The Uneasy Handshake of Theologians and Historians

In the study of the Hebrew Bible, there are two very different approaches. The first is by the theologian. His main goal is to find the timeless theological truths either for abstract theology or for application. While the historical context of the books are important, they play a minor role in his overall work.

The second is by the historian. His goal is to uncover the original context of the books in the Hebrew Bible. He wants to know the history of the information before it’s recorded, what happened when it was recorded and how it got to us today. While he may have some theological interests, his main goal is to expose the data of the text.

Where do I fall? Curiously between the two. I love the history and data available for us to mine from the Hebrew Bible. But I’m also getting my degree in theology. So, I’m often stuck between those two worlds. If I could pick between the two, I’d probably end up on the historical side of things.

I’ve noticed something from my vantage point: each side tends to distrust or down play the other side. Theologians consider the Historian an intruder into the sacred text. The Historian does not help the Christian today live for God. The Historian views the Theologian as forcing his views on the text. The Theologian does not care for the original meaning of the text.

But there is something we must realize. These two sides need each other. The theology of the theologian is only as good as it accurately reflects the original meaning of the text. And the history of the historian is only as good as his theological presuppositions. Thus, the two need to come together and be friends.

As friends, we need to respect the work of the other. Each side will see some of the work of the other as pointless. But yet we must be gracious and realize that he might be arguing for something that is a big deal in his world, but it may seem irrelevant to ours.

Further, God has called each to his vocation. Take a look at the Gospel writers. You have Matthew a teacher of the Hebrews, Mark a servant of Peter, Luke a historian and John the theologian. Built into the Bible itself are four men, each with different vocations, producing very different works for the creation of God’s revelation.

Should it not be the same today? If God calls you to do history of the Hebrew Bible, than do it. Your work is as equally important as the theologian. If your work is theology, then do it. You need to bring God’s truth to this day. God is glorified equally when we do our work wholeheartedly.

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