I recently finished reading “Canon Revisited” by Michael Kruger. The author answers the question, “How can Christians have confidence that the 27 books of the New Testament are the correct ones?”
Michael J. Kruger (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is professor of New Testament and academic dean at Reformed Theological Seminary, and the author of a number of articles and books on early Christianity.
He discusses three models of canonicity:
1) Historically determined model: Do the books have apostolic origins?
2) Community determined model: What decisions did early church leaders make, regarding which NT books are canonical?
3) Self-authenticating model: Summed up in Jesus’ words, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
Kruger offers his reasons for advocating the third model. He says that God has provided “the proper epistemic environment in which belief in the canon could be reliably formed.” This environment has three parts:
1) Providential exposure: the books which God has inspired as Scripture will be available for Christians to examine.
2) Attributes of canonicity: Divine qualities, corporate reception, and and apostolic origins.
3) Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.
The author says that the ‘attributes of canonicity’ are mutually reinforcing.
He concludes by stating that the question of canonicity (that is, which books ought to be included in the Bible) is, at its core, a theological one. His book does not attempt to convince skeptics that the Bible is the Word of God. Rather, he writes for Christian believers, giving them reasons from the Scriptures themselves, as well as evidence from history, that our Bible contains the books which He intended to be included.
How do we account for the fact that not all Christians agree on the precise limits of the canon? Kruger reminds us that because we are sinners, we will not all hear God’s voice in His Word with the same fidelity. This is to be expected. Having established that, however, the author reminds the reader that the Church has had remarkably broad agreement on the limits of the Canon through the centuries.
I found the book to be an absorbing discussion of the various points of view of the canon and its formation. I appreciated the fact that the author did not treat the subject from a purely historical standpoint. Rather, he shows the reader the various theological reasons why Christians believe that our canon is from the Lord, while at the same time including a discussion of events of early church history which were involved in the process of canonization.
What is the evidence from history that we have the correct books in our Protestant canon? Kruger does go into some detail to answer the question, but reminds the reader that historical evidence cannot have more authority than the Scriptures themselves. Ultimately, our highest source of authority must be the Bible, not evidence for the Bible. Is this circular reasoning? Kruger admits that the reasoning may appear circular, but because of the nature of the topic, some circularity is unavoidable. But circular reasoning in and of itself need not disqualify an idea from being considered true. We may ask, “Is logic true?” To answer the question, one must use logic. The question cannot be answered without assuming the answer to be ‘yes’ in the first place. Similarly, when discussing questions regarding the nature and authority of Scripture, Christians sometimes go to Scripture passages to support their conclusions.
I read a similar book a few years ago by F. F. Bruce, called “The Canon of Scripture.” Bruce took a more historical and evidentialist approach to establishing the Canon. It made sense to me then (and still does to a large extent). But I do see now, having read Kruger, that external evidence that the Bible is God’s Word cannot have greater authority than the Scriptures themselves. Bruce’s book was also a snoozer, compared to Kruger’s impassioned style. Suffice to say that Kruger is not saying that we should not look at evidence outside the Scriptures to establish the Canon, but that our ultimate authority must be the Scriptures themselves. Jesus’ words in John 10:27 are cited by Kruger numerous times, too many to count, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”
Kruger spends a lot of ink discussing the Roman Catholic view of the Canon. Catholics believe that Protestants have no firm basis for establishing the limits of the Canon, because they do not accept Rome’s authority to tell us what books are in the Canon. Kruger points out that Rome asks us to accept its authority because it is the Roman Catholic Church. In other words, Rome’s authority is self-authenticating. Yet Catholics criticize Protestants for claiming that the Scriptures are self-authenticating. Kruger asks us to recall that the first Christians had a canon even before the New Testament was written. Their canon was the Old Testament, which “seemed to have existed just fine before the founding of the Church.” So the first Christians had no trouble recognizing the books of the Old Testament as Scripture, without an external authority such as Rome giving its imprimatur. This was only possible because the Old Testament books were self-authenticating.
“Canon Revisited” ought to cause Christians to ask themselves why they believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Kruger gives his answer by repeatedly reminding us of the words of Christ in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” The whole book is an expanded application of Jesus’ words to the question of canon. Reading Kruger’s book was time well spent.