The Origins of Canon
Would Peter or Paul have been surprised to see their own letters and other writings added to the Scriptures? Were early Christians even thinking in such a way that would lead to more Scriptures? Or was canon imposed on early documents that were never intended to be more than occasional letters? Are there any factors in the early church that would have led to a New Testament?
Kruger is addressing these questions in chapter 2 of The Question of Canon and it is a fascinating chapter. I must admit to not having given this question much thought, and perhaps this is why I found this chapter so interesting.
Kruger argues the idea that a NT canon would have arisen organically from within early Christianity due to their shared theological beliefs. His argument consists of three parts, 1) the eschatological nature of early Christianity, 2) the concept of covenant and, 3) the role of the apostles.
The eschatological nature of early Christianity
First, the Old Testament is a story waiting for a conclusion. In fact, it is a story still waiting for its hero to arrive (the Messiah). The Old Testament consists of promises awaiting fulfilment and earliest Christians saw the coming of Christ as that fulfilment. No doubt then, the writings should continue to reflect this new stage in the story. What’s more, in the history of redemption we find God’s saving acts are followed with divine revelation, and the OT explicitly predicts that the new era will be accompanied by a new divine message (Deut 18:18; Isa 11:4; 61:1-2; 2:2-3).
The concept of covenant
Second, there is a close connection between covenants and written texts. Covenants are accompanied with their related blessings, requirements, stipulations and curses. This connection is so close that Biblical authors often equated the two (Ex 24:7; 2 Kings 12:2; Deut 29:21). Paul refers to the entire OT as the “old covenant” (2 Cor 3:14) in the context of his claim of being a minister of the new covenant. It follows, then that the New Covenant would require documents. Kruger gives a number of reasons why we should see the NT as a covenant text. Even its title alone should tell us that it is not unfair to think of the New Testament as the expected New Covenant texts.
The role of the apostles
Last, the role of the apostles is significant. These apostles were considered as giving God’s authoritative guidance to the early church, so “what would happen if the early Christians believed that the authoritative message of the apostles were put in written form?” (p69). These texts assumed authority of the apostles (eg. 2 Thess 2:15; 3:14), and with the church growing exponentially, how might the apostolic tradition direct them? Written texts!
I have a feeling that I may not have much criticisms of this book! Maybe that is due to my ignorance in this area, but much of what Kruger says is very persuasive to my ears. I already hold the positions he is arguing for, but now I have a solid basis for believing them to be true.
I greatly enjoyed this chapter because not only did it provide background for the early Christian worldview, but it helped give an answer to the why question regarding the canon. Many ask the how or when or which questions in regards to the canon, but often ignore the why question. Even Christians sometimes are unaware of this issue. Why would we expect to have a New Testament? Why expect texts at all? I think this chapter provides solid answers.
So in summary, Kruger here convincingly provides arguments against critical scholarship, ammunition for apologetic discussions, but also theological grounds for the canon, something that the entire church could receive and benefit from. Considering this why issue of canon will encourage any Christian to remember the importance of their Bibles and the role they play in the history of redemption.
On a related note, Kruger’s arguments here are perfect reasons for why we should today consider the canon sufficient and closed, and God’s Scriptural revelation complete. There is no new new covenant that we are awaiting. There is no second Messiah to anticipate. Our story is complete in the NT, we are just awaiting the last events to take place.
Check back soon for part three of The Question of Canon where Kruger addresses the assertion that early Christians preferred oral tradition and were averse to written texts.