Great Book on Canon

This book is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and that for a number of reasons. I tire quite easily and quickly of theologians who, being experts in one discipline (say, Old Testament), look down on the other theological disciplines (like, say, systematic theology). Kruger will have none of that. He mixes in exegetical, systematic, historical, apologetic, and practical disciplines in one happy feast. Of course, that might be grist for criticism from some reviewers, but this reviewer found it quite refreshing. We need more generalist theologians rather desperately.

A second reason I really like this book is the wealth of scholarship on offer. Kruger has really done his homework, and there is no doubt that he is one of the world’s experts on canon. And yet, this scholarship never overwhelms the prose, which is compact, pithy, and accessible.

A third reason (and the reason I picked up the book to read in the first place) has to do with his treatment of Roman Catholicism vis-a-vis the canon. Kruger is always quick to point out strengths and truth in opposing viewpoints while pointing out the extremes. In his treatment of Roman Catholicism on the question of canon, for example, he points out that the community does have a role in the formation of the canon. It just doesn’t have the exclusive role. The primary driver in the Reformed position on the canon is the self-authenticating nature of Scripture. But that does not meant that history and community play no role whatsoever.

Among the many insights that Kruger offers, I want to point out some of the most important answers to Roman Catholic objections to Sola Scriptura. First of all, he notes that there are plenty of Roman Catholics out there who do not believe that the church created the canon (see p. 41). Even Vatican I states that the church holds these books to be canonical no because of the church’s authority but because they have God as their author. To put it lightly, this is not the position of most Roman Catholic apologists today who argue against the Protestant position. In addressing Patrick Madrid, for instance, and his objection about the “divinely inspired table of contents,” Kruger rightly notes that this objection is artificial, since, even if there was a divinely inspired document that was a table of contents, that also would need to be authenticated by the church, and would never satisfy Roman Catholic objections, “because they have already determined, a priori, that no document could ever be self-attesting” (p. 43).

He mentions that the early Christian church did have a canon: it’s called the Old Testament now (p. 44). So, unless the church wants to claim that it created the Old Testament canon as well (before the church was even officially in existence), we fall back to the Protestant position that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20).

This raises the question of how the Roman Catholic church establishes its own authority. If the church is to be infallible, then it must have an infallible foundation for its infallible authority. Where is this infallible foundation? Kruger remarks on the three possibilities: 1. Scripture is the source for the infallibility of the church (which would be rather viciously circular if the church grounds the canon, and the canon grounds the church); 2. external evidence from the history of the church (his reply here is that historical evidence cannot be infallible. His footnote 79 on p. 47 is particularly telling); 3. the church is itself self-authenticating (the church is infallible because it says so, to which Kruger responds that the Roman Catholic church chiding the Reformers for positing a Sola Scriptura self-authenticating model seems a bit hypocritical when it is advocating a self-authenticating Sola Ecclesia model).

This book is essential reading on the canon, all the more so for those engaged in Roman Catholic-Protestant debate. Tolle lege.

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13 Comments

  1. Mark Kim (Grace Toronto) said,

    November 14, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Thanks for this book notice. I should check it out. I think many evangelical seminary students don’t take enough time to delve into this topic in greater detail.

    Also, I think this book by Kruger should be referred to in conjunction with F. F. Bruce’s famed book “The Canon of Scripture” (InterVarsity Press, 1988).

  2. November 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Been on my to-read list for a while now. Will have to finally break down & spend the money on it. Thanks for the review!

  3. Mark B said,

    November 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    I read this when it first came out, as I had appreciated the previous book he wrote in partnership with the Baptist guy on the canon. While this book generally takes the form of a presuppositional apologetic, it’s a very well researched and written resource. (Yes, CtoC guys, that means it matches my previously held interpretation of Scripture ;)). I really appreciate Mike taking the time off to research and write it and the generous sponsor(s?) that made that possible. Although it’s not written in the scholarly format of, for example, Metzger’s (another good text on canon), a scholarly work that has appeal to a wider audience is great to have, this should be on the literature table of any confessional church with the means. It would also be a good starting point for an adult ss class series. I wonder if he’s considered coming up with a class outline for something like that?

  4. Mark B said,

    November 14, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    As to the subject of your post, I would add that his dealings with Rome are only a small part of the book, he also deals with most views of canon that have been proposed.
    Speaking of CtoC, Brian stated back when this came out that he was going to write a response. Does anyone know if he ever did? I appreciated his response to Mathison’s “Shape of Sola Scriptura”. I thought he accurately laid out the Catholic position on the subject, so I give it to people to read as an illustration of why we believe the church of Rome is apostate. (Although to be fair, I do think Mathison’s book had some weaknesses and I might concede a very few of Brian’s points)

  5. SLIMJIM said,

    November 15, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Thanks for this review

  6. November 18, 2013 at 12:03 am

    […] the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  7. CD-Host said,

    November 18, 2013 at 9:46 am

    We’ve discussed this before on the blog, but as a matter of historical fact the Catholics arguably did have to create the Jewish canon. There was no pre-existant Jewish canon. Rather what existed was an agreed upon classification system and a somewhat agreed upon hierarchy on that classification system. Specific lists of which books were in which classification were not agreed to by the time Christianity had fully separated. Protestants when they choose to follow “the Jewish canon” were choosing a canon which had not been agreed to until the mid 3rd century and moreover had never existed in any list anyone knows of until the later 2nd century.

    Moreover, canon in the sense Protestants mean is mostly an invention of Protestantism. Judaism then or now doesn’t have concepts that map cleanly to what Protestants mean by canon.

  8. Tony said,

    November 18, 2013 at 11:32 am

    How the Roman Catholic church establishes its own authority? It doesn’t need to. Jesus established her authority Himself when He named Peter the first pope; when He predicted the gates of Hell wouldn’t prevail against her; when He promised His Spirit to lead her into all truth; and when He declared He will be with her until the end of the age. Jesus makes good on His promises. He has never abandoned His bride, nor has He left us His flock as orphans!

  9. greenbaggins said,

    November 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Tony, aside from the interpretive questions surrounding Matthew 16, the problem of circularity arises here. You are basing your arguments on the interpretation of the Bible. However, according to Roman Catholic teaching, the church establishes the canonicity of the Bible. So, the authority of the Bible grounds the authority of the church, and the authority of the church grounds the authority of the Bible. And around and around we go.

  10. CD-Host said,

    November 18, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    @Tony —

    Jesus established her authority Himself when He named Peter the first pope

    When Jesus did this did Peter know he was a Pope? 1Peter 1:1 he doesn’t identify himself as a Pope. 1Pet 2:13-3:7 when he lists off institutions that Christians are to be submissive to, he doesn’t mention the hierarchy reporting to him. 2Pet is even worse. Again he doesn’t identify himself as Pope and in 2Peter 1:3 he is quite explicit that the divine power for life and goodliness was equally given to Peter and all the faithful, no hint of a hierarchy or Peter playing a role. 2Pet2 is even worse he goes on about heresies and false teachers and never mentions the existence of the hierarchical church with a divine deposit that he uniquely heads.

    Seems Peter doesn’t agree with you that’s he’s pope.

  11. John Bugay said,

    November 25, 2013 at 3:59 am

    Hi Lane — I took on the issue of Roman Authority in a series that I wrote (based on this work) — comparing Joseph Ratziner’s work on the topic with what Kruger has found. Interested readers can find it here:

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/search?q=ratzinger+vs+kruger

  12. CD-Host said,

    November 25, 2013 at 8:57 am

    @John —

    The series on your blog sounds interesting. Ratziner is addressing both the objections from the Protestant right and to the left. If he’s willing directly address claims regarding a Marcionic origin for the concept of a New Testament then he’s starting to engage the secular literature and what IMHO is the strongest critique of the Protestant claims to a simple Apostolic model.


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