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Clayton Kraby. You can find me on Twitter ClayKraby. In an increasing way, theological disciplines will live side by side, each carrying on with what are perceived to be the cutting-edge questions within the respective fields of interest. Right at the outset, it must be stated that examining the relationship between Old-Testament scholarship and systematic theology is an extremely complex enterprise. Rahner wrote in this regard:. It is not an easy matter to bridge the gap between dogmatic theology and exegesis in the case of the New Testament and so it is hardly surprising that the same task is still more difficult in the case of the Old.

Some thoughts on the relationship between Old Testament studies and systematic theology

Both disciplines developed over the past few decades, and to keep abreast of only a part of the developments in only one of the fields is an impossible undertaking. It also needs to be said that the approach followed here will be from the perspective of Old-Testament studies. An identikit for Old-Testament studies and systematic theology. How can the identity of the two respective subjects be described? The study of the Old Testament focuses first and foremost on the text of the Old Testament and can therefore be described as a text-oriented science.

Old-Testament scholars read the text of the Old Testament. A second basic characteristic is that Old-Testament studies predominantly entails historical investigation.

Whenever Old-Testament scholars read a text, they read it from a historical background with the aim of understanding the text from the historical context reflected in the text. The aim of Old-Testament studies is therefore fairly simple: Old-Testament scholars read the text of the Old Testament from a historical perspective in order to come to a better understanding of the text. From this basic precept, Old-Testament scholarship embarks on a wide variety of approaches. The Old Testament can be investigated, amongst others, from exegetical, historical, literary, text critical, archaeological, philological, geographical or hermeneutical points of view.

The headings used in Old Testament Abstracts can be consulted for an overview of approaches followed in Old-Testament scholarship.

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How can the identity of systematic theology be described from the perspective of an Old-Testament scholar? Systematic theology has always been associated with the organising or ordering of central concepts in the Bible such as God, Christology, creation, eschatology, ecclesiology, the sacraments and church doctrines.

Systematic theology as a discipline aims to provide a coherent account of Christian theology as a whole.

Theology of the Old Testament Volume One

It is clear that the aims, object or thrust of these two disciplines are quite different. It should be noted that both 'systematic' and 'theology' are Greek-based words. It thus seems fair to say that systematic theology emerged within the framework of Greek thinking Goldingay over against an Ancient Near-Eastern frame of mind reflected in the Old Testament. Systematic theology is more interested in doctrines whilst the Old Testament is for the most part made up of narratives telling the story of Yahweh's great acts of salvation in the history of his people.

It also consists of people responding to these acts of salvation in poetry in what we know as the prophetic literature, the psalms and wisdom literature. The very notion of narrative texts and poetry suggest open-endedness, allowing for texts with multiple meanings whilst systematic theology is more inclined towards unity and stability. Systematic theology strives for unity in the diversity of Scriptures comprising both the Old and New Testaments.

Old-Testament studies are quite happy with diversity within the unity of the one Old Testament, even to the point of accepting blatant contradictions. This is the main difference in approach between the two fields of study: Systematic theology looking for unity within the diversity of Scriptures, and Old-Testament studies looking for diversity within the unity of what is called the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.

Old Testament Theology, Volume 1

The history of Old-Testament theology illustrates this point clearly. Eichrodt posed the covenant as the unifying principle bringing together the whole of the Old Testament. The approach followed by Eichrodt was followed in countless endeavours in which a new centre or 'Mitte' was proposed for the Old Testament Hasel Von Rad made us realise that such a unity cannot be found in the Old Testament when he published his Old-Testament theology.

In this regard, Von Rad made the following statement:. Unlike the revelation in Christ, the revelation of Jahweh in the Old Testament is divided up over a long series of separate acts of revelation which are very different in content. The Old Testament tells different stories, and all these stories put together make up in what we have as the Old Testament.

Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (TLOT), 3 Volumes

More recently, Rendtorff , a student of Von Rad, came to the same conclusion but from a different methodological point of view. Old-Testament theology should listen to the different voices of the different corpora contained in the Old Testament, and only from there, themes or topics emerge that can be put together in a theology of the Old Testament. These themes or topics do not coincide with the rubrics found in handbooks on systematic theology but are the results of a careful reading of the Old Testament.

Brueggemann also stressed the diversity in the Old Testament when he constructed his Old-Testament theology by making use of the metaphor of a court case where testimony and counter testimony exist side by side despite the fact that they may differ extensively. The approach followed by Gerstenberger is also telling.

He advanced a theory on Old-Testament theology with the title: Theologies plural!

Looking at these marked differences, one has to ask whether and in what way a relationship is possible between these two distinctive subjects. The study of the Old Testament is relatively new to the scene of theological studies. Although there had been a tradition of focusing on the text of the Bible in the so called Alexandrine school of thought, by and large, the Bible functioned throughout history as a source of proof texts to substantiate the dogmatic doctrines of the church with little or no attention to the historical background of the Biblical text.

The birth of the study of the Old Testament independent from systematic theology is usually traced back to the inaugural lecture of J. Gabler on 30 March at the University of Altdorff in Germany. In his lecture, Gabler made a distinction between biblical and dogmatic theology. His classic formulation for this distinction is made early in the lecture:.

There is a truly biblical theology, of historical origin, conveying what the holy writers felt about divine matters; on the other hand there is a dogmatic theology of didactic origin, teaching what each theologian philosophises rationally about divine things. Gabler goes further to distinguish two phases in the process to be followed to arrive at a truly biblical theology. Gabler defined the scientific study of the Old Testament as an historical discipline. The historical task ahead is to distinguish between what pertains only to the time and circumstances of the books of the Bible and that which applied to all times and circumstances. Gabler also distinguished a second phase: 'The other part of our task Only ideas or thoughts common to the whole of the Bible can then be viewed as true doctrine of religion. For Gabler, the task of Biblical studies is clear: ' In the course of history, the study of the Old Testament developed in a direction where the emphasis will be on the historical questions pertaining to the text and to the literary features of the text.

In some cases, more emphasis will be placed upon historical aspects, and in other cases, the emphasis will be more on the literary features of a text.

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  5. With this kind of approach, attention to doctrinal issues kept on decreasing. With the advance of a historical understanding of Old-Testament texts, it became clear that Old-Testament texts cannot be used to substantiate church doctrines in systematic theology.