Review of @ivpacademic’s The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate

Often times, Christians are told their canon is a development based on politics and developed theology. The canon, we are told, has something to do with Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps, rather, the canon is a product of the Church. These are all external forces creating the canon. Michael J. Kruger wishes to counter this and rather argue for an intrinsic force, springing up from within the texts. He proposes that the canon is not an accident or outside creation, but one carrying the foresight and authority of the New Testament writers.

The book is made up of an introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. The chapters tackle the definition, origin, writing, authors, and the date of the canon (in that order) to offer an counter to the somewhat established extrinsic model (p23–4). Each chapter is aimed at proving a positive statement. Kruger’s first chapter attempts to show that the definition between canon and scripture are the same. Yet, while he gives definitions for canon, I could not find a definition for Scripture. Given ongoing discussion about the nature of Scripture (inspired? inerrant? infallible?), it would have been most helpful to have Scripture defined from the start. Rather, it seems Kruger is dialoguing with an unknown, or perhaps expectantly passive, partner. This is not the only time he does this.

In chapter 2, “The Origins of Canon”, Kruger attempts to show that Early Christianity itself, rather than a later Christianity neatly situated in a post-Constantinian world, had the necessary seeds from which to grow the canon. While David Duncan’s book, Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament, is mentioned twice in the entire book, neither of which in chapter 2, it seems to be Kruger’s dialogue partner for a sizeable portion (along with Lee McDonald’s body of work). So, in chapter 2, Kruger aims at showing that if anything Constantine and later ecclesial authorities merely accepted that which was already established (against the silent dialogue partner). In this chapter he against draws heavily from an evangelical view of Church history, a history where we have well established, and authoritative, apostles.

The next chapter attempts to answer the question of whether or not a written document would have been welcomed by the early Church. He answers this with remarkable skill, such remarkable skill, that if one has issues with other parts of this book, this chapter should save the volume. While I do not agree with Kruger that Christianity “was quite a ‘bookish’ religion from the start” I cannot understand how we can ignore the use of written documents in giving a ground to the early Church. His work here needs to be revisited and enjoyed.

The fourth chapter focused on the authors of the canon. Here, Kruger’s conservativism becomes somewhat distracting. He bases his conclusions on a view of an established monolithic movement and a particular view of Christian authority. He concludes, “the New Testament writings… were intended to be documents with an authority equivalent to that of Scripture.” (154) This is quite impossible to prove. After all, there was no single source of Scripture (I assume this means what we call today the Old Testament) for the early Church. Further, his very next sentence threatens to derail his first chapter. One must simply assume that the authors of the New Testament books believed they were writing something not yet categorized until the 2nd century. One must also dismiss much of historical criticism regarding the authors of these books. If anything, Kruger’s argument in this chapter is upheld only by those who wrote in the names of the Apostles (the Pastorals, 2 Peter), but falls if we assume each author wrote each book assigned to him.

His fifth and final chapter speaks to the date of the formation of the canon. Here, his not-so-silent guide, St. Irenaeus, provides almost his (positive) sole evidence. Clement of Alexandria, who barely gets a mention in this present book, would provide enough counter evidence (as suggested by Francis Watson in his recent book, Gospel Writing) that the canon was not closed but still very much open, even when it came to the Gospels. This chapter, by in large, is the most unconvincing.

Even if one does not accept Kruger’s evidences for his conclusions, he provides solid conclusions based on his provided evidence. His goal is to offer a counter to the current extrinsic model for the canon. He does just that. Although I feel he presents a dichotomy that may not stand the rigors of academic exploration, Kruger establishes a well-crafted attempt at reframing the canon debate. He succeeds, if not in convincing me of his point, then in convincing me that the extrinsic model is wrong.

Post By Joel Watts (10,115 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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