Biblical Studies vs. Theological Studies, What is the difference?

bibles stacked

Apr 11, 2019

Dr. Earl Waggoner, Dean of Biblical and Theological Studies

I hear this question a lot: “What’s the difference between biblical studies and theological studies?” The reason behind asking this question is the curiosity about the different titles as it is a common assumption that they are both the same. Here’s the logic: Doesn't theology come from the Bible? If so, theological data must be the same as biblical data, and vice versa, right? While I appreciate that logic and its attendant bits of truth, I must say that there is definitely a difference between biblical and theological studies.

Biblical studies is the study of the Bible. I’m not trying to be cute in stating what seems to be the obvious. What I mean is summed up well by Danny Daley (popscholarblog). Biblical studies “is primarily concerned with the foundational, base-level ‘meaning’ of passages or sections of the biblical texts (known as ‘exegesis’), as well as the developments and circumstances regarding Judaism and early Christianity.” So, the focus of biblical studies is the book known as the Bible – its literature, nature, history, composition, authors, etc. Biblical studies also includes study of the cultures in which the human biblical writers lived as well as study of various books which contribute to a broader textual understanding of our English Bible. Those texts include weirdly named books such as the Septuagint, Apocrypha, and Dead Sea Scrolls. The bottom line though is that biblical studies focuses on the Bible as a book.

Theological studies is topical. Meaning, an approach to theological knowledge (found primarily in the Bible) which involves arranging the data into well-ordered categories and frameworks. That’s a pretty sterile sentence, but an example will add life to it. The doctrine of God is one of those “well-ordered categories” and involves arranging all the biblical data – “whole-Bible ideas,” as Daley writes – which describe who God is and what He does. Sub-categories provide deeper order. Assumed in this task is that God has revealed certain data about Himself which can be gleaned throughout Scripture. So, a doctrine of God project would involve discovering what Genesis says about God’s character and work, what Exodus says, all the way through what Matthew, Mark, and Revelation say. Then, that data would be arranged in such a way as to be faithful to the entire Bible and to make sense to a curious reader (thus, history and other attendant disciplines are considered, too), answering questions about who God is and what He does. “God is holy” is a data point which would be expressed in various ways throughout both Old and New Testaments, resulting in theological sub-categories like “God is holy in how He loves people,” “God is holy in how He provides for His creation,” and “God is holy in how He redeems people.” We’re still talking about those “whole-Bible ideas,” but they’re just arranged topically.

The relationship between these two “studies” is important to us at CCU. What’s the best way for you to experience such unique approaches? Talk with an enrollment counselor today! 

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