Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013). (Amazon.com)

Kruger, The Question of Canon
Kruger, The Question of Canon

In The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate Michael J. Kruger does not discuss what books should be included in the canon of Scripture, but instead asks a more fundamental question: Why is there a New Testament at all? Most scholars advocate what Kruger calls the extrinsic model of canon, i.e., the canon is not something intrinsic to Christianity but something imposed from the outside because of socio-political forces in the second through fourth centuries.

According to Kruger this model has value, but it doesn’t tell the full story. Kruger summarizes the five main tenets of the extrinsic model as (pp. 23-24):

(1) We must make a sharp distinction between Scripture and canon.

(2) There was nothing in earliest Christianity that might have led to a canon.

(3) Early Christians were averse to written documents.

(4) The New Testament authors were unaware of their own authority.

(5) The New Testament books were first regarded as Scripture at the end of the second century.

In contrast, Kruger offers the intrinsic model (p. 21): “…the idea of canon is not something imposed from the outside but develops more organically from within the Christian religion itself.” In Chapter 1, The Definition of Canon Kruger challenges the view that we should speak of Scripture as distinct from canon instead offering an “ontological definition of canon” (pp. 40-45) where the canon exists even before it is recognized as such because the Scripture that will be included in canon is authoritative upon composition and initial reception. In Chapter 2, The Origins of Canon examines how things like covenant and apostolic authority “…represented the working out of forces that were already present within the primitive Christian community and that would have made some form of canon virtually inevitable” (p. 78). Chapter 3, The Writing of Canon critiques the view that early Christians had an aversion for written documents favoring oral tradition. Chapter 4, The Authors of Canon attempts to connect these documents to apostolic or perceived apostolic authority in order to show that these works would have been considered authoritative because they were believed to go back to the apostles (e.g., GMark as Peter’s memoirs; GJohn as the eyewitness of the Beloved Disciple; Luke-Acts from an associate of Paul’s). It should be noted that this is not the same as arguing that these books actually do go back to the apostles somehow, only that their authority is based on that perception. Chapter 5, The Date of Canon rebuts the idea that the canon began forming because of Irenaeus of Lyons. Kruger surveys documents like the Muratorian Fragment and the writings of personalities ranging from Theophilus of Antioch to Papias and Polycarp to see if there was any concept of authoritative books (essentially, what would become recognized as canon) in their writings.

While I am no expert on the evolution of canon I can say that Kruger’s book is well written, respectful of differing views, honest about the positive contributions of the extrinsic model, and yet intent on providing some pushback as regards the vocabulary and methodology being used by scholars who discuss canonology. At 210 pp. of content it is a fairly quick and easy read (many pages are half content, half footnotes) and Kruger sticks with his central theme (avoiding the temptation to argue about which books should be included in the canon) which I appreciated.

This book was provided courtesy of IVP Academic. 

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