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Kruger on the NT Canon

December 3, 2013

One of my former PhD students, Michael J. Kruger, has just published a book worth attention by anyone interested in the formation of what became the NT canon:  The Question of Canon:  Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2013).   Kruger’s main thesis is that the dynamics that led to a NT canon involved phenomena from the earliest stages of the circulation of writings that came to form that canon.  That is, the formation of a NT canon wasn’t a result solely of later and “external” forces, but instead there were factors at work from the earliest period.

These include the way that Paul invested his letters with his apostolic authority, such that they have been described as apostolic “surrogates”, conveying to his churches his teachings on matters when he was unable to make a personal visit (just note, e.g., the tone of 1 Cor. 14:37-38! or Gal 1:6-9!0.  Likewise, note the explicit purpose-statement of the author of the Gospel of John (20:30-31), which implies a strong desire that the writing may function in confirming the faith of readers.

Kruger also argues that, although a closed canon of NT writings took a few centuries, in the earlier period there was already indication of a concern to distinguish between writings that were to be taken as “scripture” and those that should not be so regarded.  So, again, a quasi-canonical dynamic seems to have been at work early on.

Kruger offers what he calls an “intrinsic model” as a complement to the emphasis on the final stages of can formation in much current NT scholarship.  I find his analysis to offer a nuanced and cogent picture that more adequately captures the historical complexity that led to “the New Testament.”

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  1. xpusostomos permalink

    I don’t know what an “external” force is in this instance, but the argument sounds like an attempt to split a hair so fine that it isn’t there. I’m sure Catholics and orthodox agree that the authority for the bible comes from the apostolic authority, which no doubt the apostles promote in their books. The problem is, unless you are one of the infinitesimally small number of Christians who got to interrogate the apostles personally about what books they invest with their authority, you have to rely on the judgement of the church. As soon as you realise this obvious fact, then the question arises about what is the church, over and against who is an heretical group and not the church. Then you still have as a more fundamental question about what is the church than what is the bible.

    • You’re missing the point in Kruger’s book and my brief posting about it. The problem for you is that you don’t know the field or the issues. Nothing to feel guilty about, but the right move is to learn, not sound off like this.
      E.g., among “external” factors there is the question of Marcion’s influence (i.e., was the “orthodox” NT canon a response to Marcion?), and the fact that at about the same time the Jewish canon is being fixed/closed (so was that a factor?).
      Kruger’s argument is that we see certain Christian texts invested with a certain special authority (e.g., Paul’s own letters) and circulating among churches and read as part of their gatherings quite early, indeed within the first few decades. So, he continues. the dynamics that led eventually to a fixed canonizing of certain texts as “scripture” appeared very early, and way before the putative “external” factors.

      • xpusostomos permalink

        Is anyone seriously arguing that it was SOLEY due to Marcion and the Jews that the church made moves towards approving certain books? It would be such a ridiculously hyperbolic claim, I question whether anybody really said that.

      • Read Trobisch’s book: Trobisch, David. Die Endredaktion des Neuen Testaments. Eine Untersuchung zur Entstehung der christlichen Bibel. Freiburg/Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Freiburg/Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996; English translation: Trobisch, David. The First Edition of the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

      • xpusostomos permalink

        I read Trobisch. His thesis is the opposite, namely the lists of books were assembled basically from the beginning. Who is claiming the church gave no thought at all to what books to use until the Jews and Marcion forced their hand? Is there someone being refuted here, or only a straw man?

      • You’ve mis-read Trobisch! He argues for an edition of the NT being put together in the 2nd century.

      • xpusostomos permalink

        Ahem… Trobisch argues that Paul himself collected together his own letters, which would be 1st century, no? So how can you quote Trobisch for the proposition that there was NO, ZERO, NADA, ZILCH attempt by the church to standardise lists of letters prior to Marcion?

        Again I ask, who proposes such a thing? Not Trobisch.

      • I don’t know what book by Trobisch you’ve read, but the one I’ve read is the one I cited on the “Endredaktion des Neuen Testaments”. Or, if you prefer the English version, check out p. 105 of his conclusion: “It has already been demonstrated that the recactional concept of the Canonical Edition [of the NT] reflects an anti-Marcionite attitude.” Trobisch grants that there was a Pauline collection (proposing that Paul may have had a hand in its early stage), and that a 4-Gospel collection was generated by what he calls “the Ester Controversy”, but the final/full edition of the NT he posits in the 2nd century and in reaction to Marcion’s NT.

      • xpusostomos permalink

        Well hang on now. You’re saying that a “FINAL” edition of the NT was in reaction to Marcion according to Trobisch. But you’re saying Kruger refutes the notion that the formation of a NT canon wasn’t a result SOLEY of later and “external” forces.

        Why are you conflating the final straw that leads to a “FINAL” edition, over against all the activities over time that led up to that point? Trobisch may well be saying that Marcion was in the end something that led to the final list, but he is certainly no proponent of Marcion being the SOLE FORCE in the church leading to standardisation, as I demonstrated.

        So who is Kruger refuting? Not Trobisch. The Pauline collection and the 4 gospel collection was certainly important steps towards standardisation, so he is certainly no proponent of external forces as “SOLE FORCE”.

      • Sorry for your confusion. I’ll try to resolve it for you. Scholars often distinguish today between the treatment of some texts effectively as “scripture” on the one hand (which commenced early), and the formation of a “canon” on the other hand (which was completed late). E.g., Trobisch grants that there were collections (e.g., Pauline letters), but makes the formation of a complete NT canon a punctiliar event in the 2nd century and in response to Marcion. Kruger argues, instead, that the “scripturization” of texts was itself an organic early stage of a process of canonization, and that the formation of the NT canon was, thus, not so much a response to something else, but the outworking of a dynamic that began early and was “internal” to the early Christian movement. If, however, you wish to know who Kruger is engaging and what he argues, why not consult the book instead of badgering me??

  2. In some ways, this sounds similar to Richard Bauckham at least on the surface. I’d certainly be interested in reading it.

    • Hmm. YOu’re seeing something I don’t perhaps. Bauckham’s proposal concerned the relationship of the Gospels to “authentic” Jesus-tradition, but Kruger addresses the formation of a NT canon.

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        Well they both perhaps represent attempts at revisionism in a conservative direction, much like your own ideas about early Christ devotion. The liberal scholars of the early 20th century have been eclipsed by a new breed of conservative scholars who insist that the old fashioned assumptions (often pre-critical!) were correct after all: the gospels really were based on eyewitness accounts; worship of Jesus was an early development among Jewish believers not a later Gentile innovation; and the Canon arose simply through recognition of the intrinsic value of the accepted books themselves (with the merest hint of supernatural guidance) rather than contingent historical factors. It is clear why these directions in conservative scholarship are attractive to scholars who also happen to be believers, but less easy to see that the actual evidence justifies these revisions.

      • Donald: Your attempt to politicize scholarly work is misguided and cheaply dismissive of a significant body of work. To speak to my own, on the early eruption of Jesus-devotion, those in agreement hardly comprise a phalanx of “conservative Christians”: e.g., the late Alan Segal (Jewish), and others who would recoil from that label. Neither I nor others involved in this work have even implicitly alluded to “supernatural guidance” (whatever that means), but have laid out historical data and analysis thereof for all to engage, without any faith-related premises involved. Read and learn, and try to avoid the paranoid-sounding conspiracy theories you float.

  3. Geoff Hudson permalink

    Larry, do you think that Chapter 11 of the Didache contains support for the existence of Jewish prophets in the earliest Christian movement?

    • Oh, yes, Didache 11 is commonly taken as reflecting prophets (in this case itinerant ones, it appears). But there is abundantly more and earlier evidence in NT texts. E.g., Revelation purports to be from a prophet, John, and refers to other prophets whom he regards as false (the “Jezebel” and the “Balaam” figures), and in 1 Cor 14 Paul discusses prophecy as an expected feature of the Christian worship gathering.

  4. James Crooke permalink

    Hi Larry

    I’m intrigued. Has this thesis not been around for some time?

    I’ve taken this for granted for many years, now.

    Love the blog; many thanks.



    • Versions of Kruger’s thesis have been around for some time, but in more recent scholarly discussion it hasn’t been very prominent.

  5. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Does Kruger engage and make a judgement on David Trobisch’s argument for the NT being viewed as a published collection dating from the middle of the second century? Professor Hurtado, I know you wrote an encouraging review of Trobisch’s book when it was published. I wonder what you think of his subsequent suggestion that Polycarp may have been responsible for the publication of the “first edition” of the NT, in particular his speculation about a clue to the identity of the publisher in 2 Tim 4:9-20?

    • Kruger doesn’t engage Trobisch’s position so far as I can see. Most scholars haven’t found Trobisch’s proposal persuasive that the NT came together as a finished “edition” in the mid-second century. Core to Trobisch’s case is his attendant view that Marcion effectively created the first collection of Christian scripture, and that the NT was a counter-response. But the key problems with this are (1) there are indications that some early Christian writings were already circulating and being read effectively as “scripture” (i.e., as part of corporate worship) before Marcion, (2) likewise, indications that some of these writings were being collected earlier than Marcion (as reflected, e.g., in 2 Peter 3:15-16); and (3) there is in fact no finished or “closed”/agreed NT canon till the late 4th century and thereafter.
      So, instead of a single “edition” model, it seems more cogent to see a canonizing process that began much earlier than Trobisch claims and took much longer than he claims to complete.

  6. I’ve read your Earliest Christian Artifacts book and will read this. Besides the evidence of manuscripts (e.g. Thomas at Oxyrhynchus) is there any indirect evidence of liturgical usage in the 2nd and 3rd centuries of anything other than the compositions that were serious contenders for our “canon”? For example, Gospel stories appear on the church walls of Dura Europas, quotations from or allusions to “biblical” texts appear in reports of early church votes, etc. I’m not sure I’ve expressed this clearly enough, but hopefully you catch the drift of what I’m asking. Said another way, other than cross-references in compositions or manuscript discoveries do we see any evidence that non-canonical compositions were used in liturgy or training of catechumens? The cross scene of the Gospel of Peter does not show up in early art or inscriptions or embedded in an early report of a synod vote and etc.?

    • There are good reasons to think that Shepherd of Hermas was widely/frequently read, and perhaps used in formation of converts. In the Muratorian Fragment also there are references to a couple of texts used by some and not by others. And there is the account of the reading of a Gospel of Peter in Rhossus (Eusebius, Eccles. Hist. 6.12.2-6). See the chapter on “Other Early Jesus Books” in my book, Lord Jesus Christ, for more discussion of various texts.

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