The Bible contains stories, and poetry, and history, and myth, and rules, and a few other bits and pieces. What it does not contain is theology, per se. Nowhere in the Bible does anyone attempt to describe a cosmology: they assume their audience is in on it. Nowhere in the Bible is there a straightforward description of God, or the spiritual world, or any other simply laid out description of the structure of the universe.

Now, those stories, poetry, myth, etc. reflect, of course, the beliefs of those who wrote them, so you can, if you peer at it carefully enough, derive theology from it by attempting to infer the beliefs of the writers. And that is what theologians do. However, there is no part of the Bible which reads like a theology text. The theology has to be inferred from the narrative, the legislation, the prophecy, and the poetry.


  • (The Christian Bible does contain theology, in the form of the letters, but it's a minor part of the whole.)
    – TRiG
    Nov 22, 2015 at 1:16
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    Why would you expect it to be a theology?
    – WAF
    Nov 22, 2015 at 2:29
  • 4
    Why did someone vote to close as comparative theology? This is a self-contained question about the Jewish Bible. Nov 22, 2015 at 3:12
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    Much better than "reflect, of course, the beliefs of those who wrote them, so you can, if you peer at it carefully enough, derive theology from it by attempting to infer the beliefs of the writers" would be e.g. "reflect, of course, the god of those who wrote them, so you can, if you peer at it carefully enough, derive theology from it by attempting to interpret the words of the writers".
    – msh210
    Nov 22, 2015 at 4:11
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    The Bible does not contain a theology. This is true. The Bible is also not a philosophy book nor it is a history book. The Bible does not teach ethics either. What the Bible teaches is about the nature of G-d and the enactments and commandments. The Torah is a manual, instruction, but it does not contain theology. Although the talmudic Jews are a people of theology.
    – Turk Hill
    Dec 2, 2019 at 22:00

7 Answers 7


I think you are confusing theology with one of its sub components: doctrine/dogma. A systematised description of theology is only one approach to theology. In fact your comment (below the question) that the Christian New Testament does contain theology in the letters shows that your understanding of theology isn't broad enough: for Christians the Gospels are fundamental for Christian theology, equally important as the letters, because theology is about knowing God. Theology is so much more than just knowing about God in an informational sense.

Exodus 6:6-7: Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians.

Deuteronomy 7:9-10: Know, therefore, that only the Lord your God is God, the steadfast God who keeps His covenant faithfully to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and keep His commandments, but who instantly requites with destruction those who reject Him—never slow with those who reject Him, but requiting them instantly.

Proverbs 2:1-5
My son, if you accept my words
And treasure up my commandments;
If you make your ear attentive to wisdom
And your mind open to discernment;
If you call to understanding
And cry aloud to discernment,
If you seek it as you do silver
And search for it as for treasures,
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord
And attain knowledge of God.

In the Tanakh we meet a God who created the world and decreed it "very good".

We meet a God who wanted our trust even though he knew that we would struggle to trust him, so he gave Abraham not just a promise that he would do good to him, but a promise, an oath, a covenant, and a sign, when his simple word should've been enough.

We meet a God who deemed to take away the Ostrich's wisdom so that it would crush its own eggs (Job 39:11-18).

We meet a God who was grieved when Israel whored itself to other gods (Ezekiel 16).

We meet a God who loved David and called him a man after his own heart, even though David committed adultery and then schemed to have the woman's husband killed.

And we meet a God who willingly inspired both the beauty of the Psalms and the crudity of Ezekiel 23:20, and calls them both his word.

The Bible is a work of theology, but it takes effort to read and understand, because the goal of the Bible is not to list some facts, but to introduce us to God himself!


Our tradition believes in an Oral Torah which accompanies the Written Torah. Our Oral tradition describes that there are two parts of Jewish wisdom, described as Ma'aseh Bereishis and Ma'aseh Merkava - the account of creation and the account of G-d's divine chariot - which are not meant to be publicly expounded.

The Mishna in Chagiga 2:1 states:

אין דורשין ....ולא במעשה בראשית בשנים ולא במרכבה ביחיד, אלא אם כן היה חכם ומבין מדעתו

One may not expound upon ... the account of creation to two people, nor the account of the chariot to [even] one, unless he is wise and puts it together on his own (translation mine)

There are many interpretations of the exact nature of these bodies of knowledge, but let's stick to Maimonides. He comments to this:

שהם מכינים במעשה בראשית למדעי הטבע והמחקר בראשית הבריאה. וכוונתם במעשה מרכבה המדע האלקי והוא הדבור על כללות המציאות ועל מציאות הבורא ודעתו ותאריו וחיוב הנמצאים ממנו והמלאכים

[The sages] use the term "account of creation" for the knowledge of nature and investigation into the beginning of creation. And their intention with the term "account of the chariot" is knowledge of the divine, which is the discussion of the general nature of existence, existence of the Creator, His knowledge and descriptions, angels, etc.

So this basically accounts for structure of the universe, G-d, and the spiritual world. We do have knowledge of it, it just was not included in the written portion of the Torah in order to keep it secret.

As to why it would be kept secret, Maimonides goes on to say that this information is knowledge that everyone would want, whether they are intelligent enough to understand and process it or not, and many would integrate the knowledge without the proper prerequisite knowledge and background to appropriately understand it, and would come to gross misunderstandings, which would either lead to inappropriate beliefs and conclusions, or, in their not appreciating the wisdom, would lead to their rejection of this knowledge as being silly, and with it their rejection of the source of this knowledge. Therefore it is to be taught discerningly to those who can appreciate it.

  • +1 But I think there is a punchline missing. You should be tying in what the Torah is relaying and what it isn't. Is any description of Hashem part of Merkava? If yes, why?
    – HaLeiVi
    Nov 22, 2015 at 6:19
  • There are many aspects of theology before Merkava. I imagine the question here is about the whole range, 13 principles, nature of afterlife, free will etc.
    – HaLeiVi
    Nov 22, 2015 at 19:54
  • @HaLeiVi According to the Rambam I cited, many of the 13 principles are Merkava. In fact, that's what he himself writes at the end of chapter 2 (halacha 11) of Yesodei HaTorah, after explaining many of the 13 principles in chapter 1. But I chose to answer the question as it was asked, with the examples given by the OP to define what he meant. Nov 22, 2015 at 19:59

the torah needs to speak to all human beings regardless of their intellectual level or young age. here is an excerpt from part 10 of Duties of the Heart, a classical work on Jewish philosophy:

if the scriptures had employed more accurate, truer terminology, then nobody would have understood it except the wise, understanding reader and most of mankind would have been left without religion and without Torah (guidance) due to their limited intellect and weak understanding in spiritual matters. But the word which may be understood in a material sense will not damage the understanding person because he recognizes its real meaning, and it is at the same time beneficial to the simple person so that it will fix in his heart and mind that there is a Creator which it is his duty to serve.

  • Is Duties of the Heart referring to theology, or are you extending his idea to theology?
    – msh210
    Nov 22, 2015 at 6:56
  • @msh210 trying to answer OPs question based on my understand of it. so can call it extending his idea
    – ray
    Nov 22, 2015 at 12:15

What you are describing as theology, sounds to me like a philosopher's worldview. It is philosophers that ask and try to answer questions like "what is the nature of God", "how is the world structured", "how do we explain the nature of right and wrong and the seeming disconnect between reward and punishment".

The primary reason why you do not find very much of this in the Bible is because of the historical period it was written in. It is concerned with the message of God as revealed to the prophets and how the people struggled to learn that message in their specific historical setting. It is a very "meat and potatoes" book, not much given to abstract concepts and building intellectual frameworks. Reward and punishment are laid out in Deuteronomy; social ethics in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Micah; hard questions are raised in the books of Habakkuk and Job, but it does not add up to a systematic theology of the kind that would be developed by later philosophers.

Philosophic speculation, on the other hand, started in Ancient Greece and spread to many cultures over time. From roughly the year 200 BCE onward, you can find more and more thinkers from non-Greek cultures following this more speculative path. Philo attempted to work out a philosophic system fusing Judaism with Platonism. You could say that the Christian gospel of John is a similar fusing of Christianity with Platonism. In Greco-Roman culture, Stoicism tried to put together an encompassing view of life.

As time goes on, more and more philosophers build up their frameworks and systems, trying to synthesize and rationalize the world around them and the traditions they inherited. In the tenth century Rav Saadia Gaon gave much thought to the nature of creation, free will, what happens regarding death, and other things you could classify as Theology in his book Emunot ve-Deot (Beliefs and Opinions). The Muslim Faylasufs like Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd worked to try to apply Hellenistic rationalism to their monotheistic tradition.

In the twelfth century Moses Maimonides presented a rationalized Judaism influenced by Aristotelian concepts in The Guide for the Perplexed. Thomas Aquinas presented a similar rationalization of Christianity in Summa Theologica.

The point is: All of these theologians and philosophers lived and thought during a later time period. The Bible tells you the basics: God exists, He is responsible for the whole world, He expects certain things of people, and this is how humans received this message. The elaborate intellectual frameworks, the debates over the nature of this or that, how seemingly contradictory ideas can be synthesized, that is all products of human thought at a later stage of development. Expecting to find it in the Bible is like asking why an infant isn't up and running around. The fundamental pieces are there, you can see the potential, but, but she's just not doing it!

  • 2
    Your answer seems to be accounted for in these two phrases: "because of the historical period it was written in"; "theologians and philosophers lived and thought during a later time period". But that begs the question. I mean, why should time period have to do with whether theology is in the Bible?
    – msh210
    Nov 22, 2015 at 4:07

In the book of Kuzari (11) the Jewish rabbi explains that our theology is bottom up. The Torah and Judaism is about relating to God. We relate to Him in the way He is known to us. We know Him through our interactions with Him. How He helped or judged us and what we endured for His sake.

For this reason we bless God when we wake, thanking Him for keeping us alive, for eye-sight, posture, and even shoes. We thank Him when we eat, when we hear good news, and when we get to do His commandments. Prayer too, is more about connecting to God and realizing how we are dependent on Him than just a means to get our goodies. This all makes the relationship real rather than theoretical.

Likewise, the Maharal explains that the Torah doesn't mention expressly the afterlife, since it is something we don't relate to.

In fact, knowing the exact description of each angel is not essential to Judaism. And in many areas of theory there are multiple valid approaches. The Torah purposely doesn't codify specific attitudes. These are left for us to glean from the Torah and to apply it to our own time and our own situation.

The Torah is given to us in this world, and as such is cloaked in the manner of this world. Those who are wishing to excel and rise above the mundane and material paradigm will find the deeper points within the Torah as well. The Torah, in this way, mirrors the world. Just like the world itself has a superficial reality as well as the deeper, the Torah has the same format.

As to a description of God, it is important to realize that He does not have a description. He is infinite and therefore cannot be defined. However, there is what to be seen, or perceived, beyond our world which is God's glory to varying degrees. This is not to be found in the open as @yEs explained.


A more religious explanation would be simply that earlier humans were closer to creation, Gd, and revealing of Gd to the Hebrews... therefore it's assumed they have more knowledge of Gd or more visceral sense and Gd is more well known, so what's left is for them to describe the awe of experiencing Gd through stories.

Later people have to recreate that experience by first laying out the framework that the earlier people understood better implicitly.

This goes with the concept Judasim uses that Torah is a more completely credible source than Tanakah is more so than Talmud. So Torah is copied careful, post Talmud is less sacred /credible than Talmud.


It was written at a time when philosophy was done by story telling of a combination of real and imaged stories. This is true for many cultures of that time period around the world. (Picture Indian, Native American cultures.)

Often human development is paralleled around the world. First it goes through stone, then the iron, then bronze ages and ideas like evolution appear to multiple people during the same time period. (Darwin wasn't the only one.) Period development had created the blocks that now could be put together by more than one person into a seemly singular discovery.

Philosophy is similar. First there was story telling, a few pictures on a cave wall. Then there was deeply archetypal storytelling about human development (the beginning of the Torah). Then there was formal codified morality (later in the Torah). Finally the sense of self develops beyond archetypal and morality stores, because a growing up into recording of one's own history. It parallels a child's development from innocence into adolescence and more self-awareness.

Then later there was looking back at the stories, to tell how the world works (philosophy and theology) based in part on the knowledge in the books before in their stories... and based the rest on new ways to look at the stories in order to bring in new concepts. One has to wonder if the Tanakh was still being written, how the later texts would look. Would any of them lay out the summary concepts developed by philosophers the same way later studies do? In some ways we have that answer in the form of Talmud.

In short the type of story telling and investigation and way of describing answers to questions, develops as humankind develops (for better or worse).

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