Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books 1st Edition
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“This book fills a lacuna in evangelical scholarship. Rarely does academic specialization in canon studies converge with thorough commitment to biblical authority. In this work, close evaluation of the history of approaches to the canon is matched by a richly theological interpretation of what it means to call Scripture our ‘canon.’ Careful, accessible, and wise in his explorations, Michael Kruger has given us a gift that will keep on giving for generations to come.”
―Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California
“The Christian canon of Scripture is under fire now more than ever. Sadly, even as so much of this fire has been issuing from academic quarters, we are left with more smoke than light. Stepping into the gap with a fresh synthesis is Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited. Gracefully uniting theology and history, Kruger invokes the chief Reformed argument for canon and gives it fresh wings.”
―Nicholas Perrin, Dean, Wheaton College Graduate School
“Of all the recent books and articles on the canon of Scripture, this is the one I recommend most. It deals with the critical literature thoroughly and effectively while presenting a cogent alternative grounded in the teaching of Scripture itself. Michael Kruger develops the historic Reformed model of Scripture as self-authenticating and integrates it with a balanced appreciation for the history of the canon and the role of the community in recognizing it. This is the definitive work on the subject for our time.”
―John M. Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary
“Michael Kruger has written the book on the canon of Scripture that has been much needed for a long time. His focus is not on the process, but on the vitally important question of how Christians can know that they have the right books in their canon of Scripture. The question is an excellent one and needs to be addressed honestly and competently. Kruger does just that. This excellent book goes a long way toward clearing up confusion and misguided theories. I highly recommend it.”
―Craig A. Evans, John Bisagno Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins, Houston Baptist University
“Here, finally, is what so many pastors, seminary professors, and students have long been waiting for: a clear, well-informed, and scripturally faithful answer to the question of how Christians should account for the New Testament canon. Perhaps not since Ridderbos’s Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures has there appeared such a valuable single source on the New Testament canon that is both historically responsible and theologically satisfying (and this book improves on Ridderbos in many ways). Michael Kruger’s work will help readers get a handle on what may seem like a myriad of current approaches to canon, whether ecclesiastical or critical. This book will foster clearer thinking on the subject of the New Testament canon and will be a much referenced guide for a long time to come.”
―Charles E. Hill, John R. Richardson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando
“Michael Kruger has written an important and comprehensive treatment of the New Testament canon. As an advocate of the self-authenticating view, he goes to great lengths to argue his case, but he also delves deeply into the variety of historical and community-based positions. He provides an insightful treatment of epistemological grounds for belief, and debates the positions in a rigorous way not often found in such discussions. I am sure friend and foe alike will learn from this valuable volume.”
―Stanley E. Porter, President, Dean, and Professor of New Testament, McMaster Divinity College; author, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament
“Canon Revisited is a well-written, carefully documented, and helpful examination of the many historical approaches that have been written to explain when and how the books of the New Testament were canonized. The author’s interest, however, is to move beyond the historical to the theological, concluding that the concepts of a self-authenticating canon and its corporate reception by the church are ultimately how we know that these twenty-seven books belong in the New Testament.”
―Arthur G. Patzia, Senior Professor of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary; author, The Making of the New Testament
About the Author
Michael J. Kruger (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is the president and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. Kruger is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America and also blogs regularly at MichaelJKruger.com and tweets at @michaeljkruger.
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Quite simply put, this is an amazing book. I felt that after reading this book that I have a much stronger confidence in defending the idea of the formation of the canon of scripture. The author said himself in the introduction that: "The problem of the canon (at least as we are using the phrase here) refers to the fundamental question of how we, as Christians, can know that we have the right twenty-seven books in our New Testament".
Kruger says of this important book that he is addressing the de jure question and not the de facto question (see Alvin Plantinga's "Warranted Christian Belief"). He says of the de jure question: "The de jure objection argues not so much that Christian belief in the canon is false, but that Christians have no rational basis for thinking they could ever know such a thing in the first place....it would be irrational for Christians to claim that they know these twenty-seven are the right ones. By contrast, a de facto objection to the idea of the canon is that there are factual problems with the Bible, and therefore the Bible should be rejected. Kruger takes an interesting approach in his apologetic for the canon. While others defend the factual basis of scripture, Kruger tackles the more difficult epistemological issue; namely: whether or not it is rational to believe in the canon in the first place.
Kruger takes a two pronged approach in his defense.
In part one, "determining the canonical model", he examines different qualities of the canon. First, the canon was received by the community (corporate reception). The church was able to identify (with the help of the Holy Spirit) what was canonical and what was not. Second, the canon was historically determined. It was written by apostles or close associates of apostles (apostolic origins). The testimony of the apostles and the early church leaders solidified the place of the various canonical books. Third, the canon possessed divine qualities. Jesus had promised that the Spirit of Truth would lead the church into all truth and that he would bring to their remembrance the things that Jesus had said. Canonical books contained within themselves qualities that made them gain acceptance by the early church as being canonical. Therefore, Kruger argues, the canon is self-authenticating. It is supported by the three pillars of corporate reception, apostolic origin and divine qualities. This approach by Kruger is important because his defense does not place all the eggs in one basket.
In part two of the book, he treats the subject of how the canon was determined or identified by the early church. How did they decide whether or not a particular book was scripture or not? Kruger makes the important point that the core of the canon was formed early, while the periphery was solidified by the late third and early fourth centuries. There are some critics who argue that the canon was not settled and therefore could not really be called a canon. The critics cast doubt on the validity of the idea of a canon. They want to make it seem that the books were arbitrarily chosen by the faction of the church that had the most political power. Kruger deftly refutes this idea by showing that the gospels and Paul's letters for example were accepted by the early church as authoritative very early on.
I thought Kruger did a good job in answering the de jure objection to the idea of canon. Part one lays a strong foundation for part two. The qualities of the canon must be determined before the reception and definition of what the canon is, is answered. Kruger makes a strong case that is not easily dismissed by critics. It is a strong apologetic for the canon, and will be a welcome addition to the tools of the apologist's trade.
While this is an apologetics book, it really should be read by all Christians; by anyone who wants to understand more about the formation of the Bible. If you have ever been troubled by questions of why the Bible is the authority for the church, then you should read this book. It is well-argued, easy to follow, and gives excellent arguments for the defense of the canon. It really helps to fill the gap in our defense of the faith and our defense of the scripture where God has spoken.
It is well written. It can be a page-turner. It is thorough. It is Scriptural. It is inspiring. It is edifying. It is trans-denominational. It is indispensable to everyone from the lectern to the front lawn.
It is not boring. It is not scattered. It is not wordy. It is not simplistic. It is not ostentatious. It is not likely to be a bookshelf dust-catcher.
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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).