The Date of Canon

In the fifth and final chapter of Kruger’s book The Question of Canon he considers some of the vulnerabilities in what he regards as the most prominent tenet of the extrinsic model of canon. Few issues will raise as much discussion as dating the New Testament canon. When did the New Testament writings first begin to be viewed as Scripture? The extrinsic model argues for a later date. The extrinsic model argues that the canon was determined later by the church to serve the church’s purpose. Whereas the intrinsic model argues that certain forces were already at work during the fist century. The idea of canon was in the DNA of the Christian faith and therefore the canon arises naturally along with the church though it doesn’t come to its fullness in the fourth century.

It has been argued that Irenaeus (late second century) was the first to suggest a complete canon. Kruger examines the historical evidence to suggest a very different picture. He demonstrates that not only did Irenaeus receive the New Testament books as Scripture but others did as well. In addition to contemporaries with Irenaeus Kruger finds earlier sources that referred to the New Testament books as Scripture. Examples are: Muratorian Fragment, Clement of Alexandria, Theophilus of Antioch, all which precede Irenaeus. In Justin Martyr’s writings (writing 150-160 A.D.) he suggests that he knows the four Gospels were used as Scripture in worship with Old Testament books. And there are others, Ignatius, Polycarp, 1 Clement, and others seem to regard a number of Christian writings as Scripture. It is true that Scripture as Kruger says, “during this early time were still fairly fluid…there seems to be little doubt that the church did, in fact, have Scriptures.” (203)

Kruger examines evidence that is from is from many sources over many regions not from a single person and in my opinion this is compelling. In Kruger’s view, Christians were viewing books as Scripture by as early as the turn of the century and thus it supports all of the arguments he has been making against the extrinsic model throughout his book.

The argument throughout the book has been that the canon did not appear out of nowhere in the fourth century as the extrinsic model argues. A reminder of the five tenets of the extrinsic model that were considered

  1. We must make a sharp distinction between “Scripture” and “canon”
  2. There was nothing in earliest Christianity that might have led to a canon
  3. Early Christians were averse to written documents
  4. The New Testament authors were unaware of their own authority
  5. The New Testament books were first regarded as Scripture at the end of the second century

Kruger does a credible job proving these five tenets to be problematic. The implications are first that he has exposed the weaknesses in the paradigm of current canon scholarship. Secondly, he has raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the extrinsic model. And finally, the intrinsic model proposed by Kruger and others deserve serious consideration.