Fesko says, “for those who criticize biblical theology as a novelty, they seem to forget the scriptural maxim that there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9)” (474). Though the phrase biblical theology is of modern origin, the hermeneutical concepts and trajectories of what we now call biblical theology are at least as old as the Hebrew canon itself. They also appear in the intertestamental era, the NT, the patristic era, the Middle Ages, and in the Reformation and post-Reformation eras. Biblical theology is older than many think.
In J. V. Fesko’s contribution to a book in honor of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., he addresses an important issue—the antiquity of biblical theology. He acknowledges that there are some who think biblical theology finds its origin in classical liberalism and rationalism. He quotes Jay Adams as claiming that “Geerhardus Vos rescued it from the liberal theologians” (J. V. Fesko, “On the Antiquity of Biblical Theology” in Lane G. Tipton and Jeffrey C. Waddington, Editors, Resurrection and Eschatology: Theology in the Service of the Church, Essays in Honor of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008], 444). Even D. G. Hart claims, “The problem for biblical theology is that it is a recent scholarly effort, originating only in the late nineteenth century” (444). These detractors notwithstanding, Fesko states his thesis as follows:
…it is the thesis of this essay that biblical theology has been a part of the church’s interpretive history from the earliest years, not simply in the patristic period, but stretching back into the very formation of the Old Testament (OT) canon, evidenced in its own intra-canonical interpretation. (445)
Then he adds these words: “In recognizing the antiquity of biblical theology, we will see how fundamental the discipline is to the hermeneutical and theological process” (445). Fesko claims that biblical theology goes all the way back to the OT. He is fully aware that its formal inception occurred in the eighteenth century; that is, as a distinct discipline within, or at least vying for entrance into, the theological encyclopedia. But he also realizes that a concept can be present and functioning in antiquity while the word or phrase we presently use to describe that concept is absent. In other words, he does not fall into the word-concept fallacy.
After reviewing Gabler’s contribution in the early days of biblical theology in the modern era, Fesko then devotes four pages to Geerhardus Vos. The reason is probably two-fold: 1) The book is in honor of Gaffin who is a follower of Vos in the Reformed tradition of biblical theology and 2) Vos is the most important modern figure in terms of shaping biblical theology within the Reformed tradition.
Note two of Fesko’s three “key ideas…in Vos’s understanding of biblical theology” (450). First, “the biblical theologian does not treat the biblical text from merely a historical perspective” (450). This is what the liberals had done. Vos’s concern is to respect the Scriptures as revelation from God. This is why he preferred “the term history of special revelation in lieu of biblical theology” (450). Since Scripture is revelation from God, “the entire corpus is an organic whole” (450). This is why Vos sees biblical theology as “the exhibition of the organic progress of supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity” (450).
Second, “unlike Gabler’s understanding of biblical theology, Vos believed the discipline focused on Christ and covenant, which is the manner in which the church learns redemption accomplished and applied” (451). The Bible unfolds itself in a Christ-centered manner via its covenants. Everything before Christ prepares the way for Christ. Fesko quotes Vos as follows, “All Old Testament redemption is but the saving activity of God working toward the realization of this goal [i.e., Christ], the great supernatural prelude to the Incarnation and the Atonement” (451). The various stages of Bible history are redemptive epochs gradually and progressively “unfolding…God’s revelation in Christ…manifested through the various covenants…” (451).
In a section of the chapter entitled BIBLICAL THEOLOGY THROUGHTOUT THE AGES, Fesko seeks to show “how various interpreters throughout the centuries have employed the hermeneutics of biblical theology, which therefore demonstrates the antiquity of the discipline” (453).