Building Biblical Theology – Lesson 2: Synchronic Synthesis of the Old Testament (Part 2 of 9)



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Faithful Christians have always recognized the importance of progress in biblical history, especially as it relates to humanity’s fall into sin and to God’s redemptive work. Biblical theology is a specialized discipline that studies this progress by tracing the development of theological ideas between historical epochs. Used rightly, this is a helpful tool for interpreting and applying the Bible.

This lesson on synchronic synthesis of the Old Testament touches on three main issues: a basic orientation about what “synchronic synthesis” is; the ways Old Testament passages convey the historical information used in synchronic synthesis; and the synthetic theological structures discovered through synchronic syntheses of the Old Testament historical information.

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having looked at the definition of synchronic we should turn to our second term the word synthesis the concept of synthesis is not difficult to grasp we use it often in daily life basically it simply means combining different components of something into a whole for instance imagine you go to a friend's house for dinner you eat this and that you hear someone speak and another person respond someone tells a joke and the group laughs someone comes late another leaves early all kinds of things take place now imagine that the next day you tell a friend what happened at the dinner it's unlikely that you would simply try to repeat everything that took place instead you would synthesize or make sense out of the entire gathering in many respects this is what we do when we look at the scriptures with synchronic synthesis in mind we describe the ways different components of theology revealed in a particular period of history fit together in a coherent logical structure to grasp powell synchronic synthesis involves assessing the logical structure of Old Testament theology in a particular time we'll touch on two issues first we'll look at a popular denial of the Old Testaments logical character and second we'll offer an affirmation of its logical coherence let's begin with a common denial of the Old Testaments logical character in the middle of the 20th century many critical scholars distinguished biblical theology from systematic theology by pointing out the role of logic in each discipline it's easy to see that logic has a vital function in traditional systematic theology but critical theologians argued that logic should not play such a major role in biblical theology while the intricacies of these discussions go far beyond this lesson we can still summarize their position in a helpful way in essence critical theologians believed that logic was a primary feature of what they called the Greek mindset but it was relatively foreign to the Hebrew mindset based on a number of linguistic and cultural assessments they argued that the Greeks focused on abstraction and logical order much like the systematic theology and by contrast they suggested that the Hebrew mindset looked at everything in terms of historical dynamics from this point of view the Old Testament did not focus on logical systems or on theological relationships between beliefs and for this reason to synthesize Old Testament theology was to miss read the Hebrew Bible and to force it into a Greek framework in distinction from this denial an affirmation of the logical character of the Old Testament stands on at least two grounds in the first place recent studies have largely discredited the kinds of contrasts between Greek and Hebrew mindsets once suggested by many biblical theologians these mindsets were different in many ways but they were also very similar to each other in the second place Old Testament theology displays substantial concern for logic and rational thought no substantial way of looking at life is free from careful logical reflection now without a doubt many things revealed in the Old Testament will remain mysterious to human beings since God's thoughts are far beyond ours yet this fact does not negate the value of thinking logically about what he has revealed to us it is not a question of if Old Testament theology involved logic it's only a question of how it did it's true that Old Testament theology does not employ the standards of formal Western philosophical traditions that so deeply influenced traditional systematic theology for instance the Old Testament uses relatively few consistent technical terms its theology is expressed in a variety of genres different Old Testament authors emphasize different aspects of their faith and nowhere does the Old Testament present an all-encompassing logical system of theology even so God's revelations in Scripture were not random disconnected or contradictory as we will see later in this lesson God's revelations not only gave his people insight into particular events but also led them toward logical synthetic ways of understanding behaving and feeling about him themselves and the rest of creation

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