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Greatest 20th Century Biblical Theologians

Who do you consider to be the greatest Biblical Theologians of the 20th Century, and why?  If you wish, you may nominate one person for New Testament and one for Old Testament.  For my money, I think the work of Brevard Childs may be the most significant work in biblical theology to be done this century.  But what say you all?


  1. Ted Grimsrud wrote:

    Good question. I’ll accept the invitation to nominate one each for O.T. and N.T.

    For O.T., Childs is of course very important, and I greatly appreciate his help in challenging us to read the Bible as a whole. However, to me his theology is not biblical enough (too dependent still on Reformed assumptions). My old teacher Millard Lind is too little known, but his book YAHWEH IS A WARRIOR provides an enormously valuable theological paradigm. I also greatly appreciate Abraham Joshua Heschel’s THE PROPHETS. However, for quantity and quality and insight and usefulness, I think Walter Brueggemann stands alone. I can’t keep up with him, but I have read at least 20 of his books, and each one has been most helpful.

    The Brueggemann of the N.T. seems to me to be N.T. Wright, and I rate him very highly. James Dunn is less theologically astute, but I have appreciated all of his many books. Richard Hays has written a lot that is quite good, his N.T. ethics especially. I suppose John Howard Yoder wouldn’t really be considered a biblical theologian, but THE POLITICS OF JESUS still today, nearly 30 years on, provides the best one-volume entree into NT theology of anything I know. In the end, though, my nominee is Walter Wink. ENGAGING THE POWERS is my nominee for the book of the century in biblical theology.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  2. kepha wrote:

    My vote is for N.T. Wright.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
  3. jake wrote:

    john stewart.

    Joel Osteen

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
  4. Ben Myers wrote:

    I’ll go for Gerhard von Rad. I could be wrong, but my impression is that the really great biblical theologians have been OT scholars rather than NT scholars. I can’t think of any NT parallels to the works of von Rad, Brueggemann, Eichrodt, Childs, and most recently Rendtorff’s Canonical Hebrew Bible (an absolutely masterful work which synthesises the historical-critical approach with Childs’ canonical approach). Alongside this stuff, most of the NT theologies seem pretty bland and inconsequential.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  5. jbh wrote:

    Meredith Kline

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  6. ericroorback wrote:

    I will comment on NT biblical theologians, only because I think there are fewer in this realm who are doing actual constructive work. In this realm, I would definitely echo the previous comments in recommending N.T. Wright. Richard B. Hays has also done some great work in this realm as well.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 5:44 pm | Permalink
  7. Geoff wrote:

    I’d say Bultmann for his sheer influence…but influence doesn’t make up for anemic theology.

    For the Old Testament I’m going to put three names out there: Von Rad, Geerhard Vos, and Brueggeman, mainly because of all there work on the prophets. Runners up are John Bright and Meredith Kline.

    For the N.T. I am going to name more than one as well: N.T. Wright, because his output is enormous as well as the capacity of his writings to make one say, “oh, well that makes sense.” Then Gordon Fee, because well, he’s Gordon Fee.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  8. Marvin wrote:

    Walter Brueggemann was my OT professor. His books are great, but to experience him in the classroom was extraordinary. Animated, funny, sometimes profane, and occasionally a bit frightening. He brings an amazing amount of energy to his lectures, and draws from so many different disciplines when replying to questions.

    He also has an endearing way of sizing up a crowd and then slaying its sacred cows. I took a course on the Pentateuch with him. There were three Episcopal priests, DMin students, in the class. He made it a point of bashing hierarchy and any kind of theology of presence every single day. Then in OT Theology, which was filled with Presbyterians, he never missed a chance to bash Calvin.

    He’s neither dead nor German, so of course this puts him at a disadvantage with von Rad and Bultmann. But he does have a German surname!

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 6:04 pm | Permalink
  9. BLDavis wrote:

    N.T. for the NT!

    As for the OT, I’m not sure if the title “greatest of the 20th c” is appropriate, but I have really appreciated John Goldingay’s work in the Old Testament.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  10. Chris wrote:

    Childs, definitely. One can’t do biblical theology any more without being influenced by or responding to him.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 8:28 pm | Permalink
  11. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Well, I suppose it depends on what one means by “biblical theology.” My favorite is definitely James Barr, Childs’ greatest critic. He’s the Hauerwas of biblical theology.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 9:13 pm | Permalink
  12. Apolonio wrote:

    I’m not sure if he’s the greatest, but Richard Bauckham seems to be up there.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 11:51 pm | Permalink
  13. matthew wrote:

    Well, he’s unfashionable, indeed, almost unheard of, but R. R. Reno rates him as the best biblical interpreter around. And, for sheer wealth of insight, my vote goes to Jim Jordan.

    Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 8:48 am | Permalink
  14. Mike Swalm wrote:

    For OT, I say stick to Brueggemann. NT, three-way tie: Wright, Yoder, and Hays.

    Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 10:26 am | Permalink
  15. Scott wrote:

    O.T. Peter Ruckman

    N.T. Peter Ruckman

    Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  16. Phil Sumpter wrote:

    Chris said:

    Childs, definitely. One can’t do biblical theology any more without being influenced by or responding to him

    Chris, that comment just got you on my blog roll.

    Ben Myer’s comment crowns them all. Amen!

    And Halden, this blog is already my favourite.

    Friday, May 30, 2008 at 8:39 am | Permalink
  17. Fr Alvin Kimel wrote:

    Is there really such a thing as “biblical theology”? Should there be such a thing as “biblical theology”? I do not mean this flippantly. I’ve been asking these two question ever since I read many years ago Jon Levenson’s *The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism*.

    Clearly all Christian theology seeks to be “biblical,” but is “biblical theology” any more biblical than the theology done by Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor, or Thomas Aquinas?

    Friday, May 30, 2008 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  18. Halden wrote:

    That depends entirely on what one means by being “biblical”, Al!

    Friday, May 30, 2008 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  19. Fr Alvin Kimel wrote:

    Exactly, Halden!

    Presumably, a biblical theologian (such as von Rad or Childs) is doing something different than Maximus the Confessor or Thomas Aquinas; but what might that difference be? Where do we draw the line between a biblical theologian and a dogmatic theologian, and is the line tenable?

    This is precisely why Levenson’s critique of biblical theology is so interesting and important.

    Friday, May 30, 2008 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  20. dan wrote:

    For NT, I think one has to go with Albert Schweitzer — that man set off a bomb whose impact extends from Bultmann, to Sanders, to Wright. I don’t think that any other 20th century NT scholar can claim to have had the impact that Schweitzer had.

    OT is more difficult as there seem to have been more monumental figures. However, I notice that Martin Noth hasn’t been mentioned amongst the giants, so I’ll throw that name out there (after all, he was the first to formulate the idea of a Deuteronomistic history, thereby overthrowing the suggestions of Wellhausen, Gunkel, and von Rad).

    Friday, May 30, 2008 at 11:53 pm | Permalink
  21. For NT, Oscar Cullmann is definitely up there.

    Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  22. Doug Chaplin wrote:

    Halden, I’ve nominated you in a kind of meme thing and I’ve given you a blogging award

    Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 5:20 am | Permalink
  23. Jon Stock wrote:

    This may be too late in the game to be relevant, but it is my understanding that Peter Stuhlmacher’s magnum opus is being translated into English. Stuhlmacher, who is a NT scholar, was very influential in the development of what has become “Theological Interpretation of Scripture” – while this had evolved substantially since his proposals in the 70s – I’ve been told that the new volume attempts to address Childs’ proposals among others. Has anyone seen or read the German edition? Another question might be: What is the difference between the older term “Biblical Theology” and the newer “Theological Interpretation of Scripture” ?

    Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  24. Phil Sumpter wrote:


    as far as I’m aware, “theological interpretation” is supposed to enable a move from exegesis to “biblical theology.” Biblical theology concerns the reality witnessed to by the various biblical witnesses. Theological exegesis asks how the text can function as a vehicle to this reality.

    That, at least, is my Childsian way of putting it. Brueggemann would no doubt see it differently, struggling with the concept of a single “reality” behind the text.

    I’d love to get hold of Stuhlmacher, too. He and Gese come in for a bashing (a good one, I thougt), from Seitz in his article, “Two Testaments and the Failure of One Tradition-History” (in Figured Out).

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  25. Chris wrote:

    Jon, Phil, et al.

    I’m of the opinion that Biblical Theology (and its sub-disciplines of OT & NT theologies) is best understood as a scholarly discipline that deals with “the reality witnessed to by the various biblical witnesses” and all of the issues that involves. Theological interpretation, as it has developed since Stuhlmacher, is meant to move beyond disciplinary boundaries. So, Phil’s description of it as that which “enables a move from exegesis to ‘biblical theology’” does not comport well with this understanding because it continues the divide between exegesis and biblical theology that theological interpretation wants to tear down. Stuhlmacher’s notion of theological interpretation doesn’t quite go that far—he is still working with the boundaries in place. In Historical Criticism and Theological Interpretation of Scripture, he makes the case for a “hermeneutic of consent” and an “openness to transcedence,” neither of which really take down disciplinary boundaries, but they do contribute to the movement that will. Childs’s canonical approach helps in the wall-bashing as well, and that’s why if one is going to contribute to the discipline of biblical theology, they will need to deal with Childs. For my money, the way Francis Watson distinguishes his proposals from tradtional biblical theology, and then the way Stephen Fowl distinguishes his work from Watson’s, is a good way to trace the development of theological interpretation. Theological interpretation is really amorphous. Defining it is like trying to nail Jell-o to a wall.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  26. Phil Sumpter wrote:

    it continues the divide between exegesis and biblical theology that theological interpretation wants to tear down

    I’m afraid I don’t get how one can dissolve the boundary between exegesis and biblical theology. Though interrelated, they’re still distinct activities, surely …

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 5:59 am | Permalink
  27. Chris wrote:

    I’m afraid I don’t get how one can dissolve the boundary between exegesis and biblical theology. Though interrelated, they’re still distinct activities, surely …

    Distint activities? Yes, I would agree. The question I was addressing was the nature of theological interpretation (TI). I don’t think TI is a conduit or bridge between the two activities of exegesis and biblical theology, as some sort of mediator between the disciplines, but not a distinct activity in and of itself. TI, or at least one trajectory of it, wants to work outside of the disciplinary categories, or better it wants to understand its activity having a supervenient relation to the other two. It has a mediatorial role, but it mediates between author, text, and readng community, and not between exegesis and biblical theology. It employs the activities of exegesis and biblical theology in ways that Fowl calls “ad hoc.” At least that’s how I understand it.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  28. Phil Sumpter wrote:

    Hmm. I think I’m in agreement there.

    Friday, June 6, 2008 at 5:30 am | Permalink
  29. Richard wrote:

    Martin Noth & Sigmund Mowinckel.

    Sunday, October 5, 2008 at 7:53 am | Permalink

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