The Prophets as Writers and Poets.” In Prophecy in Israel: Search for Identity. Translated by J. L. Schaaf. Edited by D. L. Petersen. Issues in Religion and Theology 10. 22–73. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987.

Hanson, Anthony Tyrrell. Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. London: SPCK, 1965.

Harrison, Roy A. and Walter Sundberg. The Bible in Modern Culture: Theology and Historical-Critical Method from Spinoza to Kasemann. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

House, Paul R. Beyond Form Criticism: Essays in Old Testament Literary Criticism. 2 vols. Sources for Biblical and Theological Study. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1992.

International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21 (1978):289-296.

Jennings, Willie James. “Baptizing a Social Reading: Theology, Hermeneutics, and Postmodernity.” In Disciplining Hermeneutics: Interpretation in Christian Perspective, edited by Roger Lundin, 117-130. Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1997.

Kaiser, Walter C. Jr. Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981.

Keesey, Donald. “Reader-Response Criticism: Audience as Context.” In Contexts for Criticism. 4th ed. 129–137. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2003.

Kitzberger, Ingrid Rosa. Autobiographical Biblical Criticism. Leiden: Deo, 2002.

———-. Personal Voice in Biblical Interpretation. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Kyrtatas, Dimitris J. “Historical Aspects of the Formation of the New Testament Canon.” In Canon and Canonicity: The Formation and Use of Scripture, edited by Einar Thomassen, 29-44. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2010.

Laughery, Gregory J. Living Hermeneutics in Motion: An Analysis and Evaluation of Paul Ricoeur’s Contribution to Biblical Hermeneutics. New York: University Press of America, 2002.

Lewis, C.S. Miracles: A Preliminary Study. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.

Longman, Tremper III. Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation. FCI, Vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Academie, 1987.

Longnecker, Richard N. “Three Ways of Understanding Relationships between the Testaments: Historically and Today.” In Tradition and Interpretation in the New Testament: Essays in Honor of E. Earle Ellis for His Sixtieth Birthday. Edited by G.F. Hawthorne and O. Betz, 22-32. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and Mohr, 1987.

Marcos, Natalio Fernandez. The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Versions of the Bible. Boston: Brill, 2001.

McDonald, Lee Martin. The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995.

McDonald, Lee Martin and James A. Sanders (editors). The Canon Debate. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002.

McGrath, Alistair. “Mere Theology: The Landscape of Faith 1” in The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind, 19-32. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2010.

Middleton, J. Richard. The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005.

Moberly, R. W. L. The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A study of Abraham and Jesus. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2000.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House, 1974.

Nobel, Paul R. The Canonical Approach: A Critical Reconstruction of the Hermeneutics of Brevard S. Childs. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

Noll, Mark A. Between Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

O’Keefe, John J. and R. R. Reno. Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1971.

Orr-Ewing, Amy. “Postmodern Challenges to the Bible” in Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith we Defend, edited by Ravi Zacharias, 3-20. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

Piper, John. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Ramm, Bernard. The Witness of the Spirit: An Essay on the Contemporary Relevance of the Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959.

Reventlow, Henning Graf. History of Biblical Interpretation: From the Enlightenment to the Twentieth Century. Volume 4. Translated by Leo G. Perdue. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010.

Sandys-Wunsch, John and Laurence Eldredge, “J. P. Gabler and the Distinction between Biblical and Dogmatic Theology: Translation, Commentary, and Discussion of His Originality,” Scottish Journal of Theology 33 (1980): 133-58.

Scobie, C. H. H. “History of Biblical Theology.” In New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, 11-20. Downers Grove: IVP, 2000.

———-. The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

Sheehan, Jonathan. The Enlightenment Bible: Translation, Scholarship, Culture. Princeton: Princeton University, 2005.

Spinoza, Benedict. Theological-Political Treatise. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998.

Sternberg, Meir. The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading. Bloomington: Indiana, 1985.

Stendahl, Krister. “Biblical Theology, Contemporary.” In Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, edited by G. A. Buttrick. New York: Abingdon, 1962.

Tate, W. Randolph. Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach. 3rd ed. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008.

Thomassen, Einar. “Some Notes on the Development of Christian Ideas about a Canon.” In Canon and Canonicity: The Formation and Use of Scripture, edited by Einar Thomassen, 9-28. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2010.

Treier, Daniel J. Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: REcovering a Christian Practice. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

Trible, Phyllis. God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. London: SCM, 1992.

———-.  Texts of Terror: Literary Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

Tucker, Gene M. et al. Canon, Theology, and Old Testament Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Brevard S. Childs. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.

Ulrich, Eugene. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible. Boston: Brill, 1999.

Von Rad, Gerhard. Old Testament Theology. 2 vols. Translated by D. M. G. Stalker. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.

Watson, Francis. “Are there Still Four Gospels? A Study in Theological Hermeneutics.” In Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation, 95-116. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

———-. “Authors, Readers, Hermeneutics.” In Reading Scripture with the Church: Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation, 119-124. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Wellhausen, Julius. Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels. Berlin: Druck und Verlag Von Georg Reimer, 1886.

Wenham, Gordon J. “Pondering the Pentateuch: The Search for a New Paradigm.” In The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches, edited by David W. Baker and Bill T. Arnold, 116–144. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

———-. Story as Torah: Reading the Old Testament Narrative Ethically. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000.

Wolferstorff, Nicholas. “The Importance of Hermeneutics for a Christian Worldview.” In Disciplining Hermeneutics: Interpretation in Christian Perspective, edited by Roger Lundin, 25-56. Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1997.

Wright, Christopher J. H. “The Ethical Authority of the Old Testament: A Survey of Approaches (Part 1)” In Tyndale Bulletin 43.1 (1992) 101-120.

Wurthwein, Ernst. The Text of the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Translated by Errol R. Rhodes. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.


                [1] Treier (Interpretation, 188) defines theology in this way: “In an important sense theology pertains to every activity in which Christians engage God and others, communicating and refining thereby an understanding of who God is. Theology is the practice of all Christian people growing in their knowledge of God amidst their various life activities and church practices.”

                [2] Paul’s warning to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:20-21) is as appropriate for us today as it was for Timothy in his day: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.”

                [3] Treier, Interpretation, 104.

                [4] Treier, Interpretation, 46-47.

                [5] Longnecker, “Three Ways,” 22-32; Wright, “Survey of Approaches,” 101-104.

                [6] Treier (Interpretation, 42) quoting: Daley, “Patristic Exegesis,” 194; Read also: Harrisville and Sundberg, Bible in Modern Culture, 14.

                [7] Gignilliat, OT Criticism, 172; For more on pre-critical biblical hermeneutics, read: Harrisville and Sundberg, Bible in Modern Culture, 10-29.

                [8] Frei, Eclipse, 1-16, 51.

                [9] Gignilliat, OT Criticism, 173.

                [10] Treier (Interpretation, 13, 137) suggests that Augustine (On Christian Doctrine) was the main influence on the hermeneutics of the Church for over a thousand years.

                [11]Bartholomew, “Biblical Theology;” Boda, “Biblical Theology,” 123-124; Sandys-Wunsch and Eldredge, “Gabler;” Scobie, “History,” 13-14; Scobie, Ways of Our God, 15-16; Treier, Interpretation, 13, 105.

                [12] Spinoza ushered in a new age where the Bible was to be treated like any other book from antiquity. Frei (Eclipse, 42) writes that Spinoza (Treatise) set the course for rationalistic, historical-critical scholarship as it developed in the eighteenth century. Spinoza’s major contribution to OT studies was Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, which was first published in 1670 (I have included an English translation in the Bibliography); Read also: Gignilliat, OT Criticism, 15-35; Harrisville and Sundberg, Bible in Modern Culture, 32-48.

                [13] De Wette’s approach to OT studies was the exploration of the history of Israel’s religion; As Gignilliat (OT Criticism, 57) writes about de Wette: “The text of the Old Testament is no longer a continuing witness of divine revelation but is now a source for the critical retrieval of Israel’s religious history” (emphasis original). De Wette’s major contribution to OT studies was Beiträge zur Einleitung in das Alte Testament, which was first published in 1806 (vol. 1) and 1807 (vol. 2).

[14] Wellhausen sought to identify the original sources behind the text of the Old Testament, thus distinguishing between the history of Israel and Judaism. His most influential work, in which he articulated the J, E, D, P source theory for the Pentateuch, was the 1878 German publication of Prolegomena to the History of Israel; Gignilliat, OT Criticism, 57-77; Wenham, “Pentateuch,” 116.

                [15] Duhm, like his teacher and friend Wellhausen, was a source critic. He made his greatest mark in his publication Das Buch Jesaia, where he identified the divisions of Proto, Deutero, and Trito Isaiah, as well as his identification of the Servant Songs of Isaiah. Duhm’s approach to the prophetic books was to “attempt to penetrate as deeply as possible into the personality of the composer himself” (Reventlow, Biblical Interpretation, 333, quoting Duhm, Propheten, 3).

                [16] Gunkel investigated the various forms of Old Testament literature and sought to identify the original Sitz im Leben of each form that was eventually integrated into the Biblical text. Like Duhm, Gunkel (“Prophets as Writers”) endeavoured to uncover the historical mind of the prophetic writer. Gunkel made a real impact in the study of the Psalms with his publication Einleitung in die Psalmen, which was originally published a year after his death in 1933; Read also: Gignilliat, OT Criticism, 78-99.

[17] Von Rad endeavoured to identify independent traditions within the historiography of Israel and to explain the eventual fusing together of these traditions into a single witness. In his Old Testament Theology (418) von Rad argues for a difference between Israel’s theistic understanding of history and the modern naturalistic non-theistic understanding of history; Read also: Gignilliat, OT Criticism, 101-121.

[18] For more on narrative criticism: Alter, Biblical Narrative; Alter and Kermode, Literary Guide, 36-164, 357-365; Amit, Biblical Narratives; Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art; Berlin, Biblical Narrative; House, Beyond Form Criticism; Longman, Literary Approaches, 75-118; Sternberg, Biblical Narrative; Tate, Interpretation, 102-127; Wenham, Story; For more on poetic criticism: Alter, Biblical Poetry; Alter and Kermode, Literary Guide, 244-262; Berlin, Parallelism; Kent, Kissling, and Turner, Old Testament, 64-101; Longman, Literary Approaches, 119-150; Tate, Interpretation, 128-132.

[19] Treier (Interpretation, 17-20) traces the influence of Karl Barth on Childs; For more on canonical criticism: Bartholomew et al., Canon; Childs, OT as Scripture; Childs, Old Testament Theology; Noble, Canonical Approach; Treier, Interpretation, 114-116; Tucker et al., Canon.

[20] For more on postmodern and reader-response criticism: Adam, Postmodern Interpretation; Freedman et al., Intimate Critique; Keesey, “Reader-Response Criticism;” Kitzberger, Autobiographical; Kitzberger, Personal Voice.

[21] Tate, Interpretation, 229.

                [22] It is difficult to know exactly where to locate the monumental work of Paul Ricoeur. Laughery (Living Hermeneutics) makes the apt judgment that Ricoeur’s hermeneutics are focussed on the text in a way that bridges modernity and post-modernity. In this very thoughtful book Laughery introduces and interacts with a wide breadth of Ricoeur’s published works.

[23] Tate, Interpretation, 230; Read, for example, the feminist readings of the Old Testament by Trible: Rhetoric of Sexuality, Texts of Terror.

                [24] For a similar perspective on the interrelationships between Christian theological disciplines, read: Treier, Interpretation, 188-199; Kaiser (Exegetical Theology) specifically explores the role of exegesis for proper theological reflection.

                [25] Although Carson (“Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology”) acknowledges that hermeneutics are not simple and linear (i.e. moving from exegesis to systematic theology in a straight line), he emphasises a general movement from the Bible toward our world and interpretation: “Although in terms of authority status there need to be an outward-tracing line from Scripture through exegesis toward biblical theology to systematic theology (with historical theology providing some guidance along the way), in reality various ‘back loops’ are generated, each discipline influencing the others, and few disciplines influencing the others more than does systematic theology, precisely because it is so worldview forming” (102).

                [26] Boda, “Biblical Theology,” 134.

                [27] Moberly, Bible, 45-70.

                [28] There are competing visions for biblical theology. Some (e.g. Barr, Concept of Biblical Theology; Gabler, Oration; Gilkey, “Cosmology;” Stendahl, “Biblical Theology”) “treat biblical theology and theological interpretation of Scripture as rivals… History demonstrates that we must take this possibility seriously, since much biblical scholarship has been antiecclesiastical in its effects and even its aims” (Treier, Interpretation, 110). Nevertheless, I am defining biblical theology as a discipline that studies the theological meaning of each part of the canon in light of the whole, which is closer to such scholars as: Carson, “Unity and Diversity;” Vanhoozer, “Exegesis.”

                [29] Carson, “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology; “Rosner, “Biblical Theology,” 4; Vanhoozer, “Exegesis,” 63.

                [30] Treier (Interpretation, 119-125) explores some of the tensions between biblical theology and historical/systematic theology. Historical and systematic theologies are comfortable appealing to “classic doctrines” (124) that developed later than the original text. Biblical theology resists this impulse. As a case study Treier summarizes Middletton’s (Liberating Image) analysis of the different interpretations of the Imago Dei derived by systematic theologians versus biblical theologians.

                [31] As this paper has already acknowledged, some schemes for envisioning the interrelationship of the theological disciplines would be inclined to articulate a complex series of feedback loops. This is fine, but unnecessary, so long as it is well attested that no Christian theologian can escape the influence of historical theology. Moberly (Bible, 4-7) recognizes this very impact and writes: “On the one hand, the content and self-definition of all the mainstream branches of the Christian Church is provided, at the very least, by the Bible in conjunction with the theological formulations of the patristic period – the creeds and councils with their trinitarian and incarnational understandings of God, Christ, humanity, and salvation. To accept the validity of these doctrines is part of the official definition of what it means to be a Christian. For most Christians there are also various post-patristic formulations and confessions which are also normative. On the other hand, none of these doctrinal confessions were formulated by the biblical writers, nor (in all likelihood) even envisaged by them” (p 4). It is precisely this tension that puts historical theology in the centre of the theological project, influencing and informing scholars in both directions, upward and downward.

                [32] Kaiser (Exegetical Theology, 8) writes: “I have been aware for some time now of a gap that has existed in academic preparation for the ministry. It is the gap that exists between the study of the Biblical text and the actual delivery of messages to God’s people. Very few centres of Biblical and homiletical training have ever taken the time or the effort to show the student how one moves from analyzing the text over to constructing a sermon that accurately reflects that same analysis and is directly dependent on it.” The gap that Kaiser envisions is not the gap of biblical theology, historical theology, and systematic theology, as I have identified here. However, he does identify the need for preachers to live in the disciplines of biblical studies and practical theology. This paper would suggest that a preacher is best served by dipping into the other theological disciplines, in this logically articulated order, as well.

                [33] Watson (“Four Gospels,” 95) writes: “Christian talk about God is Christian only if God is understood in relation to Jesus, and Jesus in relation to God. Christian talk about the world is Christian only if the world is understood in its relation to Jesus and to the God whose triune being Jesus discloses. For Christian faith [and I would add theology], the question of Jesus’s identity is the question of all questions, on which all else hangs. Bound up in it are the all-comprehending questions of the identity of God and of the world” (brackets are mine).

                [34] Treier (Interpretation, 103-125) explores the historical tension between borrowing from non-Christian scholars and becoming like them.

                [35] For an interesting exploration of the role of confession in Christian scholasticism, read: Moberly, Bible, 1-70.

                [36] Geisler and Roach (Defending Inerrancy, 215) suggest that belief in God and in the authoritative inerrancy of His self-revelation in the canon cannot be separated from one another: “Clearly, believing that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God is not possible for someone who does not even believe in the theistic God of the Bible.”

                [37] Barr (“Biblical Study,” 23-24) argues that faith is optional for biblical study. However, he agrees that a biblical study that lacks faith is not, strictly speaking, theology.

                [38] Goldsworthy, Gospel Centered, 40.

                [39] For more on modernity and the role of Christian theology, read: Birkett, “Modernism.”

                [40] For an overview of Biblical scholarship within the context of modernity, read: Sheehan, Enlightenment.

                [41] Moberly, Bible, 3.

                [42] Treier, Interpretation, 34; Watson (“Authors,” 120) acknowledges this reality within biblical studies itself: “The claims of modern biblical scholarship are to be resisted insofar as they prove incompatible with the claims of the ecclesial community, its canon, and its interpretive tradition. They are inclined to be skeptical of the familiar modernist rhetoric that proclaims the need to wrest the biblical texts from ecclesiastical control, to liberate them from the tyranny of dogma, to restore the original sense concealed by a long history of misreading.”; See also Bowald, Rendering the Word, 1-19.

                [43] Noll, Faith and Criticism, 7; Gignilliat (OT Criticism, 33) notes that in as early as 1670 Benedict de Spinoza (Treatise), influenced by Thomas Hobbes, Isaac La Peyrere, and his teacher Rene Descartes, denied the reality of miracles, the supernatural election of Israel, and the divine inspiration of Scripture. For Spinoza, the Hebrew Bible was a human document that charted the development of religion.

                [44] The first to coin this phrase was Nietzsche (Gay Science, 167, 181).

                [45] Gignilliat (OT Criticism) and Goldsworthy (Gospel Centered, 121-198) explores the effect that post-Enlightenment modernity had on Old Testament biblical studies.

                [46] For more on postmodernity and the role of Christian theology, read: Clarke, “Postmodernism;” Erickson, Evangelical Interpretation, 99-125; Fretheim and Froehlich, Bible as Word of God.

                [47] Treier (Interpretation, 34) notes: “Postmodernity extends modern suspicion to include such criticism of critical methods.

                [48] One of the positive contributions of postmodernity to Christian theology is a reemphasis on interpreting the Bible in community. Treier (Intepretation, 79-100) dedicates a chapter to the important developments in the hermeneutical shift toward communal interpretation; Jennings (“Postmodernity”) explores opportunities for Christian hermeneutics within the postmodern context.

                [49] Cosgrove (“Postmodern”) explores how Christian theologians might navigate postmodernity and choose between competing interpretations of Scripture.

                [50] Orr-Ewing (“Postmodern”) explores three specific postmodern challenges to the Bible. They are theoretical questions about textual authority (Can any claim to authority be trusted? Can any interpretation be objective?), historical questions about textual authority (Can history be accurately recorded? Can the canon be trusted?), and existential questions about textual authority (Can a God who endorses war be trusted? Is the God of the New Testament consistent with the God of the Old Testament? If there is a God, can that God be a moral authority?). This chapter does a good job of presenting the difficulties Christian theologians are sure to encounter within a postmodern setting.

                [51] Green (Theology) charts the progression of Christian hermeneutics through the infancy of postmodernity, beginning with “roots of suspicion” during the modern age.

                [52] Goldsworthy (Gospel Centred, 167-180) presents a very interesting chapter about some common evangelical hermeneutical errors and the evangelical failure to properly respond to the challenges and opportunities of the Enlightenment.

                [53] Wolferstorff (“Importance of Hermeneutics,” 29-33) suggests that it is crucial for Christian hermeneutics to presuppose that God reveals, God speaks, and God authorizes Scripture. According to Wolferstorrf, these three are not synonymous. Wolferstorff’s idea that God “authorizes Scripture,” is that God gives the written work of men His approval. This is different than the traditional notion of divine revelation and inspiration and is not what I am suggesting in this paper. Nevertheless, Woferstorff makes good points about revelation that do fit with my hermeneutical approach.

                [54] The role of reason in theological reflection is well attested and defended by Lewis (Miracles, 17-60), and Piper (Think). While embracing the role of reason in theological thinking, McGrath (“Mere Theology,” 31) admits to its limitations: “Both the New Testament and Christian spiritual writers use the term mystery to refer to the hidden depths of the Christian faith that stretch beyond the reach of reason. To speak of God as a mystery is not to lapse into some kind of obscurantism or woolly and muddled way of thinking. It is simply to admit the limits placed on our human reason and the hold it can obtain on the living God. We are predisposed to reduce God to what we can cope with, to bring God down to our own level, to dilute God, to scale God down. Yet we ought to allow God to open our minds and enlarge our apprehension of the divine reality and glory.”

                [55] Boda (“Biblical Theology,” 128) writes: “It is this communicative character of revelation that makes possible a biblical theology rather than merely a history of religion. The Scriptures represent God’s successful communication of his character and ways… [Scripture] is not merely the record of human attempts at religion, but a theological witness of divine origin.”

                [56] Moberly (Bible, 45-70) has an excellent discussion on this issue, which explores Luke 24:13-35.

                [57] Erickson (Evangelical Interpretation, 33-54) explores the role of the illumination of the Holy Spirit for Christian hermeneutics more fully; Bayer (“Hermeneutical Theology”) explores the hermeneutical necessity that God reveals and empowers us to receive. He critiques and calls the modernist impulse for human powered interpretation narcissistic.

                [58] Erickson, Evangelical Interpretation, 33. Erickson proceeds to describe an alternative understanding of illumination put forward by Daniel Fuller. Fuller (“Holy Spirit’s Role”) suggests that the Holy Spirit does not give understanding, but rather He makes understanding possible. For an alternative view to Fuller, read: Erickson, Evangelical Interpretation, 37-54; Ramm, Witness of the Spirit.

                [59] By “canon” I mean the closed list of books considered to be authoritative by the Protestant Church. The authority of these books predates the official canonization in the fourth century. Of course, when speaking of canon we are faced with a dilemma: which canon are we referring to? Which tradition and which manuscripts deserve priority? Is the Masoretic text or the Septuagint to be preferred? What is the role of the Dead Sea Scrolls? Should we trust the Alands’ Greek New Testament? These questions, and others, go beyond the scope of this paper, though they remain important for Christian theologians of all disciplines. Suffice it to say, textual criticism posits a massively important contribution to the Christian theological enterprise. For more on the development and nature of the canon, read: Aland and Aland, New Testament; Allert, High View, 37-66; Barton, Holy Writings; Carson, KJV Debate; Bruce, Canon; Evans and Tov, Origins of the Bible; Gamble, “New Testament Canon;” Kyrtatas, “Formation of NT Canon;” Marcos, Septuagint; McDonald, Canon; McDonald and Sanders, Canon Debate; Thomassen, “Ideas about a Canon;” Ulrich, Dead Sea Scrolls; Wurthwein, Old Testament.

                [60] For a full exploration of the relationship of the divine and human activity in the creation and preservation of Christian Scripture, read: Bowland, Rendering the Word (especially 1-41, 163-184); Boda (“Biblical Theology,” 131-133)  reminds us that God’s revelation has been “inscripturated,” which means it has been written down. This forms an important part of his hermeneutic, with which this paper agrees.

                [61] I am not here suggesting that Christian theologians must subscribe to the verbal plenary theory of inspiration as defined by “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” However, it is crucial for Christian theologians to affirm that the message of the Bible is divine in origin and incarnated by human authorship. Whether or not The Chicago Statement appropriately defines inerrancy is a matter for debate and there is room for disagreement. For more on the Chicago Statement read: Allert, High View, 160-172; Geisler and Roach, Defending Inerrancy, 17-44; International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, “Chicago Statement.”

                [62] Goldsworthy, Gospel Centred, 48-49.

                [63] In a very interesting essay, Davies (“Hebrew Canon,” 194) asks: “Did Judaism create its scriptures or did the scriptures create Judaism?” He concludes (206): “The creation of both ‘Judaism’ and the provision of a set of scriptures were arguably aspects of one and the same initiative.” This initiative, according to Davies, was the Hasmonean project that tried to create a new Judaism by entrenching a particular leadership structure of priest-kings.

                [64] Erickson (Evangelical Interpretation, 11-32) explores this subject in great detail.

                [65] For more about Scripture being “incarnational” read: Boda, “Biblical Theology,” 128-131.

                [66] Achtemeier (Inspiration, 91-121) proposes that our confidence in the inspiration of Scripture emerges from the claim of Scripture itself, from the role that Scripture has played in the life of the Church, and in the process of forming an authoritative canon.

                [67] Allert (High View) has written an important book which challenges the typical evangelical belief that the Bible “dropped out of the sky” (10). In this book Allert takes seriously the human involvement in the writing and canonization of Scripture. From the outset he declares his work to be within the discipline of historical theology and he summarizes his position as follows: “My position is that a high view of Scripture demands an understanding and integration of the Bible’s very formation. The Bible’s living authority in the life of believers is implicated in this formation because the Bible was formed and grew within the community of faith. This means that the Bible did not drop from heaven but was the result of historical and theological development… I affirm the authority of the Bible as God’s revelation to humanity, and as such I affirm that it is the final source for the believers’ faith and life” (13-14). Allert contributes a very balanced approach to understanding the divine and human aspects to the development of the Christian canon. He cautions against turning the Bible into an idol, which is a helpful reminder.

                [68] Boda, “Biblical Theology,” 133-134.

                [69] Goldsworthy, Gospel Centred, 47-48, 296-313.

                [70] Goldsworthy, Gospel Centred, 58.

                [71] For more on Christ in the Old Testament, read: Clowney, Christ in All of Scripture; Goldsworthy, Whole Bible; Greidanus, Christ from Ecclesiastes; Greidanus, Christ from the Old Testament; Greidanus, Modern Preacher.

                [72] O’Keefe and Reno, Sanctified Vision, 69; Treier, Interpretation, 45.

                [73] Hanson (Christ in the Old Testament, 172) makes this point: “The central affirmation [of the New Testament writers] is that the pre-existent Jesus was present in much of Old Testament history, and that therefore it is not a question of tracing types in the Old Testament for New Testament events, but rather of tracing the activity of the same Jesus in the old and new dispensations.”

                [74] Boda (“Biblical Theology,” 144) writes: “The New Testament makes clear that the Scriptures have as their goal the redemption of all creation through the Son, Jesus the Christ (2 Tim. 3:14-17; Luke 24). Interpretation of these Scriptures must then be Christotelic in character, that is, that which has been revealed is by definition part of a larger story that has the revelation of and redemption through the Son as its goal.”

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