Adam Hamilton on the Bible

You may have seen this already, but here is a link to Adam Hamilton’s post in response to the Rev. Ogletree resolution and on the nature of the Bible. It also plugs his new book, which is in my Amazon shopping cart, a couple times.

The comments section would be the interesting basis of a conversation in a church small group setting.

Hamilton displays his gift for explaining things with clarity and sharp metaphors. His “three buckets” metaphor is powerful and clearly resonates with many people.

In short, he says scripture can be divided into three buckets.

  • Things that reflect God’s heart, character, and eternal will
  • Things that reflect God’s will for particular times and places
  • Things that do not reflect God’s heart, will, or character

The third category, he acknowledges, is the most controversial. As the comments on his blog post demonstrate, many people worry that his third bucket invites us to take up our pen knife like Thomas Jefferson did and cut up the Bible to make it conform to our desires.

Of course, Christians have always wrestled, in particular, with how the Torah should be read and applied in the light of Jesus Christ. John Wesley subscribed to the common notion in his day that Torah could be divided into ceremonial, political, and moral laws, with only the last remaining in force. For what it is worth, Wesley would clearly disagree with Hamilton’s assertion that large chunks of the Bible do not reflect God’s will.

Recently, I read David deSilva’s interpretation that also uses a three-fold framework to divide Torah, as interpreted by Jesus and the New Testament, into three kinds of laws:

  • Those that reflect God’s eternal will for people (no murder)
  • Those that are concessions to a fallen people (divorce and slavery)
  • Those that form and guide Israel in its particular vocation (food laws, animal sacrifice, purity)

The first and third categories overlap with two of Hamilton’s buckets, although they are not identical with them.

Both Wesley and deSilva are looking more narrowly at Torah. Hamilton widens his analysis to the entire Bible, which leads him to argue that the extermination wars of the Israelites were not God’s will. Hamilton also mentions the plague in response to David’s census as a case that strikes him as not representing the true heart of God.

Reading that got me wondering about Numbers 21 — where God sends snakes to bite and poison Israel — as I will be preaching on John 3:1-17 this Sunday, where Jesus compares himself to the bronze serpent Moses erected in Numbers 21.

Did Jesus — or maybe Hamilton would say the writer of John — misunderstand God’s character in comparing Jesus on the cross to the bronze serpent?

It is a conversation we will continue to have. I look forward to reading Hamilton’s book.

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5 thoughts on “Adam Hamilton on the Bible

  1. I think deSilva’s interpretation seems more reasonable to me. The problem I see with Hamilton’s formulation is if there is a category of scripture that does not represent God’s will, heart or character, then why are they there? If someone had the insight to identify his character (or lack thereof) in certain scriptures, why then did they not remove them? Church authorities have found plenty of other reasons for excluding writings from the Bible throughout history — wouldn’t lack of fidelity to God’s will and character be an adequate reason? Perhaps Hamilton explains this in greater detail in his book, but from the posts you’ve referenced here, deSilva’s methodology seems to largely avoid this conundrum.
    The best comment on his blog notes that we are always trying to turn to the Bible like a textbook, asking it to answer our own questions, rather than addressing the questions the Bible seeks to answer. Looking at the Bible through deSilva’s lens of laws that reflect God’s will, that are concessions to a fallen and sinful people, and that are peculiar to the time and place of ancient Israelite culture gets us closer to identifying and addressing the questions it presents to us.
    Thanks for sharing these posts.

  2. I am always suspicious of interpretations of scripture that seek to bring it into conformance with popular morality. As Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, put it, “Opposition! It is a bad sign for the Christianity of this day that it provokes so little opposition. If there were no other evidence of it being wrong, I should know from that. When the church and the world can jog along together comfortably, you may be sure there is something wrong. The world has not altered. Its spirit is exactly the same as it ever was, and if Christians were equally faithful and devoted to the Lord and separated from the world, living so that their lives were a reproof to all ungodliness, the world would hate them as much as it ever did. It is the church that has altered, not the world.” Of course, the Apostle James understood this much earlier: ” Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” — James 4:4
    Can anyone give me an example of Biblical prophecy in which the prophet called the church to repent and become more like the world? If there are none, what does that say about those who call the church to repent on the homosexual agenda?

  3. I wonder in which bucket Adam will put Jesus’ teachings on marriage? This whole piece is very much in keeping with a classic sola scriptura argument, and whether it is with a liberal or a conservative bent, it is clear, at least to me, that there are certain epistemological commitments at play (and that’s before we can even get to the real issues of ecclesiology and divine revelation, which is where, I feel, we have all missed the mark and need to focus).

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