Book Review “Canon revisited: establishing the origins and Authority of the New Testament Books” by Michael Kruger
Michael Kruger in his book Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (2012) searches for a reasonable answer to the question that usually leads to long theological discussions. He tries to understand why the Christians consider some books to belong to the canon, while the others are heretic.
In fact, it is really problematic to give an answer to the question why Ben Sira and 1st Enoch are not included in the canon, while Esther and Jude are. The most wide spread position of the apologists supposes that this phenomenon can be explained by tradition. That means that those books were cited more often, they were accepted from the beginning of the Christian church, and the church fathers agreed that they correspond to the nature of the Bible. Kruger wants to discuss whether there is logical proof in the Christian religion that explains the choice of the books for the canon. In the current essay an attempt to understand and critique two important themes that are mentioned in the book will be made, showing their advantages and disadvantages.
It is necessary to mention that despite all attempts of the author to analyze the issue from the objective perspective, the historical and sociological points of view are combined with the theological one. For Kruger, the perspective of the Christian who believes in the Scripture, is the main view point. The book consists of two parts. In the first part Kruger tries to determine the canonical model, analyzing the issue from three perspectives: historically determined, community determined and self-authenticating one. In the second part of Canon Revisited the author investigates in details into the self-authenticating model, that he considers to be the best, and argues the traditional norms that are accepted by Christians without critical analysis.
Kruger pays equal attention to every aspect that has supposedly influenced the choice of the books for the Holy Scripture. Though, he writes that only the self-authenticating model is based on itself, while communal and historical ones are based on external factors like general acceptance of the issue. The notion of self-authentication supposes that the guidance for understanding of the canon can be found in the text, not in the external characteristics like its reception by the community or its historical background. The author mentions that God gave people the right epistemic environment that helps to understand whether the book belongs to the New Testament or not.
The setting consists of three main components. The first one is the providential exposure, which supposes that there should be an access to the book, so that the church will be able to say something about its relation to the canon. Second, the book needs to have the apostolic origins and have the marks of divinity. The last component can be described as the inner feeling that the book is from God, and there the Holy Spirit overcomes all described sins. Such feeling gives people hope and it is the main characteristic that makes the canon different from the heretic books. It is possible to call the argument about the divine qualities of the book quite irrational and naive. However, Kruger develops the argumentation throughout his book and it becomes more understandable in the end.
The fact that Kruger focuses on the divine qualities of the canon is a serious advantage of the book. Scholars do not often pay attention to this issue, and focus mainly in the historical and social aspects of studying the New Testament. The apostolic origins and the way the community accepted the books are usually the key things that determine the choice of the canon. Kruger emphasizes the harmony, unity and power of the Holy Scripture, which makes it a divine text. The author pays precise attention to every book that is considered to be the canon and in three chapters describe the historical background of recognition of twenty seven books from the times of the early Christians. He combines the critique of the canon, writing about the controversies that are present there, and the message that he does not aim at ruining the present canon. Such approach is efficient in helping both theologists and people, who are interested in understanding the New Testament, because it supposes that a reader will think critically about the theme and make his/her own conclusions. Kruger does not impose his personal perspective, he writes that it is one of the possible ways to interpret the New Testament.
Though, it is possible to argue with this statement. The main disadvantage of the self-authenticating model is its complete subjectivity. The emotional reaction to the text can vary depending upon a particular person, whose psychological state is determined by a great number of circumstances.
The self-authenticating model is really subjective, but still it is problematic to claim that the historical aspect is objective. The same disadvantage of the argument can be refered to the historical analysis of the New Testament. Kruger mentions the corporate reception approach, and it is in fact the gathering of the subjective points of view that acquired importance nd authority due to the long time of existence. The New Testament has an important internal aesthetic dimension that makes a series of parables and words of wisdom a religious book, that gives people hope. In addition, the choice of the books of the New Testament is a tradition, and the tradition can not be called an objective truth.
The external issues that have influenced the choice of the books for the New Testament can be divided into two main sub-categories: the apostolic origins and the corporate reception of the canon. Kruger proposes an excellent discussion of the canon in terms of its apostolic origins. In addition, it is a professional example of the study in covenant theology. Kruger analyzes the issue from three perspectives. First, he states that the apostles are the agents of the canon. Second, redemption is the rationale for the canon, and third,covenant forms the structure of the canon. The logical discussion of the apostolic origins of the canon makes the conclusion that the historical and theological environment of the first century when the canon was formed, was ideal for this process.
Kruger devote several chapters to the question of the corporate reception of the canon. He investigates into the canonical core of the parts of the New Testament, writes about the production of the books and the appearance of the manuscripts. He also researches the boundaries of the canon, that determines the belonging of the book to it. Kruger foves detailed information about these issues. He uses the data from the Bible and from the manuscripts of the apostoli fathers. The majority of the writing that belonged to the apostlic fathers, were included in the first versions of the New Testament, which supports the idea that the true God given book is recognized at once.
Kruger asserts that the internal, aesthetic dimention is more important in understanding the canon than the historical one. However, it is impossible to rely ony on the self-authenticating model because of its absolute subjectivity. The historical model offers an objective basis that includes the apostolic component and the impact of corporate reception on the choice of the books that now form the New Testament. Kruger managed to give a detailed and thourough understanding of the problem of the choice of the books for the canon.
Kruger, Michael. Canon revisited: establishing the origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2012.