The Question of Canon: Challenging The Status Quo In The New Testament Debate

question-of-canon

Michael J. Kruger is president and professor of New Testament at RTS in Charlotte. He is the author of several books, notably Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Now more recently, he has released The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate.

Though his canon book are related, they are not redundant. While his previous book focused more on explaining where we got the canon and why it is authoritative, this book focuses more on the canon’s very existence in the first place. Loosely, one could say the previous book was answering what, when, and how, while this one explores why.

The status quo that Kruger is challenging is that “the New Testament was not a natural development within early Christianity, but a later artificial development that is out of sync with Christianity’s original purpose” (17). This is what Kruger calls “the extrinsic model,” which is to say the canon was imposed upon the Christian faith from outside of it (18). He acknowledges there is much correct within this model and so his goal in writing is “not to deny the truth of the extrinsic model in its entirety, but to offer a well-intended corrective to its assessment and interpretation of some of the historical evidence” (20).

His plan is to focus on 5 tenets of the extrinsic model, giving each a chapter that is composed of assessment and response. In doing so, Kruger will be offering correctives from an “intrinsic model” of the canon’s development (21). This model is not the polar opposite of the extrinsic model but rather suggests the development of the canon was organic to the Christian faith. In some respects, proponents of either model could agree to many of the historical facts about the development. The disagreement is centered more on why the process started in the first place and therefore will radiate out to different understandings of the authority and composition of the canon in the life of the church past and present.

The five tenets that Kruger will interact with are:

  • We must make a sharp distinction between Scripture and canon
  • There was nothing in earliest Christianity that might have led to a canon
  • Early Christians were averse to written documents
  • The New Testament authors were unaware of their own authority
  • The New Testament books were first regarded as Scripture at the end of the second century

To the first, he says it is good as far as it goes, but more insight could balance our understanding of the canon. To the second, as well as the fourth, Kruger marshals evidence to strongly suggest otherwise. To the third, Kruger explains that while early Christians may have been predominantly illiterate, they were still a people who used and appreciated written texts in their communities. To the final tenet, Kruger suggests the date is a bit earlier than scholarly consensus would have.

While the main body of the text is not necessarily heavy lifting, it isn’t beach reading either (unless you’re me). Like his earlier book on canon (and presumably other writings), Kruger provides rigorous documentation in the footnotes. Two of the five chapters have over 250 footnotes in the span of about 50 pages and the bibliography is almost 40 pages long. Given that the book itself is right around 250 pages, that gives you an idea how the space within is used.

As for the argumentation itself, I’m already on board with Kruger’s thesis and I thought his previous book was excellent. So far as I can tell, he is fair with opposing views and never comes across as disparaging or derisive towards those with whom he disagrees. As such, I would hope that it is inviting to those who think the canon is either a late development or an imposition onto early Christianity. Kruger argues compelling otherwise and does so in a clear and creative way (by using insights like speech-act theory and a latent triperspectivalism). For anyone interested in New Testament studies in general and canon studies in particular, Kruger is a scholar worth your time.


Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon: Challenging The Status Quo In The New Testament DebateDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, October, 2013. 256 pp. Paperback, $24.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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