Canon Revisited: A Review

Michael Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Crossway, 2013, 368pp. $21.72

Do Christians have intellectually sufficient grounds for claiming that they know which books belong in the New Testament? This is the question that Michael Kruger, professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte, NC), attempts to answer in Canon Revisited.

Kruger makes it clear from the beginning that he is not attempting to prove to skeptics that the Scriptures are inspired by God (if that is even possible to prove), but rather he is attempting to answer the de jure objection, the objection that the Christian belief in the canon is not intellectually justifiable (even if it happens to be true).

[I]t is the de jure objection that has created the deeper epistemological crisis for Christians today [as opposed to de facto objection, the objection that the Scriptures are not from God]. The culture of postmodernity in our Western world already gives us reason to doubt the basis for virtually every belief we hold—particularly religious ones. Any claim to actually know that one’s religious beliefs are true is regarded as a violation of the rules of intellectual integrity (295, author’s emphasis).

Kruger, after summarizing and critiquing several community-determined and historically-determined models of canonicity, presents the book’s main focus: a self-authenticating model of canonicity. For Kruger and all other Christians who hold to biblical inerrancy, knowledge of which books belong in the canon must be determined by the canon itself. The canon must be self-authenticating.

A self-authenticating model, which is self-supporting and self-correcting, is necessary, Kruger argues, because ultimate authority (the Bible) cannot be validated by any outside criteria e.g. church’s reception, apostolicity, etc. If it is, then it is not actually ultimate—whatever criteria validates it is. “[T]he canon guides, controls, and determines how it is authenticated” (289).

Kruger builds his model by showing how God has created the proper epistemic environment in which belief in the canon can be reliably formed. It includes three components:

  • Providential exposure – Christians can only know the books which God has providentially allowed to survive. This component answers the question of what we should think of potentially lost apostolic letters.
  • Attributes of canonicity – divine qualities (beauty, efficacy, and harmony), corporate reception, and apostolic origins
  • Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit – necessary to overcome the noetic effects of sin, the effects on our thinking, so that we can see the truth of these attributes and believe that these books are from God

After building the framework of the self-authenticating model, Kruger spends the rest of the book developing it and addressing potential “defeaters” of the model, which include no basis for orthodoxy, divergent and contradictory theologies of the books, pseudonymous authors, and disagreement and dissent in the canon recognition process.

In my opinion, Kruger sufficiently addresses all of these defeaters. He cites heavily from secular opponents (the bibliography is 50 pages long), and he is not acerbic in his replies to their views, which seems to be the common tone in academia today.

Canon Revisited is a refreshing, thorough read that provides a solid foundation for Christians’ belief in the canon amidst the howling, though empty, claims of much of modern biblical scholarship. Kruger attempts and, I believe, succeeds in “destroy[ing] arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and tak[ing] every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

While it was one of the more scholarly books that I have read, which made for slow reading at times, the copious footnotes helped me to understand the model presented and appreciate Kruger’s commitment to the inerrancy, infallibility, and authority of the Bible.

Canon Revisited is important because in it Kruger shows how the decisive issue in canonical studies in one’s ontology of canon. “[E]veryone brings a canonical theology to the table whether they recognize it or not” (294). Above all, it is important because it shows how Christians have intellectually sufficient grounds for claiming that they know which books belong in the New Testament.

Kruger’s self-authenticating model is not new, though.

Although this volume has attempted to offer a detailed answer to [Ernest] Best’s concern [“No one has come up with a satisfactory solution as to how we determine which books should be in the canon”], it has not done so by offering something new. Indeed, it has done so by turning to something very old. 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 qtd. 295).

Kruger’s book reminds us that Scripture is sub specie aeternitatis (from the eternal perspective), and that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

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