Christian theology

Christian theology
The Prophetess Anna, Rembrandt, 1631
"Christian doctrine" redirects here. For the United States Court case known by that name, see G.L. Christian and associates v. US.

Christian theology is the enterprise to construct a coherent system of Christian belief and practice based primarily upon the texts of the Old Testament and the New Testament as well as the historic traditions of the faithful. Christian theologians use biblical exegesis, rational analysis, and argument to clarify, examine, understand, explicate, critique, defend or promote Christianity. Theology might be undertaken to help the theologian better understand Christian tenets,[1] make comparisons between Christianity and other traditions,[2] defend Christianity against objections and criticism, facilitate reforms in the Christian church,[3] assist in the propagation of Christianity,[4] draw on the resources of the Christian tradition to address some present situation or need,[5] or for a variety of other reasons.

Systematic theology is a discipline of Christian theology that formulates an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the Christian faith and beliefs. Systematic theology draws on the foundational sacred texts of Christianity, while simultaneously investigating the development of Christian doctrine over the course of history, particularly through philosophical evolution. Inherent to a system of theological thought is that a method is developed, one which can be applied both broadly and particularly. Systematic theology will typically explore God (theology proper), the attributes of God, the Trinity for trinitarian Christians, revelation, biblical hermeneutics, the creation, divine providence, theodicy, anthropology, hamartiology, Christology, pneumatology, soteriology, ecclesiology, missiology, spirituality and mysticism, sacramental theology, eschatology, moral theology, the afterlife, and the Christian understanding of other religious systems and philosophies.

Christian theology has permeated much of Western culture, especially in pre-modern Europe.


Prolegomena: Scripture as the basis of theology

Biblical revelation

Revelation is the revealing or disclosing, or making something obvious through active or passive communication with God, and can originate directly from a God, or through an agent, such as an angel. One who has experienced such contact is often called a prophet. Christianity considers the Bible as divinely or supernaturally revealed or inspired. Such revelation does not always require the presence of God or an angel. For instance, in the concept called of interior locution by Roman Catholics, supernatural revelation can include just an inner voice heard by the recipient.

Thomas Aquinas first described in two types of revelation in Christianity as general revelation and special revelation. General revelation occurs through observation of the created order. Such observations can logically lead to important conclusions, such as the existence of God and some of God's attributes. General revelation is also an element of Christian apologetics. Certain specifics, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, are revealed in the teachings in the Scriptures and can not otherwise be deduced except by special revelation.

Biblical inspiration

Rembrandt's The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by an Angel.

Christianity regards varied collections of books known as the Bible as authoritative and written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Biblical inspiration is the doctrine in Christian theology concerned with the divine origin of the Bible and what the Bible teaches about itself. Different groups understand the meaning and details of inspiration in different ways. Most such as Evangelicals and Catholics, see the Bible as a truly human product whose creation was superintended by the Holy Spirit, preserving the authors' works from error without eliminating their specific concerns, situation, or style. This divine involvement, they say, allowed the biblical writer to reveal God's own message to the immediate recipients of the writings and to those who would come later, communicating God's message without corrupting it.

In many passages of the Bible it claims divine inspiration of itself. Besides the direct accounts of written revelation, such as Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, the prophets of the Old Testament frequently claimed that their message was divine with the formula "Thus says the Lord" or "the word of Lord came to me...". In the New Testament, Jesus treats the Old Testament as authoritative and says it "cannot be broken" in John 10:34–36. 2 Peter 2 Pet 1:20–21 says that "no prophecy of Scripture ... was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" That epistle also claims divine authority for the Apostles in verse 3:2 and includes Paul's letters as being counted with the Scriptures in verse 3:16.

Christians who receive the Bible as authoritative generally think that the Bible is "breathed out by God". In English, 2 Timothy 3.16-17 reads: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness". The unusual word theopneustos is rendered in some modern English translations as "God-breathed" (NIV) or "breathed out by God" (ESV) to avoid the word inspiration altogether, since its connotation, unlike its Latin root, leans toward breathing in instead of breathing out.

Some[who?] argue that Biblical inspiration can be corroborated by examining the weight of the Bible's moral teaching and its prophecies about the future and their fulfillment. Corroboration of this sort is a form of Christian apologetics. Others maintain that the authority of the Church and its counsels should carry more or less weight in formulating the doctrine of inspiration.

Biblical authority

Christianity regards the collections of books known as the Bible as authoritative and written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Some Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant (totally without error and free from contradiction, including the historical and scientific parts)[6] or infallible (inerrant on issues of faith and practice but not necessarily history or science).[7][8]

In addition, for some Christians, it may be inferred that the Bible cannot both refer to itself as being divinely inspired and also be errant or fallible. For if the Bible were divinely inspired, then the source of inspiration being divine, would not be subject to fallibility or error in that which is produced. For them, the doctrines of the divine inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy, are inseparably tied together. The idea of Biblical integrity is a further concept of infallibility, by suggesting that current Biblical text is complete and without error, and that the "integrity" of Biblical text has never been corrupted or degraded.[6] Historians note, or claim, that the doctrine of the Bible's infallibility was adopted hundreds of years after those books were written.

Biblical canon

The Protestant Old Testament is synonymous with the "Hebrew Scriptures" included in the Jewish canon, but not the Catholic Old Testament, which contains additional texts. Both Catholics and Protestants have the same 27-book New Testament Canon. Roman Catholic and Eastern Christians recognize 73 books as canonical, with 46 books for the Old Testament 7 more than Protestants.

The Old Testament canon entered into Christian use in the Septuagint, a Greek translation with a few books in Greek originally. In addition to the Septuagint, Christianity subsequently added various writings that would become the New Testament. Somewhat different lists of accepted works continued to develop in antiquity. In the 4th century a series of synods, most notably at the Synod of Hippo in AD 393, produced a list of texts equal to the 46 book canon of the Old Testament that Catholics use today (and the 27-book canon of the New Testament that all use). A definitive list did not come from any early Ecumenical Council.[9] Also, c. 400, Jerome produced a definitive Latin edition of the Bible, the contents of which, at the insistence of the Pope, was in accord with the earlier Synods. With the benefit of hindsight it can be said that this process effectively set the New Testament canon, although there are examples of other canonical lists in use after this time.

During the Protestant Reformation, certain reformers proposed different canonical lists of the Old Testament. The texts that are present in the Septuagint, but not included in the Jewish canon, fell out of favor and, in time, they would come to be removed from Protestant canons. These texts are referred to as Deuterocanonical books in Catholic Bibles, whereas in a Protestant context they are referred to as the Apocrypha. The "New Testament apocrypha" has a very different meaning. It is a poorly defined group of early writings in which, general, none ever achieved acceptance by any widespread group.

Theology proper: God

In the Christianity, God is the creator and preserver of the universe. God is the sole ultimate power in the universe, but is distinct from it. The Bible never speaks of God as impersonal. Instead, it refers to him in personal terms – who speaks, sees, hears, acts, and loves. God is understood to have a will and personality and is an all powerful, divine and benevolent being. He is represented in Scripture as being primarily concerned with people and their salvation.[10]

Attributes of God