What about the Covenant?

Jim Hamilton
Jim Hamilton
2013 30 May

Since the appearance of Kingdom through Covenant, some have raised questions about how I do or don’t deal with the covenant concept in God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Here are some thoughts on the issue, as they come to me (this is, after all, a blog post):

1. I like the way Tom Schreiner answered the question when Tony Reinke raised it on the Authors on the Line podcast: Schreiner basically said that he chose to go book by book rather than organizing his biblical theology according to a thematic discussion of covenants or other themes. There isn’t just one way to skin a cat, and there isn’t just one way to do biblical theology. None of us should expect everyone else to do biblical theology just like we have done it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t lay out the benefits of or make the case for our way of doing it. How would others feel if we suggested that what they should have done is what we did? That’s just applying the golden rule to what we say in book reviews and what we say about other books as we comment on them in our own.

2. Going book by book helps you stay anchored in authorial intent–the intent of the human authors of the biblical books. If we choose to organize an approach to biblical theology according to a theme or a concept like covenant, it’s easy to start moving in the direction of the intention of the Divine Author and what he intends to communicate across the message of the whole Bible. The only way to avoid taking that step away from exegesis toward systematic theology is to stay anchored in the treatments of the concept or theme done by particular biblical authors. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to move toward what the Divine Author is doing, just that we should be aware that it’s happening.

3. In my view, biblical theology seeks to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. As I read others who do this, I’m more stimulated by treatments that move book by book, not least because I find them easier to read and ponder, then easier to remember and quote.

4. I chose to make a book by book argument that God’s glory was the center of the worldview of every single biblical author, that each of them considered the display of God’s glory to be the ultimate purpose of the universe. This point was made slightly more particular in the contention that the display of justice was intended to make mercy more poignant, and that God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, justice making mercy meaningful, is the summit of the glory that God built the world and told its story to display.

5. I also like the way that Schreiner goes beyond the label “covenant” to the meaning of the term–he highlights the blessing of Abraham. As I listened to Schreiner saying these things, I realized that if we come at it that way, I can say the same: Anyone who has read my book will know that I argue for strong connections between Genesis 1, 3, and 12, and then I operate as though these set the trajectory for the rest of the big story of the Bible: God’s purposes at creation threatened by the fall and God’s curses, which are answered by the promises adumbrated in Genesis 3:15 and elaborated upon in the blessings of Abraham. Isn’t this what’s at the heart of any discussion of covenant?

6. By emphasizing these points of connection, and by moving book by book, I agree with one student’s assessment of the relationship between Kingdom through Covenant and my work, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: he said that if Kingdom through Covenant provides the “backbone” of the biblical narrative (a claim they make for themselves), God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment puts flesh on that skeleton. I think that’s true and hope others find it helpful.

7. My overarching aims were twofold: I wanted to argue for the glory of God as the center of biblical theology. Because I think it’s true. Don’t agree? I think you will when Jesus comes back. I may not have proved it, but I’m pretty sure the King on the white horse will. We will see The King in His Beauty. And I wanted to write a book that moved book by book through the whole canon in the hope that it would give people a guided tour of the Bible. My hope is that people will read God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment alongside their reading of the Bible the way that folks check out those recorded audio tours when the go to historical sites or museums.

Want more on the definition of biblical theology and what we’re after? Please see What Is Biblical Theology?

Want to teach it to the generation to come? Try The Bible’s Big Story.


Cross posted at For His Renown