Act or Word?

In his NT Theology (which I am reading for a class this fall), George E. Ladd discusses the nature of history as revelation on pp. 21 and following. He points out that God’s revelation is not only expressed in Scripture but also in the historical events related in Scripture. Ladd explains that God not only reveals propositional truth about himself, he reveals himself through his acts.
Though Ladd doesn’t address this (at least not yet, I’m not finished with the chapter) this raises a question I’ve pondered before. Do we give priority to the acts themselves or to the records of those acts in Scripture?
Some (who will remain nameless) say that the act takes priority because God chose the act rather than the propositional truth through which to reveal himself. While I understand what they are saying, and I give them credit for not dismissing all the propositional truth in Scripture, that just doesn’t sit well with me. I have not heard anything that would convince me that this position is the correct one.
While I agree that we cannot disregard that God’s revelation of himself directly (and not just truth about himself) in his acts, only those present when a given act occurred could receive that revelation directly from the act. The rest of us only have access those acts as they are related in Scripture. Because of this, we at this point in history must give priority to the record of those acts rather than to the acts themselves. I think this for three reasons:
1. As stated above, we can only perceive those acts because Scripture records them (indeed, we wouldn’t know about many of these acts were it not for the Scriptural record). It is not unreasonable to suppose that there were further acts that were not recorded as John points out in John 21:25.
2. The Scriptures contains these records precisely so that we could know them. They were written for the benefit of those who were not there to witness the events (1 Cor. 10:11).
3. The Scriptures contain not only the bare facts of the events but also the God’s explanations to those who witnessed them sometimes along with the commentary of the saints who witnessed them, pondered them, and taught of their significance to the generations who witnessed them. (For example, Ezra’s editorializing in the Chronicles and Moses’ and Joshua’s comments about teaching the significance of these events to their children: Exod. 12:26; 13:14; Josh. 4:6, 21).
The fact that some events contain commentary apparently given at the time the act occurred (such as the Exodus, to use Ladd’s example) makes me wonder if the act itself was insufficient to convey the truth God wanted to convey without God’s (or some other spokesman or prophet) explanation of it.

About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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