The Reformers’ Canon? (N.T Wright)

Jesus, Paul, the People of God and N.T. Wright
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Wright, in responding to Vanhoozer’s essay, notes that in listening to the Reformers in their canonical context, that the moderns must be reminded that “it privileged a reading of Romans and Galatians which, arguably, does not do full justice to either of those texts; it began a long, slow process of pushing Ephesian and Colossians towards the margins; and it paid remarkably little attention to the four Gospels and their deep theology of God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven.” (p260)

Don’t you agree? Luther’s commentary on Galatians is a must read as is nearly about anything on Romans from Calvin and Luther. Yet, the force of reconciliation and the role of the Church in Ephesians and Colossians is strangely absent. Not to say that Zwingli, Luther and Calvin didn’t write on them, but it seems to me that for the Reformation, and thus the neo-Reformed, the two books which take precedence at Romans and Galatians.

Oddly enough, my two books are Ephesians and Colossians… although I wouldn’t say that they are my canon-within-a-canon. They are just the two books which shed the most light on what God is doing through Christ and the Church in bring about the New Creation.

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8 Replies to “The Reformers’ Canon? (N.T Wright)”

  1. The book is a fascinating read, as are most of N.T. Wright’s works.

    The “privileging” of Romans and Galatians, over Ephesians, Colossians, the Gospels . . . and, for that matter, the unfortunately-obscure-to-many Epistle to the Hebrews . . . has occurred for primarily theological and partisan reasons. In addition, the Letter of James was particularly inconvenient for the Reformers. And, many modernists believe, 1 Timothy couldn’t have been written by Paul, it is too hierarchical in its approach. The list goes on . . .

    As an aside, but related to the privileged status of Romans and Galatians, I have recently discovered the “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” vs. “faith in Jesus Christ” controversy surrounding the translation of Rom 3:22 and Gal 2:16. Although I am early in my reading on the subject (L.T. Johnson’s Reading Romans and F.J. Matera’s Galatians), the “faith of” translation seems to makes much more sense when considering the overall canon: we are justified (acquitted) by the faithfulness of Jesus, which therefore leads us to faith in Christ. It is a both/and, not an either/or.

    It seems to me that the substitution of “of” for “in” in Rom 3:22 and Gal 2:16 completely refocuses our understanding of justification and the ensuing theological controversies that have plagued Christianity since the Reformation.

    Is it possible that much of the conflict in modern Christianity may be founded, in part, on both this privileging of the text and a simple mistranslation of that text?

    1. Tom, I have to agree with you and nearly everything you say here, and I add nearly only to leave me wiggle room!

      But, I have to wonder how Protestantism might have come about, or indeed, all of Christianity in the West, if that was better translated.

  2. Joel, with respect to privileging certain texts, and the idea of a canon-within-the-canon, we must constantly remind ourselves to “. . . [b]e especially attentive ‘to the content and unity of the whole Scripture'” (CCC 112). This is a simple statement, but a very challenging task for biblical scholarship.

    The Word of God is the entire canon of Scripture. While individual texts have historical/literary/theological significance within their own context, the ultimate meaning of the Word is understood through the context of the entire canon. This requires acquiring a broad and deep understanding, both within a given text and between texts.

    There is no simple way to do this, except, when reading Scripture to constantly alter our focus . . . from individual book-chapter-verse to a canon-wide sense of the meaning of any individual text of Scripture. We get into trouble when we proof-text and forget that the ultimate meaning comes out of the context of the entire canon.

    Ephesians and Colossians are not less canonical then Romans and Galatians. When scholars privilege texts, we should immediately be suspicious of an agenda or of pre-supposed conclusions in their scholarship.

  3. I find it fascinating that Revelation is often read without taking into account Johns other writings… I know many whom it would seem their canon within the canon is that book 🙁

    Personally I’m tending towards a narrative foundational approach to understanding the frame work of the Epistles. (Gospels, Luke / Acts) For in the Gospels / Acts we read the very message that the Apostles preached and how they preached it.

    1. Craig, you cite an insightful example of a canon-within-the-canon approach with the Book of Revelation. Many who immerse themselves in Revelation would never take the Gospel of John seriously . . . especially the Bread of Life discourse.

      I would be curious as to others opinions as to the reasons for a canon-within-the-canon approach by so many to their faith. Is it a lack of a broad exposure to Scripture generally, that their faith has developed in a narrow sense? Or is there a resonance with a personalized sense of their faith, that leads someone to focus exclusively on a specific text or texts?

      The development of a broad sense of Scripture . . . the unity and universality of the Word of God . . . is essential to developing a full understanding of God’s Word. How this perspective is specifically accomplished is one of my principle areas of interest. Do you have any suggestions about specific narrative foundational approaches, and do any of these approaches apply to the entire canon, OT and NT?

      1. Tom, I think we have to start with the narrative of approach of “God with us.” The OT can only be understood through that approach…God was with Abraham. God was with Israel, Jacob and within that narrative what did it mean for God’s presence to depart from them?

        Within the NT again its God is with us… and continues to be with us. Therefore it begs the question what does it mean that God is with us?

        I come from a charismatic perspective, that God continually continues to be with us, gracing us with all his graces and therefore my narrative frame work continues within a personal experience of God being with us.

    2. I can see that. I do think that the narrative of the Gospels/Acts is important, but I think that it is incomplete without Revelation, which in my opinion is the Fifth Gospel

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