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Carson Quote on NT Theology

The following is one of my favorite quotes on NT Theology, but properly tweaked it would also apply to Biblical Theology:

β€œThose who write NT theology should ideally become intimately acquainted with the text of the NT, develop a profound grasp of the historical (including social and cultural) frameworks in which the NT books were written, maintain and sharpen the horizon provided by the entire canon, foster literary skills that permit varied genres to speak for themselves, spot literary devices and correctly interpret them, learn to fire imagination and creativity in a disciplined way and acknowledge and seek to accommodate and correct their own cultural and theological biases. All of these elements must be maintained in appropriate balance, nurtured by love for God and fear of God and growing hunger to serve his people.”

D.A. Carson, β€œNew Testament Theology,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development, 810.

Oh that God would raise a generation of pastors, missionaries, scholars and lay people who are able to handle God’s Word in such a manner!

Psalm 1

Psalm 1 is a fascinating beginning to the entire Psalter. There are many angles one might take in studying and teaching this psalm, but I want to focus on the psalm within its biblical-theological context. Throughout the history of the church some commentators have read the psalm Christologically (if I remember correctly including Calvin), seeing the description of the blessed man as pointing forward to fulfillment in Christ.

Is this legitimate? Why or why not? Are there indications in the text of Psalm 1 that such a reading is justified? And does the the fact that Psalm 2 which follows is clearly messianic in nature play any role in reading Psalm 1 christologically?

Big Week for the Harmons

On Friday (7/28) of this week (which also happens to be my 33rd birthday) we will be closing on our new house in Indiana, and then the following Monday (7/31) we will be moving to Warsaw, IN. In light of this my blogging will be sporadic at best, but once we’re settled I hope to be more active again.

Keep checking in …

Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology

Recently I’ve had a couple of conversations in which the relationship between biblical and systematic theology came up. One of the criticisms that is often levelled against those who emphasize biblical theology is that it is done to the neglect of systematic theology. While this may be fair in some cases, I do not think it is an accurate assessment of most who do biblical theology.

So how then would you explain the relationship between biblical and systematic theology? How do they contribute to one another? What contributions does biblical theology make that systematic theology does not, and vice versa? And is it possible to do both well at the same time or must they remain distinct at all times?

I have my own thoughts, but I want to hear from you.

Key Biblical Theological Themes

Tomorrow I begin teaching a course on Biblical Interpretation and Communication for Campus Crusade staff. One of the major emphases in the course is helping students to identify key biblical-theological themes in the particular passage they are working in so they can connect their passage to the larger canonical witness. Of course, one of the challenges we face is that for those who are new to such an approach, it can be quite challenging to identify those threads.

Consequently, I’d like to help them by giving them some suggested threads that are rather common in Scripture. Those of us who have done this for a whole can sometimes forget that it has taken us a while to get to the point where we immediately recognize such threads. So I’ll get our discussion started by suggesting the themes of prophet, priest and king, all of which find their fulfillment in Christ. In other words, when working in an OT passage one thing to consider is whether any of the references to a prophet, priest, or king in some measure point forward to the ultimate prophet, priest, or king Jesus Christ. Sometimes that pointing forward is done in a negative way; in other words, the failures of a particular prophet, priest or king point forward to the need for a prophet, priest or king who does not fail (e.g. Saul in 1 Sam).

Another example would be the theme of God’s presence with his people, be it mediated through a tabernacle, temple, his incarnate Son, or the people of God. Recognizing such a theme enables one to make helpful connections across the canon.

So what other key biblical theological themes or threads are so pervasive or pivotal in Scripture that knowing them opens one up to the ability make key connections to different parts of the Biblical story?

Job News

I am excited to report that today I officially signed a contract for the position of Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Our family is excited about this ministry opportunity, especially the chance to train and equip pastors and missionaries to encounter Christ through the Scriptures.

The next 5 weeks will be full of details such as moving and the like. But we are so grateful to God for providing this opportunity. For the past ten years we have sensed that God was leading us in this direction, and to now come to the fruition of that calling is a joy that defies expression. It is no exaggeration when I say that I still am overwhelmed with how good God has been to us and how undeserving we are of his grace in calling us to this ministry.

I also trust that despite my teaching and writing responsibilities I will be able to continue our conversation on this blog.

The Role of Historical & Exegetical Background in Interpretation

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the place of the role that knowledge of background material plays in interpretation. In particular I have in mind the issue of Jewish exegetical traditions and interpretation of certain NT passages. One example that comes to mind is Paul’s reference to the rock following the Israelites in the desert in 1 Cor 10. On the surface the reference seems quite strange; but if one knows of various Jewish exegetical traditions about that rock Paul’s reference becomes more understandable, even if it remains striking.

The point I want to raise is the necessity of such background knowledge for understanding Scripture. On the one hand, my own work has revealed the value of understanding such exegetical traditions for illuminating Paul’s own use of the OT. But on the other hand I firmly believe in the perspicuity (i.e., clarity) of Scripture and want to affirm that those who lack the opportunity of graduate education are entirely capable of understanding God’s Word.

Perhaps the answer lies in asserting the general clarity of Scripture in its essential message and content while maintaining the value of background studies as providing a richness and depth to that essential message. One of the questions I was asked in my dissertation defense was something along the lines of “If Paul’s use of Isaiah in Galatians is not essential to understanding Galatians, what is the value of your research?” The question was asked in a good spirit and in no way attacking. My answer (one that I am still thinking through) was that although Paul’s basic message in Galatians is understandable even to those who do not notice the repeated allusions and echoes of Isaiah, the depth and richness of that message cannot be fully appreciated without recognizing Paul’s profound engagement with Isaiah (esp. chs. 49-54).

So what say you?

Where’s Matt?

As is obvious from the lack of any posts from the past three weeks, life has been extremely busy. So I wanted to give a very brief update. The past few weeks have been filled with dissertation revisions, travel, and many other things. Most significantly, however, is the very strong prospect of me taking a NT teachin position for the upcoming school year. Until it is completely official (i.e. I have signed a contract) I won’t mention where, but it is a position that I am excited about. I have made two trips to the school, moved through the interview process, and now await final confirmation, which hopefully should happen by the end of this month. In light of this we are handling all of the logistics of house buying (we found a GREAT house), moving, etc.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention that I’m leaving Wed to teach for Campus Crusade for Christ for 4.5 weeks?

So if you think of it, ask for God’s sustaining grace and blessing during this exciting but challenging time for us!

Recommended Resource: Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

A resource that I have found helpful in identifying biblical theological themes across the canon is The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, edited by Leland Ryken, James C.Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III. After an introductory article covering topics such as image/symbol/metaphor and literary conventions, the rest of the volume contains articles on a wide variety of topics, ranging from Aaron’s Rod to Zion. The vast majority of the articles that I have read appear to be well written and full of biblical references so that one can trace the theme throughout Scripture. There are no bibliographies attached to the articles, but the subject and scripture reference indeces are extremely helpful for quickly checking where a particular passage you are interested in is mentioned. Although it retails for $45, Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore has it available for just $30 (follow the link with the name of the book above).

Have any of you found this resource helpful?

Handling the Intertestamental Period in the Biblical Story

One of the relatively unique features of The Drama of Scripture is the fact that it devotes an entire chapter to the intertestamental period. Reading this made me wonder how to best treat this 400 year “gap” in the biblical storyline as presented in Scripture. What elements are necessary to mention in order to help people recognize that nearly 400 years of history and hope transpire between the last chapter of Malachi and the first one of Matthew? And how does one do this succinctly and yet competently?