A Review of Hamilton’s Biblical Theology

God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology I (Shane) have been working through some OT theology books lately – one of them being God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment by James Hamilton.  This book is a 550+ page discussion of Hamilton’s thesis, namely, that the main theme of the Bible is “God’s glory in salvation through judgment.”  Hamilton says that this is the center of both the Old and New Testaments.

The structure of the book is pretty straightforward.  After an introduction that talks about a “center” of biblical theology and Hamilton’s thesis, the rest of the book is a walk through the Bible.  From Genesis to Revelation and every book in between, Hamilton attempts to prove his thesis – that each book of the Bible is about God’s glory in salvation through judgment.  To summarize it in a most basic way, Hamilton simply discusses every text in every Bible book that proves his point.

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment is a very detailed and dense book.  It doesn’t really read like a story; rather, it reads like an intricate defense of a thesis.  (This is not necessarily a critique, just an observation).  I was hoping to read it straight through, but I have to admit I got bogged down around Leviticus and Deuteronomy because there were so many details that I became overwhelmed.  I then began to read sections of it that interested me (including a few books of the Bible that I’m currently preaching on).  Hamilton has done his homework – there are scores of proof texts on almost every page (which is good to see but makes for cumbersome reading).

So what do I think of the book?  Well, as I already mentioned, it’s not an easy read because of the density.  Also, I have to admit that I’m not 100% convinced that “God’s glory in salvation through judgment” is the main message or center of the Bible.  I do believe it is one of the big themes, but I’m not ready to say it is the theme (for example, it doesn’t hold true before Adam’s sin [pre-fall]).  However, the book is still helpful in tracing this theme throughout the Bible in great detail.

Another thing that struck me was that other major themes in the Bible were downplayed at the expense of Hamilton’s thesis.  For one glaring example, Hamilton didn’t really deal too much with the covenants in the Bible.  He did mention them, of course, but not in much detail or in a way that really affected his theme/thesis.  And unfortunately Hamilton only spent 3 pages discussing the book of Hebrews.  Another theme I was hoping Hamilton would discuss was revelation – but there was almost nothing on how/when God reveals himself or the progressive aspect of revelation.  I suppose anytime someone traces a theme through the Bible there’s a good possibility of missing or downplaying other themes.  It’s impossible to do it all in one book, to be sure.

Finally, while Hamilton’s thesis and his walk-through of the Bible is a helpful addition in the area of biblical theology, I noticed that some of the content of the book builds on other work (i.e. Greg Beale, N.T. Wright, and Thomas Schreiner, among others).  And some of the summaries of Bible books are similar to those in evangelical commentaries and Bible summaries, so I saw overlap there as well (for example, I read Hamilton’s summary of 1 Samuel, which didn’t really tell me anything that my commentaries had not already told me).

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment is a helpful resource that discusses a major Bible theme in a biblical-theological way.  It is level-headed, well argued, and very comprehensive.  Even though I’m not 100% in agreement with everything Hamilton says, his argument is stimulating and it gets the reader into the text and story of Scripture – for this I am thankful!

If you’ve read other biblical theologies (i.e. Vos, Beale, Goldsworthy, etc.) this book might simply be a review of biblical theology from a different angle.  Also, if you have a lot of newer evangelical commentaries and resources on various books of the Bible, the material will overlap them to some extent.  But if you’re not familiar with biblical theology and you want an extremely detailed defense of Hamilton’s thesis (that the center of the Bible is ‘God’s glory in salvation through judgment’), then you’ll for sure want to get this one.

By the way, for a condensed summary of Hamilton’s thesis, you might want to check out his similarly titled essay in Tyndale Bulletin 57 (2006): 57-84.  For those of you who are already well-read in Biblical theology, you may want to read the essay before getting the book.

shane lems
hammond, wi