Category Archives: Canon

Noteworthy Book: Canon Revisited by Michael J. Kruger

One of the most common attacks on the Christian faith is the attempt to undermine the New Testament canon. Critics make a number of claims to challenge the NT canon, such as: (1) the canon was decided only in the 4th century as a power play; (2) how can we know we have the right books in the canon; (3) there was widespread disagreement over which books were canonical; (4) what about all those “lost” books; (5) the authors of the various books had no idea they were writing Scripture. These and other claims are thought to cast serious doubt on the New Testament canon.

In response to these and other critical claims, Michael J. Kruger has entered the fray with his excellent book Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament. In responding to critical arguments against the NT canon, Kruger argues for what he calls a “self-authenticating model of the canon.” This self-authenticating model argues that the canonical books have three attributes: (1) divine qualities; (2) corporate reception; and (3) apostolic origins. The Holy Spirit uses these three attributes to authenticate the books of the NT canon.

In my estimation this is now the go-to book on the New Testament canon. Kruger’s self-authenticating model is the most holistic approach to dealing with the question of the canon. While it is an academic book with plenty of footnotes, on the whole I find it quite readable. Pastors, teachers, and even Bible study leaders can read this book and benefit greatly.

There is much more to Kruger’s book than can be briefly summarized here. Some of the material in nutshell form can be found on Kruger’s blog, which I highly recommend.

Fridays in Philippians

As some of you may know, I am currently working on a commentary on Philippians in the Mentor Series published by Christian Focus Publishers. I have been working on this project on and off for about 4 years and hope to send it off to the publisher within the next year. To hopefully whet your appetite for the commentary, I am starting a new feature called Fridays in Philippians. Each Friday I’ll share some brief thoughts from either a particular verse, a key theme, or perhaps even the historical/cultural background.

But today I want to start by explaining what I hope to accomplish in writing a commentary. The starting point for me is to determine the author’s intended meaning. I want to understand as best I can what Paul communicated to the Philippians. To do that requires studying the words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and arguments within four different levels of context: literary, historical/cultural, canonical, and redemptive-historical. Let me explain what I mean by the last two.

By canonical context I mean taking into account what other biblical books have to say. Priority must be given to Paul’s other letters, since they help us understand what and how Paul thinks. But we must not neglect what the rest of Scripture says since God is the author of all 66 books.

By redemptive-historical context I mean taking into account where a passage of Scripture falls within the overall storyline of the Bible. Paul writes as an apostle of the risen Jesus who eagerly awaits the return of Christ and the consummation of all things. He also writes at a time when not all of the New Testament books had been written.

Once I have determined the author’s intended meaning, my goal is to determine how the text applies to God’s people today. While strictly speaking Paul did not write this text to me (I’m not a Philippian!), the text is written for me as a member of God’s people. What Paul says to the Corinthians about the Old Testament is true for us as new covenant believers: “Now these things [i.e. Israel’s failures in the wiulderness] happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11). Similarly, Paul writes to the Romans “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4).

Thus my approach begins with the historical-grammatical method, but it does not end there. I am convinced that once the historical-grammatical foundation is laid, the interpreter must then apply all the available tools of biblical theology (typology, tracing themes, exploring OT backgrounds, etc.) to achieve a fuller understanding of the text. Of course, many others before me have studied Philippians so I seek to draw upon the insights of others who have gone before me (a combination of historical theology and Wirkungsgeschichte [the study of the effect the text has had on readers throughout the ages]]). The process is not complete until the text has been integrated into the larger categories of what Scripture teaches elsewhere on the same subject (systematic theology) and suggestions are made for how the text applies to the lives of believers today (pastoral theology).

Of course, while in theory the process just described is linear, in reality it is more of a spiral. My preexisting understanding of biblical theology, historical theology, Wirkungsgeschichte, and systematic theology not only inform each other but also my exegesis. When there is dissonance between them the choice must be made as to whether I have misunderstood the text or my biblical, systematic, or pastoral theology needs to be modified.

Of course, whether I succeed or not is up for others to decide. But my prayer is that by clearly explaining what the text means and how it applies to our lives as God’s people, Christ will be exalted, God’s people will be transformed, and the gospel will advance. Would you join me in praying that God would be pleased to do this through this commentary?

Manuscript of Apologetics Talk Now Posted

This past weekend I spoke at the No Doubt Apologetics Conference in Indianpolis. They have now posted my detailed notes from the session, and should be posting audio and video in the near future. You can download the notes here.

Although I do deal very briefly with textual criticism, the majority of the presentation was on how we got our New Testament canon. You will plenty of resources for further study in the footnotes of the document as well. You are welcome to leave any feedback in the comments here.

CORRECTION: The updated version can now be found at this link.

No Doubt: True Answers to Eternal Questions

On Saturday, August 15 I will have the privilege of speaking at a one-day apologetics conference in Indianpolis entitled No Doubt: True Answers to Eternal Questions. Other speakers include Paul Maier, Greg Koukl and Tommy Mitchell. If you are in the area, I encourage you to stop in. You can register for the conference here.

I will be addressing two interrelated questions: how did we get our Bible (the issue of the canon, with emphasis on the New Testament) and is what we have what the authors wrote (the issue of textual criticism).