Review of Jim Hamilton’s God’s Indwelling Presence

God's Indwelling PresenceJames M. Hamilton. God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testaments. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006. 233pp. $19.99.

The Gospel according to John has the reputation of being the “spiritual gospel” within the fourfold gospel tradition. Its distinct characteristics have caused it to be one of the most beloved books in the Christian canon. Indeed, one recent commentator has said that John’s Gospel “penetrates more deeply into the mystery of God’s revelation in his Son than the other canonical Gospels and perhaps more deeply than any other biblical book” (Köstenberger, John, 1).

The affection that many Christians have for this Gospel is perhaps matched only by the controversy that has surrounded its interpretation. Yet Dr. James Hamilton sounds a clear voice among the din of conflicting opinions in his new book, God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old & New Testaments. This book is the first volume of a new series on biblical theology published by Broadman and Holman titled, “NAC Studies in Bible & Theology.”

James HamiltonIn God’s Indwelling Presence, Hamilton sets out to answer the question of what the Bible says about how the Spirit relates to believers before and after the glorification of Jesus. Hamilton takes John 14:17 (“He is with you, and He will be in you”) to be John’s summary of the Bible’s teaching on indwelling as it relates to believers under the old and new covenants. Under the old covenant, God dwelled with His people in a pillar of fire and cloud, in the tabernacle, and in the temple. Under the new covenant, God dwells in a new temple, the community of believers conceived both corporately and individually (p. 3).

Hamilton introduces his thesis in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 outlines the range of opinion on the question of the Spirit’s indwelling presence under the old and new covenants. Chapter 3 surveys the Old Testament and shows that the Holy Spirit did not indwell believers of the old covenant remnant, but that God dwelled with His people in the tabernacle and the temple. Chapter 4 surveys and explains all the references to the Spirit in John’s Gospel and concludes that the Spirit-Paraclete promised in the farewell discourse is delivered to the disciples on resurrection day in order to continue the ministry of Jesus. Chapter 5 considers John 7:39 in light of Old Testament expectation in order to show that John presents the reception of the indwelling Spirit by believers as an eschatological blessing experienced only after the glorification of Jesus. Chapter 6 argues that regeneration (or “being born again”) and indwelling are distinct ministries of the Spirit in John’s Gospel and that indwelling refers to God’s eschatological presence within individual believers after the glorification of Jesus. Chapter 7 gives some practical implications resulting from Hamilton’s thesis with a particular emphasis on how the Spirit’s indwelling presence compels both formative and corrective discipleship within the church.

What stands out about God’s Indwelling Presence is that it is truly a work of biblical theology even though it is focused on the fourth Gospel. One of Hamilton’s goals is to show that taking John on his own terms means realizing that John was a biblical theologian himself. Hamilton writes, “John’s account of the words of Jesus in John 14:17 . . . reveals Jesus of Nazareth as an astute Old Testament theologian” (p. 169). For Hamilton, John’s theology of the Spirit is nothing more than what he considers to be Jesus’ understanding of the total Old Testament teaching concerning the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit. Thus an evaluation of the fourth Gospel necessitates a consideration of the pneumatology of both testaments. Hamilton’s project is, therefore, an ambitious one as he covers the whole terrain of the Bible’s teaching on the Holy Spirit. But the scope of the project does not make it superficial. Hamilton is interested in taking each biblical author on his own terms without forcing them into a preconceived paradigm.

Another positive feature of Hamilton’s book is that it brings the Bible to bear in a fresh way upon an old theological controversy, and it does so in a manner that is sensitive to the various voices of the Old and New Testaments. Though the controversy has been dominated for a very long time by the assumption that regeneration and indwelling refer to the same reality, Hamilton shows that if we take John on His own terms this assumption is unwarranted. Systematicians and biblical scholars who equate regeneration and indwelling are actually foisting onto John something he never intended (p. 132). According to Hamilton, regeneration (John 3:3, 5) imbues individuals with Spiritual life enabling them to believe, but this is not the same indwelling presence of the Spirit that is promised in John 7:39 and 14:16. Regeneration is John’s way of referring to the Old Testament concept of “heart circumcision” (pp. 47, 141; e.g., Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 9:26; Rom 2:29), and regeneration should not be considered to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the eschatological gift of the Spirit.

And it is on this point that Hamilton makes a real contribution. The eschatological gift of the Spirit that is promised in John 7:39 and 14:16 is the indwelling Spirit of God that comes to individuals after the glorification of Jesus. John’s description of the Spirit’s indwelling presence is shaped by concepts that are bound up with the ministry of Israel’s Temple (p. 144). Thus, Hamilton shows that the standard interpretation of the Spirit’s coming does not go far enough. It is insufficient because it does not make explicit the connection between the ministry of Jesus that the Spirit continues and the new role the disciples would play as God’s Temple (p. 143). Hamilton writes, “When Jesus sends the disciples as the Father has sent Him (17:18; 20:21), He confers to the disciples the temple authority that He received” (p. 144). What Jesus was to the disciples, the disciples become to the world.

No doubt, readers will find things to disagree with in God’s Indwelling Presence. But in spite of this or that difference one may have over the meaning of individual texts, Hamilton presents a compelling overall exposition of John’s theology of the Spirit. Hamilton has made a real contribution in this book, and his work deserves careful consideration by anyone wishing to understand what the Bible teaches about God’s indwelling presence.

5 Responses to Review of Jim Hamilton’s God’s Indwelling Presence

  1. Steve Weaver January 3, 2007 at 9:52 am #

    I received this book as a Christmas gift and have since read it. I thought it was very good. I’m very encouraged by the fact that B&H are publishing substantive theological material in this series. The second volume on Believer’s Baptism is available for pre-order at Amazon. I already ordered it.

  2. Chad Thompson January 3, 2007 at 3:51 pm #

    it seem sdifficult to swallow his interpretation of john 14 in light of what the same biblical author says later in the canon regarding truth. 2 John 2 “because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever.” If the ‘with us/in us’ distinction is intended by John in John 14 to be a clear indicator of the difference in degree and intimacy, all the difference between association and indwelling, then aer we prepared to make the dame statement regarding truth? is the truth dwelling in us now, but will only be associated with us then? Do we want to say that we will have less of an intimate relationship to the truth in glory than we do now? Durely John’s language cannot be pressed in either case. It seems to me that noth phrases are meant to indicate the ongoing relationship we have to whatever it is, in either case, with(in).

  3. Chad Thompson January 3, 2007 at 4:27 pm #

    Sorry the above comment had some typos. below is the same without the typos
    it seems difficult to swallow his interpretation of john 14 in light of what the same biblical author says later in the canon regarding truth. 2 John 2 “because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever.” If the ‘with us/in us’ distinction is intended by John in John 14 to be a clear indicator of the difference in degree and intimacy, all the difference between association and indwelling, then are we prepared to make the dame statement regarding truth? is the truth dwelling in us now, but will only be associated with us then? Do we want to say that we will have less of an intimate relationship to the truth in glory than we do now? Surely John’s language cannot be pressed in either case. It seems to me that both phrases are meant to indicate the ongoing relationship we have to whatever it is, in either case, with(in).

  4. Noah Tutak January 22, 2007 at 12:13 am #

    GREAT review. I just requested Believer’s Baptism and started researching this book, the first in the series. After reading your review I might have to order – sounds very enlightening.

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