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What is the Difference Between Biblical Studies and Theology?

Biblical studies and theology are intimately related but also distinct disciplines. To the unfamiliar, it’s easy to become confused. Many people see them as interchangeable, but what sets them apart? 

In this post, you’ll have the opportunity to take a deep dive into the divine disciplines so you can come to understand the essential differences between Biblical Studies and Theology and how each approach can shape your understanding of faith, Scripture, and the divine purpose.

In the simplest of terms, you can frame Biblical Studies as the study of the Bible to grasp its meaning accurately and Theology as the study of the church’s major claims about God. As Christians, it can be difficult to untangle one of these studies from another. While it is good to have a deep understanding of either, the good news is you don’t necessarily have to do that in a vacuum due to their frequent overlap. 

To understand one, you need the other. They each rely on and inform one another in ways that will help you to understand your faithwith more depth, breadth, and nuance. 

 Both types of study can deepen your relationship with the Lord, and there is enormous value in studying the Scripture while keeping an understanding of God and the biblical text in mind.

 

What is Biblical Studies?

Biblical Studies is an academic exploration of biblical literature and the applicable historical and cultural context. Some forms of biblical studies emphasize the ways in which these texts have been received in the church across time. Others emphasize the reader’s current social location. Biblical studies aim to develop the skills of biblical interpretation, exegesis (explanation), and critical engagement.

A Biblical Studies student will learn to analyze passages in their original language, opening doors to levels of meaning that may not have previously been available. They will practice discernment in uncovering nuances of meaning and employ their knowledge of history and culture to evaluate the text and connect with the past, present, and future. 

Students of Biblical Studies will come to understand the story of God throughout the Old and New Testaments, be able to apply what they have learned in the real world, and share their understanding with others, which is the ultimate calling.

 

Why is the history of the Bible important?

Understanding the historical background of the Bible is essential for validating the authenticity of the biblical record and helps to resolve any potential discrepancies when interpreting the text. The Bible contains historical, cultural, and geographical references that can help bring the people and places described into a much sharper focus. 

A historical context also helps fill knowledge gaps and provide insight into the cultural norms and practices of biblical times, which can help you understand the meaning of certain events. The Bible presents many ways in which God has affected history, and understanding the history of the Bible in context can help us remember all that God has done and all He will do.

 

What are the key focuses and methodologies of Biblical Studies?

 

Proficiency in biblical languages

One essential aspect of Biblical Studies is language acquisition. Proficiency in biblical languages, particularly Hebrew and Greek, is often an emphasis in Biblical Studies within seminary education. 

Mastery of these languages will enable you as a student to engage directly with the original texts, which will help you better interpret, understand, and analyze the text you are studying. Many seminaries require or encourage the study of biblical languages as part of their curriculum to equip students for rigorous biblical scholarship.

 

Literary analysis

Biblical studies can also include a wide range of foci, from a historical-critical analysis and interpretation, as mentioned above, to literary analysis or narrative criticism, which look at the structure, style, and techniques used to convey messages, such as Jesus’ use of parables to shape his follower’s beliefs. 

 

Exegetical methods

It can also involve exegetical methods and hermeneutics. Exegetical methods provide detailed analysis of verses and passages to devise meaning, whereas hermeneutics look more broadly at themes and contexts. 

Biblical studies also emphasize the integration of faith and learning to better understand the Bible within the context of the Christian faith. Through these focuses and methodologies, students can engage critically with biblical texts while affirming the authority of Scripture and its relevance for contemporary Christian life and practice.

 

What is Theology?

Theology is the study of God, and, at its core, its goal is to have a more straightforward interpretation of who God is and God’s role in our lives. Theology not only seeks to help you better understand God in the context of the Bible but also to integrate this knowledge into the here and now, including into practices of ministry. There are subfields of theology, each with its focus and methodologies, including systematic and practical theology. They are defined as:

 

Systematic Theology: 

The study of the doctrinal traditions of Christianity and how those traditions apply to faith or Christian life today. This can include studying topics like the Trinity, salvation, the nature of God, Christology (the nature of Christ), eschatology (death and judgment), and many more. Using Scripture, systematic theology attempts to organize these beliefs into thought systems and explores how they currently apply to your faith journey.

 

Practical Theology: 

Practical theology is the study of Christian practices, especially as they are carried out in the life of the Church, such as preaching, pastoral care, discipleship, evangelism, and evenchurch administration. It seeks to understand how theological beliefs shape the practices of Christian communities. Practical theology bridges the gap between theory and practice, exploring how theology is lived out in everyday life and ministry.

 

How does Theology interpret the divine?

The study of Theology draws upon a variety of resources. First among these is the Bible, which God has inspired to teach us about salvation and the attendant life. Christians believe that God has revealed himself to us, and his self-revelation is crucial for understanding his nature, character, and works. . Theology seeks to understand our relationship with God and how that relationship puts faith into practice. Biblical Studies play a role in helping to inform this examination of the nature of God as much as Theology informs our interpretation of the Scripture. It’s only through critical reflection on the scriptures that theological study can be fueled.

 

How does Theology help us understand and practice faith?

Theology constructs frameworks through which we can interpret and apply our Christian beliefs to our daily lives and practices. Theology is centered around a deep understanding of God’s nature and how God works in the world. 

Leaning into this understanding will deepen your love for God and strengthen your relationship with God, encouraging you to practice your faith. Because theology will deepen your knowledge of the Christian faith, it will prepare you to follow a more Christ-centered path. It will nurture your faith and strengthen your confidence in God’s divine plan for your life.

 

Significant Differences Between Biblical Studies and Theology

At the beginning of this article, we discussed how Biblical Studies and Theology are related and where they overlap, but they also delineate from one another in very specific ways. 

First, they differ in their varying approaches to Scripture and divine interpretation. Biblical studies focus on critical analysis that examines historical, literary, and cultural contexts, along with contexts of historical and present-day readers, to understand the intended meaning of a scriptural text. At the same time, Theology seeks to do the same using frameworks of Christian faith traditions and relevant beliefs and practices. While Biblical Studies uses methodologies such as historical-critical analysis, Theology uses diverse theological approaches to examine doctrinal issues and ethical implications. Biblical Studies and Theology contribute to a scholarly understanding of God and the Christian faith; however, they also edify students’ personal spirituality and ability to communally worship and emphasize a partnership of God, faith, and academic study.

 

Biblical Studies & Theology at United

 

Biblical Studies

Biblical Studies is a central element of study at United.  As such, Biblical Studies courses are required for most of United’s master’s degrees, including the MDiv,  MACM, MMin, and MTS. The MDiv is United’s most comprehensive master’s degree, so it requires an equal number of courses for Biblical Studies, Church History & Theology, and Practical Theology.  In the MTS program, students can add a Biblical Studies focus area to delve deeper into these courses.

Available courses include studies on the Old and New Testaments and individual books of the Bible. These courses help students to explore themes in scripture through Biblical interpretation. Students may also take courses in the Hebrew and Greek biblical languages to study and interpret scriptures in their original languages.

 

Church History & Theology

In the same way, study in Church History and Theology is foundational to United’s master’s degrees, and is required for the MDiv, MACM, MMin, and MTS programs. Courses are offered in Church History, Theology and Practical Theology.

Church History seeks to inform our future by understanding the past through study of the history of Christianity, from the early days to the present time. Courses delve into various themes including Christian life and thought during and across different periods of time; development of institutional structures, practices, and beliefs (e.g., doctrines, creeds); and the study of various Christian movements and traditions and the influential figures within those movements and traditions (e.g., history of Methodism, the Protestant Reformation, American Christianity, African American traditions).

Theology is the study of core concepts for Christian belief and teaching such as sin, salvation, the doctrine of the Trinity, and ecclesiology (i.e., the study of the Church). Theology courses provide foundations for understanding and engaging with the world from a Christian perspective (e.g., ethics or philosophy).

Practical Theology provides theological foundations for ministry. Available courses cover topics such as preaching and worship arts, evangelism and church renewal, pastoral care, discipleship, and leadership.

 

Conclusion: 

Biblical Studies and Theology offer unique but intersecting insight into the Bible and Christian faith. Despite their differences, one can help enrich your understanding of the other and the divine purpose and help you apply both principles to your daily life. 

Exploring both can help you to deepen your relationship with God and enhance your Christian worldview. We encourage you to dive in and embrace both scriptural study and theological inquiry so that you can uncover insights that will guide your Christian faith and integrate these insights into your everyday life. By taking the opportunity to experience both biblical studies and the study of theology, you can confidently use one to advance the other and cement the foundation of your faith through the cornerstone of academic knowledge.

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