Southern Seminary professors trace the importance of biblical theology at Alumni Academy

Communications Staff — January 15, 2015

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James M. Hamilton, professor of biblical theology, at Southern Seminary’s Winter Alumni Academy, Jan. 8, 2015.

Biblical theology is the means of church unity and the foundation for careful theological interpretation, according to professors of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at the Alumni Academy, Jan. 8-9, 2015.

Using the text of Ephesians 4:11-14, James M. Hamilton Jr., professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary, argued that doctrinal agreement, unity, and Christ-likeness are accomplished through understanding the work of God throughout salvation history.

Namely, “unity of the faith” and attaining “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” is possible through a robust biblical theology. The proper understanding of the Bible’s unfolding story unifies the church and ultimately makes us mature in Christ, he said.

Hamilton also demonstrated that biblical theology is understood when readers view Scripture through the lens of the “interpretive perspective,” or worldview, of the biblical authors.

The idea of worldview is central to proper experience of the Bible, Hamilton said. A worldview is not only a comprehensive story within which believers fit, he said — it also offers a pattern of living through mastering and transforming Christians’ affections. While other stories compete for attention and devotion, believers must fight to make the biblical story the exclusive story in their lives.

“The narratives in the Bible,” Hamilton said, “are in the Bible to shape our desires, to cause us to want to be certain kinds of people. What they give us is a vision of what the good life looks like.”

Biblical theology also involves typology and symbols, Hamilton said, or ways the biblical authors “summarize and interpret” earlier stories in the biblical canon through various linguistic connections between texts.

For example, he argued that Psalm 8 is a later interpretation of Genesis 3 — “out of the mouths of babies and infants” is a reference to the “seed” of the woman in Gen. 3:15, and the list of animals under man’s authority reflect the dominion given to man in Gen. 1.

Finally, Hamilton said that biblical theology shapes the church’s identity as the people of God. The Bible’s metanarrative becomes the believer’s story.

“My identity is not, ‘I’m a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,’” Hamilton said. “My identity is, ‘I’m a Gentile, who was a stranger and alien … and God mercifully included me on this new Exodus salvation that God has accomplished.’ … My identity is, ‘I am a liberated slave.’”

Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, gave a case study in biblical theology by focusing on what the Bible’s storyline teaches about sexual orientation. “Is same-sex orientation sinful?” he asked.

Burk suggested the question relates to biblical theology, and showed through Jesus’ teaching on adultery in the Sermon on the Mount how the New Testament is dependent on the narrative flow in the Old Testament.

When Jesus prohibits adultery in Matthew 5:27, the author quotes directly from the seventh commandment in Exodus 20:14. However, Burk said, Jesus goes one step further than the original commandment and points to the lustful heart as the source of the sin.

Burk argued that Jesus’ extension of the commandment to include inward lust is actually a pairing of the seventh commandment with the tenth commandment (“You shall not covet”), since the word employed by Matthew for “lust” is the same as the one used for “covet” in the Septuagint.

“All that Jesus is doing is reading the Ten Commandments,” Burk said.

Burk also noted that the word itself, often translated “desire,” is either morally negative or neutral depending on the object desired. If one desires “another man’s wife,” Burk said, the desire is clearly wrong. Because same-sex desire focuses on non-marital erotic desire, it necessarily cannot be glorifying to God.

“The only sex desire that glorifies God is that desire that is ordered to the covenant of marriage,” he said.

Stephen J. Wellum, professor of Christian theology, approached the topic of biblical theology as a systematic theologian, noting the ways biblical theology complements the work of systematic theology.

While systematic theology applies the Bible to all of life, Wellum said, biblical theology ensures that Christians are properly interpreting the Bible in the first place. While systematic theology assumes the reader is properly interpreting Scripture before applying it to life, biblical theology first reads the Bible on its own terms. One can’t apply the Bible unless it’s rightly understood, Wellum said.

“Systematic theology is the queen … in our reading and application of Scripture,” he said. “Biblical theology is hermeneutical discipline that is a means to an end — and the end ultimately is a theological reading of the Bible that is faithful to it, applied properly and driven home to our lives.”

The two-day conference also featured additional lectures from Hamilton and one from Robert L. Plummer, professor of New Testament Interpretation, as well as panel contributions from Greg Gilbert, preaching pastor at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and Brian Payne, associate professor of Christian theology and expository preaching. Alumni Academy provides free ongoing instruction for alumni and prospective students of Southern Seminary.

More information and audio from the Alumni Academy lectures are available at www.sbts.edu/resources.

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