Volume 47 - Issue 2

The Pastor as Biblical Theologian

By Brian J. Tabb

“For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27)1

I’ve heard pastors say many times in the past few years, “I never had a class on this in seminary.”2 Pastors and churches have adapted to the ever-changing public health crisis of COVID-19. We have weathered significant political divisions and social unrest—particularly here in the Twin Cities. We have also faced the difficult task of discipling church members who are being constantly formed by social media exposure. Who is sufficient for these things?

In recent years, there have been calls for local church pastors to promote and produce careful theological reflection (see, for example, the work of the Center for Pastor Theologians). This column considers the pastor’s vocation as a biblical theologian. My thesis is that careful, Christ-centered biblical theology offers pastors rich resources for teaching and shepherding the people of God in our fraught, fractured, and fearful world.

I’ll begin with some preliminary definitions of “pastor” and “biblical theology,” offer a sketch of “the pastor as biblical theologian,” and conclude with three proposals.

1. Who Is a Pastor?

I recognize that for many Themelios readers, it may seem rather unnecessary to spend precious time defining the term “pastor,” but here we go. By pastor, I mean a spiritually mature man who teaches, oversees, and shepherds a local congregation of believers. The NT uses various complementary terms to refer to the same church office: elders (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim 5:17; Tit 1:5), overseers (Acts 20:28; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1–2), leaders (Heb 13:7, 17, 24), and pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11).3 Pastors may be paid church employees or volunteers. They may be called pastors, elders, ministers, or rectors, depending on their church tradition. They may preach regularly or rarely. They may have general ministerial responsibilities in a smaller church or specialized duties in a larger congregation (senior pastor, executive pastor, pastor for small groups, etc.). Regardless, I understand “pastors” to be godly, faithful men who are called by a local church to teach God’s word and exercise spiritual oversight for the spiritual good of the saints in their care. Their lives reflect the character qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. As Bobby Jamieson writes, “Elders walk in the ways of Christ, instruct Christ’s people in those ways, and exhort others to follow.”4

2. What Is Biblical Theology?

Now for our second definition: biblical theology. Specialists disagree about what biblical theology is and how to pursue it.5 By “biblical theology,” I mean more than just theology that is biblical rather than unbiblical. I have in mind the discipline of biblical theology, which is distinct from yet complementary to systematic theology or dogmatics. While biblical theology and systematics draw upon the canonical Scriptures as their ultimate authority, these disciplines are organized differently and employ their own grammars.6 Systematic theology is a synthesizing discipline that logically orders key doctrines following a redemptive-historical or creedal arrangement.7 Systematics texts often begin with some combination of the doctrine of the Triune God, the doctrine of revelation, and a discussion of how we know God.8 Biblical theology is typically organized around the unfolding storyline of the biblical canon,9 moving from creation in Genesis 1 to the new creation and consummation of history in Revelation 22.

For the purposes of this column let’s start with two definitions of biblical theology that complement each other yet approach the question in rather different ways. First, Jason DeRouchie, Oren Martin, and Andy Naselli propose the following definition:

Biblical theology is a way of analyzing and synthesizing the Bible that makes organic, salvation-historical connections with the whole canon on its own terms, especially regarding how the Old and New Testaments progress, integrate, and climax in Christ.10

This definition recognizes that we should grapple with the diversity of genres and historical circumstances of the Scriptures while stressing their fundamental unity and coherence in an unfolding narrative of redemption with Christ at the center.

Second, James Hamilton calls biblical theology “the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors.”11 In other words, biblical theology entails sharing the apostles’ assumptions and presuppositions about the Scriptures and following their hermeneutical lead.

3. What Does a Pastor Do as a Biblical Theologian?

So, having explained what I mean by “pastor” and “biblical theology,” let’s consider the pastor as biblical theologian. Peter Leithart, in a learned and eclectic essay on this topic, calls for the “development of a biblical theology from the church for the church.”12 Leithart insists that “ecclesial theology must orient its hermeneutics towards homiletics” in the context of the church’s liturgy, which is about as close as he comes to a summary of pastoral biblical theology.13 I commend his call for pastors to teach biblical texts “to equip the people of God for the work of ministry and for the mission of God.”14 But I disagree with Leithart’s claims that preachers must incorporate “Christological allegory and tropological exhortation” and that “detached from eucharistic liturgy, preaching is at sea.”15

I understand the pastor-biblical theologian to be a godly man called by the church whose teaching and shepherding ministry is marked by careful, Christ-centered exposition of the whole Bible to edify the people of God. Let’s unpack this definition in four steps.

3.1. Carefully Expound God’s Word

First, the pastor-biblical theologian carefully expounds God’s word—whenever possible in the original languages.16 He assiduously attends to the details of a given biblical text—its genre, syntax, choice of words, flow of thought, literary context, etc.—while reading each part of Scripture in light of the whole canon.17 He cares what the biblical text actually says, not just what commentators say about the text. He is also aware of how a given text relates to earlier and later biblical texts, regularly looking up cross-references in the margins of his Study Bible and NA28 Greek New Testament and evaluating potential allusions and parallels.18 He is willing to invest the time needed in the study to understand the God-breathed text that he “may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17 NIV).

3.2. Be Thoroughly Christ-Centered

Second, the pastor-biblical theologian’s ministry of the word is thoroughly Christ-centered. He reflects the interpretive perspective of the risen Lord Jesus, who explains “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). In Luke 24, Jesus summarizes the Bible’s central message concerning the Messiah’s suffering, resurrection, and mission among all nations (vv. 44–47), and he offers a hermeneutical model for his disciples.19 Thus, Peter appeals to the prophets and Psalms to demonstrate that everyone who calls on the name of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus shall be saved (Acts 2:21–36). Paul reasons from the Scriptures with those in the synagogue, “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (17:2–3). Later Paul declares “nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (26:22–23). The pastor-biblical theologian likewise explains how the promises and patterns of the Scriptures progress, integrate, and culminate in the Lord Jesus. He shows how Christ is the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45), the prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22), the great high priest (Heb 7:26–28), the messianic king (Luke 1:32–33), the incarnate Word (John 1:14), the better temple (John 2:21), the true Israel (Matt 2:15), the suffering servant (Acts 8:32–35), the sacrificial lamb (1 Cor 5:7), and the coming bride groom (Matt 9:15).20

3.3. Be Committed to Teaching the Whole Bible

Third, as a biblical theologian the pastor is committed to expounding the whole Bible. If “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable” for teaching, correcting, and training God’s people (2 Tim 3:16), and if “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction” (Rom 15:4), then the whole counsel of God should shape the pastor’s ministry from the pulpit to the living room. To be sure, “there are some things … that are hard to understand” in Paul’s letters (2 Pet 3:16)—the man of lawlessness comes to mind (2 Thess 2:3)! And many preachers studying apocalyptic prophecies may say with Daniel, “my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions … alarmed me” (Dan 7:15). But God has called us to devote ourselves to these sacred writings, which are perfect, sure, right, pure, true, and desirable (Ps 19:7–11). Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule for planning sermon series, worship services, and Sunday school classes. But over the course of five, ten, twenty, or more years, church members would benefit from regular exposure to and teaching from the Old and New Testaments.

Consider, for example, Paul’s exemplary exposition of the Scriptures in Acts 13. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, Paul offers this “word of encouragement” to those gathered in the synagogue:

The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.” Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. (vv. 17–23)

This sweeping scriptural summary, which strikingly parallels 2 Samuel 7, surveys about a thousand years of OT history.21 Paul recounts God’s promises to the patriarchs (Genesis), Israel’s rescue from Egypt (Exodus), the wilderness wanderings (Numbers), the conquest and inheritance of the land (Joshua), the time of the judges (Judges), and the establishment of the monarchy (1–2 Samuel). He then announces that Jesus is the promised Savior descended from David (2 Sam 7:12–16; Ps 132:11). Later in this address, Paul cites texts from the Psalms and Isaiah as proofs for Christ’s resurrection (vv. 33–35)22 before closing with a warning from the prophet Habakkuk (vv. 40–41). Thus, Acts 13 illustrates powerful Christ-centered preaching from the Law, Prophets, and Psalms.

3.4. Edify the People of God

Fourth, the pastor-biblical theologian expounds the Scriptures to edify the people of God. We should not think of biblical theology as merely an academic discipline; biblical theology is a practical, pastoral treasure trove for the church. Christians face challenges of all sorts in this life—sickness and chronic pain, the death of loved ones, fractured relationships, financial troubles, fears about the future, pressures at work, difficulties at home, natural disasters, social unrest, wars and rumors of war, and the daunting daily call to deny ourselves and follow Christ. Many if not most of the saints are discouraged by hardships and distracted by the world, and they desperately need “the encouragement of the Scriptures” (Rom 15:4). Do your church members deal with partiality or resentment or a lack of affection for one another? Following the example of Jesus and the apostles, we could appeal to the Law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18; cf. Matt 19:19; Mark 12:31; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; Jas 2:8). Are your people enticed by sexual sin or substitute saviors? Warn them of the folly of the golden calf and the disastrous consequences of Israel’s rebellions in the wilderness: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor 10:6; cf. 10:1–13; Heb 3:7–19). Do your people need patience in times of suffering? James advises that you consider Jeremiah’s ministry of tears, Job’s steadfastness, and God’s compassionate and merciful character as revealed to Moses (Jas 5:10–11; cf. Exod 34:6). Does your congregation struggle to believe that God hears their prayers? Remember the example of Elijah, who fervently prayed and God shut the sky for three years and six months (Jas 5:17–18; cf. 1 Kgs 17:1). Are your people experiencing unjust suffering or slander? Look to Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant, who “also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21; cf. 2:18–25; Isa 53:4–12). What about believers who lack contentment and are tempted by the love of money? Remember God’s promise to Joshua: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5; cf. Josh 1:5). Do the saints need encouragement to give generously and support the ministry of the church? Consider the righteous person of Psalm 112 who “has distributed freely” (2 Cor 9:9) or reflect on the Law’s teaching about the unmuzzled ox and our Lord’s instruction: “The laborer deserves his wages” (1 Tim 5:18; cf. Deut 25:4; Luke 10:7; 1 Cor 9:9). We could multiply examples, but my point is that careful, Christ-centered, biblical theological exposition of the God-breathed Scriptures offers rich resources for teaching, warning, and training God’s people that they may abound in love, approve what is excellent, and be ready for the day of Christ (cf. Phil 1:9–11).

4. Three Proposals

So what does it look like for a pastor to edify God’s people with careful, Christ-centered expositions of the whole counsel of God? In my view, the pastor as biblical theologian shares the presuppositions of the apostles, cultivates personal and corporate practices for whole-Bible intake, and embraces the glorious purpose of magnifying Christ in all areas of life. Presuppositions, practices, and purpose—three Ps for those readers who appreciate alliteration.

4.1. Share the Apostles’ Presuppositions

First, the pastor as biblical theologian shares the apostles’ presuppositions about the authority, unity, and fulfillment of the Scriptures. The first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42), which has served as the doctrinal bedrock of the church in every generation and in every place. But there is a longstanding debate about whether believers today can and should follow the apostles’ presuppositions and practices as well as their conclusions.23 Some scholars are cautious, citing the apostles’ unique revelatory stance and their use of Jewish exegetical practices that were appropriate to explain the gospel for their first-century audience but not for contemporary readers. Thus, Richard Longenecker contends that “unless we are ‘restorationists’ in our attitude toward hermeneutics, Christians today are committed to the apostolic faith and doctrine of the NT, but not necessarily to the apostolic exegetical practices as detailed for us in the NT.”24 Others contend that following apostles’ authoritative teaching entails embracing their hermeneutics and presuppositions about the unity of the Scriptures and the centrality of Christ in salvation history. Thus, G. K. Beale reasons that while we cannot replicate the biblical authors’ “inspired certainty,” their interpretive practices remain “viable … for all saints to employ today.”25

The “task of biblical theology,” according to Hamilton, is to recognize the biblical authors’ “interpretive perspective” as “both valid and normative” and then embrace it for ourselves.26 In this regard, I find the risen Lord’s climactic exposition of the Scriptures in Luke 24:44–47 to be incredibly important as a model and guide for his followers (I unpack this in After Emmaus).

Here are five fundamental beliefs or presuppositions that, in my view, guide how Jesus and his followers read the Bible.27

  1. They believe the Scriptures—the Law, Prophets, and Writings—to be the holy, inspired word of God, supremely truthful and authoritative in every way. “As it is written” invokes the sacred, binding authority of the God who has spoken.
  2. Jesus and the apostles presuppose that the God-breathed Scriptures reflect consistent patterns or correspondences between God’s work in the past, present, and future. This is the conviction that underlies “typology,” the study of people, events, or institutions (types) that correspond to and prophetically prefigure later and greater fulfillments (antitypes) within biblical history.
  3. They affirm the biblical principle of corporate solidarity, in which one individual represents the many. As high priests, prophets, and kings represent the nation of Israel, the NT authors claim that Jesus the Messiah is the true representative of his people.
  4. They believe that Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and gift of the Holy Spirit ushered in “the last days” that were foretold by the prophets long ago. “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:2), and we await Christ’s return to consummate God’s purposes to judge his foes, deliver his people, and restore all things. Scholars typically refer to this reality as “inaugurated eschatology.”
  5. The NT authors recognize Jesus as the focus and fulfillment of the Scriptures, following the Lord’s own claims in texts like Luke 24:44—“Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled”—and John 5:39—“the Scriptures … bear witness about me.” Said another way, the NT writers “all share the fundamental premise that the story of Israel culminates in the Messiah” and then “continues with the life and mission of the church.”28

The pastor as biblical theologian embraces these apostolic convictions about the nature, unity, and fulfillment of the sacred Scriptures and models them in his word-based ministry in the pulpit, the classroom, and the living room.

4.2. Cultivate Personal and Corporate Practices for Whole-Bible Intake

This leads to my second proposal: the pastor as biblical theologian cultivates personal and corporate practices for whole Bible intake. Let’s begin with personal practices and then move to public ministry considerations, following the example of Ezra the scribe, who “set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).

First, the pastor as biblical theologian should consistently, systematically, prayerfully read through the whole Bible. The blessed man of Psalm 1 delights in the instruction of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. There are numerous reading plans available to help you plan your route through the 929 chapters of the Old Testament and 260 chapters of the New. You can read in canonical or chronological or casual order. The Listener’s Bible narrated by Max McLean covers both testaments in just over seventy-five hours (in NIV or ESV). Romans takes under an hour to read, Jeremiah (the longest of the prophetic books) takes under four hours, while Obadiah and Jude each take about four minutes.29 By comparison, one report estimates that the average American spent more than 1,300 hours on social media in 2020.30 Pastors and parishioners alike would likely benefit from a renovation of our daily and weekly habits so that we might consume substantially more of the life-giving word of God and substantially reduce our time spent on Facebook and Netflix. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16).

Further, the pastor as biblical theologian should endeavor to study the Scriptures in their original languages. Consider these bold words from Martin Luther:

And let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit [Eph. 6:17] is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored.31

I realize that I’m a professor of biblical studies addressing readers with varying situations. Many of you have attended seminary and are paid full-time pastors or academics; some are businessmen, doctors, and craftsmen who serve as lay elders or bi-vocational ministers; and others are students preparing for vocational ministry. Let me be clear: you don’t need to read Greek and Hebrew to be a faithful Christian or a faithful pastor. But for those who regularly preach and teach God’s word, I highly recommend gaining—and maintaining—facility in Greek and Hebrew. Reading biblical texts in the original languages moves you beyond cursory familiarity and forces you to slow down and become more deliberate in your study. Working through a sermon text in Greek or Hebrew also gives you greater clarity about its structure and style and greater precision and confidence in your interpretations. Here’s what Jason DeRouchie says in his excellent article on the profit of employing the biblical languages:

For the Christian minister who is charged to proclaim God’s truth with accuracy and to preserve the gospel’s purity with integrity, the biblical languages help in one’s study, practice, and teaching of the Word. Properly using the languages opens doors of biblical discovery that would otherwise remain locked and provides interpreters with accountability that they would not otherwise have. The minister who knows Hebrew and Greek will not only feed himself but will also be able to gain a level of biblical discernment that will allow him to respond in an informed way to new translations, new theological perspectives, and other changing trends in Church and culture. With the languages, the interpreter’s observations can be more accurate and thorough, understanding more clear, evaluation more fair, feelings more aligned with truth, application more wise and helpful, and expression more compelling.32

So pick up a reader’s edition of the Tyndale House Greek New Testament, open up your Logos Bible Software, and experience the joy of studying the Scriptures in the original languages. For practical strategies and additional motivation for acquiring and maintaining facility in the languages, consider reading helpful resources like Greek for Life and Hebrew for Life.33

Third, the pastor as biblical theologian should make a practice of reading serious works of biblical theology. We are living in something of a golden age of biblical theology. There are multiple well-regarded series of books addressing various biblical theological themes, such as New Studies in Biblical Theology (IVP Academic, edited by D. A. Carson), Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (IVP Academic, edited by Benjamin L. Gladd), Short Studies in Biblical Theology (Crossway, edited by Dane Ortlund and Miles Van Pelt), and Biblical Theology for Life (Zondervan, edited by Jonathan Lunde). There are numerous reference works available, such as the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible and New Dictionary of Biblical Theology.34 Well-known scholars have published massive whole-Bible theologies,35 and there are multiple popular-level entrees into biblical theology for non-specialists and even children, such as Kevin DeYoung’s The Biggest Story.36 I realize that pastors have sermons to prepare, couples to counsel, programs to plan, and ministry crises to address. But I commend carving out regular time to read books that offer fresh insights and compelling biblical-theological expositions that will edify your own faith and enrich your own teaching.

Moving from personal habits to public ministry, pastors as biblical theologians should endeavor to preach and teach the whole counsel of God. Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert write, “We as preachers are called to preach the whole Bible to our people. If people sit under our preaching for any length of time, they should eventually hear us preach from a good cross-section of the entire Bible.”37 There are various ways to faithfully expound the whole counsel of God, and I offer three possibilities. First, Dever and Gilbert suggest planning a preaching schedule that exposes the congregation to the major genres and sections of the OT and NT: a book of Law, then one of the Gospels, an OT historical book, a NT letter, some psalms, etc.38 Second, pastors may teach a class or devote a sermon series to the storyline of Scripture. D. A. Carson’s The God Who Is There or Chris Bruno’s The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses could serve as helpful guides for such an effort.39 Third, pastors may preach or teach through a NT book like Hebrews as a sort of biblical-theological primer for the congregation. Hebrews 13:22 identifies the book as “a word of exhortation,” the same phrase used in Acts 13:15 for a sermon to a gathered congregation. Hebrews begins by crisply comparing God’s revelation in former times “by the prophets” with his message to us “in these last days … by his Son” (1:1–2). The remainder of the first chapter marshals seven OT citations to demonstrate the Son’s superiority. And chapter 11 offers the NT’s most extensive summary of the OT story.40 Dennis Johnson with good reason calls Hebrews “an apostolic preaching paradigm.”41

4.3. Embrace the Glorious Purpose to Magnify Christ

Thus far, I’ve argued that the pastor as biblical theologian embraces the apostles’ convictions about the Scriptures’ authority, unity, and fulfillment in Christ and that he cultivates personal and corporate habits to study and teach the whole counsel of God. My final appeal is that ministers make it their ambition to magnify Jesus Christ and present their church members mature in Christ. Paul sums up his ministry outlook this way in Colossians 1:28: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” In the context, he explains that God has revealed a mystery previously hidden: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Χριστὸς ἐν ὑμῖν, ἡ ἐλπὶς τῆς δόξης)—note that “you” (ὑμῖν) refers particularly to Gentile believers who were previously God’s enemies before Christ’s saving intervention (1:27; cf. 1:21–22). The apostle labors to present believers “mature” or “complete” (τέλειος), reaching their τέλος in Christ. His friend Epaphras likewise struggles in prayer “that you may stand mature [τέλειοι] and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12). Their aims align with Christ’s own saving purpose: “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard (1:22–23).

Our email inboxes, calendars, and to-do lists are chock-full of requests and tasks calling for our immediate attention. We’re also distracted by social media, sports, political commentary, and the daily news cycle. As a result, we rarely fixate on the interrelated ultimate goals that consumed the apostle: the glory of Jesus and the maturity of his people. A healthy dose of biblical theology can guide pastors—and church members—to focus our efforts on the apostles’ priorities of magnifying the Lord Jesus and building up his people unto maturity. A strong grasp of biblical theology also guards pastors against proof-texting and moralistic preaching.42 For example, rather than calling the church to be courageous like David the giant slayer, we see in 1 Samuel 17 a picture of Yahweh’s saving strength alongside his servant’s weakness and zeal for God’s glory (see 17:45, 47).43 We see an outworking of the Lord’s commitment to break the bows of the mighty, to lift up the needy, to “give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed,” just as Hannah declares (2:10; cf. 2:4, 8) and just as God does in the fullness of time when he sends David’s greater son.

5. Conclusion

To sum up, the pastor as biblical theologian is a godly man called by the church whose ministry is marked by careful, Christ-centered exposition of the whole Bible to edify the people of God. The pastor as biblical theologian shares the presuppositions of the apostles, cultivates personal and corporate practices for whole Bible intake, and embraces the glorious purpose of magnifying Christ in all areas of life. Such a pastor may or may not hold advanced degrees and write books. He may or may not have a public platform to speak presciently into the pressing and perplexing cultural issues of the day. But he is saturated in the Scriptures and able to teach the saints how to read their Bibles in a way that exalts Jesus. He offers needed encouragement and wisdom so that God’s people can remain firm and established, not wavering from the hope of the gospel.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, Scripture citations come from the ESV.

[2] For thoughtful reflections along these lines, see Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson Sr., eds., 15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).

[3] For further discussion and analysis, see Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008), 61–100.

[4] Bobby Jamieson, The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide for the Aspiring, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 51.

[5] See the exchange between Gerald Bray and Thomas R. Schreiner in Themelios 39 (2014): 9–28, as well as the taxonomy of approaches in Edward Klink, III and Darian R. Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012). A thorough overview of the discipline is provided by Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Biblical Theology from a New Testament Perspective,” JETS 62 (2019): 225–49.

[6] See, for example, D. A. Carson, “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 89–104.

[7] Michael. Allen, “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology—Part Two,” Journal of Reformed Theology 14 (2020): 356.

[8] Consider the approach of two recently published volumes. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson’s Christian Theology: The Biblical Story and Our Faith (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2020) opens with chapters on (1) Knowing God, (2) God’s Revelation, (3) God the Trinity, and (4) God’s Attributes and Works. Letham’s Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019) addresses the Triune God in part 1, the Word of God in part 2, and the Works of God in part 3.

[9] Cf. Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), xii.

[10] Jason S. DeRouchie, Oren R. Martin, and Andrew David Naselli, 40 Questions about Biblical Theology, 40 Questions (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2020), 20.

[11] James M. Hamilton, Jr., Typology: Understanding the Bible’s Promise-Shaped Patterns; How Old Testament Expectations Are Fulfilled in Christ (Grand Rapids Zondervan, 2022), 30; cf. James M. Hamilton, What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 15–16.

[12] Peter J. Leithart, “The Pastor Theologian as Biblical Theologian: From the Church for the Church,” in Becoming a Pastor Theologian: New Possibilities for Church Leadership, ed. Todd Wilson and Gerald Hiestand (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 7.

[13] Leithart, “The Pastor Theologian as Biblical Theologian,” 16, 19.

[14] Leithart, “The Pastor Theologian as Biblical Theologian,” 16.

[15] Leithart, “The Pastor Theologian as Biblical Theologian,” 16, 21.

[16] See Jason S. DeRouchie, “The Profit of Employing the Biblical Languages: Scriptural and Historical Reflections,” Themelios 37 (2012): 32–50.

[17] Cf. James M. Hamilton, Jr., “Biblical Theology and Preaching,” in Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon, ed. Daniel L. Akin, et al. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 198.

[18] See also the Scripture index in G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).

[19] This summarizes the thesis of Brian J. Tabb, After Emmaus: How the Church Fulfills the Mission of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021).

[20] For expositions of these and other “promise-shaped patterns” fulfilled by Christ, see Hamilton, Typology.

[21] See Table 5.1 in Tabb, After Emmaus, 129; cf. Chris Bruno, Jared Compton, and Kevin McFadden, Biblical Theology According to the Apostles: How the Earliest Christians Told the Story of Israel, NSBT 52 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 67–80.

[22] For discussion, see Tabb, After Emmaus, 128–33.

[23] The next few sentences adapt material in Brian J. Tabb and Andrew M. King, eds., Five Views on Christ in the Old Testament: Genre, Authorial Intent, and the Nature of Scripture, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2022).

[24] Richard N. Longenecker, “‘Who is the Prophet Talking About?’ Some Reflections on the New Testament’s Use of the Old,” Themelios 13 (1987): 8. This argument is developed further in Richard N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), xxxiv–xxxix.

[25] G. K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 25, emphasis original.

[26] Hamilton, Typology, 27–28.

[27] Here I adapt material published in Tabb, After Emmaus, 35–36. For a complementary summary with extended explanations of the biblical authors’ presuppositions, see Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 95–102.

[28] Bruno, Compton, and McFadden, Biblical Theology According to the Apostles, 184.

[29] “Infographic: You Have More Time for Bible Reading than You Think,” Crossway, 19 November 2018,

[30] Peter Suciu, “Americans Spent on Average more than 1,300 Hours on Social Media Last Year,” Forbes, 24 June 2021,

[31] Martin Luther, “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools (1524),” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. William R. Russell and Timothy F. Lull, 3rd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), 463.

[32] DeRouchie, “The Profit of Employing the Biblical Languages,” 50.

[33] Benjamin L. Merkle and Robert L. Plummer, Greek for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Using New Testament Greek in Ministry (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017); Adam J. Howell, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer, Hebrew for Life: Strategies for Learning, Retaining, and Reviving Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020).

[34] D. A. Carson, ed., NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018); T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, eds., New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

[35] For example, Schreiner, The King in His Beauty.

[36] Kevin DeYoung, The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

[37] Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, Preach: Theology Meets Practice (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 68.

[38] Dever and Gilbert, Preach, 69.

[39] D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010); Chris Bruno, The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Verses, Wheaton, IL (Crossway: 2015).

[40] See Bruno, Compton, and McFadden, Biblical Theology According to the Apostles, 149–82.

[41] Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), ch. 6.

[42] Nick Roark and Robert Cline, Biblical Theology: How the Church Faithfully Teaches the Gospel, 9Marks (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 75.

[43] Cf. Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, Focus on the Bible (Ross-Shire, UK: Christian Focus, 2000), 189.

Brian J. Tabb

Brian Tabb is academic dean and professor of biblical studies at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis and general editor of Themelios.

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