Review: The Question of Canon

17861711Michael J. Kruger is President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is one of the leading scholarly voices today in the study of the origins of the New Testament, particularly the development of the New Testament canon and the transmission of the New Testament text. Kruger received an M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary in California, and a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, where he studied under the advisement of Larry W. Hurtado. Kruger is the author of numerous books, including, The Gospel of the Savior (Brill, 2005), The Heresy of Orthodoxy (Crossway, 2010, with Andreas Köstenberger), and Canon Revisited (Crossway, 2012). He is also the co-editor of The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 2012), and Gospel Fragments (Oxford, 2009). In his most recent publication, The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (IVP, 2013), Kruger aims to address a crucial and foundational question: why is there a New Testament at all?

According to most contemporary scholarship, the question of canon is not something understood to be intrinsic to the Christian faith, but rather something later imposed upon Christianity from an outside source—the result of an ecclesiastical response. Canon is then something that the biblical literature becomes, not something that the biblical literature already is. In other words, the question of canon is argued as an extrinsic development rather than intrinsic reality. According to Kruger, this extrinsic model may indeed retain value for the conversation, but it shouldn’t be the starting point of the conversation, and it certainly doesn’t explain the full story of why the New Testament canon exists. It is within this premise that The Question of Canon begins.


In Chapter one, The Definition of Canon, Kruger confronts the presuppositions of the extrinsic model in its desire to distinguish between Scripture and canon. For Kruger, canon existed even before it was recognized as being such. It was authoritative upon composition and then received by the Christian community as Scripture. In chapter two, The Origins of Canon, Kruger addresses the issue of apostolic authority and its implications on the inevitability of the existence of a canon. In chapter three, The Writing of Canon, Kruger critiques the assumption that the early Christian communities favored oral tradition over written documents. Thus, he rightly places emphasis on the early recognition of the New Testament writings. In chapter four, The Authors of Canon, Kruger aims to build upon the previous chapter by connecting the New Testament documents to apostolic authority they conveyed. This is an important chapter the book and a crucial presumption of the intrinsic model. In chapter five, The Date of Canon, Kruger presents a well-positioned critique of the idea that the canon formulated at the end of the second century following the influence of Irenaeus of Lyons. Kruger carefully surveys a number of early Christian documents considered to be contemporary to Irenaeus and examines the existence of any deposit of a concept of authoritative books.

The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate is an important book. By understanding and defining the concept of canon as an ontological, Kruger has rightfully positioned himself to discuss the issue on theological grounds. The attentive reader will recognize the importance of this presupposition, and appreciate the judicious care with which Kruger articulates his view. The goal of the book is not to discredit the extrinsic model as unbeneficial to the discussion, but rather to offer a well-intended corrective to the model’s narrow assessment and interpretation of the historical evidence. The book itself is well written and largely accessible to the average reader, and, for this reason, should be recommended to anyone questioning the existence of canon. If you are a pastor, teacher, student, or interested laymen who interacts with the world around you, The Question of Canon will better equip you to recognize the short sights of the current conversation and encourage your confidence in the inevitable existence of the New Testament text.


I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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