The Authority And Meaning Of The Christian Canon: A Response To Gerald Sheppard On Canon Criticism -- By: John Piper

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 19:2 (Spring 1976)
Article: The Authority And Meaning Of The Christian Canon: A Response To Gerald Sheppard On Canon Criticism
Author: John Piper


The Authority And Meaning Of The Christian Canon:
A Response To Gerald Sheppard On Canon Criticism

John Piper*

In the October 1974 issue of Studia Biblica et Theologica, an article by Gerald Sheppard appeared entitled “Canon Criticism: The Proposal of Brevard Childs and an Assessment for Evangelical Hermeneutics.” It has been a helpful stimulus to my own thinking. I found especially provocative his critique of the “historical-grammatical” method of exegesis. But if I understand Childs and Sheppard, I do not agree with the direction in which they are moving. In this response I want to show in what respects and why I cannot agree.

“The dissolution of the Biblical Theology Movement stems from the atomizing effects of critical studies on the Biblical text and from a loss of consensus regarding wherein lies the authority of Scripture for doing theology.”1 With this sentence Sheppard, following Childs,2 pinpoints the two problem areas to which he addresses himself: (1) the problem of authority—that is, where does our authority lie and on what basis is Scripture authoritative; (2) the problem of interpretation—that is, given an authoritative source, how shall we discover its meaning so that its authoritative message becomes efiective in the Church? The road to which Sheppard points for solving these two problems is in my judgment misdirected.

I. The Problem Of Authority

The burden of Sheppard and Childs is to set forth and defend the Christian canon as the authority on which a new and fruitful Biblical theology can be based. They do not find authority in “the basic historicity of the Bible … the intention of Jesus, or the gospel kerygma … In conscious opposition to this approach to hermeneutics, the confession of the Christian canon as the context for Biblical theology makes the claim that the ‘theological data’ of the Bible does not lie in some form of positivity behind the text, such as Heilsgeschichte, language phenomenology, or in a mode of consciousness illustrated by the text,

*John Piper is assistant professor of Biblical studies at Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota.

such as authentic existence or the like.”3 The canon in its final form is normative for the Christian faith. What this actually means can only be seen when we pose the question of how we determine the meaning of the canon (see section II).

The basic problem of authority for the Christian, then, is this: On what basis do we claim that the Christian canon is...

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