As we said last time, we are going to start to break down the fourfold discipline which makes up the science of theology. In this article, we are going to consider everything that must go into Biblical Studies. In future articles, we are going to consider what goes into Historical Studies, Doctrinal Studies, and Ministerial Studies.
Before we step into more, here is a little biographical information. My bachelor’s degree is a bachelor’s in science. My major was Biblical Studies, and my minor was Biblical Languages. This degree was a pre-seminary degree. With that said, I genuinely enjoy this discipline.
There are basically five subjects one must study in Biblical Studies: the biblical languages, hermeneutics, isagogics, the theology of the Bible, and the proper exegesis and application of each book of the Bible. We will break these five disciplines down further.
First, the biblical languages can be a particularly challenging endeavor, but one that is the most rewarding. The Bible was originally in three ancient languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. These three languages are not spoken anymore. Modern Hebrew and Modern Greek have similarities, but they are not the same languages. When one sets out to study Biblical Hebrew or Biblical Greek, they are setting out to study a language for the purpose of reading. The goal of the study is to equip the student with the proper vocabulary and knowledge of the grammar of the language they can read and interpret and thus exegete any given passage from the Bible. As with studying any language comes with certain challenges, learning a language just for reading is even more difficult. While the difficulty is present, there are far greater rewards awaiting the student who comprehends and eventually develops the skills needed to read the Bible in the original language. One such reward is reading the Bible as it was originally written. This does not mean when one reads a translation such as the NKJV, ESV, or even the NIV, they are not reading God’s Word. They are just in English. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 14 that it is better for people to hear the Gospel in their own language than for them to hear it in a different language and need an interpreter. What these current and modern translations provide for us today is God’s Word in a language we can understand and therefore, comprehend. This was the reason for God’s Word being in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek in the first place, so people could read, understand, and tell others about what they had just read or heard. Studying the original languages removes the middleman for translation and interpretation. Studying the original languages helps us to see what the author said. Getting the vocabulary and grammar is half of the battle. One needs to learn how to proper interpret them according to the science of hermeneutics.
Second, hermeneutics is the science of interpreting the Bible. In the postmodern world, this was the debate. As we saw in a previous article, the postmodernist will fire back in a disagreement, “Well, that is just your interpretation,” as if that settles the debate. The problem here is that when someone understands and follows the rules which govern the science of interpretation, then no one is actually allowed to have their own interpretation. Not even the prophets in the Old Testament were allowed to interpret scripture on their own (2 Peter 1:19-21). It is my belief that hermeneutics has been the greatest debate from the time of Genesis 3, “Did God really say…” dealt with hermeneutics. How does one interpret God’s Word? Are you adding to His word? Are you reading too much into a given text? Or are you reading the passage and understanding the passage in light of the context? Context is the key to proper interpretation of any given passage of the Bible. Context is what comes with the text. So, context would include the passages before or after the one being studies, the history surrounding the passage, political or cultural situation, redemptive historical timing, the literary genre, and so much more. While hermeneutics is concerned with understanding the ancient text, it is also concerned with how to rightly apply this passage and instruct others from it. What this passage means today is at the heart of hermeneutical application. The rest of Biblical studies strives to get at these questions.
Third, isagogics is the study that introduces one to the different books of the Bible, their authorship, time period, reason for writing, and so much more. As one can see, this is dealing with the context of the books within the Canon of Scripture. The Bible Colleges and Christian Universities I am familiar with normally require from their students to take Old Testament and/or New Testament Survey. These classes are generally what brings some students to just how much they do not know about the Bible. Another way of looking at this subject is to consider the background of the Bible. The geography, the animal life, plant life, political situation, etc. all play a key role in introducing someone to the various books of the Bible. It is during this study, following hermeneutics, the student would be introduced to such theories of various theological schools such as some of the liberal views of the Pentateuch (JEDP hypothesis) or the Gospel’s mysterious “Q” document hypothesis. Understanding these hermeneutical systems and being able to critique and defend the orthodox position is crucial in the overall discipline of Biblical Studies. Isagogics is examining the types of trees in the forest of Biblical Studies. Biblical Theology is studying the forest and the Exegetical Classes, which focus upon the various genres, are the leaves of the trees which make up the forest. Consider the forest of Biblical Theology.
Fourth, Biblical Theology is extremely important. Upon hearing my commitment to a certain seminary, a professor of mine who I was doing an independent study with, told me two books I needed to get familiar with before going to that seminary. He pointed to the Blue Psalter Hymnal and Geerhardus Vos’ Biblical Theology. My professor knew what he was talking about for Vos’ Biblical Theology was a main textbook in my Bible Exegesis classes giving to us the overarching theology of Redemptive History, and we used Blue Psalter Hymnal for our chapel services. Some people want to object to the term “Biblical Theology” by either saying, all theology needs to be biblical, or by saying, biblical theology is what the German higher critics do. While it is true the German higher critics thought they were engaging in “biblical theology” and yes all of our theology ought to be centered upon the Bible, what Vos championed and what we ought to do today is consider the overarching plan of Scripture. In other words, Biblical Theology is concerned with Redemptive History. In doing this, Biblical Theology covers the timeline of the Bible as well as the two covenants found in Scripture.
First, the timeline is concerned with Creation, Fall, Flood, the first advent of Christ, the death of Christ, His resurrection and ascension, and finally understanding the second advent of Christ. While, secondly, Biblical Theology has us study the two covenants seen in Scripture. These two covenants are the Covenant with Adam before the Fall, and the Covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the New Covenant after the Fall. The one is normally called the covenant of works and the latter is called the covenant of grace. Biblical Theology considers both a consideration of Redemptive History as well as Covenant Theology.
Fifth, exegetical understanding of each book is vitally important. This takes us to examining the various branches and leaves of the tree which makes up the forest of Biblical Studies. As one studies the Bible book by book, they may take up the individual books such as a class just on Romans or Daniel or John or the Psalms, or they may take up a collection of books such as the Pentateuch, the Gospels, the Epistles, the Prophets, or Wisdom Literature. Here the student would learn the various methods needed to interpret each book, keeping the grammatical-historical method of interpretation the church has used for centuries as the chief guide. The student would study in more detail the language, grammar, and content of each book. This digging into the soil of the Bible is so rewarding and refreshing. The challenge each student will face is to come to the reality that this study affects their soul. This is not just an academic exercise, but a life changing, life altering study. When one begins the study of the Bible, they will be changed as the Spirit works faith in their lives.