Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books by Michael J. Kruger, Crossway, 2012, 362 pp, $23.98 hardcover.
Michael J. Kruger is the President of Samuel C. Patterson Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. where he also serves as a Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity. He is an ordained minister with the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as an Associate Pastor at his home church. Kruger has a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, a M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary in California and a B.S. from The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.
The main theme of this book deals with a very simple and, at the same time, complex question, “Do Christians have a rational basis, i.e. intellectually sufficient grounds, for affirming that these twenty-seven books rightfully belong in the New Testament canon?” (p. 20) Kruger establishes what we already know; critics argue that we have no basis to believe in the reliability of the canon of the New Testament.
The book first, makes an attempt to persuade the skeptic into believing the truth of the canon. Second, it deals with Christians and how they come to the conclusion that what they hold in their hands is indeed the Word of God. The book acknowledges that some Christians may not be able to even begin to explain how the Canon of the New Testament came about. Some believe based on their own experience or simply because a friend introduced them to the Scripture.
Kruger presents three Canonical Models. 1) The church’s book: Canon as community determined. 2) Tracing the origins: Canon as historically determined. 3) My sheep hear my voice: Canon as self-authenticating.
In dealing with the canon as the church’s book determined by the community Kruger expands on the fact that through history heretical individuals have been used to bring forth a great deal of confusion. Also, it is obvious that the Catholic Church have been a great hindrance to the canon of the New Testament.
“At the core of the Roman Catholic view of the canon is Rome’s view of the authority of Scripture. Roman Catholicism denies that ultimate authority exist in the Scriptures alone (sola scriptura) and has consequently adopted the well-known trifold authority structure that includes Scripture, tradition and magisterium (the church’s teaching authority). (pp. 38-39)
To make this Catholic atrocity of the canon even worst, out of these trifold components, the most respected one seems to be the magisterium primarily manifested through the pope and his bishops. (p. 39) If I have to throw a negative critique of this wonderful book it would be how passive he dealt with the Catholic Church on this matter. The Catholic Church has been, in my opinion, the number one contributor in diminishing the credibility of God’s Word as the ultimate and only inspired truth.
The Catholic Church could have made a stronger case of including traditions and the Pope and his Bishops as inspired and divine authorities if it were not for the obvious contradictions and the liberties they have taken with their doctrines. From praying to the death saints, praying to Virgin Mary, worshipping her as the Mother of God to the teaching of purgatory, etc. All of these have roots in the fact that the Catholic Church has indeed minimized the authority of Scripture and placed the main authority on the opinion of man. This is troubling and has proven to be very damaging in our societies and even in our churches.
However, Kruger asked a key question in understanding that the canon is not a man-made thing. This may not be something easy for skeptics to accept, but we as Christians must take a closer look at the following,
“How then does one know which book should be in the Canon? For the historical- critical approach this is the wrong question to ask. The issue is not about which books should be in the canon, but simply which books are in the canon.” (p. 32)
It is here where Kruger shows a great deal of spiritual and intellectual muscle. The focus of this book is not just to look at history, key personalities, creeds, etc. Kruger uses theology as the compass of truth. All the historical elements could be in place, arguments could be made about the authority of who say what and what needs to be included in the canon, but all of that is meaningless if what is being presented is theologically heretical. In other words, it does not matter if history shows us that a direct disciple of the original apostles said it, if is not inline with Scripture it should be thrown away.
So, if we as man, are not responsible for putting the canon of the New Testament together; if this is an act of God; the question still stands; how do we know that the book that we carry to church on Sundays is indeed the inspired Word of God? Kruger offers, first and foremost, the Holy Spirit as the one who helps us recognize what the Word of God is. Furthermore, he gives us three attributes of canonicity. 1) Bears divine qualities, which are the following: “…powerful writing, bears the beauty of the gospel message, and also stands in harmony with other scriptural books.” (p.113) This is the issue of orthodoxy. 2) It has clear apostolic origins. This alone is not a reason for a book to be considered canonical; these attributes seem to compensate one another. 3) It has been received by the corporate church. The original apostles recognized these books; they were recognized earlier in church history and through church history. Again, the Holy Spirit is key in recognizing the canon that was already in place. (p. 113) Using these three attributes Kruger proposed that the canon is “Exclusive, functional and ontological.” (p 118)
The greatest evidence for the canon of the New Testament in early Christianity is the New Testament itself; Peter referring to Paul’s writing as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16) and others are good examples that the original apostles already knew that there was something special about several of their writings. Kruger also gives us additional evidence through the writings of respected apostolic fathers, such as Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Barnabas and Papias, who in their writings made reference to an already established Scripture. (pp. 210-220) The allusions of the Old Testament written by the prophets and the New Testament by the apostles are a good indicator through the New Testament.
An addition point that Kruger presents is a great deal of emphasis on the public reading of the canonical books. (pp. 204-209) As history has shown us, many claims have been made of secret and lost books surfacing. The original apostles made it a practice to make public the inspired books and reject any claims of any other secret book as divine. Furthermore, Kruger presents essentially four categories of early Christian literature: 1) The recognized books, 2) the disputed books, 3) the rejected books, and 4) the heretical books. (pp. 266-267) Kruger essentially reaffirms the stance of the apostles in categorizing each text. These categories make a complex issue into a relatively simple and more manageable one. Kruger does not ignore the fact that there were books in the Bible that we recognize today that were disputed. Nonetheless he explains each category and provides sufficient support for his analysis.
At the conclusion of this book Kruger firmly states that we as Christians have a rational basis and intellectually sufficient grounds to believe in the reliability of the New Testament. (p. 295) It was a very interesting observation to me that even in the midst of horrendous divisions in the Body of Christ, for centuries the church has indeed shown a “remarkable unity around these twenty-seven books…” (p. 295) The book ends with these very appropriate words,
“It turns out that the solution to the problem of canon has not been lacking – it has actually been there the whole time. Jesus himself declared it: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) (p. 295)
At the heart of the message this book is trying to communicate and in Mr. Kruger’s honor to good theology, sound doctrine, dogma, and orthodoxy, a true Christian can find peace and assurance that the twenty-seven books we recognize are indeed God’s inspired word.
Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Lynchburg, VA