|Posted by frieda lara on August 3, 2020 at 1:50 AM|
I. Critical Literature Review
History of Biblical Theology
The beginnings of biblical theory are often attributed to the Protestant Reformation, J. P. Gabler’s 1797 Address, the first use of the term in the early 1600s or even earlier when initial attempts to merge OT and NT Scriptures were made. Some hold that bible theology begins from the Bible itself, from the continuity of the summaries of both the OT and the NT on God’s dealings with His chosen people. The Gospels, Paul’s epistles and other Christian writings and the Hebrew Scriptures were merged to form the NT in the process of formulating church beliefs and in counteracting false teaching. Issues on unity and diversity characterized these early efforts. Influenced by Origen, the church eventually opted for the use allegories for its method of interpretation. Allegories achieved uniformity but eluded historical meaning, which in turn, necessitated referencing of later doctrines to the corresponding text. Scriptures during the medieval times assumed four viewpoints or senses, namely literal or historical, allegorical, moral and anagogical or spiritual. The historical sense was preferred and championed by Victorines of the 12th century and, more especially, by Thomas Aquinas. Among the Reformers, on the other hand, Luther favored the literal approach, advocated for justification by faith as the solution to the diversity issue and his hermeneutics and gave greater emphasis on books, which show Christ. But it was John Calvin who pointed to Scripture as the supreme authority on Christian belief. With this dogmatism, Calvin is regarded as the initiator of true biblical theology. These events were followed by the formation of rigid dogmatic systems during the period of Protestant Orthodoxy. Biblical theology evolved as a more distinct discipline as a result of three major trends in the 17th and 18th centuries. These were the flourishing of collegia biblica of collegium collection, pietism, and the rise of new critical methods of literary and historical research. In his 1787 inaugural address, J. P. Gabler defined true biblical theology as the historical study of the OT and the NT, their authors and contexts of their time. Biblical theology was thus viewed as purely historical, descriptive and objective and separate from interpretation concerns.
Rationalist scholars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries produced their own biblical theologies with the use of the historical method mainly to discredit orthodox theology. With very little of the supernatural in their theology, they understandably insisted on the superiority of reason to revelation. The use of the historical approach, however, more strongly revealed the diversity problem, more especially the distinction between the OT and the NT and their respective original historical settings. The possibility of a biblical theology then became questionable in itself. The OT and the NT evolved separately in the first half of the 20th century. The influence of Hegel and liberals like H. J. Holtzmann was particularly strong in the evolution of NT theology. OT theologies, on the other hand, evolved from conservatives like J. C. F. Steudel, H. A. C. Fldvernick and G. F. Oehler. But archeological discoveries during that period came up with findings on the Near East and the Greco-Roman world, which questioned the faith. It viewed the Bible not as a source of doctrine but merely a record of the lives and experiences of communities and the early church in Israel. What was thought of as NT theology was an early Christian religion that should be studied objectively and separated from dogma or systematic theology.
The golden age of OT revival is considered to have occurred in the 1930s with the particular influence of W. Eichrodt.. The NT revival occurred later with the work of R. Bultmann. In the search for structure, authors first used the standard topics of systematic theology. With the introduction of the historical-critical approach in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the theologies of both OT and NT assumed a chronological structure. Soon, dissatisfaction towards both formats drove scholars to adopt themes or topics of their choice or a multi-thematic format. A more recent option is an emphasis on the dialectical nature of biblical theology. Newer approaches in the last decades depart from the historical-critical method. One substitute was the literary approach, which builds on the biblical narratives. Other trends were the unexpected interest in the canon of Scripture, the sociological approach to Scripture, and the liberation theologies. In recent years, however, there have been signs and attempts of connecting OT and NT studies and reconstructing some form of biblical theology. One was that of German scholars H. Gese and P. Stuhlmacher and their use of “history of traditions.” Other indications were the Fortress Press series in the 1980s and 1990s on a renewed interest in biblical theology and the invigorating scholarly debate on the place of the law in the OT and the NT. The present conflict between the academy and the community of believers seems to rule out the creation of an “all-biblical theology” at the moment.
Biblical and Historical Development of Christian Doctrines
In his 1891 essay , John Henry Cardinal Newman avers that doctrines would naturally develop because of the human mind’s natural inability to assimilate information. Even modern psychologists agree to this. Only aspects or views can be taught and these are not identical to the object or concept being taught. Newman then says that writers and interpreters after the Apostolic era were not as inspired as the Apostles themselves. In his mind, God did not provide important doctrines in the inspired Scripture as it was His intention that it should be completed by doctrinal development as revealed truths should be. Another source for doctrine would be the interaction of Christian truth with the different cultures. Christianity is a universal religion and should then reflect and become applicable to all places and at all times while its relations and dealings with the world may change. Development work on the doctrines continues to the present time. No doctrines of the Christian faith have been fully developed as the NT in a completed form. To this day, Christian doctrine is subject to formal, legitimate and genuine development as contemplated and intended by its Divine Author.
Both Protestants and Catholics admit that Christian doctrine developed over centuries. Even the most thorough Protestant adherents to the exact teachings of the Apostolic church recognize two major developments to this effect. One is the absence of any canon of the NT in the Apostolic era. It had to evolve and be developed over time. The other is major Christian doctrines, such as the Trinity, are outcomes of discussions by Church fathers over hundreds of years. They finally attained form through various Councils. They are expressed in words but not literally copied from the Bible. Newman’s title is not supposed to imply that God or His truth changes, but that He did not reveal all His truth all at once. It seems to be His intention that His creatures should gradually attain clear understanding of His truth as the human mind is not capable of immediate and total comprehension of it. Newman believes that it is the nature of human mind to take time to achieve full comprehension and perfection of great ideas. His essay offers the solution to the difficulty in using and making sense of the expansive testimony gathered from 18 hundred years of Christianity.
The Importance of the Canon of Scriptures to Theologians
The term “canon” means rule or norm and refers to books that came to be regarded as authoritative for the churches by the middle of the fourth century AD. The proper use of the term has in itself not been settled by scholars. According to some of them, the dominant element before the fourth century was not the text but its content. Christians in the time of Irenaeus freely handled the apostolic texts, which were not yet considered unchangeable at the time. Answers given to questions concerning the canon affect the theologian and his task. The exegete or interpreter who considers the canon as a mere historical creation will resort to Sachkritik in managing historical and theological matters. Sachkritik means evaluating each part of Scripture in the light of the main message, which is the gospel of justification. The canon of the Scripture is the product of humn effort, by nature fallible and thus subject to evaluation and revision. The exegete who recognizes the canon as the inspired word of God will look for solutions to historical problems by connecting and harmonizing differences in it and by highlighting and seeking the fundamental unity of Scripture. The theologian, scholar or church leader, on the other hand, who perceives the canon as irrelevant, will have a problem establishing authority in matters of faith and practice. If “inspiration” is considered only a theological theory instead of a historical process, which guides the writing of Scripture and the building of the canon, the weight of authority moves away from the Scripture text. Historical criticism can damage or destroy the theological value of any Biblical material or statement, it can be eliminated or omitted in discussing matters of faith and practice.
The new source of authority can be the history of tradition behind Scripture, the many levels of redactional historical development, the final canonical context, ecclesiastical tradition, the community’s faith experience or the continued hermeneutical effort at verifying Scripture material. The choice is a subjective one, based on his ability to reconstruct reliable data as well as on his retention of respected views and habits, his realizing the working of God and his skill in relating his method or methods to the text.
The choice depends on the subjectivity of the interpreter, his ability to reconstruct the verities of tradition history, the retention of time-honored and venerated views and habits, his realization the workings of God or his capability in relating his method to the text. The pastor or evangelist takes the suggestion of those who do away with the canon, he must consider the Didache or a sermon of Luther or Wesley as relevant as the Epistle to the Ephesians or 1 Peter. If he has no time or interest in reviewing historical arguments and commentaries, monographs and essays, he must rely on interpretations from consensus for that truth or the specific outlook used in his student days. But because objective truth has become a problematic philosophical concept, he needs to turn to standard creed formulation without the needed inner conviction. Or he takes recourse to the power generated by movements, which promise spiritual effectiveness. Otherwise, he searches for relevance in social-political or psychological theories. The result is an insecure feeling among Christians. Even non-Christians soon deplore the lack of distinctive message from the representatives of the church themselves. They liken these supposed spokesmen and women to political commentators. But if he stands on the conviction and position that the prophetic and apostolic canon of Scripture is the revealed word of God and is reliable in all its assertions, the church can be confident that they have a dependable foundation by which to proclaim the Gospel. The canon of Scripture is not a ready-made preparation, which fell from heaven. Rather, it evolved from a lengthy and tedious process, which reflects the nature of Scripture. It is a merger of the human record of Israel, the Apostles’ experience and the divinely-inspired expression of God’s will and message. As such, it proceeds from human appreciation and evaluation of basic documents and God’s sovereign will.
The Use of Scriptures to Shape Christian Doctrines
God’s word has been preserved because the Bible has survived. This is not an abstract theological declaration but the statement of a historic and tangible fact. The tangible, visible and readable Bible today has been handed down to this time from generations. Whatever its form, language, version or translation, the content has remained virtually the same. The differences are, in different cases, insignificant or crucial but it has retained its reliability and trustworthiness.
What one believes must be verified by what the Bible says about what one believes. Doctrinal pronouncements by churches, what theologians teach, findings of studies and experiments, translations and Fundamentalist teaching and preaching can all help prevent a fall into error. But Scriptures must confirm the claim or pronouncement. The early church sought to recognize the canon of inspired writings and the doctrinal expression of what those documents taught. It exerted greater effort in checking the teachings out against the truth contained in the surviving text that on the accuracy of the documents. The very survival of the documents satisfactorily attests to their preservation. Many believe that God handed down His word inerrantly or free from error. They also believe what Scripture teaches that His word will not pass until everything He has said is fulfilled. This “everything” is contained and taught in Scripture. He also revealed how He gives His word and to whom. Select persons as agents are moved by Him or reborn by His Spirit. Among these selected by God to reveal His word or message are those who record that Word or message in writing. The doctrine of inspiration enables one of them to present and interpret the content of such statements or pronouncements. But relating or explaining how an inspired, inerrant, un-inscribed revelation is transmitted is different and more complex.
Evangelical and fundamental Christians believe that the Bible is the absolute authority over, and concerning, life and eternal destiny. It is the only source and standard of absolute moral principles needed by all to live and for society to function properly and to survive. It is the only source of information, which explains the existence of evil as well as protection and deliverance from it. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work. This is an authoritative message to Christians who have preserved it for generations.
The Scripture consists of 66 books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. About 40 authors collaborated in writing it in three languages, namely Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, but internally consistent throughout the text. It took them 1,600 years of collaborative work. It was intended for use in Africa, Asia and Europe for prophets, priests, cupbearers, kings, judges, fishermen and others. It is 98% textually pure in that it has only 1½% error probability in copying of the manuscripts. This margin of error does not affect doctrine. The Scripture is without question inspired by God. Inspiration means that God, through Holy Spirit, led the writers to record His accurate and authoritative revelations (Slick2013). The original manuscripts contain no error and are thus absolutely reliable and true concerning the matters discussed. The inspiration of the Scripture produced the basic doctrines of belief accepted by every true Christian (Slick).
The writers of Scripture are, nevertheless, not mechanized tools who were merely moved by the Holy Spirit (Boettner 2013). In performing their sublime task, they remained themselves in thought, will and consciousness. Readers can even chance upon the peculiar mannerisms of some of these writers. They also wrote in their own language: if they spoke Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek according to their nationality. If they were educated, their writings reflect their culture. If they were not educated, their writings would give this away as to style and manner of handling. The divine and the human were not separate but were, instead, in perfect harmony in every word of Scripture. Yet the primary influence was always the divine and human influence was only secondary. In this collaboration, they were not originators but only receivers and announcers of inspiration (Boettner)
The doctrine of inspiration, however, does not mean that Scripture writers ceased to be erring creatures(Boettner 2013). Moses himself who wrote much about the history of Israel and is acknowledged as the greatest prophet in the OT committed an offense at Meribah for which he was banned from entering the promised land. Balaam, Saul and Peter were great spokesmen of the Lord but they committed blunders. Peter’s personal flaw led Paul to resist him for it. But their personal faults did not interfere with what they had to do. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit allowed for personality characteristics in them. What they wrote or spoke is not to be taken as something separate from the pure Word of God and not worth heeding. Their writings and speech express not only something they themselves thought out, inferred, hoped or feared. These were also something given or transmitted to them. Some of these inspired messages were not welcomed but forced upon them. In any case, they could neither say more or less than what was revealed to them. Neither did inspiration make the prophets who wrote Scripture omniscient. The inspiration was confined only to the particular revelation or message given to them. Each inspiration was highly specific and limited to itself. In other matters or concerns, they were at par with their contemporaries (Boettner).
The Basic Biblical Theology and the Canon of Scriptures
Simply defined and understood, theology is the science of God (Faith Bible Church, 2013). It comes from the Greek words “theos” or God and “logos” or study or science. It is the study of God, His Word and His works. It is true theology when based on the Word of God. Simply understood, it is a serious study of the Holy Bible. Biblical theology is thus the study of God from the individual parts and authors of the Bible. Each of these parts or books has a separate and distinctive contribution to the Bible. All the parts complement one another without contradiction. It is also a narration and documentation on the chronological development and progression of God’s revelation and work in human history, which peak in Jesus Christ (Faith Bible Church).
“Canon” also comes from a Greek word, kanon, which means “measuring instrument,” and later came to mean “rule of action (Ryrie, 1999).” It pertained to the creeds at the time of the early church. It was adopted for use in the Bible, such as for the listing of accepted books, recognized as a would-be component of the Bible. Canon refers to two things: as this list of books, which passed tests and rules that determined their authoritativeness and canonical-ness and as the collection of canonical books, which contain the rule of Christian life (Ryrie).
The OT of the Bible that Christians know is Tanakh to the Jews up to this time (Ryrie, 1999). Tanakh is an acronym for three distinct part of the Hebrew Scriptures, namely the Torah or Law, the Nevim or Prophets and the Kethvim or Writings. It is common belief that Moses wrote much of the Torah, the first five books of the Tanakh, when the Israelites camped at Mt. Sinai. They immediately accepted as true what he wrote and gave them on the basis of his being a prophet and as one who was endowed with special revelation from God. Moses’ writings and special revelation would constitute four out of the five books of the Torah. The Nevim was also accepted as God’s direct revelation to His chosen people. The Nevim contained the works of both major and minor prophets and those of Joshua and the Judges. These were immediately accepted and revered as if written right at the throne of God. The Hebrews regarded these early Scriptures as holy even during apostate times in Israel (Ryrie).
The Torah and the Neviim, or “the Law and the Prophets,” were accepted and obeyed as canon centuries before the time of Christ (Ryrie, 1999). It was a different case with the Psalms, the Proverbs, the Book of Daniel and the other books, although they were long established and used, especially during specific celebrations or events. The Council at Jamnia in the year 90 formally adopted them as canonical Hebrew Scripture. Then the Council declared that the Tanakh was complete with the addition of the revelation. The Bible, however, is self-authenticating or canonical from their time of writing because they were breathed out by God. The investigation, ascertainment or declaration of any Council is not necessary for these to become acceptable. They were inherently canonical by virtue of their having come from God Himself (Ryrie).
The Church regarded NT documents, though a separate collection, as parts of Scripture and put them together (Ryrie, 1999). These included the four Gospels, and Paul’s letters, which were copied and circulated for teaching. They have been regarded as equally important as the Jewish Scriptures, or more important as some consider them. The identification of the documents was the very same process by which the New Testament canon developed (Ryrie).
About 110 years after the death of Jesus, a certain teacher of Christianity named Marcion was uncomfortable with the view of a wrathful God of the OT as incompatible with the loving God of the NT (Ryrie, 1999). He rejected the OT view and published a canon from edited versions of select documents, such as the Gospel of Luke and 10 of Paul’s epistles. His initiative called the Church’s attention to the need of selecting and using only truly canonical or authoritative documents to establish and defend church doctrines. Mancion was not credited for initiating the process of forming the canon but for stirring the controversy, which led to or accelerated and solidified the development of the current process. At that time, the four Gospels and the Pauline corpus were already gathered and circulated. The four Gospels were referred to as The Gospel. The Pauline corpus was the collection of Paul’s letters. Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch in 115 AD named each of these documents as Scripture. General letters by Peter, John, James and Jude were later excluded. These used to be part of the Acts of the Apostles. By the year 200, most of the New Testament was already composed. The Muratorian Fragment identifies Luke as the third Gospel then John, Paul’s 13 epistles, Jude, two epistles by John and the Book of Revelation as constitution Scripture. Origen in the early 300 lists the four Gospels, Paul’s 13 letters, Peter and John’s and the Revelation. He mentions that some documents were subjected to debate, such as Hebrews, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, James ad Jude. Eusebius’ list consisted of all the documents except James, Jude, 2 Peter and 2 and 3 John. These were also under dispute by some although accepted by most (Ryrie).
In the year 357, Athanasius, Jerome and Augustine listed 27 of the NT documents aone (Ryrie, 1999). The church in the west approved these 27 documents at the councils of Hippo Regius in 393 and Carthage in 397. Farther east, the inclusion of 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John and the Revelation was made only in the year 508 in a version of the Syriac Bible. And by the year 397, the Christian Church considered the canon of the Bible as complete and closed it. It means that no more books or documents could be discovered or written for inclusion. The canon cannot be reopened for any addition to the 66. Even one more epistle of Paul would not be considered canonical. It would not be unlikely that Paul wrote more than the 13 already officially recognized as canonical. But even those were not included in the canon (Ryrie).