The Canon Of Life

I wanted to call this blog entry Sola Vitae, but changed my mind because I didn’t want to appear to be “putting on airs.” I don’t know Latin. Nevertheless, the idea for that title did seem to come to me by inspiration, and if you’ll follow along with me here, you’ll see why.

During the Reformation someone came up with the Latin phrase sola scriptura—Scripture alone—to proclaim the rule that is to govern all points of doctrine and practice for the Christian. The canon of Scripture, as it is called, is to be the determining rule for establishing Christian doctrine and practice. I myself am of this persuasion, as is the Bible. “All scripture,” saith the Bible, “is given by inspiration of God [is God-breathed] and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim 3:16,17). The implication of course is that what is not God-breathed is not to be used for doctrine and practice.

When Paul wrote this to Timothy, it was the Old Testament scriptures he had in mind, scriptures Timothy had been taught from his childhood, scriptures that were “able to make [him] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” as Paul has just said in the previous verse. Yet even as Paul wrote this to Timothy, he was adding another writing to writings that were becoming recognized as divinely-inspired scriptures (2 Pt 3:16), documents that would accompany the Old Testament scriptures and eventually complete what we now know as the canon, the rule, of Scripture. The 39 books of the Old Testament were recognized as the canon of Scripture in the days of Jesus and earlier. The 27 books of the New Testament were recognized as the complete canon of Scripture at least as early as the second century. Other writings of the day, while they may have been interesting or informative one way or another, were recognized as not having the same divinely inspired and authoritative stamp.

Our English word canon is from the Greek kanon, which Strong’s defines simply as rule. That, in turn, is derived from the Hebrew kaneh, which in the Old Testament is often translated reed. We find it in Ezekiel  40:3 where in prophetic vision he sees a man in white linen with the appearance of bronze. He is about to show Ezekiel a temple. The man has “a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed…” In the New Testament Paul uses kanon three times in 2 Corinthians 10:13-16 referring to the limits of the area God had measured out for him in which to proclaim the Gospel. Paul was not free to preach wherever he wanted; he had to stay within those limits. In fact, even within those limits he could not go wherever he liked, he had to abide in the steps God had set before him.

Paul uses this word in a different context in Galatians, and this will lead us into the meaning of the title I coined for this blog entry (which about doubles my Latin vocabulary):               

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature [or, creation]. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (Gal. 6:14-16)

It’s the phrase, “walk according to this rule” that we want to look at more closely. The word walk in Scripture is usually peripateo, which means something like “to walk around.” Peri: around, as in looking around with a periscope. Patio: something you walk around on. When Paul says “walk in the Spirit,” it’s the word peripateo that he uses (Gal 5:16). Walk around in the Spirit: everything you do, everywhere you go, walk in the Spirit.

Amen. Yet, that is not the word Paul uses here; it is stoicheo he uses here, which means “to keep in step, to walk in rank.” The thought is of ordered steps. This is the word Paul uses when he speaks of those who, whether circumcised or uncircumcised, “walk (stoicheo) in the steps [footsteps, or tracks] of that faith of our father Abraham…” (Rom. 4:12). So we see the idea there—walking in someone else’s tracks, ordered steps. Luke uses it in Act 21:24, where James is exhorting Paul to purify himself prior to keeping a vow, thus demonstrating that the rumors that were going around about him—that he was teaching Jews living among the Gentiles to “forsake Moses” and didn’t need to circumcise their sons or keep the Jewish customs—James urges Paul to show the Jews here in Jerusalem that all this is false, but rather, Paul, “thou walkest orderly, and keepest the law.” Some teach that Paul really messed up here, but God had His own way of rescuing him out of it before it involved animal sacrifice; and in any case this would have accorded with Paul’s own desire to be “all things to all men.”

 Unto the Jew I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under law as under law, that I might gain them that are under the law… (1 Cor. 9:19-22)

This rule

But back to the Galatians passage. What rule does Paul have in mind by this rule?  

He has just said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule (Gk. kanon)…” This, then, is the rule he is referring to—the canon, the rule, of the new creation, of new creation life, by which those in Christ are graced to order their steps.

Let’s back up a little further. “For, in Christ Jesus…” What is that for there for? What does he mean by for? It follows immediately upon this:

 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom [or, by which] the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

In other words, those in the world are either of the circumcision or the uncircumcision. But Paul in the crucified Christ is now dead to the world, and the world is dead to him, the world with its rules has no claim on him anymore. As he says in another place, “if ye died with Christ unto the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances…?” (Col. 2:20). Those in the world are either Jews or Gentiles, either circumcised or uncircumcised; now in the risen and glorified Christ, Paul is a new creation who walks according to a different rule, the rule of the new creation.

The whole epistle to the Galatian churches is Paul’s outcry against certain teachers who were trying to persuade new Gentile believers that in addition to faith in Christ they were required to keep the Old Covenant law, all of which was summed up in the one word, circumcision. Definitely not, said Paul. Not anymore. In Christ Jesus it is no more a matter of the rule of Moses that Israel was once required to keep, nor of any other rule by which Gentiles—the uncircumcised—were themselves restrained from walking after the natural inclination of the heart of fallen man. Rather, all those in Christ whether Jew or Gentile, are now a new creation, and the new creation man walks by a different rule, the rule of new creation life—the New Covenant law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. This is a law not of restraint, but of liberty. No, not the liberty of “doing your own thing.” On the contrary, it is walking in the ordered steps—the stoicheo—of a much higher and far more beautiful law. In Christ Jesus life is a rule. The life of the new creation man is a canon, a rule. How wondrous is that!

I said at the start that sola scriptura is a rule that I espouse. I am in fellowship with others who do the same and determine not to move a hair’s breadth from this rule. We are zealous for this, passionate about it. But oh, brothers and sisters, oh that we had the same zeal, the same passion, the same dedication, to sola vitae—life alonethe same determination to walk in the liberating confines of the steps of the rule, the canon, of new creation life. Upon these Paul pronounces a benediction.

As many as walk according to this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

12 responses »

  1. Andre Lefebvre

    Well done, Allan, I think this deserves a sequel, though. There seems to be more to be unpacked, am I wrong? I was ready for more… 🙂

    Blessings to you and your beloved, and friends,

    Andre

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    • Thank you, Andre, good to hear from you after so long a time!
      Yes, there is more, and your comment serves as a witness to me that I should proceed with it.
      In due time! Thanks again.

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      • Great! Peering into the mist and yet seeing a solid thread of the new Creation revealed…

        Christ with me,
        Christ before me,
        Christ behind me,
        Christ in me,
        Christ beneath me,
        Christ above me,
        Christ on my right,
        Christ on my left,
        Christ when I lie down,
        Christ when I sit down,
        Christ when I arise,
        Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
        Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
        Christ in every eye that sees me,
        Christ in every ear that hears me.

        I arise today
        Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
        Through belief in the Threeness,
        Through confession of the Oneness
        of the Creator of creation.

        – St.Patrick’s Breastplate

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  2. “Let not sin therefore REIGN in your mortal body,that you should obey it , in the lusts thereof.
    Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are ALIVE from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
    For sin shall NOT HAVE DOMINION over you: for you are not under the law, BUT UNDER “SOLO VITAE” (GRACE)!

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    • Yes, Robert, Paul refers to the same “rule” of new creation life in Rom 5:17. “…Much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in LIFE by one, Jesus Christ.” I used to always read that passage wrong– shall reign in life, that is, in all we go through in this life. That’s true, of course, but it misses what Paul had in mind. Those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness have the ability to reign in the indomitable power of LIFE.

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  3. Amen brother, many excellent thoughts, the life of Christ in us and working “through us” is what is needed. It comes by promise, faith and that life manifests for God’s glory. I agree with this “life only”. A wonderful emphasis needed indeed.

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  4. Susanna Perry-Ettel

    Plumbing and mining the depths as usual, and as brilliantly well. Particularly loved your line, “Yet even as Paul wrote this to Timothy, he was adding another writing to writings that were becoming recognized as divinely-inspired scriptures.” That’s an a-HA moment!

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  5. There are many things here that tie together. Grace is defined as divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life of the recipient. Grace and truth come from the Word made flesh that tabernacles among us. Life comes by hearing the voice of the Son, the Word. (Hearing, from the Hebrew perspective, implies both hearing and obeying,) This grace has appeared to all mankind, bringing salvation, teaching salvation, teaching life. All three of these are bound together with hearing and following the voice of the shepherd who is come to give life, abundant life. Isaiah implores all to delight yourselves in fatness of listening that your souls may live.

    You may be interested to see the work I am doing on the book of John, looking at the text through the lens of the Jewish Passover, which is a theme of life and how we are to pass from death to life. You can see parts 1 through 8 on my blog at https://thiswasthetruelight.wordpress.com

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    • Thanks Ellis. Yes, I recall George Fox writing often of the grace that having appeared, brings salvation, and teaches. Grace that teaches. That is teaching with the power of grace and life in it. I will have a look at your blog.

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