Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Canon

Kruger, Michael J.  Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Canon.  Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

Reviewed by Nate Wood.

In my first systematic theology class at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I was immediately confronted with the challenges to the doctrine of Scripture. I realized the centrality of the doctrine for the Christian faith, but I began to struggle with how we know that the Bible is the Word of God, and how we know whether we even have the right books, especially in the New Testament. I did not doubt the Scriptures and was convinced of their authority, but I wondered whether I just needed “blind faith” concerning their divine nature and canonical status. How else could we know such things? Michael Kruger, in his latest book, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, provides a thoroughly compelling and masterful argument that Christians have a rational basis for believing that our twenty-seven books of the New Testament are the authoritative Word of God.

Kruger’s main concern is whether Christianity has adequate and intellectually justifiable grounds to claim that our twenty-seven books of the New Testament are the right books. Recent criticisms of the New Testament canon from critical scholars have led to Walter Bauer’s continued influence regarding the development of orthodoxy, as well as the emergence of theories concerning pseudonymity and the role of apocryphal materials in the early church. One would seem hard-pressed to find a rational basis for claiming that we actually know which books are the right ones or whether there is any such thing as the “right books.” Canon Revisited arguably does just that. Kruger is not trying to “prove” the canon to the skeptic; rather, he is seeking to establish an account for the Christian knowledge of the canon and how we know the books contained in our New Testament are the right ones.

The book is divided into two parts.  The first part, “Determining the Canonical Model,” attempts to summarize, evaluate, and critique various canonical models that put forth answers as to how we know which books belong in the New Testament canon. Community-determined models and historically-determined models are the general lenses through which approaches to the canon are commonly viewed. Community-determined versions view the canon as something that is, in one way or another, established or determined by the people, whether corporately or individually. There must be some response from the community in order for the canon to exist. The canon is authenticated by appealing to the reception of the canon by the community. Historically-determined models establish the canon by critically investigating the historical merits and origins of the book. Thus, the New Testament canon is authenticated by historical investigation.

Kruger rightfully notes that all of the canonical models discussed seek to establish the authority of the New Testament canon in some external, outside authority. He argues that it is the “appeal to an external authority that unites all of these positions.” He then begins in chapter three to set forth what he calls the “self-authenticating model.” For the canon to be truly authoritative, it must be self-authenticating. What sets apart this volume from other canonical models is that canonical theology becomes the context within which the historical material is evaluated. Kruger wants to examine the content of the canon itself to determine whether it provides help in establishing a rational basis for belief in the New Testament canon, which is something overwhelmingly ignored in studies of canon. The Scriptures themselves provide us the necessary direction and guidance about how it is authenticated. He wants to “apply Scripture to the question of which books belong in the New Testament.” Kruger’s unique and central argument is that the Scripture testifies to the fact that God has created the “proper epistemic environment” wherein belief in the New Testament canon can be reliably formed. This environment includes the components of providential exposure of these books to the church, the attributes of canonicity (divine qualities, corporate reception, and apostolic origins), and the internal testimony of the Spirit. On this basis, he concludes that the Christian belief in the canon is warranted, at least in the absence of any defeaters. Kruger recognizes potential defeaters that may be proposed against the Christian belief in the New Testament canon, particularly against the attributes of canonicity. The second part of the book, “Exploring and Defending the Canonical Model,” attempts to elucidate on these attributes and answer potential defeaters along the way, so that the Christian belief in the canon of the New Testament is justified.

What is so striking as one reads this volume is not the superior logical progression of his argument, nor the extensive research expounded in detailed footnotes, or even the remarkably clear and precise manner in which he writes. What is striking is the unapologetic commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in all matters of theology or history, especially when writing on a subject that seems to be overtaken by critical scholarship; his invasive knowledge of biblical and systematic theology, church history, historical theology, textual criticism and manuscript evidence, and critical scholarship, weaving this knowledge together into one overarching argument; and his uttermost trust in the sovereignty and providence of a God who speaks to his church and guides them into all truth by his Holy Spirit. Kruger presents a fresh Reformed perspective on the question of the canon in a compelling and lucid style, maintaining his Christian convictions and not acting as though such a question can be approached in a neutral manner. Canon Revisited is a tremendous conglomeration of excellence, exemplifying acute scholarship, biblical faithfulness, theological tenacity, and historical precision. Kruger’s work should be pursued by professors and students alike, as well as pastors and church leaders seeking an answer to such a fundamental question to their faith. After finishing the book, this volume became my foremost recommended resource on issues of New Testament canon studies. It is both encouraging and refreshing to read such a volume.

Nate Wood, Axis Church in Nashville, TN

This review came from the recent issue of Credo Magazine, “Old Princeton.” Read other reviews like this one today!

To view the Magazine as a PDF {Click Here}

Each of us are indebted to those theologians of ages past who have gone before us, heralding the gospel, and even fighting to their last breath to keep the God of that gospel high and lifted up. It is hard to think of a group of men more worthy of this praise than those of the Old Princeton heritage. Men like Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and many others, stand in this rich heritage, men who defended the faith once for all delivered to the saints against the ever-growing threat of liberalism around them.

Since this year marks the 200th anniversary of Old Princeton (1812-2012), it is fitting that we devote ourselves to remembering and imitating these great theologians of yesterday, not because they are great in and of themselves, but because their example points us to the great and mighty God we worship. And who better to introduce us to these Old Princetonians than James M. Garretson writing on Archibald Alexander, W. Andrew Hoffecker making our acquaintance with Charles Hodge, Fred Zaspel reminding us of B. B. Warfield, and D. G. Hart increasing our love for J. Gresham Machen? Not to mention a very in-depth interview with Paul Helseth on Old Princton and the debate over “right reason.”  May these articles and interviews inspire us so that in our own day we might experience a revival of this rich orthodoxy that has stood the test of time.

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2 Comments

  1. Craig Hurst
    September 28, 2012

    I am working on a two part review/overview of this book myself. So far this is the best book I have read all year.

    Reply
  2. Michael Kruger’s Lectures on the Canon of Scripture « My Digital Seminary
    October 20, 2012

    [...] Reformed Theological Seminary and the author of Canon Revisited, which has received many positive reviews. Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. from → [...]

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