The late R. C. Sproul said, “Every Christian is a theologian. We are always engaged in the activity of learning about the things of God. We are not all theologians in the professional or academic sense, but theologians we are, for better or for worse. The “for worse” is no small matter.” 1 In the book titled According to Plan, Goldsworthy writes, “Part of being a Christian is that we do theology. That is, we put together different aspects of what we understand about God, and we build it into some kind of coherent understanding of our existence as God’s redeemed people living in the world.” 2
A disciple of Christ is one who believes His (Jesus) doctrine, finds rest in His sacrifice, assimilates His spirit, and emulates His example (Luke 14:27). Having an unwavering heart dedicated to God is required most notably in the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Loving God with all of our minds certainly means more than theological study, but it certainly does not mean less.
First, we must clearly define Biblical Theology and how it applies to the life of a believer. Hamilton defines it as the “Interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses.” 3 My hope for this article is to articulate the glory of God revealed in scripture, and how biblical theology refocuses our attention on God as the subject of Scripture. By further explaining each of the categories mentioned in Hamilton’s definition of Biblical theology, a better grasp of such a weighty subject will be obtained. But in order to accomplish this with accuracy it requires navigating through church history, referring to biblical encyclopedias, and reiterating expounded truths articulated in commentaries.
What Is the Bible About?
Luke 24:44 reads, “These are my words that I have spoken to you while I was still with you, that everything about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Jesus functions as the theological epicenter of biblical theology. He is the very sum and substance of the Bible’s message. Walvoord writes, “Because of His death and resurrection the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins could be preached in His name to all nations.” 4
Here, Jesus makes mention of three divisions of the Old Testament scriptures that are covenantal in application to humanity in the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews communicated this as well, “For the Law of Moses is like a shadow of good things to come.” 5 For example, in the law we not only have the covenant itself, but there are those who serve as mediators such as Moses in the Pentateuch and Jesus in the New Testament. Contained with the prophetic books we have an interpretation of covenantal history. After the Law and the Prophets, the third major division of the Old Testament is called the Writings. These are books that help us navigate life, more specifically how to apply divinely inspired teachings practically.
“The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” (Augustine, A.D 354-430). The Bible’s primary message speaks to two dominant issues and how they relate to all of humanity: sin and redemption. The Old Testament is thus the story of one true Creator God, who called the family of Abraham to be his remedy for the defilement that came into the world through the sin of Adam and Eve. God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt in fulfilling this plan and establishing them as a theocracy for the sake of displaying his existence and character to the entire world. God sent his blessings and curses upon Israel to pursue that purpose. However, God never ceased from that purpose, even in the face of grievous acts of Israel.
The promises made to Abraham are significantly important within the Old Testament because they are foundational for the nation of Israel. Their history begins after Abraham has a son, Isaac, in fulfillment of God’s promise to Sarah. Isaac in return had a son, Jacob, and Jacob fathered 12 sons who multiplied into the 12 tribes of Israel. Isaac was the immediate result of God’s promise of an offspring who would inherit the land. Israel becoming a nation was only the catalyst that brought forth the “offspring” God promised. But how does this relate to Christ? Jesus Christ is the descendant of both Abraham and David as the genealogy in Matthew 1:1 shows. However, he is the offspring in an unequivocal sense. Notice how scripture does not say “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And your offspring,” who is Jesus Christ(see Genesis 22:15-18; Galatians 3:16).
The promise of God in the Old Testament comes in the context of not only of God’s commitment to his people but also of instructions about the people’s commitment and obligations to God. Noah, Abraham, and others whom God meets, and addresses, are called on to respond not only with trust in God’s promises, but with lives that begin to bear fruit from fellowship with God. The relation of God to his people is summed up in various covenants that God makes with people. For instance, a covenant between two human beings is a binding commitment obliging them to deal faithfully with one another (as with Jacob and Laban in Genesis 31:44). However, when God makes a covenant with man he is the initiator and so he specifies the obligation on both sides. “I will be their God” is the fundamental obligation on God’s side, while “they shall be my people” is the fundamental obligation of the human side. But then there are variations in the details.
For example, when God first called Abram from the land of Ur he says, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you” (Genesis 21:1). This commandment specifies an obligation on the part of Abram, an obligation on the human side. God also indicates what he will do on his part: “And I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2). God’s commitment takes the form of promises, blessings, and curses. The promises and blessing point forward to Christ who is the fulfillment of the promises and source of final blessings. The curses point forward to Christ both in bearing the curse in his execution of judgement and curse against sin, especially at the second coming.
The obligations on the human side of the covenants are also related to Christ, Christ is fully man as well as fully God. As a man, he stands with his people on the human side. He fulfilled the obligations of God’s covenants though his perfect obedience (Heb. 5:8). He received the reward of obedience in his resurrection and ascension (see Phil. 2:9-10). The Old Testament covenants on their human side thus point forward to his achievement.
By dealing with the wrath of God against sin, Christ changed a situation of alienation from God to a situation of peace. He reconciled believers to God (2 Cor. 5:18-21; Rom5:6-11). He brought personal intimacy with God, and the privilege of being children of God (Rom. 8:14-17). This intimacy is what all the OT covenants anticipated. In Isaiah, God even declares that his servant, the Messiah, will be the covenant for the people (see Isa. 42:6; 49:8).
Shadows, Prefigures, and Types
The New Testament talks about Christ and the salvation that he has brought. What is not so obvious is that the same is true of the Old Testament, though it accomplishes this by way of anticipation. It gives us shadows and types of things that were to come (see 1 Corinthians 10:6; Hebrews 8:5). For example, 1 Corinthians 10:6 shows that the events experienced by the Israelites while in the wilderness were examples for us. In the words of Paul, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of ages has come.”6To fully understand what a type is biblically we must first look to the language of theology. “A type is a special example, symbol, or picture that God designed beforehand, and that he placed in history at an earlier point in time in order to point forward to a later, larger fulfillment.”7 To illustrate, Animal sacrifices in the Old Testament prefigure the sacrifice of Christ. These animal sacrifices were a “type” of Christ. The temple as a dwelling place for God, prefigures Christ, who is the final dwelling place of God and through whom God comes to be with his people (John 2:21).
Fulfillment takes place preeminently in Christ (see Ephesians 1:10). But in the New Testament those people who are “in Christ,” who have placed their trust in him and experience fellowship with his person and his blessings, receive the benefits of what he has accomplished, and therefore one can also find anticipation or “types” in the Old Testament that point forward to the New Testament church which comprise those whom he purchased with his blood. Some Old Testament symbols also may point forward especially to the consummation of salvation that takes place in the new heaven and the new earth yet to come (see 2 Peter 2:13; Revelation 21:1-25).
Only One Is Qualified
The Bible clarifies that ever since the fall of Adam into sin, sin and the consequences thereof have been the pervasive problem of humanity. It is a consistent narrative throughout the Bible, sinful man needs a mediator who will approach God on his behalf. Jesus Christ, however, is both God and man, who is innocent of sin. Therefore, He alone is qualified to serve as Mediator as Paul announces, “there is only One mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
Though there is only one mediator in the ultimate sense, in a subordinate way, various saints in the Old Testament serve in some fashion of mediatorial capacity. Moses being one of them. Exodus 19 explains the time of Moses on Mount Saini to meet God while the remaining Israelites waited at the bottom. When the people were terrified at hearing God’s audible voice, they asked Moses to bring God’s word from then on (Exodus 20:18-21).
But if there is only one mediator, as 1 Timothy 2:5 says, how could Moses possibly serve in that way? Moses was not the ultimate mediator, but he prefigured Christ’s mediation. Because Moses was sinful he could not possibly have survived the presence of God without forgiveness, that is, without having a sinless mediator on his own behalf. God welcomed Moses into his presence only because according to the Old Testament plan of God, Christ was to come and make atonement for Moses. The benefits of Christ’s work were reckoned beforehand for Moses’ benefit. And so it must have been for all the OT saints. How could they have been saved otherwise? God is perfectly holy, and they all needed perfection. Perfection was graciously reckoned to them because of Christ, who was to come.
That means there is only one way to salvation, throughout the Old testament and the New Testament. Only Christ can save us. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The instances of salvation in the OT all depend on Christ. And in the OT salvation frequently comes through a mediator, a person or institution that stands between God and man. All the small instances of mediation in the OT prefigure Christ. How else could it be since there is only one mediator and one way of salvation?8
Instances of mediators in the Old Testament included prophets, priests, and kings. Prophets brought forth the word of God from God and reciprocated to the audience. Kings, when in accordance to God’s sovereignty, demonstrated God’s authority on the people. Priest represent the people entering before God’s presence. We have the assurance articulated by scripture, Christ is the last prophet, priest, and king who fulfills all three functions (see Hebrews 1).
So, why is biblical theology important? Wellum replies, “For this reason: biblical theology provides the basis and underpinning for all systematic theology and doctrinal formation. At its heart, theology is seeking to understand and apply the entire Bible to our lives.”9 The emphasis of the core doctrines helps solidify our foundation, Christ (Matthew 7:24-27 ESV). A parable brings the Sermon on the Mount to a close as Jesus calls for his audience to decide between himself and the religious establishment, making a clear distinction among himself and other superficial foundations for life. No matter the shifting of culture and religious fashions, disciples who build their lives on the bedrock of Jesus Christ are wise indeed.
Lastly, biblical theology leads us to worship. Understanding the bible as its intended, helps us to see the glory of God across the scriptures. One is better equipped to understand the uniformity of the Bible, which highlights God’s sovereign plan of redemption, seeing the loving and wise hand orchestrate history to His intended means, the revelation of Christ.10
Leave your thoughts, questions, and suggested followups in the comments below.
1 Sproul, R. C. (1992). Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Tyndale. https://teachingresources.org/2009/12/30/every-christian-is-a-theologian-by-r-c-sproul/
2 Goldsworthy, G. According To Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (Ed.). InterVarsity Press. 1991
3 Hamilton, J. What Is Biblical Theology? : A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. Crossway. 2013
4 Walvoord, J. The Bible Knowledge Commentary (1st ed.). Victor Books. 1983
5 Crossway. ESV Study Bible. Crossway. 2016
6 Crossway. ESV Study Bible. Crossway. 2016
7 Douglas, J. D. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary: Based on Articles from the Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible. Zondervan. 2011
8 Mohler, JR., A. Acts 1-12 For You. The Good Book Company. 2018
9 Wellum, S. (2016, January 20). Editorial: Reflections on the Significance of Biblical Theology. Southern Equip. https://equip.sbts.edu/publications/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-201-spring-2016/editorial-reflections-significance-biblical-theology/
10Bruno, C. (2017, February). 10 Things You Should Know about Biblical Theology. Crossway. https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-biblical-theology/#:~:text=%2010%20Things%20You%20Should%20Know%20about%20Biblical,of%20the%20Bible.%0AClosely%20related%20to%20the…%20More%20Opens a new window
Vernon resides in Texas with his wife and four children. Vernon writes to inspire, captivate, and educate. “Only by God’s grace, was I reminded of what Christ has done on my behalf. Now I am no longer a outcast, but a son of the living God.”