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In secular Greek the term theologia referred to the discussions of divine matters; both Plato and Aristotle used the word for a discourse on the gods or divine things. Greek poets and philosophers (Homer, Hesiod, Pherecydes, Museus, Orpheus, Phytagoras, Plato) were called theologoi by other Greek writers because in their writings they wrote of the gods and their activities, but it was Aristotle who distinguished between the theologoi and the natural philosophers, thus setting the stage for the ultimate separation of theology from philosophy. Plutarch called the priests of Delphos the theologoi. From its inception the word has been associated with things divine.

Christianity adopted the word and directed it away from the gods of the pagans and toward those things of the one true God, the God of Scripture. The word, however, does not appear in either the Old or New Testament. But Philo, the Hellenistic Jew, had referred to Moses as a theologos.

Early Christian writers attached to the apostle John the title Theologos, for it was John who so significantly and consistently stressed the Deity of the Logos. In fact, some of the ancient manuscripts of Revelation have in the heading to the book: “The Revelation of John the Theologos.” Gregory of Nazianzus was also called a “theologian” for his defense of Christ’s Deity against the Arians. Both Athanasius and Augustine used theologia to speak of the study of God in Himself or of the Godhead.

Theologia Christiana, Abelard’s theological treatise which appeared during the Middle Ages, signified a more extensive use of the word, a use that connected the word with more than just the doctrine of God exclusively. Christian writers gradually came to employ the word to speak of their presentations of the one true God and the Truth He had revealed. Thomas Aquinas, designated Doctor of the Church by the Roman Catholics, entitled his systematic treatment of Christian doctrine, Summa Theologica.

In Christian usage, therefore, the term has not been restricted to the study of God; rather, it has come to be used in a wider sense to designate an organization and a presentation of the Truth of the Bible. Numerous are the works dealing with Christian doctrine that have the word “theology” in their titles, ranging from those theologies that provide a comprehensive treatment of Christian teachings to theologies of the Old Testament or New Testament to theologies of a particular Biblical author, such as the theology of Paul or the theology of John.

Included in these comprehensive publications is not only a word about God (Theology; some use: Theology Proper), but a word about man (Anthropology), a word about salvation (Soteriology), a word about the future (Eschatology), and similar words about other specific doctrines. Divisions will vary from writer to writer, reflecting their creativity and insights and their overall perspective of Biblical Truth. Particular methods of organization do not determine whether a work is a theology or not, for organization is as diverse as Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536, 1559) and Hodge’s Systematic Theology (1872-3) or Melanchthon’s Loci Communes (1521, 1559) and Aulen’s Faith of the Church (1923). But any writer who seeks to give a unified presentation of Biblical Truth is rightly called a theologian and the work a theology.

A companion term used by some writers to refer to their presentations of Biblical Truth is the word “dogmatics,” which, perhaps, was first used by L. Reinhardt in 1659 as the title of his book. Karl Barth used Church Dogmatics, Herman Hoeksema used Reformed Dogmatics, Otto Weber used Foundations of Dogmatics, and Emil Brunner simply used Dogmatics.

Dogmatics is to be distinguished from dogma in that dogma “signifies a religious truth established by Divine Revelation and defined by the Church” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church), whereas, dogmatics is an attempt “to express the beliefs and doctrines (dogmas) of the Christian faith . . . in an organized or systematic way” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology). Thus, theology and dogmatics are virtual synonyms.

See: Theology and the Bible and Theological Method

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