Interview on “What is Biblical Theology?”
Who is your intended audience? Did you sense a particular need in the church that you wanted to fill?
I think there are many, many people who are interested in Biblical Theology, even though they’re not quite sure what it is or how it should be done. So I’m trying to write for everyone who has been intrigued by the topic and wants to know exactly what it is and how best to get started doing it.
I definitely sense a need for this. There’s not a consensus definition/approach to Biblical Theology in the academy, and as a result there’s a lack of clarity in the church, too. So I’m attempting to provide a clear definition of what this thing is and how to go about it.
In this book you somehow manage to pack so much in such a little space. How did you choose what to keep in and leave out?
Thanks for your kind words! A short book like this could be sketched in and executed quickly. I chose to include the things that seemed most pertinent, the things that I always felt (and feel) compelled to say about these issues when I speak on them in class or in churches.
When did you first realise that we should imitate the interpretative practice of the apostles, and what impact did that realisation have on your life?
I gradually came to the conviction that this is what we should be seeking when doing biblical theology as I was writing God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. I think the impact it had on my life was the joy of realizing that every thought is to be taken captive to the knowledge of Christ, even thoughts had when trying to understand the Bible.
So I hope that this has produced more Christlikeness, and I’ve got a long way to go in that direction.
The idea of believers imitating the apostolic interpretative approach is often opposed by scholars today. What is Biblical Theology? shows how it works in practice but where would one turn for a comprehensive defence of the approach?
I guess it depends on what you mean by comprehensive. I tried to go through every book of the Bible this way in God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment. I think you could also find help in the Commentary on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament edited by Carson and Beale.
How is a knowledge of the original languages (Greek & Hebrew) helpful in doing biblical theology? What of the average Christian who doesn’t have the time or opportunity to pursue language study?
Reading the Bible in the original languages takes you to the very words the Spirit inspired, the terms and concepts used to conceptualize the world. Reading it in translation is like trying to talk to your wife through an interpreter. There’s a barrier . . . and I don’t want anything between me and the Bible, so insofar as possible I want to access it in the original.
It takes a long time to work through the texts in the original, though, and these ancient languages will never become our mother tongues. So we should all make recourse to English translations. We should read the Bible constantly, immersing ourselves in it.
If you can’t learn Greek and Hebrew, memorize (note hyperbole, but learn it as thoroughly as possible) the Bible in a more literal translation such as the ESV, NAS, or NKJV.
How would you encourage a reader of your book to seek out biblical-theological connections themselves while still being guarded from error or from making too much of something that maybe isn’t in the text?
We can do several things: first, I would advise testing an interpretation against other Scripture. Scripture interprets Scripture, and if the Bible isn’t making the interpretive moves you’re making, stop making those moves. Second, we can test our interpretations against what others have said. Thirdly, we should begin and end by asking the Lord to keep us from error, and our lives should be marked by ongoing meditation on the words of life.
Many thanks to Dr. James Hamilton for taking the time to do this interview. His latest book, What is Biblical Theology?, will be released by Crossway on the 30th of November and is available for preorder. My review will be up on Thursday.