Man the decks matey it’s time to talk about the Canon: A book review

 

Canon Revisited cover 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.
In part 2, Kruger looks more in depth at the attributes of canon (second in the series above) in order to articulate more fully what he means by each and answer particular ‘defeaters’–scholarly arguments against each of these elements. This gives part 2 of the book a sort of apologetic feel (obviously you need to account for counter arguments in all academic discourse but Kruger places himself firmly on confessional grounds). In articulating the divine attributes of Scripture, Kruger points to the beauty and excellence, the power and efficacy and the unity and harmony of scripture. By beauty and excellence, he isn’t referring to literary style or rhetorical flare but the manner that the Bible puts forward the beauty and excellence of Christ.  The divine stamp is further evidenced in the power of scripture as a means of grace for people and providing  authority in action. God is also seen in the Divine unity of scripture,  doctrinally, in articulating  the whole redemptive story, and structually. This doesn’t mean that each book does not have their own peculiar emphasis and distinctives but that together they present a full picture of who God is and what he is doing in our world.
In articulating the apostolic authorship and the reception of the canon Kruger sets up a rational for trusting the authority of the canon and is able to demonstrate that those who question the canon, have not removed all rational basis for believing in it.
On the whole, this is a carefully reasoned and accessible presentation of issues surrounding the Canon. I think Kruger does a very good job of articulating his case and I am in substantial agreement with him.  In an era where the authority and truthfulness of the New Testament is often questioned, a book like this provides a powerful apologetic. I highly recommend this book, particularly for students and ministers who are faced with questions and are looking for solid answers for why we trust our Bible and not every other unearthed gospel.
Thank you to Crossway books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

The Voice Bible Book Review

This month The Voice unveils their Bible version for the whole Bible, Old and New Testament. Recently Thomas Nelson sent me the New Testament and I ‘m impressed by it (I used it on my blog for my ‘Seven Words of Jesus on the Cross’ series). The Voice is the brainchild of Chris Seay and the Ecclesia Bible Society. I have followed the project and even have some of the earlier volumes on my shelf ( The Voice of Matthew, The Voice of Acts, The Last Eye Witness: The Final Week). It is nice to see the whole project finally come together.

Why Another Translation?

Seriously, why another translation? With the NIV perpetually updating itself, the Reformed crowd all reading the ESV and other translations popping up, seemingly every few months, do we need a Bible like this? I would say that this project is sufficiently unique and I have found that it does a good job of illuminating the Biblical text for a contemporary context.

There are two main approaches that translators take when approaching the Bible. One translation theory is Formal Equivalence which are very literal translations like the NASB or KJV. These translate Hebrew and Greek Idiom, essentially as is (there are mistakes and the KJV wasn’t working with earlier manuscripts but the translators worked on a very literal rendering). On the other side you have translations which aim at Functional Equivalence (NIV is a major example of this). The Voice is closer to the functional equivalence side and dynamic in its approach. The translators and writers producing a text that is at times literal and at other times explicated and amplified. The Ecclesia Bible Society brought together Bible and language scholars with authors, songwriters, poets and pastors in order to produce a text that is beautiful in its expression but accurate in translation.

I think it succeeds rather well. Some of the things I like include:

  • Dialogue is written like a screenplay. This gives the interactions a dynamic and immediate feel. It is very effective.
  • In italics are words and phrases, which are not from the original text but explicate its meaning.
  • Peppered through the Bible are notes that either explain the original meaning or its contemporary implications. What I like about this is that the notes are often meatier than your typical devotional Bible, but leaner than a lot of Study Bibles which (in my opinion) over inform.
  • The Translation itself is highly readable, and accessible. This would be a good Bible to share with Non-Christians, Youth and Seekers. My wife is using it as she prepares children’s curriculum for church. If this translation helps people get the story a little more, I’m in favor.
  • If I could quibble with the marketing of this Bible, the back cover promotional blurbs are from Donald Miller and Darrell Bock. Darrell Bock is a good New Testament scholar and Donald Miller is a justly popular author. Both guys are not impartial because they worked on The Voice. This is like an author saying, “Buy my book I really like it.”

    But I liked it too and recommend it if you are shopping for a dynamic rendering of the Bible or looking for a good Bible to share with friends.

    I received this Bible from the Thomas Nelson Blog Bunch with the understanding that I would share my thoughts on it on my Blog. If you are interested in exploring this translation further, go to HeartheVoice{dot}com.