Development


I deny absolutely that there is any development now in divine things. In the human mind of course there will be development, but there cannot be development in “the present truth” (2 Pet. 1: 12), for the revelation is now complete. As individuals we may learn more and more, for the truth is there to be learned, but there is no more revelation, and nor is there meant to be any. Those who say we need fresh revelations so that we can know how to deal with the problems of our day overlook the remarkable fact that the canon of Scripture had not closed before the Church had been beset by every possible form of evil. The “mystery of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2: 7) was already at work in the days of one of the earliest epistles written. Thus we see legality, we see philosophy, we see sectarianism, we see immorality, we see false doctrine and we see all the frailties of the human condition. Hence all the answers to all our current difficulties are to be found in the Bible, and we need to use diligence under the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit to find those answers out.

   Where Christians have sought out fresh revelations the effect has been an inevitable curtailment of the authority of Holy Scripture in their minds. The ‘new’ revelation takes on a preeminent authority all of its own, and if the Bible itself is referred to it is merely in a supportive role. By this means clearly outlandish pronouncements have been hailed as being the very words of God, and verses plucked out of context from the Bible in order to give these utterances a fig–leaf of respectability. In a more subtle form, some talk pretentiously about new things being brought out of the Scriptures that were unknown in apostolic days—doctrines that generally rely on somewhat nebulous interpretations of obscure verses. The Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2: 20) and it is preposterous to claim that they were in the dark with respect to the fullness of their own ministry. Of course even Peter acknowledges that Paul’s ministry contains “some things” which “are hard to be understood” (2 Pet. 3: 16), but he does not say that they were not understood, and it is clear that Paul, at least, was established in his own doctrine.

   Paul instructed Timothy to “abide in those things which thou hast learned, and [of which] thou hast been fully persuaded” (2 Tim. 3: 14, my emphasis). He was not to seek fresh revelations, but to hold to what had been revealed even if the time should come “when they will not bear sound teaching; but according to their own lusts will heap up to themselves teachers, having an itching ear; and they will turn away their ear from the truth, and will have turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4: 3, 4). “Fully persuaded” (2 Tim. 3: 14) does not mean that he needed convincing, as if there was a doubt about what was inspired and what was not, but that he was so convicted by the teaching that he could not be swayed from it. He could be confident because he knew “of whom” he had “learned” (v14) it, for he had “been thoroughly acquainted” with Paul’s “teaching” (v10). As for the OT revelation, from a child he had known “the sacred letters” (v15). Though young, he was now “fully fitted to every good work” (v17). Did he need new revelations for the days ahead? No, because “every scripture [is] divinely inspired, and profitable” (v16) and rendered him “complete” (v17).

   Of course when Paul wrote to Timothy, the NT had not been put together. The Church at the beginning was characterised by persevering “in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles” (Acts 2: 42, my emphasis), but the day would soon come when all that oral teaching would need to be committed to a permanent form. The reason (almost certainly) was because the professing Church would fail to live up to being “God’s house ... [the] pillar and base of the truth” (1 Tim. 3: 15). Jude exhorted his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude v3), not in a context of opposition from the world, but in what professed Christ, “for certain men have got in unnoticed ...” (v4). Now the ordering of the books in our English Bibles is not inspired. The Jewish OT, for example, went from Genesis to 2nd Chronicles (see Luke 11: 51; 2 Chron. 24: 21). Revelation closes the NT (and it seems fitting it should be there, seeing as its subject matter is the end of the age), but historically, it is by no means certain that it was the last book written. John’s Gospel was composed very late, and probably closed the canon of Scripture as far as time was concerned. As for content, however, it was given to Paul to “complete the word of God” (Col. 1: 25). It is worth carefully weighing this expression. It is not the mere idea of writing a book, for James and Peter and John did this, and yet they could not be said to “complete the word of God” in the sense that Paul did. It was not only bringing out truths already revealed, but adding a certain portion that was, until then, unrevealed (and so Paul goes on to speak of “the mystery which [has been] hidden from ages and from generations”—v26). Even the book of Revelation does not do this in that sense. What we have there is a fuller development of what had previously been referred to, for it is clearly built on OT imagery. Paul then, was not the last of the NT writers, but he completed the Bible as to its doctrinal content. 

   It can be seen, therefore, that the idea of a continuing revelation is refuted by the Bible itself. Yes, the Spirit still speaks to the assemblies (see Rev. 2: 7 etc.), but that speaking is not outside the Bible. Ministry, if it is truly from God, is “ministry of the word” (Acts 6: 4, my emphasis). It is noteworthy, that Peter does not say that there would be false prophets in the Church, but false teachers (see 2 Pet. 2: 1), implying that the era of revelation would come to an end early in the Church’s history. Of course “every scribe discipled to the kingdom of the heavens is like a man [that is] a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old” (Matt. 13: 52, my emphasis) but to use this passage to support an ongoing revelation is a misapplication of Scripture. The context is that the Lord had been teaching what was new and not known before. The old is clearly what the disciples were familiar with, namely the revelation of the OT, but the new concerns the things “which Jesus began both to do and to teach” (Acts 1: 1). As we have seen, that latter revelation closed with Paul (see Col. 1: 25). To transpose Matt. 13: 52 into the present day is completely unwarranted and flies in the face of Scripture. A scribe is one who writes. The revelation is now written.

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