explaining biblical theology: god’s glory in biblical...explaining biblical theology: god’s...


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    Timothy George begins his book, Amazing Grace, with the question, If you

    were asked to sum up the entire message of the Bible in just one word, which word would

    you choose?1 Theologians have answered this question with words such as kingdom,

    covenant, grace, law, holiness, love, redemption and Jesus, to name a few.2 For decades,

    biblical theologians have had a lengthy and lively discussion regarding the central focus

    and unifying thread driving the biblical storyline.3 In 2010, James Hamilton added his

    voice to the conversation suggesting the Bibles central theme is, Gods glory in

    salvation through judgment.4 This resource will explain biblical theology and explore

    implications for leaders based on Hamiltons central theme of Scripture.

    What is Biblical Theology?

    James Hamilton defines biblical theology as that which seeks to understand

    the Bible in its own terms, in its own chronology, as reflected in its canonical form. One

    1 Timothy George, Amazing Grace: Gods Pursuit, Our Response, 2

    nd ed. (Wheaton, IL:

    Crossway, 2011), 15.

    2 See Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity, Eds. Scott J. Hafeman

    & Paul R. House (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007). Also see Horizons in Biblical Theology

    (HBT). A resource devoted to providing the latest research on biblical theology with over 25 volumes to

    date. D.A. Carson is the editor of a helpful series entitled New Studies in Biblical Theology.

    3 For an evangelical overview see Chapter 4 by Graeme Goldsworthy in Christ-Centered

    Biblical Theology and a liberal overview see Chapter 2 by James Mead in Biblical Theology.

    4 James M. Hamilton Jr., Gods Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology

    (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).

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    of the key tasks of biblical theology is to trace the connections between themes and show

    the relationships between them.5 Hamilton continues, The great challenge in biblical

    theology is to hold together everything the Bible says so that nothing is nullified, negated,

    or neglected.6 This is a helpful approach to biblical theology as we want the Bible to

    speak for itself and avoid imposing our own view on the Bible. There are many themes

    that run cover-to-cover throughout the Bible, but do not sufficiently summarize every

    book of the Bible and all its parts into one unifying whole.

    The grandfather of biblical theology, Geerhardus Vos, defines biblical

    theology as that branch of exegetical theology which deals with the process of the self-

    revelation of God deposited in the Bible.7 According to Vos, biblical theology focuses

    on the divine activity of God as it unfolds through history as recorded in the sixty-six

    books of the Bible. Vos definition helps us understand one of the principles of biblical

    theology; it is historical and moves from seed to tree.

    D.A. Carson states that biblical theology seeks to uncover and articulate the

    unity of all the biblical texts taken together, resorting primarily to the categories of those

    texts themselves.8 Biblical theology attempts to explain the meaning of the story in the

    terms of the story itself. James Mead defines biblical theology as that which seeks to

    identify and understand the Bibles theological message, that is, what the Bible says

    5 Ibid., 45.

    6 Ibid., 47.

    7 Vern Poythress, Kinds of Biblical Theology, Westminster Journal of Theology 70 (2008):


    8 D.A. Carson, Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology, in New Dictionary of Biblical

    Theology (Downers Grove, MI: Intervarsity Press, 2000), 100.

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    about God and Gods relation to all creation, especially to mankind.9 Meads definition

    suggests that biblical theology explores what the Bible says about God and how it says

    these things. Steve Wellum suggests that biblical theology, not only provides the basis

    for understanding how texts in one part of Scripture relate to all other texts, but it also

    serves as the basis and underpinning for all theologizing.10

    These various definitions of

    biblical theology provide a helpful starting point and general guidelines to assess views

    and evaluate interpretations.

    Issues in Biblical Theology

    James Mead believes there are two major issues related to the topic of biblical

    theology. These are issues that church leaders must address in order to faithfully preach

    the word and shepherd Gods flock. The two issues are (1) The relationship of the Old

    and New Testaments and (2) The debate over the legitimate subject matter of biblical


    Relationship of the Old and New Testaments

    The relationship between the two testaments is perhaps the pressing issue of

    biblical theology.12

    It is an important subject because it deals with the doctrine of

    Scripture and the person and work of Jesus Christ. In a post-modern, science-driven,

    9 James K. Mead, Biblical Theology: Issues, Methods, and Themes (Louisville, KY:

    Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 241.


    Stephen J. Wellum, Editorial: Preaching and Teaching the Whole Counsel of God, The

    Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10 (2006): 2-3.


    Mead, Biblical Theology, 244-245.


    Ibid., 244.

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    highly-skeptical age it is doubtful that a coherent and accurate understanding of the

    nature of Scripture and how to interpret it can long be sustained where there is not at the

    same time a grasp of unity of Scripture and its overall storyline of creation, fall,

    redemption, and completion in Christ.13

    If the Bible was a random collection of books with limited connection to one

    another, there could be no central storyline. The Bible would be reduced to a library of

    historical documents describing the religious experiences of ancient people while

    providing moral instruction for future generations. What a person believes about the

    interconnectedness of individual parts of the Bible to the whole reveals, and likely

    influences, their view of the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible. The

    relationship between the testaments is not as minor issue as D.A. Carson notes,

    Biblical theology forms an organic whole. This means not only that one can

    approach any part of the subject by beginning at any other point of the subject

    (though some vantage points are certainly more helpful than others), but that to

    treat some element of biblical theology as if it existed in splendid isolation

    seriously distorts the whole picture.14

    The Bible is much more than an anthology of religious writings put together by the

    religious communities of Israel and the church.15

    Scripture is a unified, God-given

    revelation. Biblical theology assumes the unity of Scripture as a divine inspiration.

    Biblical theology attempts to make sense of the Bible as a whole not just as an

    individual collection of books.16

    Michael Lawrence captures this thought when he says,

    13 D.A. Carson & Andrew David Naselli, Collected Writings on Scripture (Wheaton, IL:

    Crossway, 2010), 19.


    Ibid., 19


    Peter J. Gentry & Steven J. Wellam, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological

    Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 31.

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    Biblical theology is about reading the Bible, not as if its sixty-six separate books, but a

    single book with a single plot Gods glory displayed through Jesus Christ.17


    the diversity of Scripture, biblical theology works to discover the unity of the Bible and

    the central theme that ties all things together.18

    The Old and New Testaments are one story with Jesus at the center. The New

    Testament interpretation of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth makes no sense if

    there is no substance to the historical claims of the Old Testament.19

    The teaching of the

    Old Testament points to Christ and the teaching of Christ is grounded in the Old

    Testament. Graeme Goldsworthy refers to this as progressive, redemptive revelation

    and states,

    Jesus Christ is the goal of the Old Testament and provides its true meaning. Any

    understanding of, and commentary on, the Old Testament that does not show up

    this fact is at best incomplete and at worst un-Christian.20

    The overwhelming testimony of the New Testament is that Jesus fulfills the Old

    Testament, which is another way of saying that the Old Testament is about Jesus.21


    interprets the entire Bible. What went before Christ in the Old Testament, as well as what

    comes after him, finds its meaning in him.


    Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry

    (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 37.


    Ibid., 15.


    Ibid., 15.


    Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible

    (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1991), 52.


    Ibid., 57; 88.


    Ibid., 53.

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    One of the clear implications of biblical theology is that the Bible is best


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