Thursday, January 24, 2008

Q: Theology or Biblical Studies?

Before I got to seminary (or before I began reading for seminary), I thought that Theology and Biblical Studies were the same thing. I was mistaken. There seems to be a difference between the two that I'm not sure I understand. For example, my Greek professor (a "Biblical Scholar") also teaches New Testament Surveys and Exegesis Courses, both of which discuss the theology of the New Testament in varying degrees of intensity. However, he doesn't teach Theology courses, and the same guys that teach the Exegesis courses don't teach the Hermeneutics courses. Those are taught by the "Theologians," not to be confused with the aforementioned "Biblical Scholars." Of course, Systematic Theology is taught by the Theology guys, not the Biblical Studies guys. So, guess who teaches the course called "New Testament Theology": it's not the "Theologians," but the "Biblical Scholars." (My head is spinning.) So, who would teach a course on Biblical Theology?

In all seriousness, is a distinction between "Biblical Studies" and "Theology" helpful? Where did it come from?


jordan said...

Could it be this way? You have biblical studies, which determines what the text says. Then you have biblical theology which puts what all the texts are saying into the flow of a narrative. Then you have theology (or maybe systematic theology) which is trying to synthesize all that information from biblical theology to categorize it and apply it to our own questions and situations.

The question arises, however, of whether it is right to distinguish these separate components as if it were possible or helpful to do one without the others.

Paul Cable said...

Yeah, that sounds like a helpful description of how the disciplines are broken up. Where does hermeneutics fit in to the mix? Don't theologians usually write/teach hermeneutics? Is that because they usually have the philosophy background?

In light of our CT reading, it seems like a very Enlightenment-ish distinction to make between these areas.

Blake White said...

I didn't realize how 'specialized' theological study was before coming to seminary either. I wrote a blog post about a week ago about how Carson seems to be an exception.
From what I have learned, Jordan is on point. BT is more concerned with the canon as a whole and the storyline. ST is more logical, and deals with historical theology and philosophy. Biblical studies deals with the orginal language and context of Scripture. Of course exegetes like Schreiner put it all together and systematicians like Wellum do lots of exegesis. Carson does it all.
I think I heard that they swap around hermeneutics from biblical guys (Vickers, Stein, Cook) and theology (Wellum, etc) for different perspectives on hermeneutics.
I am not sure if its helpful but I guess these guys have to focus on their particular disciplines.

Anonymous said...

An older post, hope seminary went well for you :-)

Biblical Studies deals with the text

Theology deals with what groups believe about the text.

B.S. is the trees

Th is the forrest.

Biblical Theology is a subset of Biblical Studies.

Within Biblical Studies you have the divisions of New Testament, Old Testament, or Hermeneutics.

Sometimes Hermeneutics is given to the Theologians (proper), this is a mistake.

Theology deals with Historical, Philosophical, and categorical areas.

Biblical theology deals with the teaching of a particular corpus (e.g. Pauline Theology - what Paul said on XYZ, Johannine Theology, New Testament Theology, Gospel Theology, Jesus Theology, Pastoral Theology (pastoral letters), etc.

Biblical Studies gets into the text and determines what it says, more happy with apparent "tension"

Theologians like things all wrapped up in nice neat little bows. They read Calvin and think he's a super guy. They leave out all the nasty bits that don't fit their system. They can draw you out a chart of how everything will end, or give you a 5 point outline of what the Bible "really" means. They write 1,500 page books of how the Bible should have been written. And they believe they've got it all figured out.

Biblical Scholars are awed by the complexity and difficulty of Scripture and are humbled every day by the genius of God and his Book.

Just sayin'

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Carson is a Biblical Scholar, not a Theologian. I don't know of any Systematic Works of his.

Also, "Q" studies would be a subset of Biblical Studies in the Synoptic Gospels.

Paul said...

John Mark,
Thanks for your comment. Actually, I'm still in seminary (a new baby tends to slow things down wonderfully!).

I think you've described one way to do Biblical Theology, but not the only one. This is a live area of debate. Every "Biblical Theology" has a long section on method because there's so much debate about what the discipline even is. Along with the "corpus" approach you outline, there's also the thematic approach (a la Guthrie), or a more mixed approach (like Schreiner's NT Theology).

Carson has really written some good stuff that would be categorized as "doctrinal" or "systematic," actually: The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Christ and Culture Revisited, and Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility jump out at me.

I'm sorry to hear your low view of theologians! We all sometimes fall prey to making the text fit our systems, and we all need to continually submit our ideas to the text.

I'm a "biblical studies" guy, myself, if I'm anything, and I think Calvin is, especially in his commentaries, really careful with the text and clearly "in awe of God and his book," as are many Christian theologians of all theological stripes!

Your research looks interesting; when will you finish? Is it going well?