In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Biblical Theology in the Old Testament

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Commentaries
  • Journals

Biblical Studies Biblical Theology in the Old Testament
Leo G. Perdue, Joseph McDonald
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 December 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0067


The origins of modern Old Testament theology may be traced to the late 18th century, when German Enlightenment scholar Johann Gabler rejected the prevailing view that the role of the Bible was to set forth divine truths for the discipline of church dogmatics to arrange in systematic order. Instead, Gabler tried to mediate between biblical theology as a historical exercise whose object was to reconstruct the history of Israelite religious ideas and biblical theology as a tool of systematic theology whose goal was to address modern situations by means of the salient, universal ideas of the Bible. This distinction, which allowed for the differentiation between ancient belief and modern faith, held sway in biblical theology until the late 20th century (Classical Old Testament Theologies). Recently, however, some of the foundations of this approach, such as the primacy of human reason as a source of knowledge and the unquestioned dominance of the historical-critical model of biblical interpretation, have been badly eroded. Gabler’s dichotomy that had reigned so long began to dissolve, and the two areas started to entwine in a common enterprise. History came to be at least partially eclipsed in Old Testament theologies that emphasized the role of creation, and some canonical approaches displaced it almost entirely (The Transition from History to Creation and Canon). This trend has only accelerated with the rise of a variety of newer methods, such as feminist, liberation, and postcolonial strategies, that grow from traditionally underrepresented cultural contexts (New Approaches to Old Testament Theologies). While theology has always reflected the changing cultures and geographies of scholars, their ethnic identities, and their different worldviews, this has been explicitly acknowledged only recently. In an irreversible move, we have passed beyond the heady days of the search for a single biblical theology. Now numerous approaches and descriptions flood the field of Old Testament theology. This rich variety, reflective of the diversity of human communities and cultures, can provide new insights into what it means to be human.

General Overviews

A number of works provide valuable overviews of biblical theology. Hayes and Prussner 1985 and Kraus 1970 both survey broad developments in the discipline from the Reformation to the latter part of the 20th century. Reventlow 1985 and Høgenhaven 1988 concentrate on the period from the end of World War I to the 1980s. Hasel 1991, first published in 1972, provides an interreligious survey of biblical theologians but is very traditional in approach. Childs 1970 details and critiques the post–World War II biblical theology “movement” inspired by neoorthodoxy, which in Childs’s view concentrated too much on the faith of the church and too little on morality and ethical issues. He responds to this “crisis” by issuing an important call for a new biblical theology, centered on canon, that would allow biblical theology to address relevant issues of today. Several more recent works, such as Ollenburger 2004 and Mead 2007, also combine surveys of the history of the discipline with consideration for future prospects for biblical theology. Perdue 1994 details older approaches but argues that the earlier emphasis on history has “collapsed” and given way to a multiplicity of new perspectives. Concerned to move the discussion out of the limitations of traditional Western circles of interpretation, Perdue treats methods such as social-location and postcolonial approaches, feminist hermeneutics, narrative theology, reader-response criticism, deconstruction, and postmodernism.

  • Childs, Brevard S. Biblical Theology in Crisis. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970.

    Influential work that argues that the failure of traditional biblical theologies to address ethical questions precipitated a “crisis” within the discipline. Calls for a new biblical theology, based on canon as the medium of revelation, that can teach faith, prayer, and ethical behavior.

  • Hasel, Gerhard F. Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate. 4th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

    Comprehensive survey of classical Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish Old Testament theologies. The “current debate” is actually the old question of seeking a “center,” an effort that Hasel rejects. Still trapped in the milieu of its original 1972 edition.

  • Hayes, John H., and Frederick C. Prussner. Old Testament Theology: Its History and Development. Atlanta: John Knox, 1985.

    Traces developments in Old Testament theology from the Reformation to the early 1980s. Places theologians and approaches in their intellectual and theological contexts and thus demonstrates how a biblical theology responds to its particular environment.

  • Høgenhaven, Jesper. Problems and Prospects of Old Testament Theology. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1988.

    Surveys Old Testament theology since the 1920s, treating questions of method, efforts to find a “center,” the relationship between the Testaments, the topic of canon, and the possibility of writing a theology of both Old and New Testaments.

  • Kraus, Hans Joachim. Biblische Theologie: Ihre Geschichte und Problematik. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 1970.

    Discusses the work of many significant contributors to the development of biblical theology. Treats the discipline’s early history and problems of unity and discontinuity between theologies of the Old and New Testaments.

  • Mead, James K. Biblical Theology: Issues, Methods, and Themes. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007.

    Defines biblical theology, treating the discipline’s history, methodology, major themes, and prospects for future inquiry. Argues that biblical theology is concerned not only with the nature and deeds of God but also with God’s relationships to creation and human communities.

  • Ollenburger, Ben C., ed. Old Testament Theology: Flowering and Future. Rev. ed. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2004.

    An introduction to important essays written on biblical theology. Contains an overview of Old Testament theology prior to 1933, extracts from a variety of scholars illustrating particular approaches, and programmatic statements and critical reviews that anticipate future developments.

  • Perdue, Leo G. The Collapse of History: Reconstructing Old Testament Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994.

    Moves beyond a focus on history to new perspectives such as “cosmology and anthropology,” “Scripture and metaphor,” and “story and imagination.” Followed up in Reconstructing Old Testament Theology: After the Collapse of History (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), which treats approaches such as postmodernism and postcolonialism.

  • Reventlow, Henning. Problems of Old Testament Theology in the Twentieth Century. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985.

    Especially valuable for its brief summaries of important 20th-century Old Testament theologians and issues and its massive bibliography of studies in Old Testament theology.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.