The Necessity and Viability of Biblical Theology–Dr. Graeme Goldsworthy

Before I begin this particular live-blog, please do not rely on my attempt to completely know what Dr. Goldsworthy shared with us in Alumni Chapel today. Please download and listen to his message here to better appreciate what he said. As others who were taking notes can testify, Dr. Goldsworthy shared so much information, that to even assimilate it all in the mind would require multiple times listening to what he said. Also, I am giving an American translation of an Australian lecture—it is worth hearing Dr. Goldsworthy in his own voice. Today’s lecture can be found in much more detail in his book “Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation.” Again, as many will attest, this book has had a major impact on the process of understanding what the Bible is saying even in the genealogies found in 1 Chronicles.

Before I begin, I would like to thank everyone for the warm welcome my wife and I have received here on campus. I truly was humbled to discover how much of an impact my writings have had on American students. Also, I am a bit of a meanderer when I speak, so I will be speaking from a manuscript.

First, I would like to show that good biblical theology is driven by a Christocentric doctrine of Scripture. Personally, pastoral ministry rather than academics drives my passion for good biblical theology. People need to understand the Bible in its entirety and that can only be done through the cross of Christ.

When one moves from unbelief to belief there is not an instantaneous understanding of what the Bible says nor is there an instantaneous transition from ungodliness to holiness. This is why it is important we understand the doctrine of sanctification. It is a process that takes our entire lives. Our understanding of the Bible depends on the Christian context by which we come to our salvation.

The first thing we begin to develop in our young Christian lives is the authority of the Bible and then the content. Our third development is how we understand the relationship of the parts to the whole. We can then ask, “How should the word of God effect the way in which we view the Bible?” The answer is a definite “It must have an effect” because everyone has a view of the Bible in some manner. However, for many believers, the authority of Scripture is asserted while the coherence of the Bible is left to chance.

Some have tried to say that the concept of Biblical Theology arose with the church fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries when they were trying to discover the inner unity of the Scriptures. I believe it goes beyond even the early church fathers back to the dynamic of the revelation of the Scriptures themselves. Whenever the prophets of old would say “Thus saith the Lord” they would always link what they said with other events that either happened in the past or will happen in the future.

For example, we cannot possibly understand Genesis 12-50 without first understanding the promises God made to Abraham in what we cal the Abrahamic Covenant. The same is true of the Exodus. When the Israelites cried out to God, He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The covenant with Abraham is the foundation on which the Old Testament is built, but the covenant with Abraham is built on the order and goodness of Creation.

The progress revelation in the Old Testament demands an investigation into the unity found therein. There is a tension between the promises given in the Old Testament and their fulfillment that is never eased at the close of the canon of the Old Testament. We then see the New Testament taking up this challenge and declare over and over that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of those promises.

If God is the central character of the Bible, then biblical theology is viable. People in the Bible reflect always on the past and look with hope toward the future. You see this in both testaments. The Old looked back to the way things should have been and forward to the coming of the Messiah. The New looked back to Christ’s ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension and then focused on His future Second Coming. All characters in the Bible (prophets-apostles) have in common the promise of the Great Day of the Lord.

A consequence of this biblical theology is that our doctrine of Scripture needs shape. The shape is found in Jesus Christ. The concept of the authority of Scripture is not useful unless we know what it is saying. The cross and the resurrection give us a starting point for our hermeneutic. Thus, we can say that Jesus Christ is the fullest and final Word of God.

We must always remember that the New Testament interprets the Old Testament and never the other way. God’s Words are meant to be understood. We see in Adam and Eve the rejection of the oral words of God. We see today by many the rejection of God’s written word. The Scripture preserves for us today God’s redemptive work in human history. The authority of the Bible demands biblical theology which in turn demands Christ.

Second, I would like to look at the role of the Gospel in biblical theology. We must first have a working definition of what the gospel is. In order to do that, please turn to Romans 1:1-4: here we discover a four-fold answer as to what the gospel is. The gospel is first and foremost God’s gospel. It is His solution to how He will justify the ungodly. Next we see that the Old Testament prophets were used to promise this gospel “beforehand.” That is to say that Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament. Third the gospel is the Son and He has a lineage that goes back through David to the first Adam. Thus, he can be rightfully called the second Adam. Finally, the gospel can be defined as the life and death of Jesus Christ.

The other working definition we need is what is biblical theology. This will be more of a descriptive definition rather than prescriptive. Biblical theology is the study of how every text in the Bible relates to every other text in the Bible. Jesus is the center of biblical theology; thus, the Bible is said to be Christocentric. From start to finish, every text in the Bible talks of Christ.

If the Bible is not the inspired word of God, then it is merely a collection of human documents. In saying that the whole Bible is Christocentric, I am simply asserting what Paul did in 1 Timothy 2:5 where he says that Christ made God known to us and made us known to Him.

With a biblical theology, we must read the past in order to understand the present and the future. This can only make sense if the gospel is at the center of our hermeneutic. The New Testament documents, on their own terms, is a continuation of the theology found in the Old Testament only with the person of Christ at the center. The early church fathers had to deal with the Gnostics who denied the Old Testament canon as well as the non-Christian Jew who denied the New Testament canon.

As can be seen, attempting to define biblical theology is a problem because of a wide range in understanding its importance. Exegesis is a theological task that leads us to understand who Christ is more and more. It just makes sense to pursue an understanding of the Bible on its own terms. Jesus provides us our basis of a recognized canon. He used the Old Testament to explain to His hearers how He was the one who fulfilled all the prophecies about the Messiah.

The doctrine of the Trinity also points to the rationality of the Old and New Testaments talking about the same person. There is unity and distinction found in the Bible just as there is unity and distinction found in the Trinity. We must, at some point, have dogmatic presuppositions if we are to get anywhere in our understanding of the Bible. The unity of the Bible is rooted in faith in Jesus Christ. It is not based upon empirical grounds.

The only way we can access the Word Incarnate is through the Word in Scripture. Christ is not present with us today such that we can sit down and talk with Him like the apostles did. At the same time, the Bible is not God and should not be worshipped as such. We must keep in mind that Christ points us to the Scripture for understanding and the Scriptures point us to Christ for salvation.

Another way we see this unity of Scripture is in how Christ does fulfill all the prophecies of the Old Testament. He brings about the consummation of all things. This is found in all of Scripture: Genesis 3 (yes, creation, too) points to Christ who points us to the culmination of history as foretold in the book of Revelation. This is why Paul can emphatically say that all the promises find their yes in Him.

What Christ represented physically is now seen experientially through the preaching of the Word; i.e., the gospel message. The person of Christ is at the heart of the dynamic of our salvation. If Christ is not at the center, then there is no sense in preaching from the Bible.

In summary, I don’t have time to discuss all the challenges that have been issued against biblical theology. Suffice it to say that there have been some and they have been met. I believe that all the challenges against biblical theology are driven by alien presuppositions to biblical scholarship.

Finally, while this is not an exhaustive list of reasons, I would like to present four reasons why I think the pursuit of biblical theology is necessary and why it stems from the gospel. First, there is the dynamic of creation. The old has become new and our new creation is centered on Jesus Christ. Second, there is a reality in the Incarnation that enables us to say that the Christ of the New Testament fulfills the prophecies of the Old. Third, there is the conviction of the faith of the apostles in which the Scriptures were a testimony to a Christocentric understanding of events in the Bible. We can see this in Stephen’s speech found in Acts 7. Lastly, the bigger picture of Scripture requires a biblical theology because all of Scripture points to Christ.

Let us pray.

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One Response to The Necessity and Viability of Biblical Theology–Dr. Graeme Goldsworthy

  1. Bryan says:

    Graeme was our minister at St Mark’s Yagoona in Sydney Australia before he took up teaching at Moore College. That was back in the 70s. Best Old Testament teacher I ever heard. I still have some recordings on Revelation too but they are very poor quality and the traffic outside the church was often closer to the mike than Graeme!!!!!!

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