Definition of Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology is that branch of Exegetical Theology which
deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in
the Bible.
In the above definition the term "revelation" is taken as a noun
of action. Biblical Theology deals with revelation as a divine
activity, not as the finished product of that activity. Its nature
and method of procedure will therefore naturally have to keep in
close touch with, and so far as possible reproduce, the features of
the divine work itself. The mairrieatures {)f the latter are the following:
14 Biblical Theology
(a) The historic progressiveness of the revelation-process"'· it
has not completed itself in one exhaustive act, but unfolded itself
in a long series of successive acts. In the abstract, it might con·
ceivably have been otherwise. But as a matter of fact this could
not be, because revelation does not stand alone by itself, but is (so
far as Special Revelation is concerned) inseparably attached to
another activity of God, which we call Redemption. Now re·
demption could not be otherwise than historically successive, be·
cause it addresses itself to the generations of mankind coming into
existence in the course of history. Revelation is the interpretation
of redemption ; it must, therefore, unfold itself in instalments as
redemption does. And yet it is also obvious that the two proces·
ses are not entirely co-extensive, for revelation comes to a close
at a point where redemption still continues. In order to under·
stand this, we must take into account an important distinction
within the sphere of redemption itself. Redemption is partly
objective and central, partly subjective and individual. By the
former we designate those redeeming acts of God, which take place
on behalf of, but outside of, the human person. By the latter we
designate those acts of God which enter into the human subject.
We call the objective acts central, because, happening in the center
of the circle of redemption, they concern all alike, and are not in
need of, or capable of, repetition. Such objective-central acts are
the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection of Christ. The
acts in the subjective sphere are called individual, because they are
repeated in each individual separately. Such subjective-individual
acts are regeneration, justification, conversion, sanctification,
glorification. Now revelation accompanies the process of objectivecentral redemption only, and this explains why redemption
extends further thaD' revelation. To insist upon its accompanying
subjective-individual redemption would imply that it dealt with
questions of private, personal concern, instead of with the conunon
concerns of the world of redemption collectively. Still this does
not mean that the believer cannot, for his subjective experience,
receive enlightenment from the source of revelation in the Bible,
for we must remember that continually, alongside the objective
process, there was going on the work of subjective application,
and that much of this is reflected in the Scriptures. SubjectiveThe

and Method of Biblical Theology 15
individual redemption did not first begin when objective-central
redemption ceased; it existed alongside of it from the beginning.
There lies only one epoch in the future when we may expect
objective-central redemption to be resumed, viz., at the Second

Coming of Christ. At that time there will take place great redemptive
acts concerning the world and the people of God collectively.
These will add to the volume of truth which we now possess.
(b) The actual embodiment of revelation in history. The
process of revelation is not only concomitant with history, but it
becomes incarnate in history. The facts of history themselves acquire
a revealing significance. The crucifixion and resurrection
of Christ are examples of this. We must place act-revelation by
the side of word-revelation. This applies, of course, to the great
outstanding acts of redemption. In such cases redemption and
revelation coincide. Two points, however, should be remembered
in this connection : first, that these two-sided acts did not take
place primarily for the purpose of revelation; their revelatory
character is secondary ; primarily they possess a purpose that
transcends revelation, having a God-ward reference in their effect,
and only in dependence on this a man-ward. reference for instruction.
In the second place, such act-revelations are never entirely
left to speak for themselves ; they are preceded and followed by
word-revelation. The usual order is : first word, then the fact,
then again the interprebtive word. The Old Testament brings the
predictive preparatory word, the Gospels record the redemptiverevelatory
fact, the Epistles supply the subsequent, final interpretation.
(c) The organic nature of the historic process observable in
rwelation. Every increase is progressive, but not every progressive
increase bears an organic character. The organic nature of
the progression of revelation explains several things. It is sometimes
contended that the assumption of progress in revelation
excludes its absolute perfection at all stages. This would actually
be so if the progress were non-organic. The organic progress is
from seed-form to the attainment of full growth; yet we do not
say that in the qualitative sense the seed is less perfect than the
tree. The feature in question explains further how the soteric
16 Biblical Theology
sufficiency of the truth could belong to it in its first state of emergence:
in the seed-form the minimum of indispensable knowledge
was already present. Again, it explains how revelation could be
so closely determined in its onward movement by the onward
movement of redemption. The latter being organically progressive,
the former had to partake of the same nature. Where redemption
takes slow steps, or becomes quiescent, revelation proceeds accordingly.
But redemption, as is well known, is eminently organic in
its progress. It does not proceed with uniform motion, but rather
is "epochal" in its onward stride. We can observe that where
great epoch-making redemptive acts accumulate, there the movement
of revelation is correspondingly accelerated and its volume
increased. Still further, from the organic character of revelation
we can explain its increasing multiformity, the latter being everywhere
a symptom of the development of organic life. There is
more of this multiformity observable in the New Testament than
in the Old, more in the period of the prophets than in the time of
Some remarks are in place here in regard to a current misconstruction
of this last-mentioned feature. It is urged that the discovery

of so considerable an amount of variableness and differentiation
in the Bible must be fatal to the belief in its absoluteness
and infallibleness. If Paul has one point of view and Peter another,
then each can be at best only approximately correct. This
would actually follow, if the truth did not carry in itself a multiformity
of aspects. But infallibleness is not inseparable from dull
uniformity. The truth is inherently rich and complex, because
God is so Himself. The whole contention ultimately rests on a
wron~ view of God's nature and His relation to the world, a view
at bottom Deistical. It conceives of God as standing outside of His
own creation and therefore havin~ to put up for. the instrumentation
of His revealing soeech with such imperfect forms and
or~ns as it offers Him. The didactic, dialectic mentality of Paul
would thus become a hindrance for the ideal communication ofthe
message, no less than the simple. practical, untutored mind of
Peter. From the standpoint of Theism the matter shapes itself
quite differently. The truth having inherently many sides, and
God having access to and control of all intended organs of revelation
shaped each one of these for the precise purpose to be served.

The Nature and Method of Biblical Theology 17
The Gospel having a precise, doctrinal structure, the doctrinallygifted
Paul was the fit organ for expressing this, because his gifts
had been conferred and cultivated in advance with a view to it~
(d) The fourth aspect of revelation determinative of the study
of Biblical Theology consists in its practical adaptability. God's
self-revelation to us was not made for a primarily intellectual purpose.
It is not to be overlooked, of course, that the truly pious
mind may through an intellectual contemplation of the divine perfections
glorify God. This would be just as truly religious as the
intensest occupation of the will in the service of God. But it would
not be the full-orbed religion at which, as a whole, revelation aims.
It is true, the Gospel teaches that to know God is life eternal. But
the concept of "knowledge" here is not to be understood in its
Hellenic sense, but in the Semitic sense. According to the former
"to know" means to mirror the reality of a thing in one's consciousness.
The Semitic and biblical idea is to have the reality of
something practically interwoven with the inner experience of life.
Hence "to know" can stand in the Biblical idiom for "to love,''
"to single out in love." Because God desires to be known after
this fashion, He has caused His revelation to take place in the
milieu of the historical life of a people. The circle of revelation
is not a school, but a "covenant." To speak of revelation as an
"education" of humanity is a rationalistic and utterly un-scriptural
way of speaking. All that God disclosed of Himself has come in
response to the practical religious needs of His people as these
emerged in the course of history.