Biblical Theology

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Biblical theology sometimes means a theology that accords with the Bible, but usually refers to the theology that lies within the Bible. Since 1787 biblical theology has been regarded as a specific academic (scientific) discipline of describing and laying bare the theology of the Old and New Testament and the relationship between the two. While building on exegesis, biblical theologians work wholistically with the text blocks, trying to get to the essence or heart of the Bible theologically.

The closely related term, "Biblical Theology Movement," (1940s and onward) applies to a mood or school of thought which was marked by a "fresh" sense of the Bible's unity, an emphasis on revelation in history, and focus on the Bible's immediate relevance for modern life. Impetus for such belief came in part from Europe where, in protest against the "liberal " study of the Scripture, often characterized as arid, the Bible was viewed as God ' s direct address to human beings (e.g., Karl Barth).

The Biblical Theology Movement, which promised renewal and healing of divisions in the church, contributed on the academic level to several attempts to write a synthesis of the Bible's message. On the popular level, a mood was set for greater personal and group Bible study. In the younger churches outside Europe and North America this approach, more than western systematic theology, seemed fruitful for theologizing contextually. The Biblical Theology Movement began to wane in the late 1950s because of problems surrounding the notion of God's revelation in history (ancient peoples made similar claims; how was history a medium of revelation?) and because of the emergence of vigorous systematic theologies (e.g., process theology).

The more specific attempt within biblical studies to get at the Bible's theological heart also sputtered somewhat, partly over such problems as (1) how history and theology were related, (2) by what method a theological summary was to be achieved, (3) whether there was a center around which such a theology should be organized, and (4) how the dynamic within the Bible could be maintained when one systemizes concepts. Despite these problems, in addition to classic syntheses (e.g., Eichrodt, von Rad), other attempts to offer theological summaries of the Bible continued—even with vigor (e.g. Terrien, Hanson, Kümmel, and Morris).

Mennonites felt comfortable with the stress on biblical theology, for as a noncreedal group, they welcomed "theologizing" which used biblical, rather than philosophical categories (cf., Pilgram Marpeck, 16th century as described by Klassen, 1968). Specifically, Mennonite seminaries (deliberately named "biblical " rather than "theological") and religion departments in Mennonite colleges gave pride of place to biblical theology courses over systematic theology courses. Sunday school curricula (e.g., Foundation series) branched into electives which explored biblical themes (e.g., people of God), and writers were briefed on biblical theology. The Believers Church Bible Commentary series, begun in the mid-1980s deliberately incorporated a more "theological" approach.

Mennonites also contributed to the biblical theology movement. Monographs include studies on such themes as love of enemies (Klassen), atonement (Driver), Holy Spirit (Ewert), war (Lind, Janzen) and shalom (Yoder). Full-blown "biblical theologies " include a two-volume work which embraced both Testaments (Lehman), and a theology of the Old Testament (Martens). Mennonites also joined in writing about the history of biblical theology as a specific discipline (Ollenburger).

See also Biblical Interpretation


Bender, Harold S. These Are My People: The Nature of the Church and its Discipleship according to the New Testament . Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1962.

Bright, John. The Kingdom of God. Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1953.

Bultmann, Rudolph. Theology of the New Testament, 2 vols. New York: Scribner, 1951, 1955.

Childs, Brevard S. Biblical Theology in Crisis. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970.

Childs, Brevard S. Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.

Driver, John. Becoming God ' s Community. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1981.

Driver, John. Understanding the Atonement for the Mission of the Church. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1986.

Eichrodt, Walther. Theology of the Old Testament, 2 vols. Philadelphia: Westminister, 1961, 1967.

Enz, Jacob J. The Christian and Warfare: The Roots of Pacifism in the Old Testament. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1972.

Ewert, David. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1982.

Ewert, David. And Then Comes the End. Scottdale, PA Herald Press, 1980.

Goppelt, Leonhard. Jesus, Paul and Judaism: An Introduction to New Testament Theology. New York: Thomas Nelson, 1964.

Hanson, Paul. The People Called: The Growth of Community in the Bible. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986.

Hasel, Gerhard F. New Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

Hayes, John H. and F. Prussner. Old Testament Theology: Its History and Development. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985: 209-218.

Jacob, Edmund. Theology of the Old Testament. New York: Harper & Row, 1958, rev. ed., 1968.

Janzen, Waldemar. Still in the Image: Essays in Biblical Theology and Anthropology. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1982.

Kaiser, Walter. Toward an Old Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.

Klassen, William. Covenant and Community: The Life, Writings and Hermeneutics of Pilgram Marpeck. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968: 50-53.

Klassen, William. Love of Enemies: the Way to Peace, Overtures to Biblical Theology, 15. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

Klassen, William. The Forgiving Community. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966.

Kümmel, Werner G. The Theology of the New Testament. Nashville: Abingdon, 1973.

Ladd, George. A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1974.

Lehman, Chester. Biblical Theology, 2 vols. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1971, 1974.

Lind, Millard. Yahweh Is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1980.

Martens, Elmer A. God's Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981; published in England as Plot and Purpose in the Old Testament, Leicester: University Press, 1981.

Morris, Leon. New Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.

Ollenburger, Ben C. "Biblical Theology: Situating the Discipline," in Understanding the Word: Essays in Honour of Bernhard W. Anderson, ed. J. T. Butler, E. W. Conrad, and B. C. Ollenburger, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement series, 37. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985: 37-62.

Ollenburger, Ben C. "Old Testament Theology since 1800." Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation.

Ollenburger, Ben C. Zion: The City of the Great King, J. for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement series, vol. 41 .Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987.

Rad, Gerhard von. Old Testament Theology, 2 vols. New York: Harper and Row, 1962, 1965.

Reventlow, Henning Graf. Problems of Old Testament Theology in the Twentieth Century. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985.

Schroeder, David. Invited to Faith, Foundation Series. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1981.

Stendahl, Krister. "Biblical Theology, Contemporary," in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 1. Nashville: Abingdon, 1962: 418-432.

Terrien, Samuel. The Elusive Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978.

Wright, George. God Who Acts: Biblical Theology as Recital. Chicago: Regnery, 1952.

Yoder, Perry. Shalom: the Bible's Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1987.

Zimmerli, Walther. Old Testament Theology in Outline. Atlanta: John Knox, 1978.

Author(s) Elmer A Martens
Date Published 1988

Cite This Article

MLA style

Martens, Elmer A. "Biblical Theology." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1988. Web. 23 Jun 2021.

APA style

Martens, Elmer A. (1988). Biblical Theology. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 June 2021, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 83-84. All rights reserved.

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