Scripture, The Tenacity of the Text

“Canon Revisited” by Michael J. Kruger

{Book Review}

Though it is somewhat technical and heavy (especially where original languages are addressed) – as one would expect from a textbook – I found Dr. Kruger’s book to be an excellent (and non-overwhelming) introduction to the topic of the New Testament canon.

I especially appreciated the main theme of his apologetic purpose in the book:

“I was interested not only in when and how these books were recognized as canonical, but also in how we know these books are canonical. My concerns were not only historical but also epistemological (and theological)… Like me, the students in my class were not satisfied with just learning when and how the canon was received; they too wanted to know whether Christianity had adequate grounds to claim that these twenty-seven books were the right ones. That is the question that critics of the faith are always asking. And my students were looking for answers. This issue, then, is the motivation for this book. I have written it not so much to answer the question about whether the Christian belief in the canon is true, but to answer the question about whether the Christian belief in the canon is intellectually justified.” – Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited (page 11)

And I believe he has succeeded in his goal – at least, as far as is possible in one volume.

His explanation of this facet of the book in the Introduction (pages 20 & 21) – namely, his aim to answer the de jure objection as opposed to the de facto objection – was very helpful in setting up the other themes of the book.

Also, having been raised with no meaningful doctrine of canon, I found Dr. Kruger’s observations and instruction quite helpful. And his epistemology was far more intellectually satisfying – at least for me – than anything else I have ever encountered in Christian apologetics as far as the doctrine of canon is concerned.

Once he has laid a foundation for understanding the academic debate about canon, Dr. Kruger begins to help us understand that “the canon, as God’s Word, is not just true, but the criterion of truth. It is an ultimate authority.” (Page 91, emphasis original)

And he continues:

“So, how do we offer an account of how we know that an ultimate authority is, in fact, the ultimate authority? If we try to validate an ultimate authority by appealing to some other authority, then we have just shown that it is not really the ultimate authority. Thus, for ultimate authorities to be ultimate authorities, they have to be the standard for their own authentication. You cannot account for them without using them.” – Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited (page 91)

NOTE: this being a short review – and primarily only what I found most helpful – I hope the reader will forgive and understand that I am not including all of the qualifications given by Kruger for his statements.

And once we understand this and why it is logical or necessary for a believer’s view of Scripture, Kruger continues with a summarization of what the rest of his excellent book explores in very helpful detail:

“When we do apply the Scripture to the question of which books belong in the canon, we shall see that it testifies to the fact that God has created the proper epistemic environment wherein belief in the New Testament canon can be reliably formed. This epistemic environment includes three components:

  • Providential exposure. In order for the church to be able to recognize the books of the canon, it must first be providentially exposed to these books. The church cannot recognize a book that it does not have.
  • Attributes of canonicity. These attributes are basically characteristics that distinguish canonical books from all other books. There are three attributes of canonicity: (1) divine qualities (canonical books bear the “marks” of divinity), (2) corporate reception (canonical books are recognized by the church as a whole), and (3) apostolic origins (canonical books are the result of the redemptive-historical activity of the apostles).
  • Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. In order for believers to rightly recognize these attributes of canonicity, the Holy Spirit works to overcome the noetic effects of sin and produces belief that these books are from God.

These three components must all be in place if we are to have knowledge of the canon. We cannot know canonical books unless we have access to those books (providential exposure); we need some way to distinguish canonical books from other books (attributes of canonicity); and we need to have some basis for thinking we can rightly identify these attributes (internal work of the Spirit).” – Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited (page 94)

And, as I have said, the rest of his 295 page book covers an incredible, scholarly exploration of these ideas. Not to mention the amount of “further reading” that can be found in the 40 page Bibliography.

Finally, I very much appreciated this book in light of the availability of Dr. Kruger’s lecture series as a supplement. Though I cannot yet fully enjoy the Greek reading portion of that series (still working on learning to read it!), it was helpful to be able to listen to the different examples and ideas that he gave in the series that cannot be found (in at least the same form) in the book.

I would highly recommend this work to any serious student of the New Testament who is interested in its origins and any field of Christian apologetics along with Dr. Kruger’s other work on the subject; The Question of Canon.

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