History and Theology – an Excerpt from Encountering the Old Testament

The following is an excerpt from Encountering the Old Testament, 3rd Edition, by Bill Arnold and Bryan Beyer.

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The Bible is more than a history book. It writes history from a decidedly religious perspective. There is no attempt at what we today might call objectivity in modern history writing. The authors are writing what scholars refer to as Heilsgeschichte, or salvation history. This designation distinguishes biblical history from general history, which usually deals with the sequence of human events in the natural sphere. The events of salvation history include supernatural divine revelations in time and space and are recorded in Scripture to promote faith.

Cover ArtThe recording of that salvation history is important in biblical faith. The events themselves cannot be re-created and studied firsthand, only the record of the events. So faith must study the events through the written record. Biblical faith, then, assumes the historicity of the events that constitute the history of salvation. The Bible accepts as true the historical events on which the revelation is based. It also asserts the truthfulness of the interpretation of those events, which the Bible presents in written form. The written form itself then becomes an important piece of historical evidence.

Biblical authors frequently appeal to events for validation of their theological points, and they assume the historical accuracy of the events they describe. The factuality of those historical events makes it possible to accept the theological assertions of the Bible as true. Historicity does not prove its theology is true. But historical trustworthiness is necessary in order for the theological assertions to be true because those assertions are based on the events of history.

For example, we may assert that we believe in the Lord of the Old Testament as a gracious and loving God who makes and keeps covenant with his people. That is a theological assertion. But unless Yahweh did in fact make and keep the covenant with the children of Israel, the theological assertion is groundless, regardless of its plausibility. If the history is not true, then the theology based on that history is mere human speculation.

The faith that the Bible defines and expresses is explicitly a historical faith. It is rooted and grounded in the historicity of certain past events. Historicity is a necessary ingredient of biblical faith, though not an adequate basis of faith in and of itself. Faith in the Old Testament is defined in terms of past events, just as New Testament faith is rooted in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12–19).

©2015 by Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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