You’re Already a Theologian by John D. Barry

In graduate school, they had some things all wrong.

I was told that before doing biblical theology—making big-picture connections between biblical books—you have to earn a PhD and publish several academic books. If you weren’t senile or dead by the time you finished, you could write biblical theology.

That whole premise is wrong. We should always try to make large-scale connections. Everything in the Bible teaches us about God. And we can all connect God with God—on the verse-to-verse level and the idea-to-idea level. Anyone can do biblical theology.

Give it a shot

It’s simple: Don’t read biblical texts in isolation; find out how they relate to each other. You can do so by looking up the references in the margins of your Bible and running searches for key words on or in Bible software. Here’s an example and four steps to follow:

On his death bed, when offering his parting words to his sons, Jacob cries out: “I wait for your salvation, O Lord.” (Genesis 49:18)

Context: The Stuff that Precedes and Follows the Verse 

  • The Saved. Jacob recognized that his sons were sinners who needed to be saved from themselves (e.g., Genesis 49:5–7).
  • Tribes. Jacob’s instructions for his sons as tribes of Israel suggest that Egypt, where they resided, was not their final resting place, nor his (Genesis 49:17, 22–26).

Cause: The Reasons Why the Verse Was Said or Written

  • Abraham. To find out why Jacob cried out for salvation, we have to backtrack. Salvation is a blessing. God began His work of blessing the nations with Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3). But Abraham never saw the promised land because he also went down to Egypt (Genesis 12:10–20).
  • Forefathers.Jacob expected to inherit the land promised to Abraham, but he didn’t (Genesis 46–47). It wasn’t until the end of his life that Jacob realized that Egypt couldn’t save him.Don’t read biblical texts in isolation; find out how they relate to each other.

Connections: The People and Events that Developed the Idea 

  • The Technicolor Man. Like Jacob, Joseph also realized that Egypt was not God’s plan. He asked that his sons would bring his bones back to the Promised Land when they left Egypt someday (Gen 50:24–26). 
  • The Battle Royal. Joseph’s bones were returned to the promised land when the Israelites invaded it (Josh 24:32). But inheriting the land wasn’t true salvation. It was only temporary peace. Because of their sins, God’s people would eventually lose their land, and be taken into exile.

Culmination: Jesus’ Version of the Concept

  • Prophecy. While God’s people were in exile, he promised to reveal his strength. He would bring his salvation in the form of a servant who would suffer for them and “bear their iniquities” (Isa 52:10; 53:12). Jesus, as the ultimate sufferer, is that servant (Matt 27:26).
  • Proclamation. During his ministry, Jesus proclaimed: “Salvation has come … the Son of Man [being Jesus] came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9). Jesus is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16).
  • The Church. Those who followed Jesus came together and began spreading this new message of salvation to the world (Acts 2). Jesus’ followers became the true children of Abraham (Gal 3:23–29; Rom 9:6–8).
  • Apocalypse and the Now. God will continue to deliver the salvation Jacob longed for—our salvation—until the end: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb [being Jesus]!” (Rev 7:10).

Time to do it on your own

That’s a biblical theology of salvation. You can follow these steps for any concept. The more you read the Bible, the easier making connections—doing biblical theology—becomes.

Biblical theology will help you connect God in the Old Testament with Jesus. It will show you that they are one. In doing so, you will see God’s loving nature—everything in the Bible will become applicable. Biblical theology gives us the opportunity to grow closer to God each time we study.

Go be the theologian you already are.


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