Progressive Revelation ≠ Progressive Inscripturation
What follows are some musings on biblical theology that I've been mulling over since grad school days. On Friday of last week I took the opportunity to run this idea past Dr. John Oswalt who was on GBSC’s campus to teach Old Testament Theology. His concurrence encouraged me to post.
Historically, some Biblical Theologians have confused the progress of revelation's inscripturation with the progress of revelation itself. The progress of inscripturated revelation is the history of the writing of Scripture. The progress of revelation, on the other hand, is the historical order in which God revealed truth. The progress of revelation can only be determined when Scripture itself explicitly states that a particular part of revelation was being given for the first time or had not been given before.
For example, Genesis 26:5 states, “because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” Since we have no revelation regarding what commandments, statutes, and laws God gave to Abraham, we have no way of knowing which of the Mosaic commandments, statutes, and laws had already been revealed to Abraham. The history of revelation is not equal to the history of the inscripturation of revelation.
Another example with regard to biblical history: The first place in Scripture we find reference to Enoch prophesying is Jude 1:14. In the history of inscripturated revelation, this doesn’t appear until close to the end of the first century AD. However, in history itself, it occurred prior to the flood. In the history of the transmission of revelation it, apparently, was transmitted orally until it was written down in 1 Enoch c. 200-160 BC.
This same text (Jude 1:14) provides us an inspired record of the content of Enoch’s prophecy: “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Progress of revelation: the coming of Yahweh with ten thousands of holy ones to execute judgment was known in Enoch’s time – pre-flood.
Progress of inscripturation: Perhaps the first recording of revelation similar to this is Daniel 7:10
If a biblical theologian were to try to trace the doctrine of a judgment by Yahweh accompanied with his holy ones based on the idea’s appearance in the canon, he would make this a late theological development. Yet, given the NT’s revelation, it is a theological idea that has been around at least since the time of Enoch!
Unless the text explicitly or implicitly indicates that its revelation had not been known or given before, the biblical theologian cannot know whether what is recorded in Scripture was known prior to its recording. This, it seems to me, severely limits developing a history of revelation. At best we can develop a history of the inscripturation of revelation.