How did the New Testament Canon come to be and why should we regard it as authoritative? My own denomination has historically affirmed scripture as’ the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine and conduct,’ but is this position defensible? Where does biblical authority rest if the canon was decided upon by the church.
Michael Kruger, professor of New Testament and academic dean at Reformed Theological Seminary, has written a lucid and helpful examination of issues surrounding the formation of the canon and argues convincingly for a self authenticating model of the New Testament canon. Kruger is remarkably gregarious in his approach, often affirming the good in the models he opposes while trying to establish a model of canon which is both faithful to scripture and tradition and can stand up to critical scrutiny. If you read one book about canon formation this year, this book should be it.
The book is organized into two parts. In part one, Kruger presents and evaluates various approaches to Canon formation. In chapter one he critiques ‘community determined models’ which argue that the basis of a book’s canonicity is solely determined by the book’s recipients (the church or faith community). Of course there are a wide range of community determined approaches: historical-critical, Roman Catholic, Canonical criticism, and Existential/Neo Orthodox. Because of the range of approaches and brevity of Kruger’s treatment, he runs the risk of oversimplifying but is generally fair and well documented in his treatment of each model (even separating out the strand of Roman Catholic teaching which seems to affirm his self-authenticating approach from the strand which places the authority of scripture as subservient to the authority of church). In Chapter 2 he critiques the historically determined models (canon within a canon, or criteria for canonicity model) which argue that the historic, apostolic origin of the books in question are the sole basis for their place in the New Testament. Over and against these approaches Kruger presents the Self-Authenticating model (chapter 3) but he draws generously on the insights from both the community and historic models. His self authenticating model has three features:
- Providential exposure (only the books the church has or have been exposed to can be considered for canonization
- Attributes of Canonization (the New Testament books have a ‘divine quality,’ they are recieved corpoartely and affirmed by the church at large and they have apostolic origins).
- The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit confirms the authority of a book and it’s place in the canon for believers.