Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Johannine Corpus and the Canon

In my most recent post, I wrote:

"Historically, I believe the Protestant canon to be God's word because God regenerated me, and as a regenerate I hear and submit to the voice of my Shepherd"

A Roman Catholic on facebook asked me to exegete relevant texts so that he could better understand my position. As I here referenced John 10 as support for the contention that the Scripture itself explains the means by which a Christian comes to accept the canon of Scripture - which is a claim that many "C"atholics, in want of ammo against sola scriptura, argue is not the case - my response was as follows (edited):

"The Johannine corpus contain the passages to which I particularly refer. I believe I already mentioned John 10 in the conversation we’ve been having; 1 John 4:4-6 is another.

In John 10, Jesus is talking about the way in which He gathers His sheep. While this could easily rabbit trail into unconditional election or irresistible grace, I will try to stick to the topic. It seems John’s intention is to explain more specifically Jesus’ statements made in 8:42-47. The Jews who belong to the devil (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3) could not believe Jesus’ words – they did not possess the capacity – precisely because they belonged to the devil; equivalently, Jesus states that those not of God cannot “hear” His words. In accordance with Romans 8-10, the problem of the Jews wasn’t with their ears, per se, but with their minds, which were set on flesh (unregenerate). We come to faith by hearing God’s word, but it doesn’t profit our soul to hear the word if we don’t belong to God.

So much for establishing why I must be a regenerate to “hear and submit to the voice of my Shepherd.” What remains is to connect this with why I historically (!) believe[d] the Protestant canon to be God’s extant word.

1 John 4:4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome [the spirit of the antichrist], because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.
6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

It is not a little important that the context of this statement is surrounded by passages dedicated to expressing that which regeneration causes (righteous behavior – 2:29; obedience to God’s law – 3:9-26; knowing God and lives in love – 4:7-16; belief, love, obedience, and victory over the world – 5:1-4; safety from the devil and sinless behavior – 5:18), and that the most relevant one – knowing God – is found right after the passage in question. To be honest, I think these passages are rather self-evident: “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us” is obviously a reference to the apostles. We know God because He regenerates us, so those whom He regenerates will listen to those whom He sent to be His messengers of good news. Moreover, the inverse is true, as we have seen: “whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” That is to say, only regenerates are capable of submitting to the words of God as conveyed by His messengers: “This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” One who is regenerate knows and submits God, His words, and His messengers because that is the very purpose of regeneration (Romans 8:7-9, 10:17, and 1 Peter 1:3)! Regeneration is the precondition for a lively hope, a prerequisite in order to “hear” God’s word and, so doing, come to faith. But our faith is not empty: it’s object is the propositions of the gospel, which necessitates the idea we can discern what the gospel is (and hence, as John writes, who the bearers of the gospel are).

Finally, returning to the gospel of John to tie these points together (even though I consider the matter already settled):

John 10:1 "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.
3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."
6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.
8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.
13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—
15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.


1. Jesus is talking about gathering His sheep (who were considered to be His sheep before they entered Him!).
2. He says the sheep will listen to the Shepherd alone. Question: how does a sheep know his Shepherd’s voice (i.e. that it is indeed His voice, the extent of His words)?
a. The sheep follow the Shepherd because they hear His voice (I can’t stress that enough, given the rampant existentialism in present-day “Christendom”).
b. The sheep follow their shepherd because they know their Shepherd (which parallels the above exposition of 1 John 4, also ensuring the regenerate the apostles were given the authority to act as the mediators of our Shepherd’s actual words)
3. The sheep will follow their shepherd (this submission is due to “irresistible,” regenerative grace).

Jesus is being perfectly clear. The sheep He is gathering will recognize and follow His voice because of the nature of the sheep and the Shepherd’s voice. I recognize[d] the Protestant canon as my Shepherd’s voice because as a regenerated sheep, I am able and willing to listen and submit to His word, whether or not communicated efficiently or through His prophets. I’m not a red-letter Christian; the application of this passage extends beyond Jesus’ “own” words to those whom God sent to communicate His word. All Scripture is God-breathed.

And as if this weren’t enough, Jesus has to reiterate His own statements to the Jews… again:

10:26 You do not believe because you are not my sheep.
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

Given what we’ve just read, these words are a neat summation of the topic. Those who don’t believe are not sheep (or if they are, they haven't yet been called); those who do believe are regenerated sheep, i.e. sheep whose Shepherd has effectually called them – sheep who know their Shepherd’s voice because He regenerates or makes them belong to Him, speaks to them, and causes them to know Him and His word by whatever means it is communicated to them.

You may find the following short posts apropos:

Again, please recall that this discussion is meant to establish the historical reason I accept[ed] the Protestant canon. As you read in our previous discussion and the wall posts to [deleted] et. al., you should know that my first principle itself entails what the canon is, so I'm not reasoning circularly (i.e. I'm not arguing that my exegesis is a premise for my first principle, as that would mean my first principle is no longer my first principle); rather, this exegesis suffices to show that my epistemological “system” is self-affirming, or that I’m not just making up a canon arbitrarily."


Anonymous said...

There is a problem with your reasoning: Jesus used the deuterocanonicals. If they are good enough for Him to consider as Scripture, why are they not good enough for you?

Ryan said...

Paul utilized poetry to make points. Do you infer from that fact that Paul thought that the source from which he was citing was inspired? Or does the context in which Christ was making His statement make is clear He is referring to a deuterocanonical work as inspired? Does He preface the quotation (I assume it was a quotation) with "It is written," the standard means of expressing that a book was indeed inspired? You're going to have to give me more to go on than a throwaway comment.

Rhology said...

Where did He use them? How does dreamergal know, I wonder?

Ryan said...

I never anticipated a response. I think she is a RC in a facebook group from which I have been banned for "proselytizing."

Brent Stubbs said...

"Historically, I believe the Catholic canon to be God's word because God regenerated me, and as a regenerate I hear and submit to the voice of my Shepherd"

"Historically, I believe the Mormon canon to be God's word because God regenerated me, and as a regenerate I hear and submit to the voice of my Shepherd"

"Historically, I believe the Arian canon to be God's word because God regenerated me, and as a regenerate I hear and submit to the voice of my Shepherd"

"Historically, I believe the __________ canon to be God's word because God regenerated me, and as a regenerate I hear and submit to the voice of my Shepherd"

How does this move the conversation forward?

Would your reply be(?):

""Historically, I don't believe in the ____________ canon to be God's word because God regenerated me, and as a regenerate I hear and submit to the voice of my Shepherd"

Rhology said...

These reductios don't work b/c the other systems you named are not in fact consistent with the contents of the New Testament.

Ryan said...

To add to what rhology said, so far as I know, in none of these other belief systems does regeneration precede faith in God's word. But if not, then your copycat attempt is completely disanalogous.