Vos on the Progressive Nature of New Testament Revelation

At the beginning of his chapter on New Testament Revelation in his Biblical Theology, Geerhardus Vos’ explained the development of the New Testament in terms of Jesus living out the facts of His atoning death on the cross, and glorious resurrection from the dead, and the Apostles interpreting those facts. My friend Steve Shanley helpfully walks us through Vos’ line of argumentation:

Vos argues for the unity of OT revelation to Christ’s words and especially his works, and then argues for the organic unity to the Apostles that follow him to interpret his works after being completed, which is why the Spirit was given to the Apostles in a special revelatory way (John 16). The Scripture is one undivided unit from Genesis to Christ’s Words, from Christ’s words to Revelation. Thus Vos can say, “He (Christ) has nowhere isolated Himself from His interpreters, but on the contrary identified them with Himself, both as to absoluteness of authority and adequacy of knowledge imparted (Luke 24:44; John 16:12-15)”. That is to say Jesus identifies His revelation to that of those who preceded and proceeded Himself.Vos’ gives crucial insight into the revelation set forth by the Apostles, that they are as of equal import to the “red letters”, his own words (and in agreement with them), “(t)he relation between Jesus and the Apostolate is in general that between the fact to be interpreted and the subsequent interpretation of the fact.”

Vos goes on to say somewhat boldly, “Jesus task interweaves and accompanies the creation of the facts with a preliminary illumination of them, for by the side of His work stands His teaching. Only the teaching is more sporadic and less comprehensive than that supplied by the Epistles.” Vos actually argues that in some sense the teaching in the Epistles is actually more comprehensive than that of Jesus own words! It could be noted that the Epistles don’t contain parables and are not so much historical narratives. But more importantly they interpret the the historical death and resurrection of Christ and how it accomplishes the redemption of His people. The Epistles expound soteriology, if you will. This is the great “fact” or “work” of God in Christ to be expounded by the Apostles. Vos may also be alluding to the miracles of Christ as the “works” that stand by His teaching but even they are physical teachings of the spiritual healing and redemption that Christs death will accomplish.

So whether classical Protestant Liberals or Emergent folk say, “I just focus on the words of Jesus”, I would have to say with Vos, “Jesus does not represent Himself anywhere as being by his human earthly activity the exhaustive expounder of truth. Much rather He is the great fact to be expounded.”

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