Biblical scholars are like ants, carefully storing up tiny morsels for winter. Theologians are like spiders, weaving grand webs out of nothing but the stuff of their own being.” So the seminary dean remarked as I neared MDiv graduation. Little did I know that, soon enough, with advanced degrees in both New Testament and theology, my professional calling would focus on helping ants and spiders collaborate.

“Biblically rooted, theologically formed” is the motto for the School of Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College, where I have taught for 20 years. Our aspiration is to cultivate students who serve Christ’s church with an integrated understanding of the Bible and theology. Whatever form the particular phrasing takes, this aspiration is widespread among evangelical colleges and seminaries.

From the outside, it might seem like Bible scholars and theologians aren’t so different. Aren’t Bible scholars “doing theology” in some sense? And aren’t theologians engaged in studying and interpreting the Bible? Why classify one group as ants and the other as spiders?

There’s certainly a degree of overlap between their labors. But in general, the Bible scholar ants tend to focus on gathering up specific insights into the background and meaning of Scripture. They read the Bible’s original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, study its ancient-Near-Eastern and Greco-Roman contexts, analyze its diverse literary forms, and identify its key themes and concepts. Stacking up bits of knowledge, they develop hills and colonies that gesture toward settled structures of theology, even if their work doesn’t yield fully “theological” statements.

Whereas the ants ...

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