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Scripture in Midstream

“The way Scripture works to order and to re-order is not that Scripture lays from scratch a foundation on which we then build with integrity. It is not that—according to either the Puritan vision or the Catholic one—the Bible provides a changeless charter. It is rather the case that Scriptures are appealed to as a critical instance in the controversies about reformation and change. The church is not built upon a canon. Scripture comes into being with status as “canon” in midstream, as a believing community needs to illuminate and adjudicate choices among alternative futures in order to be true to the common past. It is then that Scriptures are called upon; only when they are thus called upon does a second order ruling become necessary (“canon” in the narrower sense) as to which witnesses we agree we can all appeal to. The creation of ‘Scripture’ is thus a critical event and not a conservative phenomenon.”

~ John Howard Yoder, To Hear the Word (Forthcoming edition)


  1. Brad A. wrote:

    “The church is not built upon a canon.” No, but the church is built upon a confession which makes sense only within a canonical context. I very much appreciate Yoder’s take, and I’m sensitive to his hermeneutical perspective, but I think this might just drop Scripture slightly below the level of authority we need to acknowledge. He seems to treat it as no more than a resource – perhaps the most important resource – but just a resource nonetheless.

    Scripture comes into being in the “midstream” of the believing community, but which one? For the church (as opposed to Israel), certainly the Hebrew Scriptures in great part were already fundamental, because it is those Jesus claims to have fulfilled and which provide the context for ecclesial community. So are we talking about just the NT? Certainly the canon was not solidified until perhaps the third century or so, but that doesn’t mean various texts were not considered authoritative in a rather robust sense (even if there were not yet an authoritative list of them).

    Again, I’m sensitive to his argument and am mostly in agreement. I’d just push back a little on these points.

    Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 6:16 am | Permalink
  2. I tend to agree with Brad. I have greatly appreciated Yoder for some time and have a good understanding of his position. He has an excellent chapter on a book about “Evangelical Options” about the Bible, available at

    However, it is my personal opinion that the Church is built on the “prophets and Apostles, with Jesus Christ being the Cornerstone”. This is not a confession, but a deep way-of-living in Christ for me; that begins with God’s own testimony of His beloved Son, first in the Law and the Prophets of the O.T., then in the Gospel records of all that Jesus began to do and teach, and finally in the visions related to the Church by John and Paul concerning the result of the great redemptive act accomplished at the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His enthronement and present reign of righteousness. I agree with those who tell us that it is not that we have to use the Scriptures to assure ourselves that our choices of applying Scripture in our modern day, but rather that we have the obligation to place ourselves into the Biblical narrative to learn with the saints of old all that we must know to live the new life in Christ. I could list a number of men who have taught me how to treat the Biblical record in this way byt perhaps the one who has helped the most is Paul S. Minear, throught his writings, many of which are being republished in the new century.

    Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 7:24 am | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    I think when this quote is taken in the context of Yoder’s other essays on the topic, like “The Authority of Tradition” and “The Authority of the Canon” it may be able to be read in a way that addresses your concerns. I think what Yoder is doing here is showing how viewing the scriptural canon as the authoritative rule of the church does not require the sort of formalistic and ultimately untenable position of post-Reformation scholasticism. In other words, I think what he’s often up to is saying, in an ecumenical context, ‘Look, it makes sense for us to think that the church can seriously go wrong and that Scripture can be our authority for navigating such unfaithfulness.’

    Because often for Catholics and Orthodox the claim that Scripture can be an authority over against the church in a strong sense just doesn’t make sense and tends to be scoffed at.

    Saturday, June 20, 2009 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  4. Brad A. wrote:

    That makes sense, Halden. I can certainly see that point.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 4:34 am | Permalink
  5. Brad A. wrote:

    …Although I think his quote here challenges evangelicalism at least as much as the higher church traditions.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 4:35 am | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    Indeed. Yoder did seek to challenge both.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    John, I agree about the importance of Paul Minear. In fact, he is a major influence on Yoder’s views of Scripture. This is especially seen in Yoder’s To Hear the Word. Once the second edition comes out I would highly recommend it to you.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  8. Mike Southon wrote:

    This concept of scripture seems very focused on how the church is built, how it directs itself, and how it calls upon the Bible. Is there any discussion of how God makes his eternal will known?

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  9. james wrote:

    Anything on Iran?

    Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

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