Building Biblical Theology – Lesson 2: Synchronic Synthesis of the Old Testament (Part 8 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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now we should turn to middle level theological structures that characterize periods of Old Testament history the significance of specific acts and words of God often becomes clearer when we give attention to synthetic theological structures that are of a middle or moderate complexity as we just saw single acts and words of God did not occur in isolation from each other and the same was true of sets of his actions and words they fit within other more complex theological structures that characterized the period of history that we have in view there are many kinds of middle level synthetic structures but for our purposes we will focus on just one divine covenants first we'll sketch the logical dynamics of covenants and then we'll illustrate how this logical structure helps us grasp the theology of a period of history consider first the logical dynamics of covenants it's long been recognized that the faith of Old Testament Israel was covenantal the concept of covenant permeates the scriptures although there are many things we might say about covenants we'll simply look at one aspect of divine covenants in the Old Testament how they helped us understand the coherence of particular divine revelations although each covenant in the Old Testament had unique features they all exhibited a logical way of understanding three main elements divine benevolence human loyalty and the consequences of blessing for obedience and curses for disobedience the relationship between God and human beings was always governed by logical connections among these three elements God showed benevolence in the ways he brought people into relationship with him and sustained them in that relationship but in response human beings were expected to show loyalty to God by keeping his commands additionally each covenant in the Old Testament established consequences blessings that would come to those who were obedient to the commands of God and curses that would come to those who were disobedient it's very important to realize that every moment of Old Testament history was governed by these logical Covenant structures they formed as it were a template that helps us see the underlying organization of all of God's act and word revelations at times God's revelations demonstrated his covenant of benevolence his kindness toward people other divine action words expressed God's expectation of human loyalty the ways human beings were to respond to his benevolences and divine revelations often drew attention to the consequences of blessings and curses as well our awareness of the structure of theology at any moment in the Old Testament rest to a large extent on the ways each feature of divine revelation fit within these covenantal structures to illustrate how this middle level synthetic structure works let's look further at the example of Eve's creation in Genesis chapter 2 now as we know Genesis chapter 2 took place during the time of God's initial covenant with Adam will discuss the uniqueness of this covenant in our next lesson at this point however we simply want to note some obvious ways the logical structures of divine benevolence human loyalty and the consequences of blessings and curses appear in this passage in the first place God displayed amazing benevolence toward Adam when he first put Adam in his garden in Genesis chapter 2 verse 8 but notice also that God gave Adam the responsibility of loyalty Adam was to work and take care of the garden the Covenant structures line behind this verse are evident God was kind to Adam and in response Adam was to work and take care of the garden in loyal service to God in the second place in verse 18 God showed more benevolence toward Adam when he acknowledged Adams condition and said he would give Adam a suitable helper then in verses 19 to 20 Adam began to fulfill his responsibilities of loyalty by naming the animals and he rightly saw that no animal was suitable for him in the third place in verses 21 and 22 we see the consequence of Adam's faithfulness in naming the animals and finding no suitable helper among the animals god blessed Adam with the gift of Eve his suitable helper in this passage there is no explicit threat of consequences of divine curses but had Adam failed to fulfill his responsibilities we have every reason to believe that God would not have blessed him in these ways this simple example illustrates how middle level synthetic structures like covenants help us make sense of God's particular act and word revelations

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