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On “The Question of Canon” by Michael Kruger *****

This well-argued book essentially attempts to show the difference between the extrinsic theory of biblical canon formation and the intrisic theory and the shortfalls of the former, which seems to be the more popular contemporary view. The extrinsic view of the canon posits that it was created by the church in the third or fourth century and that many works were considered–in other words, that there was little agreement regarding what constituted scripture until the church defined it in this late period.

Kruger argues that what constituted scripture came into being much earlier than that–possibly as early as the early second century–even if the canon was not established until many years later. Unlike those who claim the Christianity was an oral faith until much later, he shows how even if most people were illiterate, the Jewish faith–and the Christian faith that derived from it–was a textual religion. That is, these faiths dealt in texts, which served as authority. Oral readings of texts still constitute a written center to the religion.

He also shows how even in the second century, many of Christian writers talked of “scripture” when referring to many of the works that would become part of the New Testament. Even the apostles themselves seemed conscious of their attempt to forge a scripture that would, in fact, complete the scripture of the Old Testament.

What I like about Kruger’s work (but also what is perhaps a bit maddening about it too) is that he doesn’t overplay his hand. He makes little claim to the idea that the New Testament “canon” existed by the second century, only that the outlines of it were largely already there. Indeed, there is little one could point to that would definitively show that all the New Testament books had been selected by that period. And yet, at the same time, the fact that all these folks in the second century refer to New Testament scriptures as scripture does seem to suggest to me that perhaps a canon really already did exist (Eusebius and others’ debates about what counted notwithstanding). After all, there is not a lot of debate about what constitutes New Testament canon to this day, and that suggests, as David Trobisch’s work suggests, that fairly early on, someone “edited”–or rather, selected–what would constitute the collection such that the matter was closed; what we lack, alas, is hard documentation.

#Question #Canon #Michael #Kruger

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