Origin and History (§ 1). 

Study of New Testament Theology (§ 2).

The Old Testament (§ 3).

 Limitations (§ 4).

Constructive Work (§ 5).

The True Aim (§ 6).


Biblical theology, or the orderly presentation of doctrinal contents of Scripture, is a comparatively modern branch of theological science. In general the term expresses not so much the construction of a theology which is Biblical in an especial sense as a method of dealing with the Biblical matter which is midway between exegesis and dogmatics. Its object and limitation can be shown best by tracing its history.


1. Origin and History. So long as the Church felt or admitted no discord between its tradition and the Biblical tradition, there was no need to compare or contrast the contents of the Bible with the teaching of the Church. On this account the beginnings of a Biblical theology appear in the circles of the theologians of the Reformation, who perceived in Scripture the test by which to try ecclesiastical tradition. Since to them the Bible was the sufficient, self-explaining basis of dogmatics, by this the possibility was given of a separate treatment of the doctrinal contents of the Bible. The first timid effort confined itself to a discussion of the customary quotations (Sebastian Schmidt, Collegium Biblicum in quo dicta Veteris et Novi Testaments juxta seriem locorum . . .explicantur, 1671). Under the influence of Pietism the close connection of dogmatics and the Bible was relaxed, because in the latter was seen less an infallible source of knowledge than a means of grace (A. F. Büsching, Gedanken von der Beschaffenheit und dem Vorzuge der bibl.-dogm. Theologie von der scholastischen, Lemgo, 1758, and similar works). When in the eighteenth century J. S. Semler and his school busied themselves in discovering the differences in date and characteristics of the different books of the Bible, and brought to light the dissonance between crystallized dogma and New Testament teaching (a dissonance greater still in the case of the Old Testament), the desire naturally arose to show the essential agreement of the teaching of the Church and that of the Bible by an unprejudiced study of the latter (G. T. Zachariä. Biblische Theologie oder Untersuchung des biblischen Grundes der vornehmsten kirchlichen Lehren, 5 vols., Göttingen, 1771-86). The rationalistic school, in opposition to the formulated dogma of the Church, endeavored to read its own views (those of natural religion) into the Bible (C. F. Ammon, Entwicklung einer reinen biblischen Theologie, Erlangen, 1792; G. P. C. Kaiser, Die biblische Theologie odor Judaismus und Christianismus nach einer freimütigen Stellung in die kritisch-vergleichende Universalgeschichte der Religionen und in die universale Religion, 2 vols., Erlangen, 1813). In contradistinction to this there was during the nineteenth century an eager desire to give the purely historical results of examination of the Bible. In this way, the fact of differences of conception in the parts of the Bible was fully brought to light.


2. Study of New Testament Theology. Probably under the influence of Schleiermacher (q.v.) especial attention was directed to the New Testament, and the "systems" of the different apostles were separately treated (the Pauline by Meyer, 1801, L. Usteri, 1824; the Johannine by K. Frommann, 1839). Along with this an effort was made to show the unity of the Gospel in the very variety of individual conceptions (of the many important works, note A. Neander, Geschichte der Pflanzung . . . der christlichen Kirche, Hamburg, 1832; B. Weiss, Lehrbuch der biblischen Theologie, Berlin, 1868; W. Beyschlag, Neutestamentliche Theologie, Halle, 1891). At the same time another class of theologians was eagerly engaged in tracing the differences of the individual conceptions to their very roots. According to Hegel's formula the crystallized dogma was a synthesis of the two sharp opposites of Paulinism and the primitive apostolate, and this development was followed up in all its details from a literary-historical point of view (F. C. Baur; H. E. G. Paulus; F. C. A. Schwegler, Nachapostolisches Zeitalter, Tübingen, 1846; O. Pfleiderer, Paulinismus, Leipsic, 1873; C. Holston, Evangelium des Paulus und Petrus, Rostock, 1868; A. Hilgenfeld, Urchristentum, Jena, 1854). In like manner the life of Jesus and its sources were treated, in connection with which work there originated a countless number of monographs on the self-consciousness of Jesus and the titles he assumed. The result from this point of view was the conviction that New Testament theology has to deal not with a completed whole, but with a mobile and developing Christianity. Hence "Biblical Theology" and "Introduction" together represent simply a part of the apparatus of general church history (cf. A. Hausrath, Neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte, Heidelberg, 1868; O. Pfleiderer, Urchristentum, Berlin, 1887).


3. The Old Testament. Parallel to this development of New Testament theology was that of Old Testament theology. Students came to discern the narrowness and one-sidedness of the Old Testament religion, upon which Hengstenberg vainly insisted in his obliteration of the limits between the Old and the New Testament. In acknowledging the principle of slow historical genesis, others sought to understand the development of the Old Testament religion by the principle that no doctrine is completed in the Old Testament, no doctrine in the New Testament is altogether new (G. F. Oehler, Theologie des Alten Testaments, Tübingen, 1873-74; similarly Schultz and Riehm). J. Wellhausen (Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels, Berlin, 1886) and A. Kuenen produced a revolution in the treatment of the Old Testament. Under the influence of their religious-historical suppositions and literary-critical conclusions, Old Testament theology served to describe how from the supposed original conditions, from animism and totemism, the prophetic monotheism of the prophets and ultimately the theocratic ceremonialism of postexilic Judaism gradually developed (B. Duhm, Theologie der Propheten, Bonn, 1875; R. Smend, Alttestamentliche Religionsgeschichte, Freiburg, 1893; S. Kayser and Marti). In this way the Old Testament religion was placed on a level with other religions, and the surprisingly rich discoveries concerning the ancient Orient and the rising science of the history of religion grasped hands with this method of treatment. It was a natural consequence to show that the New Testament possesses a rich heritage of religious fancy common to ethnic religions (cf. especially H. Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos, Göttingen, 1895; Religionsgeschichtliche Abhandlung des Neuen Testaments, 1904). The idea of unity and special individuality of the New Testament thus goes by the board.


4. Limitations. In glancing over the development of Biblical theology, it is surprising to see how this branch has worked out its own disintegration. In the beginning the aim was to make the Bible the only and sole source of Christian doctrine in the Reformers' understanding of the phrase, by allowing it to speak for itself without introducing any diluting medium. The investigator sought to penetrate its polymorphous nature, and finally saw that under his touch the uniting bond had disappeared which formerly kept together the disparate parts and made it an undivided object of scientific research. This self-immolation the discipline owes to a one-sided maintenance of the historical and religious-historical method. Biblical theology must indeed be a historical science; but the adjective must not become a noun and the method must not master the subject. For in this study there are fundamental perceptions which can not be obtained by literary criticism and general historical researches. Thus the subject itself--namely, the whole Bible--suggests the question whether the subject-matter is the remains of a religious literature or documents, productions, and descriptions of a history which is fixed by a revelation from God. And the answer to this question is of the greatest import for the investigation. How different must be the verdict of higher criticism, provided the miracles or the declarations of Jesus are regarded as a priori historically possible or impossible; how much the selection of the matter decides whether one shall find only religious-ethical views, or historical facts of the “religion of Jesus,” or that “the belief in Christ” belongs to the essence of Christianity.


5. Constructive Work. For this reason there has always existed an opposition to the development described above. The history of salvation with its literary deposit ought not to be resolved into a purely human development. The impression is gained rather that the Bible contains a primary life of faith, having the character of uncorrupted self-consistency and unbroken independence, and that consequently there is underneath a uniform and fundamental idea. As standing for this, mention must be made of K. I. Nitzsch, System der christlichen Lehre (Bonn, 1829), and H. Ewald, Lehre der Bibel von Gott (3 vols., Leipsic, 1871), and particularly of J. C. K. von Hofmann, whose great work (Die heilige Schrift des Neuen Testaments zusammenhängend untersucht, completed by Volck, Munich, 1886) culminated in the description of the history of the entire New Testament preaching as a historical development of the uniform word which is not the product of the individual authors. Hermann Cremes (Biblisch-theologisches Wörterbuch der neutestamentlichen Gräcität, 8th ed., Gotha, 1895) endeavored in a new way to bring into view the unity of the contents of Scripture by collecting the individual notions of the Bible and following their development from the Hebrew into the Greek. According to him there are not only different modes of expression at different times, but there is a Bible-language, a linguistic body of the divine word, ever developing itself. It is a scientific necessity that Biblical theology regard the individuality of the Bible as the basal principle of its entire activity. For the religion of the Bible is not merely a part of the historical past; it is an active factor in the present. In like manner the Bible is not merely a document showing the manner in which the Christian Church originated; it is the authentic tradition of the word of God, out of which the Church is ever originating (M. Koehler, Der historische Jesus, 2d ed., Leipsic, 1896). On this account Biblical theology must always proceed from the unexceptionable agreement, which can only be reached at the end of a development; its way leads, therefore, from the New to the Old Testament, through the whole to the parts. Since, however, that, result is nowhere offered in complete form, it is the task of this branch to educe from that which exists what is essential--the entirety--so that the examination of the particular is ever a means to an end, and is always under the control of the final aim of the work.


6. The True Aim. Accordingly it is not the task of Biblical theology to criticize the theology of the Bible and to judge it by the measure of a probable understanding of the original to be obtained scientifically, but to show as a matter of fact what the contents of the Bible are and at the same time to bring into view the different forms and shapes in which these contents are offered. It owes to the Church a pure exhibition of the "word" by the preaching of which the Church has lived in all ages. On this account no help is gained by considering some "probable gospel of Jesus," sought behind the sources, but the necessity is that the Jesus Christ of primitive tradition be described, and that in the various forms in which it has been handed down. Again, the highest aim is always to produce a theology of the entire Bible (such an effort is K. Schlottmann, Kompendium, der biblischen Theologie, 2d ed., Leipsic, 1895). But the separate treatment of the Testaments will generally recommend itself for practical reasons, since a great deal of preliminary work is necessary on the Old Testament, and because the difference of degrees of revelation must be indicated. But the correlation between the two must, after all, never be overlooked. It is a matter of course that the Biblical theology of the whole Bible can never dispense with exegesis. But it raises itself above the purely exegetical by its relation to systematic theology. It is released from the duty of exhibiting all the mazes and changes of development which are not essential to the understanding of the unified whole. On the other hand, it must not be misled into compressing Biblical riches into a narrow, one-sided system, which will take the form of contemporary dogmatics, for the dogmatic interest will take charge of the process of digesting the immense amount of subject-matter. One task of Biblical theology is to open the way of return from contemporary crystallization into formulas in dogmatics to the source itself. In this sense it will be of very great service to evangelical theology, provided it directs us to disclose more clearly and richly God's word in Holy Scripture and thus protests in the name of the document of revelation against every claim of human infallibility, for "God alone is infallible" (Zwingli).



Bibliography: Discussions on the methods of the discipline are in: C. A. Briggs, Study of Holy Scripture, pp. 569-606, New York, 1899 (historical and critical, discriminating); G. R. Crooks and J. F. Hurst, Theological Encyclopedia and Methodology, pp. 249-255, New York, 1894; A. Cave, Introduction to Theology, pp. 405-421, Edinburgh, 1896; W. Wrede, Ueber Aufgabe und Methode der sogenannten neutestamentlichen Theologie, Göttingen, 1897; L. Emery, Introduction à l'étude, de la théologie protestante, pp. 122-127, Paris, 1904 (the foregoing all contain bibliographies). An excellent review of recent literature is furnished in the Theologische Rundschau, May, 1907 (an excellent periodical devoted to the review of works on theology).


Works additional to those in the text which deal with the whole of Biblical theology or of some phase of both the O. and the N. T. are: L. Noack, Die biblische Theologie, Halle, 1853; F. Gardner, The Old and the N. T. in their Mutual Relations, New York, 1885; H. Schultz, Alttestamentliche Theologie, Göttingen, 1885, Eng. trans)., Edinburgh, 1892; W. L. Alexander, A System of Biblical Theology, 2 vols., Edinburgh, 1888; C. L. Fillion, L’Idée centrale de la Bible, Paris, 1888; C. G. Chavannes, La Religion dans la Bible, 2 vols., Paris, 1889; C. H. Toy, Judaism and Christianity, Boston, 1890 (called by Dr. Briggs “the best book on the subject”); A. Duff, O. T. Theology, Edinburgh, 1891 (original); R. H. Charles, Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life in Israel, Judaism and Christianity, London, 1899 (the one book in the field).


Additional and worthy books on O. T. theology are: C. H. Piepenbring, Théologie de I'Ancien Testament, Paris, 1886, Eng. trans)., New York, 1893; A. Dillmann, Handbuch der alttestamentlichen Theologie, Leipsic, 1895 (posthumous); W. H. Bennett, Theology of the O. T., London, 1896 (a handbook); R. Smend, Lehrbuch der alttestamentlichen Religionsgeschichte, Freiburg, 1899; A. B. Davidson, The Theology of the O. T., Edinburgh, 1904 (somewhat disappointing).


Additional works on the N. T. are W. F. Adeney, Theology of the N. T., London, 1894 (corresponds to Bennett on the O. T.); H. J. Holtzmann, Lehrbuch der neutestamentlichen Theologie, 2 vols., Tübingen, 1897 (one of the best on the subject); G. B. Stevens, Theology of the N. T., New York, 1899; E. P. Gould, Biblical Theology of the N. T., New York, 1900; D. F. Estes, An Outline of N. T. Theology, ib. 1901; J. Bovon, Théologie du N. T., 2 vols., Lausanne, 1893-94, vol. i, 2d ed., 1902.