Biblical theology—what is it, and what are people doing who claim to practice it? This subject matters for those wanting to understand the unfolding nature of Scripture.

But definitions differ. One way to define biblical theology is by borrowing from the expression itself. “Biblical theology is theology of the Bible.” That definition is rather vague, but it’s getting us in the right direction. Biblical theology derives from the Text itself. Let’s build on that.

The Bible contains the writings of human authors, so biblical theology is based on attentively reading those writings so that we can understand what those authors meant. We pay attention to intention. Let’s go a bit further.

The writings of the biblical authors are inspired, and the Spirit’s inspiration establishes a coherent and united corpus of texts. The canon of Scripture is the result of the progressive composition and collection of the Spirit-inspired writings. The biblical interpreter, then, is reading Spirit-inspired texts written over a long period of time. Since God does not contradict himself, the inspiration of biblical texts ensures that later biblical authors have rightly understood, interpreted, and expounded upon earlier biblical authors.

The coherent and progressive nature of biblical revelation will enable readers to trace biblical themes and teachings, to notice development of earlier texts and concepts, and to situate the passage in question within the redemptive-historical arc of Scripture.

Given the previous sentences and assertions, we can say the following: we are doing biblical theology when we attentively read and understand a biblical passage or theme in light of the progressive revelation, redemptive-historical trajectory, and canonical context of Holy Scripture. Each of these phrases could be unpacked and defended, but that description will suffice for our purposes.

In a cyclical way, keeping the Big Story in mind will help us study and understand Scripture’s many parts, and studying these individual parts will help us discern how they serve the overall message and theological contours of Scripture.

Consider some other descriptions of what biblical theology is. These are from some of my favorite biblical theologians, in alphabetical order.

  • T. D. Alexander: “The study of biblical theology is about understanding how each part of the Bible contributes in a distinctive way to the overarching story of the Bible and how an awareness of this story informs our understanding of each part of the Bible.”1
  • G. K. Beale: “A biblical-theological approach attempts to interpret texts in the light of their broader literary context, their broader redemptive-historical epoch of which they are a part, and to interpret earlier texts from earlier epochs, attempting to explain them in the light of progressive revelation to which earlier scriptural authors would not have had access.2 
  • D. A. Carson: “Biblical theology, as its name implies, even as it works inductively from the diverse texts of the Bible, seeks to uncover and articulate the unity of all the biblical texts taken together, resorting primarily to the categories of those texts themselves. In this sense it is canonical biblical theology, ‘whole-Bible’ biblical theology; i.e. its content is a theology of the whole Bible, not a theology that merely has roots in the Bible, or merely takes the Bible as the place to begin.”3
  • Matthew Emerson: “Biblical theology, in other words, gives us the context for interpretation (the whole Bible and its story), the object of interpretation (Jesus Christ), and the goal of interpretation (transformation into Christ’s image).”4
  • Jim Hamilton: “What is biblical theology? The phrase biblical theology is used here to refer to the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. What is an “interpretive perspective”? It’s the framework of assumptions and presuppositions, associations and identifications, truths and symbols that are taken for granted as an author or speaker describes the world and the events that take place in it.”5
  • Andreas Köstenberger: “Biblical theology, therefore, flows naturally from careful biblical interpretation as it tries to explore the teachings and major themes of Scripture within the orbit of the overall biblical storyline.”6
  • Geerhardus Vos: “Biblical Theology is that branch of Exegetical Theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.”7
  • Stephen Wellum: “In contemporary idiom, the theological discipline that attempts to trace out the historical unfolding of Scripture and, thus, interpret Scripture in light of its own presentation and categories is that of ‘biblical theology.’”8

After crowdsourcing the twitterverse for definitions of biblical theology, here are some replies I especially liked.

  • Doug Ponder: “Biblical Theology is listening to God tell his story in his way.”
  • Conner McMakin: “Biblical Theology is using the Bible’s own substance (themes, characters, institutions, events, developments, etc.) to understand the Bible’s own story.”
  • Kirk Miller: “A discipline of Biblical studies concerned with doing theology according to and stemming from the contours and categories presented within the Bible itself (i.e., attending to scriptures diachronically rather than synchronically, tracing its themes, and considering the unique contributions, perspectives, and voices of particular Biblical authors and corpora).”
  • Joshua Hutchens: “The discipline, historical and literary in nature, that seeks to understand, reconstruct, and explain the teachings, influences, thought patterns, and worldview of the biblical authors on the basis of the biblical texts and thus concerns itself with the theology of particular authors (e.g., Pauline theology), themes common to multiple authors, and the metanarrative (or possibly, metanarratives) common to all authors through the inspiration of the Author.”

Perhaps many (or all) of these descriptions are helpful to get at what biblical theology is and why we should do it.

I’ll end by repeating what I wrote earlier. We are doing biblical theology when we attentively read and understand a biblical passage or theme in light of the progressive revelation, redemptive-historical trajectory, and canonical context of Holy Scripture.



1. T. D. Alexander,

2. G. K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway, 2008), 105.

3. D. A. Carson, “Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (IVP, 2000), 100.

4. Matthew Emerson,

5. James M. Hamilton Jr., What Is Biblical Theology? (Crossway, 2013), 15.

6. Andreas Köstenberger,

7. Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Banner of Truth, 2014), 5.

8. Stephen J. Wellum, “Editorial: Preaching and Teaching the Whole Counsel of God,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10 (2006): 2.