Friday, July 6, 2012
Book Review: Canon Revisited by Michael Kruger
I recently finished Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books by Michael Kruger, a professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminar, which I received complimentary from Crossway. Canon Revisited explores the major discussions and views on the formation and reliability of the New Testament canon. The central purpose of Canon Revisited is answering whether Christians are intellectually justified believing the New Testament documents are reliable witnesses to Jesus Christ and the beliefs of the early Christian Church. Kruger's answer is that indeed Christians are justified believing this, that the New Testament, its generally accepted, Western form of twenty-seven books, offers an accurate presentation of documents written by apostolic witnesses to Christ and the early Church, and it is useful for the formation of Christian doctrine and personal edification. Canon Revisited is a useful and appropriate for use in a classroom on Christian origins, or in a small-group study on the formation of the New Testament. I highly recommend Canon Revisited to Christians interested in New Testament origins and apologetics, especially those involved in teaching and education, and pastors who want to know their New Testament better.
Canon Revisited is especially useful for two reasons, the first being because it is filled with footnotes, and even if the book itself were not useful on the merits of its arguments, it would still be useful because of these footnotes. Kruger has assembled summaries of the major arguments and schools of thought in New Testament origins for Canon Revisited, and provides the reader with the background for those arguments in his footnotes. For those who are academically and professional interested in Christian origins and the New Testament, those footnotes are a substantial resource. The second reason Canon Revisited is useful is because it provides a summation of the various schools of thought on the formation of the New Testament. Canon Revisited is divided into two parts, in Part 1 Kruger groups the various schools of thought regarding the New Testament Canon into three major categories that are discussed in chapters 1 through 3: community determined, historically determined and self-authenticating canons. Kruger criticizes the community and historically determined models for being overly reliant on the role of people and events in choosing the books that entered the canon and not giving sufficient leverage to the divine origin and guidance in forming the canon.
This of course is Kruger's purpose behind Canon Revisited, to offer reasoned and evidential support for Christians that the books of the New Testament are divinely inspired, non-contradictory and reliable as a rule of faith for Christian life and belief. The problem with community determined models such as that pioneered by the historical-critical school is that it assumes the text of the canon is only the result of arguments among the early Christian community, or as some recent scholars have suggested, various Christian communities who disagreed on doctrines and books. The problem with historically determined models, such as the neo-orthodox, is that it reduces the canon to once again being the result of the actions of people and forces. This isn't to say that Kruger disapproves of scholarship into the church's role and belief regarding the canon, or the history of the formation of the canon and New Testament doctrines.
The canon as self-authenticating forms the subject for Part 2, the remaining pages of Canon Revisited. This argument essentially states that the documents which form the New Testament, the gospels and epistles, possess within themselves the marks of divine inspiration, apostolic authorship and a core group of accepted canonical books that provided guidelines for the organization of the New Testament canon. Chapter 4 addresses the divine qualities of the canon, especially that the books of our accepted, twenty-seven book canon possess doctrinal unity. The books of the New Testament are non-contradictory, both amongst the other New Testament documents and with the Old Testament books; the books speak to a common redemptive-historical unity, the story of God seeking to redeem mankind, from Genesis to Revelation; and a structural unity in the writing of the documents, making covenant arguments and a having an organization that consciously builds on the Old Testament models, something not found in non-canonical gospels and epistles.
Chapter 5 addresses the apostolic origins of the accepted books of the New Testament canon, that the authors of those books were not necessarily all apostles, but they were all people close to the earliest Christian community, including those who knew Christ personally and those who learned from apostles and disciples of Christ. The final three chapters, 6, 7 and 8, are devoted to the corporate reception of the canon, how the early Christian communities received, understood and accepted documents to be new revelations from God. In Chapter 6 Kruger argues that a core group of books were canonically accepted by all, or at least almost all, Christian communities of the first centuries after Christ. These accepted documents were the four gospels, Paul's epistles, Acts, 1 Peter and 1 John, as well as the Old Testament. They formed guidelines for what Christian communities believed and could reasonably expect to be Christian doctrines. In Chapter 7 Kruger discusses how the Christian communities views on books and manuscripts informed what books they accepted as canonical and guiding. Finally, in Chapter 8 Kruger discusses several non-canonical books and why the Christian communities rejected them, establishing a clear criteria that the Christian community understood certain books to be acceptable and defining.