This is part two of a two part review of Canon Revisited by Michael Kruger. You can see part one here which dealt with the various community and historically-determined models of NT canonicity. In part two we will look at Kruger’s proposed canonical model.
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
The canonical model includes three aspects which form a “web of mutually reinforcing beliefs”: (1) Scripture bears divine qualities, (2) the canonical books have clear apostolic origins and (3) the canonical books have to be received by the corporate church. (p. 113)
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)
Doctrinal unity – Here Kruger notes the following:
Although the orthodoxy of an individual book is not sufficient to demonstrate its canonicity, the fact that all twenty-seven books share doctrinal harmony with each other (and with the thirty-seven books of the Old Testament) proves to be a compelling argument for the New Testament’s divine origins…..This demonstrates the important fact that some divine qualities can be seen and appreciated only when Scripture is viewed on a canonical level and not simply in a piecemeal fashion. (p. 142)
Redemptive-Historical Unity – The second aspect of the unity of Scripture speaks to overarching story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. Kruger points out that “the issue for the early Christians was not only whether the New Testament books agreed with the Old Testament books on any given doctrine, but whether the New Testament books actually completed the story begun by the Old Testament. (p. 148-49)” Since Christ is the one both looked forward to and looked back on it is the Christocentric nature of both testaments that further speak to their unity.
Structural Unity – The third aspect of the unity of Scripture is seen in “the way these twenty-seven books fit together as the structural completion of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament. (p. 150)” This unity is borne out throughout the covenantal unity of Scripture as seen in the covenants God made with His people and the canonical structure of the whole Bible as seen in the multiple ways in which various parts of Scripture and both testaments respectively have a complementary and fulfilling nature.
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.
Covenant as the Structural Framework for Canon – The Old Testament contains several covenants that God made with mankind in which He lays out His plan of redemption and relationship with man. In light of the New Covenant, the NT is a natural outgrowth of this covenantal relationship. “There would have been the clear expectation 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.” (p. 166) The NT books are the written texts of the New Covenant following the pattern of the OT books and the covenants contained therein.
Redemption as Rationale for Canon – The canon is built on and around the covenants God made with mankind. Though God’s glory can always be said to be at the center of the Bible and God’s revelation, this glory He reveals is revealed through His plan of redemption. This is the focus of the covenants. “Canonical documents are distinctively the result of God’s redemptive activity in behalf of his people and function to proclaim that redemptive activity to his people.” (p. 171)
Apostles as the Agents of Canon – Like Moses and others in the OT, God needed people to reveal the New Covenant to and record it so others could receive its content. This is where the apostles come into play. Thus, the writing of the NT books was necessary for both the spread of the New Covenant and the protection of its divine content. Kruger notes several NT passages in which the apostles showed self-awareness to their divinely appointed role (Mk. 1:1 &16:7; Jn. 21:24; 1 Thess. 2:13; 1 Cor. 14:37-38).
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.
Emergence of the Canonical Core – Here Kruger walks the reader through the recognition of the NT canonical books from Scripture itself, the church fathers and other second-century sources. (1) In Scripture itself we note 2 Pt. 3:2 & 16 which place the apostles side by side with the OT prophets (p. 207) and the reference of Peter that Paul’s letters were on par with “the other Scriptures”, referring to the OT (p. 204). Further, the public reading of Scripture point to the believed authority of the apostles own writings. (2) Kruger walks through the writings of the early church fathers such as 1 Clement, The Didache, Ignatius and others to show how they exemplify the churches reception of the NT canon. (3) Following the early church fathers Kruger notes the works of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and others who followed the lead of those before them in recognizing the NT canon. What can be clearly seen is the recognition of what would be termed the canonical core: the four Gospels, Paul’s epistles, Acts, 1 Peter and 1 John for sure (p. 231).
Corporate Reception of the Canon – In chapter seven Kruger looks at the various manuscripts of the NT canon as a witness to the books the church recognized as canonical. He addresses issues such as the quantity, quality, how collection was handled, the use of the codex and the significance of transmission. Following this in chapter eight Kruger deals with how the church did and should handle the “problem books”. Problem books are those outside of the canonical core but still canonical, rejected books and heretical books. Kruger follows Eusebius’ fourfold list of dividing early Christian writings: (1) recognized books, (2) disputed books, (3) rejected books and (4) heretical books (p. 266-79). The canonical core are the recognized books. The disputed books, like James, Jude and Revelation, are canonical but were not as easily and readily recognized by the church as the canonical core. The rejected books, like the Shepherd of Hermas, are orthodox in content but were not recognized as having canonical authority. Finally, the heretical books, such as the Gospel of Thomas, were rejected altogether because they were unorthodox and contradicted the canonical books.
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.
NOTE: I received this book for free from Crossway in return for a review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review and the words and ideas expressed in this review are my own.
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