Mystery/Revelation in Progressive Revelation

Helpful words on the nature of progressive revelation from D.A. Carson talking about his book–Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker, 2008, 1156 pgs)–to Collin Hansen in a CT interview (2/8/08):

“…Sometimes Christians understand progressive revelation in a fairly mechanistic or linear fashion: More truth simply gets added to the pile, to make a bigger pile of truth. But this “mystery/revelation” tension shows that often something is actually there in the Old Testament text (according to Jesus and his apostles) that was not seen until the coming of Jesus made it clear. The most obvious example is the fact that interpreters of Scripture before the coming of Jesus did not happily put together the Old Testament promises of a Davidic king with Old Testament suffering-servant passages to anticipate a king who suffers, a king who would reign from a cross.”

11 thoughts on “Mystery/Revelation in Progressive Revelation

  1. I wonder if this truth has often been obscured by the attempt to make a certain sort of apologetic Argument from Prophecy? On the other hand, the apostles DO argue from the OT. Maybe their apologetic arguments from the OT presuppose that Christ is the fulfillment of the OT?

  2. I think there is a difference between what Dr. Carson speaks of and what most of us think about when we hear the term progressive revelation.

    It is one thing to come to a deeper understanding of Scripture through study and developing a new, contradictory and previously unknown doctrine. This latter situation marks many of the progressivists today including one very large faith group.

    The truth was once for all delivered – that is not questioned in the mind of conservative scholars. Our understanding does develop but never changes God’s word.


  3. Carson’s quote flies in the face of a couple of Scriptures I can think of:

    “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen–that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22-23)

    Moses and the prophets said what would happen – Christ would suffer and be glorified. Paul is explicit in saying he does *not* go beyond them in this.

    “10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you” (1 Pet 1:10-12)

    The time and circumstances may have been in doubt but the sufferings and glories were not.

    In Isaiah the Servant is just very clearly the universal Ruler (e.g. Is 42). And the very first prophecy of Christ is of suffering and glory – Gen 3:15.

    Whatever progress there might be in Scripture one thing we should be clear on – the sufferings and glories of Christ are there from the beginning.

    It’s pretty bothersome to me that Carson would suggest otherwise.

  4. I’m really sympathetic to Glen’s concerns but I don’t think Carson has denied that the sufferings and glories of Christ are in the OT from the beginning: Carson simply denies that we could have SEEN it until Christ actually showed up. Look again at what Carson said:

    “something is actually there in the Old Testament text (according to Jesus and his apostles) that was not seen until the coming of Jesus made it clear.”

    But I totally support Glen and Bryant against anybody who says that the NT authors are reading back into the OT things which were not there from the beginning. They WERE there.

  5. Indeed Nathan. They were there. And they were UNDERSTOOD too! My NT verses are not simply about what’s there, they are about how Moses and the Prophets understood them.

    And throw in Acts 2:30-31 – David was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ.”

    Prophet… knew… seeing what was ahead. And what did he see? The sufferings and glories of Christ.

    It’s not just IN the OT it was UNDERSTOOD by the faithful.

  6. You’re right Glen, I failed to appreciate the force of your point. I’ll now stop talking and go think some more.

  7. I think you misunderstand Carson and the Scriptures. Carson is not suggesting reading something back into the OT, but he is saying that the common understanding was not the right understanding until the fuller revelation of Christ came. Surely this is clear just from reading the Gospels and Acts? This is also why Paul can speak of a “mystery”–something obscured in the OT, but made clear in the coming of Christ.

    The texts you quoted above do NOT mix the divine coming of God and a suffering messiah into one person. This was the mystery that was revealed. Furthermore, I do not think that because the prophets saw something of what was to come meant they understood it FULLY. Surely Isaiah did not know he was seeing the glory of Christ (Isaiah 6), yet John–in the fullness of the revelation of Christ–can look back and say he did (John 12).

    This does not, in my opinion, undermine any biblical teaching, authority, or faith. It just makes sense of what Jesus himself taught (Matthew 5) and what the later NT says about him (Hebrews 1).

  8. Well certainly the reality is always clearer just as the antitype is clearer than than the type. However that does not suggest the prophet was ignorant of what he was saying.

    I know the Lord is coming again to claim his own but I will not fully understand it and appreciate it until it actually happens.

    It seems we are all saying about the same thing only varying in degree.

  9. Hi John,

    Strong words. I’ve questioned Carson on this personally. I really don’t think I misunderstand him. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t think I *misunderstood* him. But we were both very clear that we *disagree*.

    As for misunderstanding the Scriptures…

    I don’t know where you get the idea that the mystery is the suffering/glory dynamic. Nowhere does the bible say this. it says the very opposite – Acts 2; Acts 26; 1 Pet 1.

    But you’re right about one thing. Carson does indeed assert that the OT saints were ignorant of this. Hence my problem with the whole paradigm.

  10. Sorry, if my words offended, Glen. They certainly weren’t meant to be rough. Things sometimes sound different in your head then they do once you type them!

    I wasn’t saying that you misunderstood Carson in general, but in the specific reference about the suffering and king together concept was a mystery. It’s certainly not THE mystery, but one of many things (e.g. marriage was created specifically to show something of Christ & the Church; gentiles will be together with Jews in the Church, etc). However, it seems we are just reading the text differently, as your comment points out.

    I do think it was a mystery because most of the Messiah passages speak of a reigning King, not a sufferer. In fact, it’s not until late in salvation history that the idea of a suffering redeemer is introduced. That along with the fact that 99% of the Jews looking for a Messiah missed it when Jesus came says to me it was something of a mystery.


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