What is the progressive principle in biblical theology?
Biblical theology is that discipline of Bible interpretation that emphasizes the overarching themes that unite all of scriptures' particulars. The particulars are important, but there is that discipline of trying to say, "What are the themes and how do they fit together?" Biblical theology is not simply asking, "What truth does this particular passage reveal, but how is it related to the whole message of scripture?"
The key writer on this in this century has been Geerhardus Vos and some of you have read his Biblical Theology. Let me remind you of some key principles. Geerhardus Vos, in trying to say, "How do we keep context in view no matter where we are – how do we keep the redemptive themes in mind," the first principle that he talked about was the 'Progressive Principle.' We have to read scripture keeping in mind the progressive principle.
He said this: Biblical theology is that branch of exegetical theology – notice that he's still saying it's still doing exegesis, it's still determining what the scriptures meant exegetically – but it's that branch of exegetical theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible. He said revelation is a noun of action relating to divine activity -- God's revealing himself more and more – revelation is an historically progressive process, a long series of successive acts.
Now, I know the wording is complicated but he's just saying this: When it comes to God's plan of redemption, Paul knew more than Sampson. What Sampson knew was not wrong, but Paul knew more. There had been a successive and progressive revelation; God revealing more and more of his plan and purpose. That's the progressive principle.