Part I: The background of Biblical Theology

  1. I should probably make clear how I understand ‘biblical theology’. Briefly, I have in view not so much one particular discipline or area of study among others, as I do methodological considerations indispensable for sound biblical interpretation. Specifically, in terms of the principle of context, the text, whatever its relative size, is always to be read in its redemptive - or salvation-historical context, understanding the text’s subject matter within the horizon of the unfolding history of salvation - that, I take it, is the distinguishing concern of biblical-theological exegesis (= redemptive-historical interpretation).

    Such an approach stems from recognising that Scripture as a whole, with its various human authors and diverse literary genres, has its integrity as the God-breathed record of the actual revelation process of Scripture, the Bible’s own origin being an essential part of that process. This history of (verbal) revelation, in turn, is tethered, as a strand within, to the larger history of the accomplishment of redemption (deed revelation); that history begins already in the Garden, subsequent to the Fall (Gen. 3: 15), and reaches its consummation in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), in the incarnate Christ and his work.

    The clearest, most explicit biblical warrant for this fundamental theological construct is provided by the opening words of Hebrews 1: 1-2a: ‘God, having spoken in the past to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has spoken to us in these last days by his Son’. This umbrella statement, intended to provide an overall perspective on the teaching of the entire document, is fairly applied, by extension, to the Bible as a whole. Note how it captures three interrelated factors: a) revelation as a historical process; b) the diversity involved in that process (including, we might observe, multiple modes and literary genres - as well as, whatever legitimate methodologies have emerged, particularly in the modern era, for dealing with them); and c) the incarnate Christ as the integrating omega-point (d. 2:2-4; 3: 1-6, esp. 5-6), the nothing-less-than-last days, eschatological endpoint of the process. 1

    The biblical-theological treatment of the Resurrection offered here is primarily with a view to the expressed focus of the volume: the revitalisation of systematic theology. That, in brief, I understand to be the presentation, under appropriate topics (loci), of the unified teaching of the Bible as a whole, an overall statement of what is either expressly set down in Scripture or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1 :6). Systematics (or church dogmatics), then, is radically non-speculative in that its viability depends on biblical exegesis. Because of that, in my view, nothing will serve more to revitalise systematics than exegesis that is redemptive-historically sensitive, and biblical-theologically regulated.

  2. Our reflections here on the Resurrection need to be set against a broad historical background. As a generalisation - no doubt subject to qualification but still fair as a generalisation - we may say that in the history of doctrine, especially in soteriology, Christ’s resurrection has been relatively eclipsed. In Eastern Orthodoxy, if I rightly understand, the accent has been on his incarnation (with a view to salvation understood as theosis or deification). In Western Christianity (both Roman Catholic and Protestant), especially since Anselm (eleventh century) and the ensuing debate triggered, say, by the views of Abelard, attention has been focused heavily and at times almost exclusively on Christ’s death and its significance. The overriding concern, especially since the Reformation, has been to keep clear that the Cross is not simply an ennobling and challenging example but a real atonement - a substitutionary, expiatory sacrifice that reconciles God to sinners and propitiates his judicial wrath. In short, the salvation accomplished by Christ and the atonement have been virtually synonymous.

    My point is not to challenge the validity or even the necessity of this development, far less the conclusions reached. But in this dominating preoccupation with the death of Christ, the doctrinal or soteriological significance of his resurrection has been largely overlooked. Not that the Resurrection has been deemed unimportant, but all too frequently it has been considered exclusively as a stimulus and support for Christian faith (which it undoubtedly is) and in terms of its apologetic value, as the crowning evidence for Christ’s deity and the truth of Christianity in general.

    (Especially since the Enlightenment and with the emergence of the historical-critical method, this apologetic value has been rendered more and more problematic as increasingly the historicity of the Resurrection has been questioned or denied. On that large issue I simply assert here that for the NT the gospel plainly stands or falls with the reality of the Resurrection understood, despite all that is unique and unprecedented about it, as lying on the same plane of historical occurrence as Christ’s death [1 Cor. 15: 14, 17].)

  3. Turning now to the NT, such an oversight or lack of emphasis on the doctrinal meaning of the Resurrection proves particularly impoverishing. That is especially true for Paul. His writings, which constitute such a substantial sub-unit within the larger organism of NT revelation, evidence, with their fully occasional character taken into account, a coherent and pervasive concern with how Christ’s resurrection is integral to our salvation, or, as we might also put it, a concern with the specific saving efficacy or redemptive efficiency of his resurrection. I proceed now to sketch the basic dimensions of what we may fairly call Paul’s resurrection theology, and then to reflect on several aspects in more detail 2