In his The Work of the Holy Spirit, Abraham Kuyper notes that the biblical writers did not wait to start writing scripture until redemption had been fully accomplished and revelation had been fully received. Rather, revelation grew throughout redemptive history with some writers having different knowledge of revelation than other writers who lived at different times. All of this, however, does not change the fact that what we have now is the fullness of revelation for this present age.
[A]lthough in the Old Dispensation [i.e., the OT] redemption existed partly already in Scripture, and the Psalmist shows everywhere his devotion thereto, yet Scripture could be used so to a small extent only, and needed constant supplementing by direct revelations and prophecies. But now, Scripture reveals the whole counsel of God, and nothing can be added to it. Wo [sic] to him who dares diminish or increase this Book of Life which discloses the world of divine thought!
“The Scripture a Necessity” in The Word of the Holy Spirit. Pg. 63.
Such an approach helps us to understand theologically the literary additions evident throughout God’s word. In fact, Kuyper explains that there are two horizons to consider when interpreting a given text; the horizon of the “contemporary generation” and the horizon of “the Church of all ages”:
[T]he Spirit’s preparation and preservation and preservation of Scripture is not subordinate, but prominent with reference to the life of the entire church. Or to put it more clearly: if prophecy, e.g., aims first to benefit contemporary generations, and secondly to be part of the Holy Scripture that is to minister comfort to the Church of all ages, the latter is of infinitely higher importance. Hence the chief aim of prophecy was not to benefit the people living at that time, and through Scripture to yield fruit for us only indirectly, but through Scripture to yield fruit for the Church of all ages, and indirectly to benefit the Church of old.
“The Holy Scripture” in The Work of the Holy Spirit. Pg. 59.
I have two thoughts in response. First, Kuyper does us a great service in reminding us that regardless of how the biblical texts were originally understood, how they are understood now – in the time after they were canonically re-signified and finalized as being part of Christian scripture – is primary and most important. This does not mean that earlier editions of books (i.e., books not yet edited by later prophetic scribes) can’t teach us about the emphases of the final form of the book. It does, however, mean that what is canonical now is this present text. Isaiah 1-66 is canonical for the Christian church, not First Isaiah (Isa 1-39). Zechariah 1-14 is canonical for the Christian church, not First Zechariah ( Zech 1-8). It is the present text that is the canonical text for the “church of all ages.”
Second, note that here too while Kuyper tempers, he does not disparage the work of historical criticism. (I cited an important quote from Kuyper on front at the bottom of this post.) Though historical critical work cannot provide the exhaustive approach necessary for theological interpretation of the Bible as God’s word to his church, it can be used in a believing manner to assist interpreters in reading these finalized editions. Confessional scholars – who often conflate what the texts mean with what they meant – do well to consider the literary development of the texts in order to best understand the emphases of their present form. But in all of this, Kuyper reminds us that the present form of the text is the text that now reveals the whole counsel of God and is of “infinitely higher importance.”