35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2012
Since entering college, some ten years ago (wow! I'm feeling old just typing that!), I have been especially interested in issues related to New Testament canon development. In the course of my study through undergrad, graduate school, and now in the midst of PhD research, I have read many helpful books on the canon. For instance, there are classics by F.F. Bruce and Bruce Metzger seemingly available on demand. Newer works by Lee Martin McDonald, James Sanders, and Philip Comfort have further provided valuable insights. I was excited to see Michael Kruger's Canon Revisited published by Crossway but I wondered what would set it apart from the aforementioned resources. So, what does, if anything, make Kruger's book worthwhile?
In a general sense, much of what is covered in Canon Revisited is standard fare for canon study. However, even the standard material is up-to-date with the latest findings of prominent researchers. Yet, what sets Kruger's volume apart from others has less to do with the content of his research and more to do with the application of his methodology. Early on, Kruger presents his case for understanding the New Testament canon as self-attesting. Realizing that such a claim is highly controversial in both theology in general and in bibliology specifically, Kruger carefully nuances his definition in a manner that is both well argued and winsome. Frankly, it was this section on self-attestation that caused me to fall in love with Canon Revisited. The remainder of the text approaches issues of canonicity through this lens and does so in a fashion that takes well established data and presents it in a new and theologically satisfying fashion.
In conclusion, Canon Revisited is an excellent book and a must-read for anyone doing canon research. If you can get past the less than attractive color combination (burnt orange, gold, and carolina blue? really?) on the front cover, you will find an informative and enjoyable foray New Testament canon development.
66 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2012
I've been trying how to figure out how my readers can know if they should read Michael Kruger's newest book, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. I think I've found a way.
Try to answer the following question:
Why are the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John included in the New Testament but those attributed to Peter, Thomas, and Mary Magdalene aren't?
If you honestly don't know or if your memory is a bit fuzzy, then you should pick up Kruger's book.
Kruger is a professor of New Testament and academic dean at Reformed Theological Seminary (in my good state of North Carolina). He wrote Canon Revisited to show Christians that they are justified in believing in the 27 books of the New Testament. To do this, Kruger looks at how people have tried to determine how the canon was established and the historical proof that the church had a core canon in mind early in its existence.
I'll give an overview of the book before moving on to what I did and didn't like.
(A note before the review. This is a complex topic to tackle, and I've done my best to fairly present Kruger's argument. If you've read the book and spot an error, please let me know so I can fix it.)
Kruger's first two chapters examine what he thinks are faulty methods of determining the canon.
The community determined model argues that the canon is made by the community (in this case, the church). The historically determined model argues that the 27 NT books can be verified through historical investigation. Kruger thinks both models have their individual problems, but he also sees a common denominator to them both: they appeal to sources outside of Scripture to verify the authority of Scripture.
This is a problem, as Kruger explains:
" .. as we have already noted, this approach overlooks the unique nature of the canon. The canon, as God's Word, is not just true, but the criterion of truth. It is an ultimate authority. ... If we try to validate an ultimate authority by appealing to some other authority, then we have just shown that it is not really the ultimate authority." (pg. 91)
Kruger instead argues for the self-authentication of Scripture, which he defines as "the way the canon itself provides the necessary direction and guidance about how it is to be authenticated" (pg. 91). He writes:
" ... for a canon to be the canon, it must be self-authenticating. ... Rather than looking only to its reception (community determined), or only to its origins (historically determined), this model would, in a sense, let the canon have a voice in its own authentication." (pg. 89)
According to Kruger, God has given us the proper epistemic environment in which we can know what books belong in the New Testament, and this setting involves three components:
1. Providential exposure - For the church to recognize a book as canonical, it must have had access to it.
2. Attributes of canonicity - The books bear the marks of divinity, were received by the church, and have apostolic origins.
3. The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit - The Spirit overcomes the effects of sin and produces belief in a person's heart that certain books are from God.
"These three components must all be in place if we are to have knowledge of the canon. We cannot know canonical books unless we have access to those books (providential exposure); we need some way to distinguish canonical books from other books (attributes of canonicity); and we need to have some basis for thinking we can rightly identify these attributes (internal work of the Spirit)." (pg. 94)
The following chapters explore the three attributes of canonicity, listed in #2 above. In his discussion of the divine qualities of the books, their corporate reception, and their apostolic origins, Kruger takes on what he calls "defeaters": arguments that could be used against these various components.
"The Divine Qualities of the Canon" examines the divine qualities of the canonical books--such as their power and theological harmony--and how the early church recognized these qualities. Kruger also addresses critics who insist that the New Testament is "a mix of contradictory and embattled theological camps" (pg. 146). Here, Kruger takes issue with people like Bart Ehrman, who have argued that the Christianity we have is the one that won the battle to be known as "orthodox". Kruger's response:
"If the current form of the canon includes the preferred books of the theological winners and thereby represents a loss of great diversity, how, at the same time, can one claim that the canon is composed of contradictory theological camps? One cannot argue that the canon is the `invention' of the proto-orthodox designed to suppress the opposition and then turn around and argue that the canon is a cacophony of diverse theological viewpoints that stand in opposition." (pg. 146)
In "The Apostolic Origins of the Canon", Kruger argues that the New Testament was a natural result of the new covenant established by God and the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ on behalf of all humanity. The books of the Old Testament were the documents of God's covenant with Israel. Through Jesus Christ, God had established a new covenant between Himself and humanity. Since the old covenant had its books, the new covenant would have a set as well.
"Thus, there would have been clear expectations that this new covenant, like the old covenant, would be accompanied by the appropriate written texts to testify to the terms of the new arrangement that God was establishing with his people" (166).
The "apostolic office" is "the guardian, preserver, and transmitter of the message of redemption" (pg. 174). The apostolicity of a book does not necessarily mean that it was written by an apostle, but rather, it looks at "whether a document was considered to bear authoritative apostolic tradition" (pg. 182).
"Early Christians not only had a framework for canon (covenant), and a compelling reason for a canon (redemption), but they also had agents from God as means to implement and disseminate that canon (apostles)." (pg. 193)
"The Corporate Reception of the Canon" is the main title for three chapters, which examine the emergence of a canonical core, the productions of Christian books, and problem books and canonical boundaries, respectively.
In "The Emergence of a Canonical Core", Kruger writes that we should expect the early church to have a predominant opinion in which books were canonical, even if there wasn't uniform agreement. Why was there disagreement? Kruger lists the following as reasons: false teachers, spiritual opposition to the church, people resisting the Holy Spirit because of their sin, and that not everyone who claims to be a Christian truly is one.
"Manuscripts and Christian Book Production" looks at our surviving copies of these books and how they were collected and categorized, and how those things can tell us a lot about how the early church used certain books. (More on this below.) "Problem Books and Canonical Boundaries" looks at books there were not in the "core" canon of the second century.
The final chapter is a summary of the book's arguments.
What I Liked
- The central strength of this book is that it gives plenty of ammunition against the repeated claims that Christians picked and chose what books suited them and left other, equally valid books out of the canon. From the discussions to the role of the codex to the examination of how the Patristics received certain books, a Christian looking to defend their reasons for having the correct New Testament would be well suited in picking up Kruger's book.
For instance, in "Manuscripts and Christian Book Production", Kruger refutes the idea that there were several different Christianities competing for theological dominance. He notes that the New Testament books were far more popular than the apocryphal ones (such as the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, etc.).
"... there are more manuscripts of the Gospel of John than there are of all the 'apocryphal' books combined" (238)
Why is this important? Because if the groups that wrote the apocryphal books were more than just a minority, then their production of their books would have been far greater than it actually was.
- I enjoyed the discussion on the codices. I didn't realize that the number of lines per page and how the sentences were written could indicate whether a work was designed for public or private settings. In this case, the codices show us that books were used for public worship settings. That books were being lumped together--and that certain books were being excluded from these groups--shows that there was a core canon being defended in the second century.
- Kruger deserves credit for taking such a complicated topic and writing about it in such a way that both popular-level readers and scholars could learn something. I see no reason why Canon Revisited couldn't be read by a Bible study or just someone looking to learn something.
What I Didn't Like
That said, I think the book has some weaknesses.
- When Kruger examines the community-based and historical-based canon models, he finds fault with both of them because they subject the New Testament to an authority outside of itself in order for the canon to be authenticated. The Bible is the final authority, according to Kruger, and cannot be subjected to an outside authority. If it were, then it would no longer be the authority.
Why is this a problem?
Because he didn't devote a single page to defending the idea that the Bible is the ultimate authority from God.
That the Bible is the final authority is something that is assumed throughout the book, but never once does Kruger try to defend this doctrine. Considering it's a key reason for his rejection of the community and historically determined canon models, Kruger should have laid out his argument for why the New Testament is, as he put it, an "ultimate authority" (pg. 91).
- On page 200, footnote 11 explores how the Roman Catholic Church accepted the Deuterocanonical books at the Council of Trent. Kruger argues that (1.) those seven books were never accepted by the Jews, who had a closed Old Testament canon by the time of Jesus and were, in the words of Romans, entrusted with the oracles of God [Romans 3:2], and (2.) the Catholic Church used those books to justify corrupted doctrines and so we have good reason to think that they were no longer the true church of Jesus Christ. Since the Spirit was no longer speaking through the Catholic Church, then we are free to ignore it. That's the argument. The problem is, Catholics can point to instances in which the Disputed Seven were included in canon lists long before trent. Joe at Shameless Popery does that in a post refuting claims by Mark Driscoll on the matter.
- Kruger uses the following as evidence of canonicity--divine qualities, apostolic history, and the witness of the Spirit. He appeals to verses such as John 10:27--"My sheep will hear my voice ... and they will follow me"--as proof that the Scriptures say God will guide His church to know what books belong in the Bible. I think it's worth pointing out that this three-fold proof of canonicity is not laid out in Scripture. Sure, there are passages that talk about God's word being perfect, such as Psalm 19:7: "The law of the Lord is perfect." But how does Kruger arrive at the conclusion that these three things cooperate with each other?
Wherever he got it, it's not from the Bible, which leads me to wonder if he's done the same thing he accuses other people of doing: subjecting the New Testament to an authority outside of itself. I have the same question regarding Kruger's argument that the church only needed a predominant consensus of what constituted the canon and not a unanimous one. Where is this specified in the Bible? I could be mistaken and am open to correction. But right now, I have to think that Kruger has fallen into the same trap that he accuses others of already being ensnared by: using an outside authority to determine the canonicity of the New Testament.
Canon Revisited is a great read if you're looking for historical evidence that the early church had mostly settled the canon question early in its history. I'd recommend it for someone who wants to know why the Gospel of John is in the Bible but not, say, the Gospel of Peter. When it comes to his argument about Scripture being self-authenticating, though, I did not find his book convincing.
Release Date: April 2012
You can also read this review on my personal blog.
Disclaimer: I am a part of Crossway's blog reviewer program. In exchange for a review posted both on my blog and another online retailer's website (such as Amazon), I receive a free copy of a book. I do not get paid for this service, and I am in no way obligated to give it good marks just because I didn't pay for it.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2012
How did the New Testament Canon come to be and why should we regard it as authoritative? My own denomination has historically affirmed scripture as' the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine and conduct,' but is this position defensible? Where does biblical authority rest if the canon was decided upon by the church.
Michael Kruger, professor of New Testament and academic dean at Reformed Theological Seminary, has written a lucid and helpful examination of issues surrounding the formation of the canon and argues convincingly for a self authenticating model of the New Testament canon. Kruger is remarkably gregarious in his approach, often affirming the good in the models he opposes while trying to establish a model of canon which is both faithful to scripture and tradition and can stand up to critical scrutiny. If you read one book about canon formation this year, this book should be it.
The book is organized into two parts. In part one, Kruger presents and evaluates various approaches to Canon formation. In chapter one he critiques `community determined models' which argue that the basis of a book's canonicity is solely determined by the book's recipients (the church or faith community). Of course there are a wide range of community determined approaches: historical-critical, Roman Catholic, Canonical criticism, and Existential/Neo Orthodox. Because of the range of approaches and brevity of Kruger's treatment, he runs the risk of oversimplifying but is generally fair and well documented in his treatment of each model (even separating out the strand of Roman Catholic teaching which seems to affirm his self-authenticating approach from the strand which places the authority of scripture as subservient to the authority of church). In Chapter 2 he critiques the historically determined models (canon within a canon, or criteria for canonicity model) which argue that the historic, apostolic origin of the books in question are the sole basis for their place in the New Testament. Over and against these approaches Kruger presents the Self-Authenticating model (chapter 3) but he draws generously on the insights from both the community and historic models. His self authenticating model has three features:
Providential exposure (only the books the church has or have been exposed to can be considered for canonization
Attributes of Canonization (the New Testament books have a `divine quality,' they are recieved corpoartely and affirmed by the church at large and they have apostolic origins).
The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit confirms the authority of a book and it's place in the canon for believers.
In part 2, Kruger looks more in depth at the attributes of canon (second in the series above) in order to articulate more fully what he means by each and answer particular `defeaters'-scholarly arguments against each of these elements. This gives part 2 of the book a sort of apologetic feel (obviously you need to account for counter arguments in all academic discourse but Kruger places himself firmly on confessional grounds). In articulating the divine attributes of Scripture, Kruger points to the beauty and excellence, the power and efficacy and the unity and harmony of scripture. By beauty and excellence, he isn't referring to literary style or rhetorical flare but the manner that the Bible puts forward the beauty and excellence of Christ. The divine stamp is further evidenced in the power of scripture as a means of grace for people and providing authority in action. God is also seen in the Divine unity of scripture, doctrinally, in articulating the whole redemptive story, and structually. This doesn't mean that each book does not have their own peculiar emphasis and distinctives but that together they present a full picture of who God is and what he is doing in our world.
In articulating the apostolic authorship and the reception of the canon Kruger sets up a rational for trusting the authority of the canon and is able to demonstrate that those who question the canon, have not removed all rational basis for believing in it.
On the whole, this is a carefully reasoned and accessible presentation of issues surrounding the Canon. I think Kruger does a very good job of articulating his case and I am in substantial agreement with him. In an era where the authority and truthfulness of the New Testament is often questioned, a book like this provides a powerful apologetic. I highly recommend this book, particularly for students and ministers who are faced with questions and are looking for solid answers for why we trust our Bible and not every other unearthed gospel.
Thank you to Crossway books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The focus of this book is on answering the question of whether we, as Christians, can believe with intellectual honesty that we have the right twenty-seven books in the New Testament. In order to answer this question, the author organizes the book into two parts. Part one deals with the various approaches to Canon formation. Three models are evaluated: Canon as community determined, Canon as historically determined, and Canon as self-authenticating. In part two, he evaluates the models and concludes that both the community based and historically based models are insufficient to answer the question posed by the book. He concludes that the self-authenticating model is the most appropriate.
This book is very well written. The arguments are clear and the scholarship is evident. I believe the author is right in his summation that Christians do have sufficient evidence from the Canonical models, particularly the self-authenticating model, to justify the belief that the correct twenty-seven books are included in the New Testament. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the arguments surrounding Canonical authenticity. It is a particularly good book for students of the New Testament and written in such a way that it can be understood by a variety of readers.
I reviewed this book for Crossway.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2012
Canon Revisited is an important book, and I hope everyone reads it. The first chapter leads off with a quote from Ernest Best: "No one has come up with a satisfactory solution as to how we determine which books should be in the canon" (15). It might be simplistically summarized that from beginning to end, this book exists to prove Best wrong. There are objections from many different quarters, all basically arguing that the Christian cannot know that the twenty-seven books in the Christian canon of the New Testament are the right books. According to Michael Kruger, the church is not under threat of a historical crisis, but rather, what is at its core, an "epistemological crisis" (19). And so Kruger has written this book with a modest goal: to show that "Christians do have sufficient grounds for claiming that they know which books belong in the New Testament" (295).
I say this is a modest goal. To some, it sounds like a herculean task. It is crucial for understanding this volume, however, that readers keep in mind what Kruger is not out to prove. This book is not an all-out apologetic argument for the truth of Christianity. It is not a one-stop book to give to an unbeliever who wants a good reason for why he should believe that Jesus is Lord, and the Bible is telling the truth about Him. As Kruger helpfully states in summary fashion:
"We are not asking how a person comes to believe in the canon (for the first time). Nor are we trying to prove the truth of the canon. We are asking whether the Christian religion can give an adequate account for the knowledge it claims to have. But such a question can be answered only on the basis of the Christian faith itself - that is, on the basis of the Christian conception of God, his purpose and plan, the nature of human knowledge, and so forth. And where else would we turn to acquire this information but to the very scriptural books in question?" (289-290)
It is here that one sees most clearly the method and assumptions Kruger will be employing in this book. Those with a bent towards presuppositional apologetic methodology will find themselves very much at home in this book. Since I lean that way in the first place, it was nice to see argumentation that did not seek to placate unbelieving approaches to the canon. Rather as Kruger points out, if the argument is that Canon can only be explained in Christian categories, and if he is right that canon is ultimately a theological issue (294), then an accounting for the canon must take place on the Christian's turf. There is simply no way to provide a theologically cogent account of canon in a satisfactory way while granting the skeptic's presuppositions, since he brings assumptions to the table which already discount the answers which make the Christian view cohere.
The book rests in some respects upon Alvin Plantinga's work in the area of epistemological justification. Particularly, Kruger distinguishes between two specific challenges to the canon: de jure objections and de facto objections. De facto objections argue that a belief that we have the right books in our canon "is intellectually unacceptable on the grounds that it is false" (288). De jure objections, on the other hand, argue, "not that it is false, but that it is intellectually unjustifiable" (288). Kruger is clear that it is the de jure objection which this book is responding to. Once he has responded to the de jure objection, he reacts: "Whatever other objections the critic may have, it can no longer be this one" (295). It is not a book to destroy skepticism altogether, but to eliminate one powerful objection.
The first half of the book is devoted to exploring the various canonical models that are out there and then concludes with a presentation of the self-attesting model of canon, which Kruger if himself advocating. The self-attesting model, Kruger is seeking to show, not only avoids the problems that the other views of canon present, but also provides a valid model for canonization which faithfully reflects the teachings of Scripture regarding itself.
What is the self-attesting model of canon? In the simplest terms, Kruger explains that to say the Scriptures are self-attesting means that one turns to them in order to understand them. Put another way, "self authenticating" refers to the fact that "one cannot authenticate the canon without appealing to the canon" (91).
"A self-authenticating canon is not just a canon that claims to have authority, nor is it simply a canon that bears internal evidence of authority, but one that guides and determines how that authority is to be established" (91). This is something which is denied by all the other models of canon. As Kruger says, "all these models share one core characteristic. They all ground the authority of the canon in something outside the canon itself. It is this appeal to an external authority that unites all these positions" (88). What are these positions? Put briefly, the other models can be reduced to Community Determined models and Historically Determined models. There are variations within each of these models and nuances which deserve attention, but at the end of the day, as Kruger has already said, the determination of the canon is either put into the hands of the church, church leaders, or church historians with these views.
While Kruger does spend some time arguing that this view of the canon does have a historical basis in authors such as Turretin, Calvin, and Bavinck, I certainly would have appreciated a bit more than one paragraph on the historicity of this view. It is, of course, far more important to see if Scripture teaches this view, and so this semi-lack of historical material can easily be forgiven. It is certainly a subject worth following up on, however, as many in the Reformed community seem to be opposed to the self-attesting model in favor of a strictly historically-determined model. Regarding the Historically determined model, Ridderbos offers a helpful criticism: "Historical judgment cannot be the final and sole ground for the church's accepting the New Testament as canonical. To accept the New Testament on that ground would mean the church would ultimately be basing its faith on the results of historical investigation" (113).
The choice is between models which rely upon various external authorities an finding a model which is consistent from beginning to end in its theology of canon. Kruger argues (and I agree) that the self-attesting model is such a model. Kruger argues, as he develops the self-attesting model, that the Bible testifies to an "epistemic environment wherein belief in the New Testament canon can be reliably formed," including three features: (1) Providential exposure of the church to the canon, (2) Attributes of canonicity, and (3) Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. As Kruger explains, "These three components must all be in place if we are to have knowledge of the canon" (94).
Kruger also spends much time on (2) discussing what exactly the attributes of canonicity are. He argues that there are three attributes of canonicity - each of which make appearances - to a greater or lesser degree - in the other models of canon. What makes Kruger's approach different, however, is his insistence that a canonical book will possess all three of these attributes: (a) divine qualities, (b) corporate reception by the church, and (c) apostolic origins. Now, these three attributes are not enough. Even if a book does possess all of these things, features (1) and (3) must also be present. Kruger looks to Scripture to derive this model and all of its features - I think he does it quite effectively. In fact, much more could be said. Kruger shows much restraint, in a lot of ways. Meredith Kline's discussion in the first hundred or so pages of The Structure of Biblical Authority make a strong case that the canon itself can be entirely constructed based on the Bible's internal covenantal structure. Kruger gives Kline a brief mention, and if you follow up on Kruger's footnotes you'll find a wealth of information which is highly beneficial in this respect.
The second half of the book is meant to deal with potential defeaters which might be brought up against the self-attesting canonical model. One argument is that it is not the apostolicity of many New Testament books are not unanimously agreed upon. However, Kruger points out that the lack of a consensus can hardly constitute a defeater since there is also not a "consensus" against the apostolicity of the canonical books. Furthermore, those who are critical of apostolicity oppose it on the basis of modernistic assumptions. Kruger rhetorically asks, "Why should we think Enlightenment-based methodologies are more likely to produce true conclusions than Christian ones?" (291)
In the last two chapters, Kruger addresses other defeaters. Modern liberal scholarship largely tends to claim that there was disagreement over the contents of the canon, and assumes that a divinely inspired canon would not entail as much disagreement as was involved in the development of the canon. Of course, this assumption of such scholars is highly questionable and assumes that disagreement in the early church is inconsistent with the self-authenticating model (which Kruger makes clear it is not - in fact it is expected). Furthermore, Kruger says, the critics are exaggerating the nature of the disagreements.
So much more could be said in commendation of Kruger's book. It is my personal belief that Canon Revisited will be key in providing structure for future discussions of the canon. The book is logically structured, rigorously argued, and is Biblically centered, as would be expected for a book seeking to consistently apply the teachings of Scripture to the structure of the Biblical canon. After reading Canon Revisited, my own understanding of the canon has been deeply enriched. I want to recommend this book to others as highly as I possibly can. It will be considered the major work on canon from an advocate of the self-attesting model for years to come.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2012
Michael Kruger has put together a great resource for the church in Canon Revisited. It is important to realize that his aim in this book is not primarily to back up a dump truck and unload a pile of statistics and apologetic arguments on you. There are plenty of other books have already done that capably. Kruger's book, rather, is intended to help the Christian reader come to a settled confidence that the books we have in the New Testament really are the right ones. In answering this question, he provides solid resources against critical arguments that books are in the New Testament which don't belong there, as well demonstrating why the so-called "Lost Gospels" do not deserve a place.
A particularly helpful section in the book is Kruger's discussion of the various ways others have approached defining the category, which he demonstrates falls into two major camps: on one side you have those who argue that the canon was basically an arbitrary decision made by the church c. AD400; on the other side you have those who try to define the canon simply on the basis of historical research. Kruger demonstrates why both of those approaches have important considerations but are ultimately insufficient in themselves and finds an approach which allows for a thoroughly Christian understanding of canon.
This is probably not a book which will convince your atheist friend that the Bible is the Word of God. But if you have already come to a settled faith and are want to have greater confidence that the Bible you have is the right one, or if you are trying to understand how to defend the canon against the criticisms of critical scholarship, or if you want to be able to respond to Roman Catholic arguments that Protestants don't have an inspired table of contents, or many other challenges, this is a great resource.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2013
I grew up in the Christian faith. I've never really doubted that God exists and that he has spoken to us in the Bible. As a child, I simply accepted my Bible as it was without much thought to how it got to be what it was. But when I reached the questioning teens, I began to think about how we can know that our Bible is what it should be. How do we know that all the right books are included and none of the wrong ones? Yes, Jesus affirms the Old Testament that the Jews used--and you can't argue with Jesus!--but what about the New Testament? Who affirms it?
The answers I was given didn't entirely satisfy me. Not that I distrusted my New Testament. I'd already begun to see the Bible as a unified whole and it would have taken a lot to convince me that the books it contained were not quite right. But I still had a niggling feeling that although I believed the New Testament canon was correct, the reasons I had for believing were inadequate.
It's exactly this question that Michael Kruger's Canon Revisited seeks to answer: Do Christians have sufficient grounds for affirming the New Testament canon?
Kruger examines the various approaches that have been used to determine the New Testament canon. The commonly used methods fall into two general categories. The community determined canonical models sees canonicity as something imposed on books by people, either as a group or individually. In the Roman Catholic model, for instance, the authority of the church is necessary for us to know the New Testament canon, and according to some Catholic theologians, the church is necessary for the very formation of the canon. In the Catholic model, as with all community-determined models, the canon is valid because people--in this case, the church--received it. A response from the community is necessary for a canon to exist.
Historically determined canonical models see the canon as something that is determined by the historical merits of the books--or, in some cases, even just parts of books. The canon is established by historical investigation: Is the book apostolic? Does it contain "authentic Jesus tradition"? As you might imagine, the results of the various canonical models in this category vary widely. Some affirm all 27 New Testament books and some affirm very few.
Both the community determined models and the historically determined models have strengths, but they share one big problem: "they authenticate the canon on the basis of something external to it." What's wrong with this? Kruger argues that "to insist that the canon must measure up to some independent standard that we have erected is to inevitably produce a canon of our own making."
In the bulk of Canon Revisted, Kruger explains and defends a better model for determining the canon of the New Testament--the self-authenticating model. It's a little bit like a presuppositional apologetic for the canon. "[I]f the canon bears the very authority of God, to what other standard could it appeal to justify itself? Even when God swore oaths, "he swore by himself" (Heb. 6:13)." This method of authenticating the canon is simply "applying Scripture to the question of which books belong to the canon." It is God who forms the New Testament canon by inspiring books of scripture, and we use principles from the canon of scripture to authenticate it.
Does this sound a little circular? It might be, but only in the way that authenticating any foundational authority must be circular. And for the Christian, what God says--or Scripture--is a fundamental source of knowledge. We cannot, to quote C. S. Lewis, put "God in the dock"; we cannot stand in judgment over him. We presuppose that God's testimony is reliable, so we use what he says to guide us in our authentication of the canon.
So while the self-authenticating model for determining the canon uses extra-biblical data, it does so only under the authority and guidance of Scripture. And "[i]n the end, the self-authenticating model of canon actually serves to unite the various canonical models by acknowledging that no one attribute is ultimate." Three intertwined attributes, attributes that scripture leads us to expect of canonical books, confirm the New Testament canon. A canonical book must have divine qualities, apostolic origins, and have been received corporately.
I wish someone had answered my youthful canon questions using this model. The arguments would have given me enough justification for my belief in the canon to satisfy me. Even now, my confidence in the canon grew as I read through this book.
Canon Revisited is written at a college level, so it's not a quick read (At least it wasn't for me.), but there's no prerequisite knowledge required. Everything is explained clearly enough for a novice, either in the text or the footnotes. (Yes, footnotes! And footnotes that are often as engaging as the text.) Still, I wouldn't recommend it for a teenager, and only for a motivated college student.
But if you need answers for canon questions--your own or those of others--this book is where you should start. Christians can have assurance that the books we have in our New Testament are all the right ones, because, as Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27, ESV).
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2012
What follows is a condensed version of my two part review of Canon Revisited to which I will provide links to at the end of the review.
When it comes to New Testament studies there is perhaps no more of a perennial issue than the issue of the NT canon. Though the subject of canon is important for both testaments, the NT canon lends itself particularly to a host of "problematic" issues. As opposed to the OT canon, the NT canon is the subject of popular movies like The Da Vinci Code (based on the book) and books like The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Forged: Writing in the Name of God - Why The Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are and Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into The New Testament all by Bart Ehrman, the most ardent critic of the orthodox Christian understanding of the NT canon.
To put it simply, the NT has a canon problem. Though some may wince at the description of the canon as a problem this is thus the case. But lest we think it unresolvable, the problem of canon is simply this: as Christians, how can we "know that we have the right twenty-seven books in our New Testament?" (p. 15) It is this problem that Michael Kruger addresses in his recent book Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Michael Kruger is professor of New Testament and academic dean at Reformed Theological Seminary and is co-editor and contributor to the forthcoming related volume The Early Text of the New Testament.
Though there are a number of areas to explore in answering the problem of the NT canon, Kruger focuses on what he calls the de jure objection. That is, if and once it could be established that a NT canon existed, "Christians have no rational basis for thinking they could ever know such a thing in the first place." (p. 20) Thus, Christians have no sufficient grounds or rational basis for belief in the content of the NT canon. This is an issue of "accounting for our knowledge of the canon." (p. 21)
Evaluating Community & Historically Determined Models
1. Community Determined Model - This model believes that the authority of the canon lies within the communities bestowing the text with authority. Thus, the text is given canonical authority. To this Kruger notes that while community plays a receiving role in regards to the canon they do not determine canonical status of a given text. Further, if the community is the authority, it only begs the question as to where they got the authority to authorize a text as canonical
2. Historically Determined Model - This view comes in two stripes. First, there is the canon within the canon model which does not accept all of the NT canon as authentic. To this Kruger responds by stating that the editors have now become the authority over the text and how can we be sure their own biases have not influenced the final canonical product. The second historical model is the criteria-of-canonicity model which compares the NT books against a list of predetermined criteria in order to determine its authenticity. This model falls apart when we consider the reality that no one can operate on neutral assumptions about what criteria a text should meet. Further, where do we get these criteria from in the first place that they have the inherent authority to determine canonical authority?
Some Preliminaries to The Canonical Model
So if the community and historically based models of canonicity are not adequate, what are we left with? The fundamental argument of the canonical model is that the canon of the NT is self-authenticating. Thus, its canonical status is not grounded in someone or something outside itself but rather within itself. Kruger notes
"In essence, to say the canon is self-authenticating is simply to recognize that one cannot authenticate the canon without the canon appealing to the canon. A Self-authenticating canon is not just a canon that claims to have authority, nor is it simply a canon that bears internal evidence of authority, but one that guides and determines how that authority is to be established." (p. 91)
What this requires though is a belief that the canonical books of the NT are not just books written in ink on paper by men (though this is true). It requires the fundamental belief in a self-revealing God who has revealed Himself in the pages of Scripture and therefore revealed in those pages the very criteria by which to validate their canonical authority. This idea echoes the title of chapter three, My Sheep Heart My Voice. If the books of the NT canon are self-authenticating, then they possess canonical status that the church recognizes instead of gives. Thus, the canonical books speak to the community of the church which can be seen throughout the history of the church. They speak to us because it is God who is speaking to us through them. Kruger explains
"The books received by the church inform our understating of which books are canonical not because the church is infallible or because it created or constituted the canon, but because the church's reception of these books is a natural and inevitable outworking of the self-authenticating nature of Scripture. In the self-authenticating model, however, the church's reception of these books proves not to be evidence of the church's authority to create the canon, but evidence of the opposite, namely, the authority, power, and impact of the self-authenticating Scriptures to elicit a corporate response from the church." (p. 106)
Introduction to the Canonical Model
Contra the community and historically-determined models of canonicity, the self-authenticating basis of the canonical model is the belief "that we can know which books are canonical because God has provided the proper epistemic environment where belief in these books can be reliably formed. (p. 113)" In this brief statement we see the defining difference between the other models of canonicity and the canonical model - that the canonicity of a book is inherent within the book itself; that its canonical status is derived from within itself and given to it from without. Thus, the discussion of development of the canon is not one in terms of the timing or date of canonicity but rather it is a look at the stages of canonicity. (p. 119)
Three Part Structure of the Canonical Model
1. The Divine Qualities of Scripture - The foundational basis of the first aspect of the canonical model is that because Scripture is from God Himself (inspired) it bears the very attributes of God. Though there is much Scripture that attests to this assertion, a brief reading through Psalm 119 will provide sufficient support. Scripture as the word of God has authority because of its source from God. This power does not stop at what it says but continues on it what it does (thus the evidence of its power is displayed). Scripture guides, gives light, corrects, instructs, comforts, confronts and is the primary means through which the Spirit of God works in the life of the believer and convicts the unbeliever of their sin and need of salvation. Another aspect in which the divine qualities of Scripture can be seen is in its unity in regards to doctrine, redemptive-historical focus and structural layout. (p.133)
2. Apostolic Origins - This second aspect of the canonical model further speaks to the self-authenticating nature of the NT books because of "the foundational role played by the apostles as `ministers of the new covenant' (2 Cor. 3:6). (p. 161)" The emergence of the NT came not as an accident but as the natural result of merge of covenant, redemption and apostolicity.
3. Corporate Reception of the Canon - As the final aspect of the canonical model one can see that this is built on the foundation of the first two aspects. It is through the divine qualities and apostolic authority behind the NT books that the Holy Spirit elicits a response from the church to recognize these books as part of the canon. The church is drawn to the canon because the canon draws it to itself. The corporate reception of the canon is discussed in two phases under the emergence of the canonical core and the corporate reception of the canon.
The basic argument of Canon Revisited is that the though the church plays a role in the recognition of the NT canon is does not determine its authority. The canon is self-authenticating and the church recognizes its authority. The difference and relationship between recognition and determination are important and run throughout the book. It is God and not the church who began the canon and thus, "the church cannot close the canon because it never started it to begin with." (p. 280)
Canon Revisited is solid, evangelical, God, Scripture and Christ centered, judicious and clear in its critique of other models and clear in its presentation of the canonical model. This book will become the new standard text book for NT canonical introduction. The footnotes are extensive and instructive. There are 49 pages of bibliography which speaks to the depth and breadth of the sources cited. Kruger is meticulous, honest, clear, thorough and gives Scripture the first and final word on its own origins and authority.
This should be standard reading to all college and seminary NT intro classes. Every pastor and lay leader will be greatly serviced by this book. This will strengthen the arguments of every Christian apologist and I challenge every Christian to make themselves read this book and work through the hard places.
You can see the full as follows:
Part One - [...]
Part Two - [...]
NOTE: I received a copy of this book for free from Crossway in return for an unbiased review. The words and thoughts expressed in this review are my own.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2012
While there are many books out there (and more to be published) that deal with new problems, this book is not one of them. In fact, this book may deal with the oldest problem of all. That issue, "at the very center of how biblical authority is established" is the problem of canon (16).
Working through the problem in a way that is simultaneously creative and orthodox, Michael Kruger is "concerned with the narrow question of whether Christians have a rational basis (i.e. intellectually sufficient grounds) for affirming that only these twenty-seven books rightfully belong in the New Testament canon" (20). This is issue of inherent rationality of belief in the New Testament canon is the de jure objection. Instead of focusing on the de facto objection (the belief in a New Testament canon is false), Kruger aims to provide sufficient grounds for Christians to think that they can in fact "know which books belong in the canon and which do not" (21).
In order to accomplish this goal, Kruger uses part 1 of the book to cover the various canonical models before turning to historical evidence for what belongs in the New Testament canon. Of the models Kruger examines, the first cluster holds that the canon is determined by the community of believers (chapter 1, where Brevard Childs and Karl Barth figure prominently among others), the second that the canon is historically determined (chapter 2), and the third that the canon is self-authenticating (chapter 3). The latter is the model of choice for Kruger and one he explains in detail in part 2 of the book.
Chapters 4 and 5 in part 2 detail the divine qualities and apostolic origins of the canon. The final three chapters focus in on the corporate reception of the canon of the New Testament. First, in chapter 6 Kruger explains the emergence of a canonical core. Then, in chapter 7 he gets into the manuscript discussion before closing out the book with a discussion of problem books and canonical boundaries in chapter 8.
Throughout all of this, Kruger is working within a kind of triperpsectival framework, though Frame himself is only mentioned in passing. As he sets the stage back in chapter 3, "the proper epistemic environment wherein belief in the New Testament canon can be reliably formed" (94) includes three component parts (parenthetical triperspectivalism is mine):
Providential exposure (the church is exposed to certain writings, i.e. a certain situation occurs)
Attributes of canonicity (the writings the church are exposed to have divine qualities, apostolic origins, and are generally well received across the church as a whole, i.e. they have certain normative qualities)
Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (the Holy Spirit produces the belief that these books are in fact of divine origin, i.e. an existential revelation occurs)
These parts work together and are not mutually exclusive. Typical of a triperspectival emphasis, Kruger points out that these parts are "mutually reinforcing" and that "if a book is examined that has one of these attributes, then that implies that the book also has the other two" (115). The self-authenticating model of the canon is both "self-supporting" and "self-correcting" and as Kruger summarizes:
The core strength of the self-authenticating model of canon, then, is the fact that it is three-dimensional. In contrast, the other models above tend to be one-dimensional and seek to authenticate canon by appealing to only a single attribute (116)
In short, it would seem that Kruger's self-authenticating model takes on the strengths of the other models, but moves beyond them. It is able to first, adequately explain how apparent disagreements between NT books do not undermine those books' canonicity. Second, it is able to work through the fact that some books were not written by apostles. Last, it is able to navigate disagreements within the early church and beyond concerning the status of certain books.
All of this taken together makes Kruger's proposal very strong. Using the triperspectival framework definitely helps, but Kruger clearly knows his way around the scholarly literature and this book surely represents the culmination of years of research. Even with all that, Kruger writes in a very clear and readable style and is able to move arcane discussions into the footnotes. This is part of why I classify it as a Bible School read with seminary footnotes. Really anybody who has significant questions about the canon of the New Testament could take and read Kruger's book.
Another strength is Kruger's insistence that canon is a theological issue at its core (21-22, scattered throughout). This is just another way of bringing up the issue of presuppositions. Kruger helps to establish that there is no theological neutrality when it comes to the discussion and is very forthcoming with his own vantage point. In his initial survey of the the other models in chapters 1 and 2, he also points out the different theologies of canon at play. In the end, whether or not one agree with Kruger's conclusions on the canon, it is at least a strength of the book to acknowledge and argue for theologically self-conscious canoncial models.
A weakness of the book, though it is by design, is that it is not aimed at proving the "truth of the canon to the skeptic in a manner that would be persuasive to him" (21). In other words, this book is something you might pass along to a Christian friend struggling with trusting that we have the right books in the canon, or as a textbook in a Bible school or seminary classroom. In this sense, it is not so much a real weakness with the work itself, but just an audience limitation that needs to be kept in mind before recommending the book.
Though I highlighted the triperspectival dimension of the book above, I just wanted to reiterate how that strengthens the overall proposal. Or rather, let me let Kruger explain "one of the key implications" of the model:
It helps us recognize that canon is a complex and multidimensional concept that cannot be artificially flattened out. Canon has an ecclesiological dimension, a historical dimension, and an aesthetic/internal dimension. It is when a single aspect of canon is absolutized at the expense of the others that distortions inevitably arise. When these three aspects are kept in their proper balance, we can begin to see the controversial issues more clearly (293).
As I said a while back, this was one of my favorite books I've read so far this year. Part of this is the triperspectival approach, but even that is in the background throughout the book. Kruger's work helped to answer questions I have had brought to me over the past six months about the canon of the New Testament, and this is now my go-to book for that subject. I would hope that it gets the scholarly attention that it deserves and that it is widely read among evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike.
[I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher]
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2012
Michael Kruger, New Testament professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina has written a provocative, winsome, and persuasive book on the new testament canon. Rather than going to great lengths to explore each book's reception in church history, Kruger seeks to narrow his focus to two areas, namely 'if Christians have adequate grounds for thinking they can know which books are canonical,' and unpacking the self-authenticating model of the canon (23). The first section deals with what grounds do we have for believing the NT books that are in the canon are the ones that are supposed to be there and why. The second sections deals with a specific model of the canon that seeks to see the church as recognizing the canon but not creating the canon that we now have.
In the first chapter Kruger goes to great lengths at describing various community driven models of the canon; namely, the historical critical model, the Roman Catholic view, the Canonical model (Childs), and the neo-orthodox view. One of the strengths of this chapter is that Kruger rightly brings out the positive merits of each view while also engaging in serious critique. Kruger carefully critiques the Roman Catholic view of the canon by saying, "On the Catholic model, the Scripture's own claims should not be received on their own authority, but apparently the church's own claims should be received on their own authority. The Roman Catholic Church, functionally speaking is committed to sola ecclesia" (48). Rather than seeing God's activity influencing and using the authors of the Bible, the RCC brings the beginning of the canon back to a infallible authority. Even at this point, Kruger points out that there are differing models within the RCC that bring out certain positive strands regarding the canon. "Trent recognized the Bible; it did not create it. The Bible is in the Church, but not from the Church" (41). Kruger rightly takes to task the neo-orthodox dismissal of the use of history in seeing the canon as not closed but open to revision. Kruger writes, "Brunner takes advantage of this door opened by Barth and walks right through it, arguing that the the borders of the canon are not fixed" (62). An experience or existential encouter with the books of the canon is more important than a historically driven pattern when engaging with the books of the New Testament.
Kruger's next chapter gets into the canon as historically determined. First, he looks at approaches to the canon that seek to peel back the layers embedded in the text to find the true center (which is still in focus in Jesus studies). If the center of the New Testament is Jesus, as James Dunn indicates, what other details are of primary importance (his life, death, divine nature)(71, footnote 21). Often, a specific methodology gets elevated to the place of prominence over against the meaning of the text (i.e. feminist, liberation, what Christ preaches).
The next chapter is quite possibly the best in content and in scope. Kruger develops an understanding of the canon that is self-attesting. What he means by self-attestation is that the canon relies not on an external authority for its truthfulness but on its intrinsic qualities. The three marks of characteristics of self-attestation for Kruger rest upon three components: Providential exposure, attributes of canonicity (divine qualities, corporate reception, apostolic origins), internal witness of the Holy Spirit (94). The people of God cannot respond to a book 'of which it has no knowledge' (95). Therefore, God has placed the books of the Bible in the hands of his people from the beginning. "When people's eyes are opened, they are struck by the divine qualities of Scripture-its beauty, harmony, and efficacy-and recongnize and embrace Scripture for what it is, the word of God" (101). I would say as well that the Scriptures attest to its divine origin also because they correspond to reality in such a way that not other books does. Kruger also brings out practical examples of his ideas regarding John's first letter (113). Overall, Kruger sets forth a view that pays careful creedence to God's overarching purposes in using his people to bring about Scripture while also seeing the foundational role of the church in the canonical process.
In one of the last chapters Kruger deals with problem books and canonical boudaries in a very succinct and thought provoking manner. His goal in this chapter is to provide a continuum upon which to understand heretical, rejected, disputed and recognized books. Helpfully, Kruger goes through each book individually and gives reasons for its inclusion or exclusion in the canon. Kruger comments regarding the Gospel of Thomas that the 'book has a strong Gnostic flavor, advocating a Jesus less concerned with showing that he is divine and more concerned with teaching us to find the divine spark within ourselves" (278). In this case, there are both historical and theological reasons why the Gospel of Thomas is branded heretical (Gnosticisim was not a rampant philosophy until the 2nd century).
Overall, this was a wonderful book and one that I will go back to reference.
Thanks to Crossway for the review copy of this book.