Monday, February 26, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we head to the mailbag to answer a question about the history of “Biblical Theology.”

It is the 26th of February 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


A Happy Monday to you all and a happy birthday to Marshall Faulk, the greatest running back in Rams history, with apologies to Eric Dickerson.

It’s Monday, so we head to the mailbag and to Albany, New York, the capital, for some reason, and a question from Josh- he wrote a nice email, thank you for that. He writes while he commutes as a contractor- perhaps he knows of the street with the longest name in all of America- it’s there in Albany and is "North Pearl Street from Madison Avenue westward to Broadway.”

Josh wrote: “I was reading about Biblical Theology and came across Johan Philipp Gabler, what some call the father of “biblical theology.” I wonder if you could do a show on him and give some background about his life and, ultimately, what led him to retain that title. How did his thought develop into biblical theology?”

Ok- so there is a small semantic problem here- we often use the term “Biblical” to mean “the right view”- a “Biblical view of sin,” a “Biblical view on marriage,” a "Biblical approach to zone blocking schemes”… you get the idea- call your view “biblical” and voila! End of argument. That is not what we are talking about here.

Biblical theology is a subset of theology that came out of the 18th century in Germany and is often attributed to Johann Phillip Gabler. Interestingly, Gabler never wrote a Biblical theology. He was a professor and editor, and on March 30th, 1787, he gave a talk entitled: “On the Proper Distinction Between Biblical and Dogmatic Theology and the Specific Objectives of Each.”

So, this discipline is distinct from “dogmatic” or what we also call “systematic” theology or “confessional theology”. If, after hearing about all three, you say, “I think we should use all of them,”- great, me too, but there are specialists who need to specialize.

You might read in some places that Gabler was a “rationalist” and came from a particular school- that of Griesbach and the Halle school.

His century is rightly called the “encyclopedic century”- all of the energy of the enlightenment coalescing in publishing houses where we wanted to get everything out on paper. It did to that world something akin to what the internet has done to ours.

Dogmatic, or systematic theology was a tried and true approach to “doing theology” whereby you start with prolegomena (how you’re going to do it) and then go to Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), Bibliology (the doctrine of Scripture), Anthropology (the doctrine of Man), etc., etc.…

Unlike confessional theology, which was written in response to a controversy, this was to be the one-stop shop for doing theology.

Gabler’s school, which would be considered quite “liberal” today- didn’t believe in the inspiration of Scripture in the standard historical way it had been understood. But for his distinction, it didn’t really matter. He said you come to each book and let it speak to you through its author, who was a person in a specific time, place, and context. It is an “inductive” approach to theology whereby you throw everything out: preconceived notions, your own theology, or confession, and let the text alone speak.

It has, over the past few decades, become a popular theme in evangelical theology- but there have been some distinctions within the field. Is it purely inductive? Or, do you find a (or a few) themes emerge and then use those to organize the divergent texts? Remember, the Bible is 66 books (give or take a few depending on tradition) written over thousands of years. One of the big issues is dealing with diversity. Some systematic theologies and confessions have wrapped up a discussion and said, “This is how we account for that,” while Biblical theology tends to be more comfortable letting the diversity sit and be a staple, even with a unifying theme.

Some argue that this is not “sola Scriptura” as in “Scripture alone as authority” but “solo Scriptura” in that it doesn’t let other ways of knowing have a seat at the table. So, “biblical theology” purports to let the texts speak themselves without regard to confessions and creeds and other theologies. It certainly has a place at the table, but we might question those who say that is the only way to do theology- as the history of the church gives us quite a variety.

Thanks, Josh, for your question. You can send me yours at


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from Hebrews 1:

But about the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
    a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
    therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
    by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

10 He also says,

“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.

They will perish, but you remain;

    they will all wear out like a garment.

You will roll them up like a robe;
    like a garment they will be changed.

But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end.”


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of February 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man whose upcoming book is A Biblical Approach to Coffee, in which he argues that k cups come from the devil- he is  Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man counting down to the opening day and a season of disappointment peppered with occasional decent play: go Angles. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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