Michael Kruger wrote
“Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books”
Reviewed by Ryan Lian
The topic of the New Testament canon is one of immense debate, and with the recent assault on the authenticity and reliability of the canon by critical scholars, it has become an incredibly important topic for Christian apologists. This assault by critical scholars should generate major questions within the mind of the believer. If critical scholars are right, and we Christians cannot trust our New Testament, how can we even be sure that what we believe about God, Jesus and pretty much everything, is actually true?
Michael J. Kruger, President of Reformed Theological Seminary and a professor in New Testament studies, has undertaken the challenging but crucial task of defending the New Testament canon. Kruger faithfully defends the important idea that Christians have sufficient grounds to know which books belong in the New Testament canon, and which books do not. Kruger clearly states from the outset that he is not aiming to convince skeptics that the New Testament is the Word of God, rather, he is trying to aid, comfort and encourage Christians by showing them that they can truly trust their New Testament.
What I liked
Kruger is a thoroughly-researched, systematic and clear writer. Though this book is clearly a scholarly work, he avoids the pitfall of becoming convoluted or pitching his ideas too high for the lay reader. Kruger is accomplished at “sign-posting” his argument, so that the reader is aware of what objection he is answering, what point he is making and why the point needs to be made in the first place. In short, this book is easy to read.
Kruger also provides a balanced argument in this book. The first two chapters are spent explaining the many models used by scholars and theologians throughout the ages to explain and/or critique the New Testament canon. What I liked about this was that Kruger acknowledged that some of these models, while starting with incorrect presuppositions and arriving at incorrect conclusions, had some helpful elements for Christians.
I also liked how Kruger was unafraid to engage with critical scholars and provide responses to their objections that I found both comprehensive and compelling.
What I didn’t like
Kruger is a New Testament scholar, and this book is primarily written for seminary students, so it is unsurprising that his references are extensive. Personally, I found his footnotes to be distracting, but I can see their value.
What I found encouraging
Before I read this book, I had considerable questions about the authenticity and reliability of the New Testament canon. Doubts about whether I could trust the twenty-seven books in the second half of my Bible made me quite uneasy. However, three-quarters of the way through the book, I became convinced that I could trust that the books in the New Testament really did belong there and that I could be sure that what these books said was trustworthy and true. I now firmly believe that all Christians can completely trust in the authenticity and reliability of the books in the New Testament.
Rather unexpectedly, I was encouraged by the “messy” and at times “unclear” formation of the New Testament. That the New Testament didn’t just drop from the sky, or was dictated to scribes by a man who had a vision in a cave; but was actually written by real people, in real times and places in proof that God acted in history. God used fishermen, doubting brothers and former persecutors of the church, writing letters and historical accounts to formulate a way of knowing who God was, and more importantly, knowing what God had done through his Son. God used ordinary means to produce extraordinary events. God used the foolish things of this world to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27).
What I found challenging
If Christians have good, solid grounds for believing that we can trust our New Testament books, the implications are massive. There is no longer any room to dismiss books that don’t fit with our systems of theology (as Martin Luther did with the book of James when he pronounced it an epistle of straw). Instead, we must labour to find where our understanding of Scripture and theology has gone wrong. We can no longer sit in judgement of the Scriptures, critiquing it if it says something we don’t like. Instead, we must sit under the judgement of Scripture.
If we can truly trust our New Testament and believe it is the Word of God, then Scripture alone is our ruler for faith and life.
Why you should read it
If you have ever wondered how the New Testament was formed, or how we know which books belong in it, or if we can even trust the New Testament; this book provides orthodox, Scriptural and logically sound answers.
If you have non-Christian (or even Christian friends) that have ever asked these sorts of questions, and you have struggled to provide a clear and convincing answer (or even been unconvinced by your own answer); then this book is for you.
Waste no more time being in doubt about the New Testament canon.
God has given us scholars like Kruger to comfort us, and help us to give an answer for the hope that we have
As Kruger says in his dedication, this book is aimed at readers who have some understanding of the theology, the formation of the New Testament canon and some church history. I would therefore recommend that the readers have a very basic understanding of each of these three areas. A good place to start for all three would be Dr. Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language (especially the first six chapters).
Kruger also quotes the original Greek of the New Testament. This is not problematic for those unfamiliar with New Testament Greek (like myself), as Kruger provides English translations alongside.