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Theology is derived from the two Greek words, qeo\j(Theos) meaning "God" and lo/goj(logos) meaning literally "word" or "knowledge." Theology is simply the study or truth of God. The Scripture is the sole, supernatural self-revelation of God, the source of all true knowledge. We believe that the Bible contains God's progressive self-revelation. Biblical theology is concerned with how the Bible reveals God; in His creation, in His covenant, in His redemption, in His judgment, etc. The Bible has its own method of revealing God, and that revelation is historical and thus progressive.
Geerhardus Vos has been called the father of Biblical theology. So rather than trying to relate in our own words what we mean by Biblical Theology, we will defer to Dr. Vos's own definition in his inaugural address at Princeton Seminary: "The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline."
"Every discussion of what is to be understood by Biblical Theology ought to proceed from a clear understanding of what Theology is in general. Etymology, in many cases a safer guide than a priori constructions, tells us that Theology is knowledge concerning God, and this primitive definition is fully supported by encyclopedic principles. Only when making Theology knowledge concerning God do we have the right to call it a separate science. Sciences are not formed at haphazard, but according to an objective principle of division. As in general science is bound by its object and must let itself be shaped by reality; so likewise the classification of sciences, the relation of the various members in the body of universal knowledge, has to follow the great lines by which God has mapped out the immense field of the universe. The title of a certain amount of knowledge to be called a separate science depends on its reference to such a separate and specific object as is marked off by these God-drawn lines of distinction. We speak of a science of Biology, because God has made the phenomena of life distinct from those of inorganic being. Now, from this point of view we must say that no science has a clearer title to separate existence than Theology. Between God as the Creator and all other things as created the distinction is absolute. There is not another such gulf within the universe. God, as distinct from the creature, is the only legitimate object of Theology." The study of God is something encouraged by God, and this is evident by His gift to us of His word. God's eternal purpose to know and be known covenantally by His creatures is revealed in His word, and from this we recognize that the Scripture's revelation of God is the foremost means by which this purpose is realized. It behooves us, then, to see the Bible as God's love letter to His people, a living document in which He discloses Himself. The Bible itself is a condescention on God's part, a grace, a show of favor. Thus, a covenantal approach to Scripture will yield peculiar insights as opposed to a systematic approach. Essentially Biblical Theology adopts God's system, and attempts to conform our understanding of God to God's calculated historical revelation of Himself.
"Theology is not merely distinguished from the other sciences by its object, but that it also sustains an altogether unique relation to this object, for which no strict analogy can be found elsewhere. In all the other sciences man is the one who of himself takes the first step in approaching the objective world, in subjecting it to his scrutiny, in compelling it to submit to his experiments --in a word, man is the one who proceeds actively to make nature reveal her facts and her laws. In Theology this relation between the subject and object is reversed. Here it is God who takes the first step to approach man for the purpose of disclosing His nature, nay, who creates man in order that He may have a finite mind able to receive the knowledge of His infinite perfections. In Theology the object, far from being passive, by the act of creation first posits the subject over against itself, and then as the living God proceeds to impart to this subject that to which of itself it would have no access. For "the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God." Strictly speaking, therefore, we should say that not God in and for Himself, but God in so far as He has revealed Himself, is the object of Theology.
"Though applying to Theology in the abstract and under all circumstances, this unique character has been emphasized by the entrance of sin into the human race. In his sinful condition, while retaining some knowledge of God, man for all pure and adequate information in divine things is absolutely dependent on that new self-disclosure of God which we call supernatural revelation. By the new birth and the illumination of the mind darkened through sin, a new subject is created. By the objective self-manifestation of God as the Redeemer, a new order of things is called into being. And by the depositing of the truth concerning this new order of things in the Holy Scriptures, the human mind is enabled to obtain that new knowledge which is but the reflection in the regenerate consciousness of an objective world of divine acts and words." In this statement we witness the groundwork for Van Tillian epistemology and the new creation (eschatological) reality upon which it is based. Notice, Vos says "enabled" rather than is able. It is the knowledge of God, the heavenly foretaste of things to come, which enlightens man to himself and to creation around him.
"This being so, it follows immediately that the beginning of our Theology consists in the appropriation of that supernatural process by which God has made Himself the object of our knowledge. We are not left to our own choice here, as to where we shall begin our theological study. The very nature of Theology requires us to begin with those branches which relate to the revelation-basis of our science. Our attitude from the outset must be a dependent and receptive one. To let the image of God's self-revelation in the Scriptures mirror itself as fully and clearly as possible in his mind, is the first and most important duty of every theologian. And it is in accordance with this principle that, in the development of scientific theology through the ages, a group of studies have gradually been separated from the rest and begun to form a smaller organism among themselves, inasmuch as the receptive attitude of the theological consciousness toward the source of revelation was the common idea underlying and controlling them. This group is usually designated by the name of Exegetical Theology. Its formation was not a matter of mere accident, nor the result of definite agreement among theologians; the immanent law of the development of the science, as rooted in its origin, has brought it about in a natural manner." Essentially all theology is exegetical. There is no true knowledge of God apart from His word. Because the Bible is the source of human knowledge of God, it becomes imperative to make the Bible's own method of revelation our own foundation for formulating theology. Theology is the knowledge of God which God Himself has afforded to His covenant people in His self-disclosure. With this understanding, the study of theology cannot be infringed by the study of religion, which is essentially the study of the creature.
"In classifications of this kind general terms are apt to acquire more or less indefinite meanings. They tend to become formulas used for the purpose of indicating that certain studies belong together from a practical point of view or according to a methodological principle. In many cases it would be fanciful to seek any other than a practical justification for grouping certain branches together. So it is clear on the surface that much is subsumed under the department of Exegetical Theology, which bears only a very remote and indirect relation to its central idea. There are subservient and preparatory studies lying in the periphery and but loosely connected with the organic center. Nevertheless, if Exegetical Theology is to be more than a conglomerate of heterogeneous studies, having no other than a practical unity, we must expect that at its highest point of development it will appear to embody one of the necessary forms of the essential idea of all Theology, and will unfold itself as knowledge concerning God in the strict sense of the term. The science in which this actually happens will be the heart of the organism of Exegetical Theology.
"Exegetical Theology deals with God under the aspect of Revealer of Himself and Author of the Scriptures. It is naturally divided into two parts, of which the one treats of the formation of the Scriptures, the other of the actual revelation of God lying back of this process. We further observe that the formation of the Scriptures serves no other purpose than to perpetuate and transmit the record of God's self-disclosure to the human race as a whole. Compared with revelation proper, the formation of the Scriptures appears as a means to an end. Bibliology with all its adjuncts, therefore, is not the center of Exegetical Theology, but is logically subordinated to the other division, which treats of revelation proper. Or, formulating it from the human point of view, all our investigations as to the origin of the Scriptures, their collection into a Canon, their original text, as well as the exegetical researches by which the contents of the Biblical writings are inductively ascertained, ultimately serve the one purpose of teaching us what God has revealed concerning Himself. None of these studies find their aim in themselves, but all have their value determined and their place assigned by the one central study to which they are leading up and in which they find their culminating point. This central study that gives most adequate and natural expression to the idea of Exegetical Theology is Biblical Theology." Biblical Theology is not the study of the Bible, but the study of God as revealed in the Bible.
"In general, then, Biblical Theology is that part of Exegetical Theology which deals with the revelation of God. It makes use of all the results that have been obtained by all the preceding studies in this department. Still, we must endeavor to determine more precisely in what sense this general definition is to be understood. For it might be said of Systematic Theology, nay of the whole of Theology, with equal truth, that it deals with supernatural revelation. The specific character of Biblical Theology lies in this, that it discusses both the form and contents of revelation from the point of view of the revealing activity of God Himself. In other words, it deals with revelation in the active sense, as an act of God, and tries to understand and trace and describe this act, so far as this is possible to man and does not elude our finite observation. In Biblical Theology both the form and contents of revelation are considered as parts and products of a divine work. In Systematic Theology these same contents of revelation appear, but not under the aspect of the stages of a divine work; rather as the material for a human work of classifying and systematizing according to logical principles. Biblical Theology applies no other method of grouping and arranging these contents than is given in the divine economy of revelation itself." We would maintain that God's own method of Self-revelation is supremely and perfectly logical. For it is the logos of infallible God which becomes our standard, not the logos of fallible man. Systematic theology, then, must submit to Biblical theology and formulate its science accordingly. The Bible is arranged not according to axiom but according to history. Good and necessary consequence, the sytematician's trade, must be informed by the theology of God's word, or else it fails in its task and cannot live up to its name. John Murray has pointed out that systematic theology views revelation as a finished whole, while biblical theology views revelation as organic process.
"From this it follows that, in order to obtain a more definite conception of Biblical Theology, we must try to gather the general features of God's revealing work. Here, as in other cases, the organism of a science can be conceived and described only by anticipating its results. The following statements, accordingly, are not to be considered in the light of an a priori construction, but simply formulate what the study of Biblical Theology itself has taught us.
"The first feature characteristic of supernatural revelation is its historical progress. God has not communicated to us the knowledge of the truth as it appears in the calm light of eternity to His own timeless vision. He has not given it in the form of abstract propositions logically correlated and systematized. The simple fact that it is the task of Systematic Theology to reproduce revealed truth in such form, shows that it does not possess this form from the beginning. The self-revelation of God is a work covering ages, proceeding in a sequence of revealing words and acts, appearing in a long perspective of time. The truth comes in the form of growing truth, not truth at rest. No doubt the explanation of this fact is partly to be sought in the finiteness of the human understanding. Even that part of the knowledge of God which has been revealed to us is so overwhelmingly great and so far transcends our human capacities, is such a flood of light, that it had, as it were, gradually to be let in upon us, ray after ray, and not the full radiance at once. By imparting the elements of the knowledge of Himself in a divinely arranged sequence God has pointed out to us the way in which we might gradually grasp and truly know Him. This becomes still more evident, if we remember that this revelation is intended for all ages and nations and classes and conditions of men, and therefore must adapt itself to the most various characters and temperaments by which it is to be assimilated." Because the Bible is a living book, it alone among books accomodates its readers in every class, culture, time, and place. Failure to treat the Bible as "alive and powerful," leads to a perceived gap in culture and history which needs to be bridged by gleaning eternal principles from the text in order to make it relevant. The text itself is relevant by virtue of its nature as Qeo/pnuestoj(Theopnuestos). The Bible actively reaches out to include you. We stand in the same place with the Apostles, namely the semi-eschatological age of fulfillment, looking back at the cross and resurrection and seeing the culmination of God's revelation in Christ. We have been brought into that same wonder-world of redemption which Peter, John, and Paul found themselves in; and that world now compels us in our many stations and positions. It is the air we breathe.
"We feel, however, that this explanation, however plausible in itself, is but a partial one, and can never completely satisfy. The deeper ground for the historic character of revelation cannot lie in the limitations of the human subject, but must be sought in the nature of revelation itself. Revelation is not an isolated act of God, existing without connection with all the other divine acts of supernatural character. It constitutes a part of that great process of the new creation through which the present universe as an organic whole shall be redeemed from the consequences of sin and restored to its ideal state, which it had originally in the intention of God. Now, this new creation, in the objective, universal sense, is not something completed by a single act all at once, but is a history with its own law of organic development. It could not be otherwise, inasmuch as at every point it proceeds on the basis of and in contact with the natural development of this world and of the human race, and, the latter being in the form of history, the former must necessarily assume that form likewise. It is simply owing to our habit of unduly separating revelation from this comprehensive background of the total redeeming work of God, that we fail to appreciate its historic, progressive nature. We conceive of it as a series of communications of abstract truth forming a body by itself, and are at a loss to see why this truth should be parceled out to man little by little and not given in its completeness at once. As soon as we realize that revelation is at almost every point interwoven with and conditioned by the redeeming activity of God in its wider sense, and together with the latter connected with the natural development of the present world, its historic character becomes perfectly intelligible and ceases to cause surprise." God has chosen history to be the vehicle of His Self-revelation, and His Self-revelation is accomplished in the supernatural acts of redemption. This is God's prerogative as sovereign Lord of His creation. God reveals Himself to man as their Redeemer. Redemption for historical beings (man) must take the shape of a historical progress. Redemption cannot be separated from history, and history is the chronicle of God, the Author of history's, accomplishment of that eternal purpose. When history will have achieved that end to which it was brought into existence, it will pass out of existence. Special revelation is historical because redemption is historical if for no other reason than that the redeemed are historical beings.
"In this great redeeming process two stages are to be distinguished. First come those acts of God which have a universal and objective significance, being aimed at the production of an organic center for the new order of things. After this had been accomplished, there follows a second stage during which this objective redemption is subjectively applied to individuals. In both the stages the supernatural element is present, though in the former, owing to its objective character, it appears more distinctly than in the latter. The whole series of redeeming acts, culminating in the incarnation and atoning work of the Mediator and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, bears the signature of the miraculous on its very face. But the supernatural, though not objectively controllable, is none the less present during the later stage in each case where an individual soul is regenerated. Revelation as such, however, is not co-extensive with this whole process in both its stages. Its history is limited to the former half, that is, it accompanies in its progress the gradual unfolding of the central and objective salvation of God, and no sooner is the latter accomplished than revelation also has run its course and its voice ceases to speak. The reason for this is obvious. The revelation of God being not subjective and individual in its nature, but objective and addressed to the human race as a whole, it is but natural that this revelation should be embedded in the channels of the great objective history of redemption and extend no further than this. In point of fact, we see that, when the finished salvation worked out among Israel is stripped of its particularistic form to extend to all nations, at the same moment the completed oracles of God are given to the human race as a whole to be henceforth subjectively studied and appropriated. It is as unreasonable to expect revelations after the close of the Apostolic age as it would be to think that the great saving facts of that period can be indefinitely increased and repeated.
"Even this, however, is not sufficient to show the historic character of revelation in its full extent. Up to this point we have only seen how the disclosure of truth in general follows the course of the history of redemption. We now must add that in not a few cases revelation is identified with history. Besides making use of words, God has also employed acts to reveal great principles of truth. It is not so much the prophetic visions or miracles in the narrower sense that we think of in this connection. We refer more specially to those great, supernatural, history-making acts of which we have examples in the redemption of the covenant-people from Egypt, or in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. In these cases the history itself forms a part of revelation. There is a self-disclosure of God in such acts. They would speak even if left to speak for themselves. Forming part of history, these revealing acts necessarily assume historical relations among themselves, and succeed one another according to a well-defined principle of historical sequence. Furthermore, we observe that this system of revelation-acts is not interpolated into the larger system of biblical history after a fanciful and mechanical fashion. The relation between the two systems is vital and organic. These miraculous interferences of God to which we ascribe a revealing character, furnish the great joints and ligaments by which the whole framework of sacred history is held together, and its entire structure determined. God's saving deeds mark the critical epochs of history, and as such, have continued to shape its course for centuries after their occurrence." A key to Vosian Biblical Theology is the recognition of events as revelatory and prophetic. OT events, like OT prophesy, look for fulfillment, and they find fulfillment in Christ. The redemptive acts of God are patterned after the consummate redemption of Jesus Christ, and as such serve as prophesies of that eschatological act. Like prophesy, those events are sketchy and dim and can only be interpreted in light of the finished work of Christ and the Kingdom of God which His ministry inaugurates. God reveals Himself as the One who declares the end from the beginning, and He does so from the beginning of His revelation. The closer the consummation of history draws, the more evident God's purpose for history becomes, and we recognize in earlier revelation in often less distinguishable types the presence of the end.
"Of course we should never forget that, wherever revelation and the redemptive acts of God coincide, the latter frequently have an ulterior purpose extending beyond the sphere of revelation. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ were acts not exclusively intended to reveal something to man, but primarily intended to serve some definite purpose in reference to God. In so far as they satisfied the divine justice it would be inaccurate to view them under the aspect of revelation primarily or exclusively. Nevertheless, the revealing element is essential even in their case, the two ends of satisfaction and of revelation being combined into one. And in the second place, we must remember that the revealing acts of God never appear separated from His verbal communications of truth. Word and act always accompany each other, and in their interdependence strikingly illustrate our former statement, to the effect that revelation is organically connected with the introduction of a new order of things into this sinful world. Revelation is the light of this new world which God has called into being. The light needs the reality and the reality needs the light to produce the vision of the beautiful creation of His grace. To apply the Kantian phraseology to a higher subject, without God's acts the words would be empty, without His words the acts would be blind." The grand drama of the unfolding of God's self-revelation in redemptive history raises dilemmas, dilemmas like the fall, the giving of the Sinaitic covenant, and the exile demand to be resolved. It is God who confronts us with those dilemmas. He is holy and we are sinful, and that produces a dilemma for all who have made God their delight. That dilemma is resolved in Christ. In fact history itself continues unresolved until the coming of Christ.
"A second ground for the historic character of revelation may be found in its eminently practical aspect. The knowledge of God communicated by it is nowhere for a purely intellectual purpose. From beginning to end it is a knowledge intended to enter into the actual life of man, to be worked out by him in all its practical bearings. The Shemitic, and in particular the Biblical, conception of knowledge is distinguished from the Greek, more intellectualistic idea, by the prominence of this practical element. To know, in the Shemitic sense, is to have the consciousness of the reality and the properties of something interwoven with one's life through the closest intercourse and communion attainable. Now in this manner God has interwoven the supernaturally communicated knowledge of Himself with the historic life of the chosen race, so as to secure for it a practical form from the beginning. Revelation is connected throughout with the fate of Israel. Its disclosures arise from the necessities of that nation, and are adjusted to its capacities. It is such a living historical thing that it has shaped the very life of this nation into the midst of which it descended. The importance of this aspect of revelation has found its clearest expression in the idea of the covenant as the form of God's progressive self-communication to Israel. God has not revealed Himself in a school, but in the covenant; and the covenant as a communion of life is all-comprehensive, embracing all the conditions and interests of those contracting it. There is a knowledge and an imparting of knowledge here, but in a most practical way and not merely by theoretical instruction." And this must be the case because God's purpose for history is personal, including intimate communion with His chosen people, even to become one with them as the Persons of the Godhead are one. God's revelation, then, while necessarily encompassing a cognizant element, goes beyond that. It is a personal revelation whose end is personal communion one with another. And God's revelation not only informs us it transforms us in our inner man and conforms us to the image of that eternal life which is God's purpose.
"If in the foregoing we have correctly described the most general character of revelation, we may enlarge our definition of Biblical Theology by saying that it is that part of Exegetical Theology which deals with the revelation of God in its historic continuity. We must now advance beyond this and inquire more particularly in what specific type of history God has chosen to embody His revelation. The idea of historic development is not sufficiently definite of itself to explain the manner in which divine truth has been progressively revealed. It is not until we ascribe to this progress an organic character that the full significance of the historic principle springs into view.
"The truth of revelation, if it is to retain its divine and absolute character at all, must be perfect from the beginning. Biblical Theology deals with it as a product of a supernatural divine activity, and is therefore bound by its own principle to maintain the perfection of revealed truth in all its stages. When, nevertheless, Biblical Theology also undertakes to show how the truth has been gradually set forth in greater fullness and clearness, these two facts can be reconciled in no other way than by assuming that the advance in revelation resembles the organic process, through which out of the perfect germ the perfect plant and flower and fruit are successively produced." Throughout the history of God's revelation, what was present from the beginning progressively comes to light. Nothing new is "added," though different aspects of God's plan become evident which beforehand had been hidden. Revelation progresses in epochal installments or intrusions. The coming to light of that which was shrouded in previous revelation brings new responsibilities to the people of God. One cannot live in the light of full revelation and behave as one for whom that full revelation has not come.
"Although the knowledge of God has received material increase through the ages, this increase nowhere shows the features of external accretion, but throughout appears as an internal expansion, an organic unfolding from within. The elements of truth, far from being mechanically added one to the other in lifeless succession, are seen to grow out of each other, each richer and fuller disclosure of the knowledge of God having been prepared for by what preceded, and being in its turn preparatory for what follows. That this is actually so, follows from the soteriological purpose which revelation in the first instance is intended to serve. At all times, from the very first to the last, revealed truth has been kept in close contact with the wants and emergencies of the living generation. And these human needs, notwithstanding all variations of outward circumstance, being essentially the same in all periods, it follows that the heart of divine truth, that by which men live, must have been present from the outset, and that each subsequent increase consisted in the unfolding of what was germinally contained in the beginning of revelation. The Gospel of Paradise is such a germ in which the Gospel of Paul is potentially present; and the Gospel of Abraham, of Moses, of David, of Isaiah and Jeremiah, are all expansions of this original message of salvation, each pointing forward to the next stage of growth, and bringing the Gospel idea one step nearer to its full realization. In this Gospel of Paradise we already discern the essential features of a covenant-relation, though the formal notion of a covenant does not attach to it. And in the covenant-promises given to Abraham these very features reappear, assume greater distinctness, and are seen to grow together, to crystallize as it were, into the formal covenant. From this time onward the expansive character of the covenant-idea shows itself. The covenant of Abraham contains the promise of the Sinaitic covenant; the latter again, from its very nature, gives rise to prophecy; and prophecy guards the covenant of Sinai from assuming a fixed, unalterable form, the prophetic word being a creative word under the influence of which the spiritual, universal germs of the covenant are quickened and a new, higher order of things is organically developed from the Mosaic theocracy, that new covenant of which Jeremiah spoke, and which our Savior brought to light by the shedding of His blood. So dispensation grows out of dispensation, and the newest is but the fully expanded flower of the oldest." Since what is present in the consummate revelation of God in His Son, Jesus Christ, is also present, however shrouded, in earlier stages; it lies upon us to uncover where the types and shadows testify the coming reality. For as we have stated before, in light of the culminating revelation of God, the Scriptures, even from the first stages of their growth, are opened up to us in a whole new way. We cannot understand them outside of the context of their fulfillment, a fulfillment which the earlier stages of revelation testify.
"The same principle may also be established more objectively, if we consider the specific manner in which God realizes the renewal of this sinful cosmos in accordance with His original purpose. The renewal is not brought about by mechanically changing one part after the other. God's method is much rather that of creating within the organism of the present world the center of the world of redemption, and then organically building up the new order of things around this center. Hence from the beginning all redeeming acts of God aim at the creation and introduction of this new organic principle, which is none other than Christ. All Old Testament redemption is but the saving activity of God working toward the realization of this goal, the great supernatural prelude to the Incarnation and the Atonement. And Christ having appeared as the head of the new humanity and having accomplished His atoning work, the further renewal of the cosmos is effected through an organic extension of His power in ever widening circles. In this sense the Apostle speaks of the fashioning anew of the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of the glory of Christ, saying that this will happen 'according to the working whereby He is able to subject even all things unto Himself ' (Phil. 3:21).
"If, then, this supernatural process of transformation proceeds on organic principles, and if, as we have shown, revelation is but the light accompanying it in its course, the reflection of its divine realities in the sphere of knowledge, we cannot escape from the conclusion that revelation itself must exhibit a similar organic progress. In point of fact, we find that the actual working of Old Testament redemption toward the coming of Christ in the flesh, and the advance of revealed knowledge concerning Christ, keep equal pace everywhere. The various stages in the gradual concentration of Messianic prophecy, as when the human nature of our Savior is successively designated as the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the seed of Judah, the seed of David, His figure assuming more distinct features at each narrowing of the circle--what are they but disclosures of the divine counsel corresponding in each case to new realities and new conditions created by His redeeming power? And as in the history of redemption there are critical stages in which the great acts of God as it were accumulate, so we find that at such junctures the process of revelation is correspondingly accelerated, and that a few years show, perhaps, more rapid growth and greater expansion than centuries that lie between. For, although the development of the root may be slow and the stem and leaves may grow almost imperceptibly, there comes a time when the bud emerges in a day and the flower expands in an hour to our wondering sight. Such epochs of quickened revelation were the times of Abraham, of Moses, of David, and especially the days of the Son of Man." This epochal revelation is closely tied to the covenants which God institutes with His people. God chooses men to whom He extends special grace and causes them to stand as figures of the One to come before His people. These heroes are not heroes because of anything inherent in themselves, but because God raises them up and bestows them with special characterizations of the One to come. God projects Christ onto these men and then holds them up before His people so that they might see their Savior, however dimly. But it is essential to understand that these men while types of Christ are types of Adam at the same time. While they testify to the reality to come, they also testify that they are not that reality, in fact, that they need that reality. Nevertheless, God is pleased to call them "friend," and "man after my own heart," and "personal consort" for He sees in them what He has projected onto them, that is His Son.
"This progress, moreover, increases in rapidity the nearer revelation approaches to its final goal. What rich developments, what wealth of blossoming and fruitage are compressed within the narrow limits of that period --no more than one lifetime--that is covered by the New Testament! In this, indeed, we have the most striking proof of the organic nature of the progress of revelation. Every organic development serves to embody an idea; and as soon as this idea has found full and adequate expression, the organism receives the stamp of perfection and develops no further. Because the New Testament times brought the final realization of the divine counsel of redemption as to its objective and central facts, therefore New Testament revelation brought the full-grown Word of God, in which the new-born world, which is complete in Christ, mirrors itself. In this final stage of revelation the deepest depths of eternity are opened up to the eye of Apostle and Seer. Hence, the frequent recurrence of the expression, "before the foundation of the world." We feel at every point that the last veil is drawn aside and that we stand face to face with the disclosure of the great mystery which was hidden in the divine purpose through the ages. All salvation, all truth in regard to man, has its eternal foundation in the triune God Himself. It is this triune God who here reveals Himself as the everlasting reality, from whom all truth proceeds, whom all truth reflects, be it the little streamlet of Paradise or the broad river of the New Testament losing itself again in the ocean of eternity. After this nothing higher can come. All the separate lines along which through the ages revelation was carried, have converged and met at a single point. The seed of the woman and the Angel of Jehovah are become one in the Incarnate Word. And as Christ is glorified once for all, so from the crowning glory and perfection of His revelation in the New Testament nothing can be taken away; nor can anything be added thereunto.
"There is one more feature of the organic character of revelation which I must briefly allude to. Historic progress is not the only means used by God to disclose the full contents of His eternal Word. Side by side with it we witness a striking multiformity of teaching employed for the same purpose. All along the historic stem of revelation, branches are seen to shoot forth, frequently more than one at a time, each of which helps to realize the complete idea of the truth for its own part and after its own peculiar manner. The legal, the prophetic, the poetic elements in the Old Testament are clearly distinct types of revelation, and in the New Testament we have something corresponding to these in the Gospels, the Epistles, the Apocalypse. Further, within the limits of these great divisions there are numerous minor variations, closely associated with the peculiarities of individual character. Isaiah and Jeremiah are distinct, and so are John and Paul. And this differentiation rather increases than decreases with the progress of sacred history. It is greater in the New Testament than in the Old. The laying of the historic basis for Israel's covenant-life has been recorded by one author, Moses; the historic basis of the New Testament dispensation we know from the fourfold version of the Gospels. The remainder of the New Testament writings are in the form of letters, in which naturally the personal element predominates. The more fully the light shone upon the realization of the whole counsel of God and disclosed its wide extent, the more necessary it became to expound it in all its bearings, to view it at different angles, thus to bring out what Paul calls the much-variegated, the manifold, wisdom of God. For, God having chosen to reveal the truth through human instruments, it follows that these instruments must be both numerous and of varied adaptation to the common end. Individual coloring, therefore, and a peculiar manner of representation are not only not detrimental to a full statement of the truth, but directly subservient to it. God's method of revelation includes the very shaping and chiseling of individualities for His own objective ends. To put it concretely: we must not conceive of it as if God found Paul "ready-made," as it were, and in using Paul as an organ of revelation, had to put up with the fact that the dialectic mind of Paul reflected the truth in a dialectic, dogmatic form to the detriment of the truth. The facts are these: the truth having inherently, besides other aspects, a dialectic and dogmatic side, and God intending to give this side full expression, chose Paul from the womb, molded his character, and gave him such a training that the truth revealed through him necessarily bore the dogmatic and dialectic impress of His mind. The divine objectivity and the human individuality here do not collide, nor exclude each other, because the man Paul, with his whole character, his gifts, and his training, is subsumed under the divine plan. The human is but the glass through which the divine light is reflected, and all the sides and angles into which the glass has been cut serve no other purpose than to distribute to us the truth in all the riches of its prismatic colors." The teachings, or word-revelations, accompany the covenantal acts of God, event-revelation, and flow from it. Thus it cannot be expected that the teachings of Ezra will have the fullness of scope that the teachings of Peter, though they will be organically unified and complementary. The expressions of devotion from David's heart in the Psalms is uniquely linked to that great self-revelatory act of God in bringing the kingdom of Israel into existence. These expressions inform Paul, but Paul's expressions are more comprehensive, his own expressions being linked to that ultimate self-revelatory act of God in bringing the kingdom of heaven in the person and work of Jesus Christ, that kingdom for which David's kingdom was merely a type. The continuity between David's kingdom and Christ's is that Christ was David's son. The discontinuity is that Christ is David's Lord.
"In some cases growth in the organism of revelation is closely dependent on this variety in the type of teaching. There are instances in which two or more forms of the one truth have been brought to light simultaneously, each of which exercised a deepening and enlarging influence upon the others. The Gospel of John contains revelations contemporaneous with those of the Synoptists, so that chronologically we can distribute its material over the pages of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Nevertheless, taken as a whole and in its unity, the Gospel of John represents a fuller and wider self-revelation of Christ than the Synoptists; and not only so, but it also represents a type of revelation which presupposes the facts and teachings of the other Gospels, and is, in point of order, subsequent to them. The same thing might be said of Isaiah in its relation to Micah. So the variety itself contributes to the progress of revelation. Even in these cases of contemporaneous development along distinct lines and in independent directions, there is a mysterious force at work, which makes 'the several parts grow out of and into each other with mutual support, so that the whole body is fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part.
"We may now perhaps attempt to frame a complete definition of our science. The preceding remarks have shown that the divine work of revelation did not proceed contrary to all law, but after a well-defined organic principle. Wherever there is a group of facts sufficiently distinct from their environment, and determined by some law of orderly sequence, we are justified in making these facts the object of scientific discussion. Far from there being in the conception of Biblical Theology anything at variance with the idea of Theology as based on the revealed knowledge of God, we have found that the latter even directly postulates the former. Biblical Theology, rightly defined, is nothing else than the exhibition of the organic progress of supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity." [Vos, The Idea of Biblical Theology]
Vos's theology was driven by the doctrine that pre-fall man had an eschatological hope that transcended life in this creation. The hope set before Adam was a higher estate even from the beginning, for in Vos' words neither God nor man "could be satisfied with an acquaintance based on indirection." In other words, the hope was more God's occasional visitation in which He came and went in the garden. The hope from the beginning was permanent fellowship on a higher plane in which life flowed into life. The course of history, especially sacred history, realizes this hope; and the genius of Vos's biblical theology is his tracing of the covenantal redemptive epochs of history until their climax in Jesus Christ, the last Adam, and His success (first for Himself and then for all who are joined to Him through supernatural regeneration) where the first Adam failed (first for himself and also for all who were in him). Thus all of redemptive history realizes the original purpose of God for His creation, namely eternal (eschatological) Sabbath union with all those whom He chose in Christ from before the foundation of the world as their God and Father.
The eschatological hope of communion with God on a higher plane which has been promised in the old and fulfilled in the new through the work of Jesus Christ is what Geerhardus Vos preached his entire career. Any form of Christianity that did not aspire to that full and sweet fellowship with God in the heavenlies did not hold interest to Vos because he believed it to be out of step with the biblical witness.
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