The Question of Canon

Well, I’m in a rail-replacement queue at Gatwick airport so I figured I could write a blog post to help the time go by. I’ve just finished reading Michael Kruger’s The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Devate and was going to write a brief review anyway. So here goes.

Kruger’s main aim in this book is to argue against the skepticism amongst scholars concerning the formation of the New Testament canon. The general opinion, nowadays, is to argue for what Kruger calls an extrinsic model for the formation of the canon, that is, a view which suggests that the formation of the canon was late, the result of external forces (hence extrinsic) and not something which the earliest Christians would have anticipated. Kruger, instead, proposes an intrinsic model. He spends the five main chapters of his book not refuting, but questioning and qualifying the arguments used for the extrinsic model.

Kruger deals with 5 arguments which scholars usually put forward to bolster the extrinsic model: (1) The definition of canon as a final and exclusive list which places it at 325AD; (2) early Christians were an oral culture and therefore averse to the idea of writing docents; (3) the earliest Christians had no reason to write a new canon (the world was about to end within a few years, they thought); (4) the authors of the New Testament had no sense that they were writing scripture; (5) it is only with Irenaeus in ca. 200 AD that we have the idea of canon appearing.

Kruger treats each of these arguments in a very balanced way, noting the strengths and truths of each one, but pushing against each on various issues. For example, he agrees that most early Christians were indeed illiterate; yet this does not lead to the conclusion that they despised written documents (the evidence certainly doesn’t support that idea).

This is a well-written book but one into which a large amount of research has clearly gone (the discussions in the footnotes will satisfy the inquisitive, academically-minded reader). A must-read for anyone studying the formation of the canon, or anyone who wants a good, clearly argued case against much of the skepticism which creeps into these discussions.

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