Is the Bible a Theological Book?

In  recent discussion, I maintained that the bible’s primary purpose was a theological book – not science, nor historical, but one in which we find the study of God, the nature of God, the demands of God, and the interaction between God and humanity. Theology, I was told, was the study of God. Augustine, because he is appropriate, defined theology as “de divinitate rationem sive sermonem”, or the reasoning or discussion concerning the Deity. (City of God 8.1) As the term and thought behind the term developed, we find that Hugh of St. Victor wrote in his work, Commentariorum in Hierarchiam Coelestem, Expositio to Book 9: “theologia, id est, divina Scriptura” (in Migne’s Patrologia Latina vol.175, 1091C). It is the discourse on the ways of God as found in Scripture. Indeed, the bible contains within itself the means to know more about God, and considering that the Word was made manifest, the mission of Christ was certainly the summation of a piecemeal (Hebrews 1.1-2) theological discussion between God and humanity.

The Scriptures is very much a theological discussion with God. In them, we find a longing to know more about God:

Psalm 27:11  Teach me how to live, O LORD. Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me.
Psalm 86:11  Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you.
Psalm 119:12  I praise you, O LORD; teach me your decrees.
Psalm 119:26  I told you my plans, and you answered. Now teach me your decrees.
Psalm 119:33  Teach me your decrees, O LORD; I will keep them to the end.
Psalm 119:64  O LORD, your unfailing love fills the earth; teach me your decrees. Teth
Psalm 119:66  I believe in your commands; now teach me good judgment and knowledge.
Psalm 119:68  You are good and do only good; teach me your decrees.
Psalm 119:108  LORD, accept my offering of praise, and teach me your regulations.
Psalm 119:124  I am your servant; deal with me in unfailing love, and teach me your decrees.
Psalm 119:135  Look upon me with love; teach me your decrees.
Psalm 143:10  Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.

We find a grand crescendo of humanity longing for the Transcendent met with the answer of the Logos (John 1.1-14) where we find that for a short space, God communed with a few, teaching them the things of Himself. During that discourse, Philip asked to see the Father, to which Christ respond with almost a hurt statement. ‘Have I been with you this long, and you still don’t know the Father? If you have seen me, Philip, you have seen the Father.’ In the great Gospel discourse, the disciples theologized with the Deity.

I am generally uneasy going past the close of revelation, finding progressive revelation as a Scriptural necessity, but ending with the close of the Canon, yet, while the theology developed later, I have a problem with, we can find that the Scriptures are replete with theology and indeed, the call for explanation of the previously given Scriptures.

All the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had given for Israel to obey.

So on October 8 Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand. He faced the square just inside the Water Gate from early morning until noon and read aloud to everyone who could understand. All the people listened closely to the Book of the Law.

They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage. (Neh 8:1-3, 8 NLT)

We find that Paul also theologized,

The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave-wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave-wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. The first woman, Hagar, represents Mount Sinai where people received the law that enslaved them. And now Jerusalem is just like Mount Sinai in Arabia, because she and her children live in slavery to the law. But the other woman, Sarah, represents the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal 4:22-26 NLT)

As a matter of theological fact, much of what Paul wrote was indeed, theological in nature. It was the discourse on God using Scriptures, and sometimes, Paul didn’t take everything so literal (1st Co. 9.9). If we did not have the theologians of the Scriptures, we would have a crucified Rabbi; yet, because the Scriptures are theology, we have our basis for understanding that death in light of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. When John writes in Revelation of returning to the Garden, with the Tree of Life there, we can understand it in light of Old Testament passages, not a matter of historical or scientific discourse, but because the undercurrent of the Scriptures is the theology of Return.

Is the bible a discourse? Of course it is. It is God’s very word to His creation. What is the primary purpose of the bible? It is the answer to this question which determines your presupposition of the text. Is it a historical record? No, not primarily, unless you take the history to be the history of the theology of God. Science? Only the science of the Divine voice to humanity. Rules, guides, witnesses? Of course, but these are all subsets to the Scripture’s primary purpose, which is the discourse with the Almighty.

You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. (2Ti 3:15-17 NLT)

What then are the Scriptures to Paul? They are what points people to Christ, and in them are wisdom. If we take how Paul used Scripture (which for him would have been Old Testament) we would see a theology in which Christ is center. Yes, he believed in a historical Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, but to what purpose? They were part of God’s grand theology, serving as an illustration, in which we find the truth of the Church of Jesus Christ, in which the heavenly, faith, is greater than the earthly, sin.

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5 Replies to “Is the Bible a Theological Book?”

  1. Great post, Joel. For the past year or so, I’ve been giving a lot of thought into how Paul used Scripture theologically. Simultaneously, he’s able to work from within the tradition and remain within it while also reforming, clarifying, and narrowing in its purpose to Christ himself.

    1. Amen and amen! I think we forget how ‘refined’ Paul was and how theological his writings really were. I am glad you enjoyed it.

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