The following is an excerpt from my The Story of Scripture: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Hobbs College Library; Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017), pp. 82–83. Used with permission.
Because I focused on expository preaching in my master’s degree courses, the proclamation of God’s Word typically comes to mind first when I think about applying any particular concept. It is difficult for me to overstate the importance of biblical theology for the preacher’s task. In virtually every hermeneutics class or textbook I’ve heard of, the teacher or author rightly emphasizes the context of the passage. To understand a text appropriately, the preacher or teacher must understand its context, where it is located, which paragraph or section of the biblical book. Biblical theology helps locate the passage not only in its immediate context but also in its canonical context.
If we think about Scripture like a vast web, every thread leads to other threads and is part of the whole web. Biblical theology helps us to see how our particular point in the web (text) is connected to other parts of the web (canonical context) and contributes to the making of the whole web (biblical story). Or, to use our map analogy, immediate context shows us where we are on one particular side trail, but biblical theology helps us to see how that particular side trail connects to the larger pathways that lead to the main trail. At the risk of using one too many illustrations in a biblical theology sermon, we can also think about Charles Spurgeon’s well-known instruction to preachers: “make a beeline to the cross.” Biblical theology helps us to see how the different webs or trails connect so we can get from our particular text to the cross of Christ, without running roughshod over the rest of the terrain to get there.
The two main tools we can use to do this are typology and intertextuality. Sometimes a particular text fits into a larger pattern of texts that repeat stories or have commonalities between the people in the story. . . . [T]his typological shape of Scripture can be followed from its beginning in Genesis to its end in Christ. This way of seeing the entirety of Scripture as one big book with one big theme allows us to note how a particular text fits into one or more of these major patterns, or types.
The second tool . . . is intertextuality. Here the analogies of the web and the side trails connecting through pathways to the main trail again come into play. When we notice that a particular text is connected to some other text, it is many times through that connection also connecting to the main pathway of Scripture. Like streams connect to tributaries and tributaries connect to the main river, intertextuality helps us to see that individual passages connect to bigger textual tributaries through Scripture, which then connect us to the main Christological river. All of this is to say that biblical theology helps us to see the “big picture” of Scripture and how a particular passage fits into that. In doing so, our sermons and teaching outlines become more robust, more intricately connected to what God is saying in the whole Bible.
Matthew Y. Emerson is the Dickinson Associate Professor of Religion and the Director of the Master of Arts in Christian Studies and Intercultural Studies Programs at Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry in Shawnee, Oklahoma.
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