There would certainly be little quibble from someone who suggested that doctrine develops. There would also be no problems when someone suggests that earlier writers of the Old Testament knew less than later writers. The idea here is doctrinal development within the canon, often referred to as the doctrine of progressive revelation.
For example, we understand that Abraham did not have access to any of the Old Testament. His sources for theological inquiry had to come from other places. David, on the other hand, had much of the Old Testament to draw from, including the story of Abraham. We would assume that David’s understanding of the Gospel was more fully developed than Abraham’s. Abraham’s was most certainly more developed than Adam. Isaiah’s was more developed than any of these. Why? Because he had a fuller complement of understanding, both from time and the fuller complement of God’s revealed word. Yet Daniel had even more than Isaiah! You see where I am going.
So far so good?
Now let us move to the New Testament. I am sure that you would not have any problems with assertions that the Apostles in training while under the tutelage of Christ were less theologically astute and aware than the post-resurrection Apostles. No one would dare immortalize Peter’s rebuke of Christ’s revelation of his impending crucifixion (Matt. 16:21-23), believing it to be correct and Christ in error. We understand that the Apostle Peter was wrong and, with regard to the theology of the Gospel, a novice. We give him grace. We understand that Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 presents a bold and corrective advancement in his theology. We allow for this kind of development.
Normally, people would assume that after the resurrection and the receiving of the Holy Spirit early in Acts that everything the Apostles said and believed was not only correct, but representative of the fullness of the truth. We often assume that, at this time, there was no further need for any development in their understanding.
However, I am not completely convinced of this. In fact, I believe that, like with the authors of the Old Testament, the New Testament authors developed in their theology. In fact, I don’t necessarily believe that any of them, even Paul, had it all figured out the way we often suppose. I think that we sometimes read into their thoughts and writings a theology that, while correct, is not fully representative of the way they would have understood it, much less expressed it.
Why would we start with such an assumption? What need is there? We don’t do so with the Old Testament, why do we with the New Testament?
What kind of doctrine develops?
Let us start with something easy. I think that all of us would be willing to admit that, in Acts, there is a belief that Christ is coming in the lifetime of the Apostles. In Acts 1 the Apostles ask if it is now that Christ is restoring his kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Christ tells them, essentially, that they are not going to know the timing of his kingdom. Therefore, should we not expect them to speak with some degree of ignorance about this throughout the book of Acts and in other letters? In Acts 3:19, it seems that Peter had an expectation of immediate eschatological fulfillment of the coming of the Lord. Paul often seems to express the same expectation. For example in Romans 13:11-12, Paul exhorts the Romans to righteous living based upon this expectation: ” Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light (NAU). As well, notice in 1 Cor. 7:29 that Paul exhorts virgins not to get married because, in his opinion (? see 1 Cor. 7:25), “the time has been shortened” (v. 29). Peter, in 1 Pet. 4:7, says “the end of all things is at hand.” However, we don’t notice much development beyond this. Obviously, at the time of the Apostles death, they developed to the point that they knew the coming of Christ was not going to be in their lifetime! Continue Reading →