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EXPLAINING BIBLICAL THEOLOGY:
GODS GLORY IN SALVATION THROUGH JUDGMENT
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
Peter J. Gentry & Steven J. Wellam, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological
Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 31.
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
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.
Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1991), 52.
Ibid., 57; 88.
One of the clear implications of biblical theology is that the Bible is best