Monday, December 16, 2013

Michael Kruger's The Question of Canon - Chapter 2 Summary

In chapter two of The Question of Canon, Mike Kruger takes aim at a second claim made by those who propose an exclusive extrinsic model of canon. They say that there was nothing inherent in earliest Christianity that might have led to a canon (23-24). Kruger has a quote from Harry Gamble that expresses this idea well: “There is no intimation at all that the early church entertained the idea of Christian Scriptures…” (47-48). The canon, so they say, was brought in 300 years later and imposed upon a Church for whom such a concept would have been unnatural. Kruger, argues, in response to this line of thought, that the theological climate of the early church would have been very conducive towards the production of new Scripture based on three overarching arguments.

a. Eschatological Expectancy in the Early Church. In responding to this challenge, Kruger points to the theological state of the early Church to demonstrate that they had major theological expectations which would have made a great deal of sense of canon. The first thing he argues is that Second Temple Judaism stood in an eschatologically expectant posture, even ending their canon with the expectancy of 2 Chronicles (and the decree of Cyrus) rather than the more chronologically sensible Ezra-Nehemiah. Looking at intertestamental writings such as Tob. 14:5-7; Bar. 3:6-8; 2 Macc. 1:27-29; Wis. 3:7 and Qumran, Kruger argues that “the Jews of this period viewed the story of the Old Testament books as incomplete” (50). With the arrival of Jesus, early Christians would have transferred that eschatological expectation to Christ and viewed him as the long-awaited one. He even points out that this theme is not only present in others’ statements about Jesus, but in his words regarding himself as well (51). He makes three sub-points here that are worth noting:
1. The forward-pointing nature of the Old Testament expectation indicates an environment where a written ending to the Old Testament would have been sensibly expected.

2. The OT itself demonstrates that periods of redemption are followed by periods of revelation and inscripturation. There is a [Redemption ——> Revelation] tendency in the Old Testament and early Christians would have expected writings to accompany the redemptive activity surrounding Christ. Kruger argues this point very persuasively, pointing to Gaffin’s work in Resurrection and Redemption to anchor some of his argument.
3. The OT also teaches that “this new era will be accompanied by a new divine message,” (54) and that divine message entails writings. In passing I will mention that he spends time discussing Deut. 18:18; Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 61:1-2; Isaiah 2:2-3. All of these passages, says Kruger, demonstrate that the coming eschaton, from the Jewish perspective, would have been one of divine message and the sorts of writings that these revelations had always entailed.
All of these observations lead towards one conclusion: “there appear to be ample reasons to think that a new revelational deposit might have emerged naturally/intrinsically from within the early Christian movement rather than being foisted upon it by later ecclesiastical pressures” (57).

b. Covenant in Early Christianity. After pointing to the eschatological expectations of the early church, Kruger then points to the importance of covenant in early Christianity. As N.T. Wright observes, “Covenant theology was the air breathed by the Judaism of this period” (57). Because of the close connection in the Jewish paradigm between covenant and written text, Kruger says that the emergence of a fulfilling of the David and Abrahamic promises in Christ and the consequent “new covenant” ratified by Christ “suggests that the emergence of a new corpus of scriptural books…could not be regarded as entirely unexpected” (62). Briefly, he points out five worthy observations in this regard:
1. “The New Testament has its own ‘inscripturational curse’ in Revelation 22:18-19” (63).

2. “The New Testament has its own declarations that it should be read publicly,” specifically in 2 Cor. 10:9; Col. 4:16; and 1 Thess. 5:27 (63).

3. “The New Testament writings seem to perform the same covenantal functions as their Old Testament counterparts” (63).

4. Paul viewed his own second letter to the Corinthians as a “covenant lawsuit,” again reinforcing the idea that not only was his letter authoritative, but that he viewed his letter as functioning as a covenant document with God’s own authority.

5. “The fact that the new corpus of Christian Scripture eventually was called the ‘New Testament’ or ‘new covenant’ is indicative of the close relationship between the concepts of ‘covenant’ and ‘canon’” (65). He draws attention to the fact that in Exodus the tables of the law are actually called “the covenant.”

And so, argues Kruger, the covenantal focus of early Christianity meant that “the emergence of a new corpus of covenantal books would not have been something entirely unexpected” (67). 
c. Apostolic Authority in the Early Church. Finally, after pointing to the eschatological expectancy of early Christians, and after pointing to the covenantal focus of early Christians, he finally argues that the authority of the Apostles would also have contributed to an environment of expected inscripturation. “If apostles were viewed as the mouthpiece of Christ, and it was believed that they wrote down that apostolic message in books, then those books would be received as the very words of Christ himself. Such writings would not have to wait until the second-, third-, or fourth-century ecclesiastical decisions to be viewed as authoritative” (70). As is his pattern, he gives three sub-points in support:
1. “The disposition toward written covenant texts would no doubt have played a part” (70).

2. “The textualization of the apostolic message would have occurred quite naturally as the apostles…began to die out” (71).

3. “Many New Testament writings share elements of the ‘testamentary’ genre” (73) which implies a written record of one’s final words. In fact, Kruger is stronger: “It was the mission of the apostles which would have made writing…a virtual inevitability.”
In the end, Kruger concludes chapter two by summarizing his argument that there are sundry theological reasons why the early Christian environment was one that was quite friendly to the idea of producing new Scriptural documents which would have been viewed as on the same canonical level as the writings of the Old Testament.

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