A. B. Caneday, “‘Lest after preaching to others I become disqualified’: Grace and Warning in Paul’s Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:23-17),” Testamentum Imperium, An International Theological Journal, Vol 1: 2005-2007: 1-32. View the article online here.
As a longer version of this review will likely be published in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society in the Spring, I will simply give a brief review here.
Exegetical Observations and Comments by Caneday Are Few
Concerning the loss of rewards view Caneday says, “Their exegetical comments tend to be brief, laconic, void of exegetical development, lacking in theological adeptness and even-handedness, but at the same time they tend to be conveyed in an ipso facto manner, with an air of authority and finality incommensurate with supporting evidence and argument” (p. 10). It strikes me that Caneday has criticized others for things of which he is guilty (Matt 7:3).
There are almost no exegetical comments by the author at all in the first 19 pages. I did find one place where Caneday makes a few grammatical observations to defend his view of the meaning sunkoinōnos autou (lit. sharer with it) in 1 Cor 9:23 (p. 18). His comments there are excellent. Unfortunately, such comments are exceeding rare in this paper.
Even starting on page 20 when he begins to defend his own view, there is very little in the way of exegesis. When he begins explaining and defending his own view, what we find are what could rightly be called statements “conveyed in an ipso facto manner, with an air of authority and finality incommensurate with supporting evidence and argument.” For example, he writes, “By “fellow partaker of the gospel” (sunkoinōnos autou), Paul means a fellow participant in the gospel with those whom he saved through the proclamation of the good news” (p. 20). And what does he believe that means? He concludes that paragraph with this sentence: “This continual need of faithfulness that he might be saved in the Day of Judgment is the burden of his reasoning throughout 1 Corinthians 9” (p. 21). In other words, in 1 Cor 9:23 by fellow partaker of the gospel Paul meant that through his work for Christ he hoped to avoid eternal condemnation. The issue for Caneday is not ruling with Christ and eternal rewards, but getting into the Kingdom and avoiding hell.
Now what proof does he cite to prove his understanding that in v 23 Paul was expressing his hope that he might finally receive the benefit of the gospel’s saving power? None. He does not cite other uses of koinōnos or koinōnia or koinōneō in Paul or elsewhere. He does not cite other uses of sunkoinōnos or sunkoinōneō in Paul or in the NT. He doesn’t discuss whether this entire expression, “fellow partaker of the gospel” occurs elsewhere.
Caneday doesn’t discuss the other 7 uses of adokimos in the NT. Nor does he comment on the 7 uses of dokimos, the antonym of adokimos, in the NT. It would seem that 2 Tim 2:15, for example, is very germane to the exegesis of 1 Cor 9:24-27.
I found no word studies in this paper. I found no comparison with other texts in which Paul speaks of approval or disapproval or of everlasting life (since Caneday believes that Paul is talking about that here).
His Rejection of Merit Theology for Rewards Doesn’t
Explain Away Merit Theology for Everlasting Life
Commenting on a note in The New Scofield Reference Bible, Caneday writes,
“The note conveys an ostensible tone of authority and finality without any tinge of awareness concerning the egregious doctrinal miscarriage it propounds: a Protestant doctrine of merit with an implied Protestant doctrine of purgatory” (p. 7).
I was struck by his expression “a Protestant doctrine of merit.” If he rejects merit for eternal rewards, then he is embracing merit for what he calls final salvation, is he not?
I don’t see how Caneday can get away from the idea that a prize (brabeion) is pay for work done.
Caneday states his view and does not deal with potential objections to his view. Part of exegesis is considering and handling possible objections to your own view. That he does not do that is surprising.
Why No Comparison with Other Texts in Paul Like Ephesians 2:8-9?
He wrote, “The gospel requires faithful endurance from us in order that we might lay hold of salvation in the age to come” (p. 3). How does that harmonize that our salvation is “not as a result of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:9)? Or how does that not contradict the Lord’s statement, “He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35)?
Caneday also made this remarkable statement, “What Paul says is urgent not only for him but for all who would have a share in God’s saving power. Lest we assume that salvation is our regardless how we behave, the apostle appeals to us with his extended analogy, the athletic imagery of [1 Cor] 9:24-27” (p. 23). If our salvation (i.e., entrance into the Kingdom) depends on how we behave as Caneday says, then doesn’t that contract Eph 2:9 and Rom 4:4-5 and Titus 3:5? And doesn’t that contradict what the Lord Jesus taught as recorded in the Gospel of John? Where is behavior in John 3:16? Is not everlasting life for whoever believes in Him, not for whoever behaves in Him?
Caneday Rejects Eternal Security Apart from Perseverance
Caneday criticizes me for my suggestion that one who believes in Jesus is eternally secure regardless of whether he perseveres or not. He writes, “Wilkin embraces a radicalized version of eternal security that is void of and disconnected from perseverance in the faith” (p. 11, italics his).
Calvinism has been changing in academic circles. Now many Calvinists speak freely of perseverance in good works as a condition of escaping eternal condemnation, of final justification by works before God on the Last Day, and of final salvation as a prize won by the believers who is faithful. Anyone not blinded by modern scholarship would call such statements examples of works salvation. Like the emperor with no clothes, no matter how much Caneday says he doesn’t believe in works salvation, his protestations are only believable to the people already in the choir.
Already, But Not Yet, Is Quite Confusing in This Article
As with the book he co-authored, Caneday promotes salvation as something the believer already has and also as something the believer does not yet have.
Here is what he seems to be saying: the true believer already has everlasting life as a gift now and he will later win everlasting life as a prize for working for Christ until the end. The professing believer, on the other hand, doesn’t really have everlasting life as a free gift now, nor will he win it as a prize for perseverance works later. I indicate that he seems to be saying this, for Caneday is not clear. He never speaks of professing believers or of true believers. Only once in the article does he say that anyone who has eternal life now will assuredly win it on the Last Day. Aside from that one reference one would think he was saying that the present experience of eternal life does not guarantee winning the prize in the future.
Caneday believes that Paul was not sure of his eternal destiny when he wrote 1 Cor 9:24-27. Does that make any sense? Are we to believe that he wrote 13 NT epistles and yet did not know he was born again? It is hard to believe that the man who came to faith by meeting the risen Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus did not know whether he was truly regenerate. When he was healing the sick and raising the dead was he unsure he would get into the Kingdom?
This view seems another way to be able both to preach and deny justification by faith alone, apart from works. Pastors and theologians will go to great lengths today to come up with a way of getting perseverance in good works into the equation of justification by faith alone, apart from works.
I believe that Caneday has good intentions. However, if he has departed from the Word of God on the condition of everlasting life, then he is leading many people astray on the single most important issue in Scripture. And he is missing out on the joy of being assured of his eternal destiny. I wish that joy for Caneday.