Jul

25

2013

Matt Smethurst|12:02 AM CT

Why You Can Rely on the Canon

When it comes to the canon of Scripture, are 66, 39, and 27 the right numbers? How can we be sure which books belong and which do not?

Mark Mellinger recently sat down with Michael Kruger, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, to discuss this ever-relevant issue of Scripture and canon.

"Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the only Gospels we have that come from the first century," Kruger tells Mellinger. So only those four books could have been written by eyewitnesses. Moreover, the 27 books of the New Testament are the earliest Christian writings we possess—period. When you look at the first century, in other words, there aren't "a bunch of competing writings," Kruger explains. "There's just the New Testament." Indeed, if you wish to learn about first-century Christianity, the only books available are those in your New Testament.

But what about textual differences? Aren't there errors among the various manuscripts? "The New Testament is no different than any other historical document when it comes to transmission," Kruger explains, admitting we find many of the mistakes one would expect with handwritten scribal transmission. Nevertheless, we can recover the original with striking certainty given that we have "far more copies of New Testament writings than of any other document in ancient history."

Watch the full eight-minute conversation to hear Kruger discuss the authenticity of the (anonymous) book of Hebrews, the church's role in canonization, where Protestants and Catholics part ways, and more. Kruger has also addressed these issues in Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway, 2012) and The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (InterVarsity, forthcoming, 2013). For a series aimed at laypeople see Kruger's "10 Basic Facts about the NT Canon Every Christian Should Memorize."

Scripture and Canon from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Matt Smethurst serves as associate editor for The Gospel Coalition and lives in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

    Interesting points.

    The Lord Jesus establishes the canon for us. He endorsed the entire Old Testament, minus the apocrypha, and commissioned His apostles to give us the New Testament.

  • http://theoldadam.com/ the Old Adam

    I love this quote by Luther:

    “All upright sacred books agree on one thing, that they all collectively preach and promote Christ. Likewise, the true criterion for criticizing all books is to see whether they promote Christ or not, since all scripture manifests Christ. Whatever does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if Peter and Paul should teach it. On the other hand, whatever preaches Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod should do it!”

    I think that is the proper framework for understand the Word of God and how He uses earthen vessels to accomplish His perfect purposes.

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  • Nathanael

    What's interesting to me is that most of the writing that gets done by evangelicals on canon these days is done on the New Testament canon despite the fact that the Old Testament canon has historically been the area of greater dispute and seems to me to have bigger issues (e.g., Protestant no apocrypha vs. Roman Catholic apocrypha vs. Greek Orthodox apocrypha; LXX vs. MT, particularly on Jeremiah; etc.).

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  • Josh

    Is this video on youtube anywhere?

    • http://twitter.com/mattsmethurst Matt Smethurst

      No, just on Vimeo.

  • Anne Kanno (Sugano)

    I'm author of four books that are about a biblical discovery concerning how the New Testament was written using a special literary form, the parable blueprint. (Some of the Hebrew Scriptures have been written this same way as well…which is one reason the New Testament texts used this technique.)

    The parable of the prodigal son was written using a five-section format, and this same format is seamlessly used throughout the New Testament. The parable blueprint books contain the New Testament laid out in these newly revealed parables, rather than by chapters.

    Because the texts have been written this way, this should help scholars better understand a lot of things, including questions about biblical canon.

    Five examples of the parable blueprint are located on the tab called the parables, http://parableblueprint.com/.

    Anne