The Question of Canon: Challenging the status quo in
the New Testament debate
Michael J. Kruger
Church Times Bookshop £13.50 (Use code CT912
THE question of the canon frequently concerns which books,
whether 27 or more or fewer, should be included. Then it often
becomes a question when or how such a collection came to be
Nevertheless, Michael Kruger says, "the story of the canon is
perhaps most fundamentally about the why. Why did Christians have a
canon at all?" Is it a natural consequence of the kind of faith of
the earliest Christians, or was it imposed by a later decision of
the Church in the second or third centuries of the Christian Era?
To put it bluntly, is the canon intrinsic or extrinsic to Christian
The "idea that the New Testament canon was not a natural
development within early Christianity, but a later artificial
development that is out of sync with Christi- anity's original
purpose, is a central framework that dominates much of modern
canonical (and biblical) studies".
This is the extrinsic model that Kruger seeks to challenge in
this book, at least as regards its monopoly position. "Our goal is
not to deny the truth of the extrinsic model in its entirety, but
to offer a well-intended corrective to its assessment and
interpretation of some of the historical evidence."
Kruger identifies five tenets of the extrinsic model, and
discusses them in turn in the five chapters of his book, suggesting
where they are problematic.
First, there is a sharp distinction between the definitions of
scripture and canon. But should canon only be used of a final,
closed list of books? Second, there is nothing within early
Christianity which might have led to a canon. Nevertheless, a New
Israel requires new scriptures in a renewal of a covenant
The third tenet states that early Christians relied on oral
tradition and were averse to written documents. But evidence of
some early Christian writing suggests that oral and written modes
of communication were not mutually exclusive.
Fourth, New Testament writings have the character of occasional
documents rather than authoritative texts by authors conscious of
writing scripture. There are, however, indications of apostolic
authority, particularly in transmitting the words of Christ.
The final tenet states that New Testament books were first re-
garded as canon at the end of the second century. Yet, although the
influence of St Irenaeus was formative, there are earlier
indications, as with St Justin Martyr, of the recognition of texts
with scriptural authority.
This book tackles such declared assumptions head on, and writes
crisply and straightforwardly about the larger evangelical picture.
An extensive bibliography includes some work of Francis Watson, but
sadly, is too early to refer to Watson's rich and comprehensive
study (Gospel Writing: A canonical perspective) reviewed
in these columns last year (Books, 6 September).