Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Apologetics 315: Michael Kruger Interview Transcript

This is a transcript of the interview with Michael J. Kruger on September 10, 2012 by Brian Auten at Apologetics 315. Please visit the interview blog post to read more about Michael J. Kruger. You can also download the audio of the interview from there.

Links within the transcript will point you to, Apologetics 315, or related apologetics resources online.

BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315.

Today's interview is with professor of New Testament, Dr. Michael J. Kruger. Dr. Kruger teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina (NC). His area of expertise is in the development of the New Testament canon, the Gospels, and the development of Early Christianity. His latest book is Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books.

The purpose of today's interview is to learn more about the formation of the New Testament canon, the writing of the Gospels, and gaining some insights from Dr. Kruger about understanding and defending the Gospel canon.

Well, thanks for joining me in this interview Dr. Kruger.

MK: Thanks, Brian. Good to be with you.

BA: First off, Dr. Kruger, would you mind sharing a bit about yourself and your background?

MK: Yeah, for those who may not know, I'm a professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. My specialty is, not only New Testament, but particularly the origins of the New Testament, including the New Testament text and canon. I spend most of my research on those particular areas, but also deal a lot with other areas of New Testament studies and Biblical studies or broadly.

BA: Well, very good. I'm particularly excited about the interview, because before I got into apologetics, my first question was, 'Yeah, I'm willing to trust the Bible if it's authoritative, but why? Why should I?' So the issue of canon was really big for me at the time, and I still think it's critical. But backing up a bit about your own interest in the New Testament, what got you into New Testament studies and studying the canon in particular?

MK: Well, in a very similar way as you just described your own background, I've always had interest, of course, in Scripture as the centerpoint of the Christian life. That's where we look to for God's Word, and for that reason, I've always wanted to understand it better, and particularly understand its origins, because part of it is authority, depending on where it comes from. So I was interested in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, but I was drawn to New Testament studies particularly during my undergraduate years at UNC-Chapel Hill. There, I was introduced to a lot of critical scholarship. One of my professors there was Bart Ehrman, who many people know, of course, as a famous New Testament critical scholar. I was introduced to the problems with the New Testament Gospels, the development of the canon, the text of the New Testament, as well as to the issues related to the historical Jesus. Of course, as a young Christian, I didn't have many answers to those questions, but I was fascinated by them, wanted to learn more, and committed myself to find out as much as I could about them.

As I dove into those questions, I began to realize I had a real fascination and real interest in that area, and I really wanted to go further. That's what was the beginning of a long academic journey. It was those times that really got me interested in the New Testament half of things and even more than that, but the sort of Jesus quest and canon questions ended up being center stage.

I really have to thank critical scholars for how God has maybe led me into Biblical studies, because it was those challenges and those questions that brought me to where I am today.

BA: I love these questions of authorship and authenticity and, ultimately, authority, and you deal with a lot of that in your latest book, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. You’ve studied in this area and this is your area of expertise, but what approach did you take in this book, and why write a book along these lines these days.

MK: Yeah. Obviously, I'm not the first one to write a book on the New Testament canon, and so the question you have is a good one: What makes this one unique? Why bother at all?

Well, there's two major reasons. One is the gap in time between the major evangelical work on canon and this particular book. If you look back on the major works on canon, one probably thinks of F.F. Bruce's The Canon of Scripture or maybe Metzger's The New Testament Canon. Those were written in the late '80s and the standard books in the field. It's been a while as you can imagine then that a serious and full-length evangelical work has been written. There's been a few things here and there, but I think there's a gap there that needed to be filled. That was the first reason.

The second reason for writing the book is the distinctive angle I take on the question. Most prior books on canon are what I call data books. Their goal is to simply inform the reader about the historical facts—when one book was written as opposed to another, what objections did early Christians have, what were the canonical lists, and so on. So those books end up looking like a dump truck of patristic data that they sort of unload on the reader. Some people want that kind of data and want books like that, and certainly, data plays a role, but I had a very different angle.

What I wanted to solve was not what the details were. That's fairly established and there's not much disagreements on the facts. What I wanted to answer was more of a philosophical question, what we might call an epistemological question and that is, how-we-know question. How does one go about knowing or having any reason to think they can know which books belong in the New Testament?

My question was more, ‘Does a Christian have a foundation for thinking they can know which 27 books are the right ones or whether these 27 books are the right ones?’ Now, once you frame it like that, it's a different kind of book, and truthfully, a book that I think needed to get written, because Christians have that very question.

BA: I wanna dive into some of those questions, and maybe start with the shallow waters and eventually get a little bit deeper. When Christians today open their Bible, they've got this one nicely bound book, complete with books, chapters, verses, and of course, table of contents, cross-references, maps, commentary. So I think sometimes those unfamiliar with the Bible or some Christians who haven't really thought about it deeply, they think that the Bible is just that, a single book. Can you break it down a bit and talk about what the Bible is as far as it being a historical document and collection?

MK: See, this is the trick, of course. The Bible in the way you just described is not like other books. When you think about a standard book, it was written by a single author and even usually in a single location in a singular chunk of time; whereas the Bible, as you well noted, is actually multiple authors and multiple locations and multiple books over long periods of time. Now that's what makes it a complicated phenomenon in that when we talk about the Bible, we're actually talking about a bunch of little books; so what we have to ask is, ‘How do we know these little books all belong together?’ and that's really the core issue with the Bible, but at the center of that is understanding what the Bible is.

The best way to describe it (and I cover this in parts of my book) is to think of the Biblical books, all of them, as deposits of God's covenantal revelation; and when we say covenantal revelation, what we mean is when God engages with His people in a covenant arrangement where He promises to bless them, love them, and save them—what we call and what the Bible calls “The Covenant”—whenever God makes covenants, He ends up giving written documentation of the covenant arrangement and the covenant blessing and the covenant history. This is God's Word to His people, so one way to think of the Bible I think that's helpful is realize that what the Bible is is the periodic deposits of God's covenantal revelation of Himself, how He relates to His people, what He's done for his people, and how His people need to follow and obey Him. What that means is that the Bible and the books in it are ultimately theocentric, meaning they're God-centered. They're from His hand even though they come through people. So the Bible in that sense is certainly a human book, but it's also a divine book. It's a book that ultimately is God revealing Himself to His people.

BA: This other issue is the word, canon, where some people maybe lost, even...'Wait, what are you talking about, the canon?' They think you have a gun or something. What is this word, canon? Can you define it and unpack what it means and what it describes?

MK: The canon is a word that we use. It's not formally in the Bible in the way we use it, even though the root word in Greek appears in the New Testament in a few places, but it's not used in the same fashion we use it. Canon is kinda like the word, Trinity. It's not in the Bible, but it describes a Biblical phenomenon, and the way we would define canon is simply as the authoritative book that God gave His church. That's the way I like to say it.

The canon is basically the group or collection of writings that God has given to His people. To talk about canon is to talk about the collection of books or one might even say the list of books. The word, canon, has a history and etymology behind it. It originally meant rule or standard, and we even use that today to talk about certain canons or certain rules related to certain disciplines or certain things. Even churches talk about the canons of the church, which really means the rules or the standards of the church. But when referring to the Bible, the canon of course just simply means a collection of books that God gave His church.

So in one sense, canon and Scripture are almost synonymous—not exactly, but they're pretty close in terms of the way we normally use the terms.

BA: For those people who have read popular novels like The Da Vinci Code and things like that, they might think that this authoritarian church came along, they decided what books to put in the Bible for their own political/power reasons; but this whole idea of canon formation is the big question. I'm not expecting the entire answer here, but in a nutshell, I think you'd say that's not how the books of the Bible came about. Give us in a nutshell, really the more truthful approach there who went into deciding or determining or recognizing what went into the Bible that we have today.

MK: That's a great question. Yeah, a lot of people have been sort of shaped by The Da Vinci Code-esque reconstructions of Christianity. It's not just the book, The Da Vinci Code, that speaks that way but even the popular media and even folks on the Internet tend to speak on the origins of the Bible in those same lines. The ideas are all the same, which is that the Early Christians didn't have a canon in any meaningful way, no one really agreed on much of anything, there's a bunch of disagreement and only later under political pressure (usually under the leadership of Constantine) decided, 'Oh, we really need to settle this canon question', and so they decided to come up with certain books that they liked, and then they oppressed and suppressed books they didn't like, then forced their use on everyone else. According to that reconstruction, the canon as we know it is simply the result of political power play.

That whole reconstruction, that whole idea that the canon is simply the books that belong to the theological victors, is actually a very old theological idea put out by a scholar famously known by the name of Walter Bauer, who published a book in the 1930s in Germany, called Heresy in Orthodoxy in Earliest Christianity. He's the one who originally started the ball rolling on that reconstruction. That's a very common idea today. Of course, the problem with Bauer's thesis and the problem with that reconstruction that you find in The Da Vinci Code is I think it's largely mistaken in terms of the way the canon developed.

The original question then was, ‘Who chose the books in the canon?’ My answer may seem a little strange to people but I'd argue that when it comes to the core books of the canon, I don't think anybody chose them. You'll go, 'What do you mean by that?'. Take, for example, just Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. People often ask me, 'Who chose the Gospels?'. In one sense, no one chose the Gospels. We don't have any indication in the early church that there was any vote on the Gospels or any council on the Gospels or any major decision on the Gospels. The fact is as far back as we can see within Early Christianity, it seems like Christians were committed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These were the earliest Gospels. These were the only 1st century Gospels we're aware of. These are the Gospels that the church didn't choose, rather that the Gospels it inherited. I think that's a better way to think of it. It's not that the church sat down and said, 'Hey, we need to pick some Gospels.' Rather, the church said, 'Where are the Gospels that have been handed down to us?' The answer has always been Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Now certainly there were dissenters and certainly there were fringe groups (and we can talk about those), but as a core, no one chose these Gospels. They were simply the ones that were handed down. I think what that gets at then is the Bible and its reception isn't really driven by church councils and human decision in the main. Certainly churches played a role, and certainly people played a role, but really driving the process is the fact that these are the books that are there from the beginning, and everyone sort of knew that, and that's how the books ended up handed down and received in the church.

BA: Well, that's helpful. They're inherited. They didn't sit around and decide about that.

Now, I think that one question that comes up with folks is simply the difference between the Old Testament canon formation and New Testament, maybe a different process or way that came about. Is there a difference and could you describe it?

MK: Certainly there are differences historically, and no doubt the time frame for the Old Testament canonical process was much longer, and the New Testament time frame for the canonical process was much shorter, and largely it has to do with the time frame in which the book sometimes were written. The entire New Testament was written within the 1st century, whereas the Old Testament was written over many, many centuries. That really complicates things in terms of the Old Testament. It's not near as tidy or as neat.

Moreover, the Old Testament canon formation is much more difficult to ascertain simply because we have a lot less historical information about it. The further back in time you go, the less historical data you have about how these books developed, how these books were received, and the collections of books that people recognized; whereas in the New Testament area, we just have a lot more information. There are good books out there on the Old Testament canon. I would think the best one out there is probably still Roger Beckwith's book on the origins of the Old Testament canon, which I would recommend. My work, of course, has been largely on the New Testament half.

Now that's sad in terms of the difference, and I think still at the core is the same principle, though. The principle being simply this is that when God gives books to His people, that He works it out so that they recognize those books and eventually receive them. That doesn't mean there's never roadblocks or challenges along the way, but the fact is that God's books are constituted by the Holy Spirit and God's people have the Holy Spirit, and those two factors are joined together so that God's people rightly recognize God's books.

BA: Well, very good. Now talk about some of the criteria for canonicity. What were some of the factors that you could quantify that determined whether or not a book was accepted or inherited as opposed to just falling to the side or being rejected in some way.

MK: The term, criteria of canonicity, is a very popular phrase in the studies of the canon, and it's used a lot. I take a good bit of time in my book to actually critique that idea. The idea of criteria of canonicity, I think, is problematic in some ways.

One of the major ways that is problematic is it almost creates this idea that the church consciously developed criteria and then went around looking for books that met them. That's a little bit misleading based on what I said earlier in some sense. A lot of the books, the church never really consciously picked out of the field of many others, because they were just simply books that were inherited. So in one sense, the idea of criteria of canonicity overplays the role of the church, and this is one of the major concerns I have about it.

What I talk about in my book is I use a different concept besides criteria of canonicity. I talk about what's called attributes of canonicity. Attributes of canonicity are things that set apart canonical books from other books. Some of these overlap with the idea of criteria of canonicity, but the way it's framed and the way you talk about it does matter, and, of course, I can't fully develop that here. Someone would have to get the book to get the full gist of it, but let me talk about what the attributes of canonicity are just so people can get a sense of them.

What I outlined in my book are three attributes of canonicity. One is what I call divine qualities of Scripture, and these are the internal marks that the book is divine. This tends to be, in many people's minds, very subjective in the way they think about it, but I argue in the book that it's actually more objective than you might think, and we can come back to these.

We would argue, and historically, Christians have argued that the books, themselves, bear evidence that they are from God, that the books themselves bear marks of having God's fingerprints all over them. That can include their beauty or their excellency or their unity or their harmony and so on. That's a starting point for an attribute of canonicity.

A second attribute of canonicity that I bring out in the book which I think most people will probably be familiar with is apostolicity—the idea that all books that belong in the canon are from Apostles or from the apostolic circle. This is a very big component within Early Christianity that has been noticed for a long time, and historians are very aware that when it comes to what the early church did, they were very keen to make sure that whatever books they had went back to the Apostles. This really does factor as a major thing, because there's not that many books we have even dated to the 1st century in the Early Church. So if you're talking about books that go back to the Apostles, you have a very short list, most of which are the books that made it into the New Testament.

Those are two of the ones that I would focus on here. I think that's a way we can get started down the road of what constitutes a canonical book.

BA: That's a really helpful distinction, and I see the importance of it now that you describe it. So when we're talking about criteria of canonicity, it's more like what we're seeing or observing after the fact, that these things have already been determined.

MK: Yeah, absolutely.

BA: So saying attributes is like the perfect way of describing it.

When it comes to the New Testament Gospels, as we mentioned just a few minutes ago, some skeptics wanna suggest that there were just these tons of other gospels to choose from. Can you talk a little bit about these other gospels, and why they were rejected, and where they fall in this spectrum?

MK: Apocryphal gospels is the term we use to talk about gospels not in the New Testament canon. These are the media darlings of a lot of scholars. They love to talk about apocryphal gospels, and talk about how this somehow brings into question the truth of the Canonical Four. I find apocryphal gospels fascinating. My dissertation on my PhD work was on an apocryphal gospel. I think they are an interesting part of the history of Early Christianity , but in terms of whether they compete with the Canonical Four, that's a very different question. So let's talk about a few of those issues.

First, how many were there? I read an article just a couple of days ago in UK Daily Telegraph that was a story about apocryphal gospels, and they made the claim—and this is shocking to hear—that there were thousands of gospels in Early Christianity.

BA: Wow.

MK: Now you hear a claim like that, and you have to wonder, 'Did they get that from The Da Vinci Code?' Well, The Da Vinci Code wasn't even that ambitious. The Da Vinci Code said there were 80 gospels that were in play in Early Christianity which is also ridiculous. A thousand, of course, is beyond ridiculous—and 80 is even beyond ridiculous. How many were there? We don't know exactly how many there were, but if you take a look at the gospels that circulated within the first four centuries of Early Christianity, you're probably talking about couple of dozen here, tops. A lot of them were probably overlapping with one another and borrow from one another. So you're not talking about that many types of gospels.

A second factor to think about when it comes to apocryphal gospels is the date of these gospels. We don't have any apocryphal gospel with any credible date at the 1st century. What that means is the only Gospels that date in the first 1st century are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Every other gospel that we have—whether it be Thomas or Peter or beyond, or even now recently, the Gospel of Judas—all are dated to, at least, the 2nd century or later. Even secular scholars agree with this. There's a few fringe scholars that wanna put Thomas in the 1st century but virtually everyone agrees that the apocryphal gospels are late, and they don't belong to the 1st century and are often actually dependent on the Canonical Four.

If that's true, what that tells you then is that the apocryphal gospels were late to the game. They came on the scene at a later point telling us that they don't have any real claim to apostolic authority or to have any real apostolic connections, and they are actually dependent on the Canonical Four many times in certain ways. So those gospels were written probably to promulgate some sort of theology that maybe was not in vogue at the time or maybe belong to a fringe group, but either way, there's no real reason to think these apocryphal gospels have any real competition with the Canonical Four. This is why the Early Church never took them seriously.

The important thing to realize is that there was never any major movement in the Early Church that centered around an apocryphal gospel. What I mean by that is there's never any indication that the church as a whole was about to adopt [the Gospel of] Thomas or about to follow Peter's gospel. There were certainly pockets here and there, but as a whole, apocryphal gospels were fairly marginalized. There were fringe groups from time to time that used them. There were heretical groups that used them, but the center of Christianity always seemed to be committed to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

BA: That’s very helpful. When you're talking about gospels—we’re using the word, gospel, here—I wonder if it's really right to describe the other "gospels" as gospels as an actual genre. Will they fall into the same category or they're just named "gospels"?

MK: Actually, both things are true. Some would look a lot like the canonical Gospels, and therefore in that sense, the term, gospel, will probably be appropriate. You think about something like the Gospel of Peter, which is an account of the crucifixion and resurrection that has certain social similarities with the canonical Gospels, and certainly an incomplete gospel, but genre-wise, it'd be similar. One might I think of Oxyrhynchus 840 which is another apocryphal gospel that has stories that are very similar to the Synoptics and to John. In that sense, it would probably be what you will call a normal gospel.

But then there's other gospels that don't look like the gospel genre at all. For example, the Gospel of Thomas. The Gospel of Thomas, even though it gets a lot of media time, most people don't realize it's actually not a gospel in any meaningful way. That means there's no real story of Jesus' birth, no story of His life, no story of His death, no story of His resurrection. All the Gospel of Thomas is is a list of 114 sayings, 114 teachings of Jesus that are just all listed out in a row. This is a collection of Jesus' teachings from some particular groups, but by no means could constitute a gospel, at least, in the way we typically think of the term.

Another example of this is some of the Nag Hammadi codices, like the Gospel of Truth, which isn't really a gospel at all but more of a theological treatise about the gnosticism that was prevalent in those communities. So the term, gospel, is pretty loose. If you start narrowing it down to what genres really count as gospel, then the number even shrinks further, and I think this was your point. Maybe there's two dozens that bear the name, but once you start really shrinking it down, you're talking about maybe a dozen books that really were circulating in these 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries.

BA: Well, even the fact that they're 2nd, 3rd, 4th centuries, some of these people are not even around to write it. So what about the authorship? How can we determine the authorship of late, non-canonical gospels?

MK: When it comes to non-canonical gospels, often the best we can do is determine who's not the author. In other words, as you already noted, if that was written in the 2nd century, then we know that any of the apostles couldn't have written them 'cause they are all dead by then. So when you have a book assigned to Thomas in the 2nd century, you know that it's a pseudonymous title, a title that's false, and designed to bolster the authority of the book. Same with the Gospel of Peter. Peter was not alive in the 2nd century when that gospel was written. Same with the Gospel of Judas. He was not alive when that gospel was written. And there are gospels that are attributed to all kinds of folks: There's the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary, and on and on we can go.

Those all are titles that were added after the fact, designed to try to bring some credibility to those books, and probably designed, to some extent, to mimic the canonical titles and to sound like the kind of titles that were already known in gospels that were circulating. Given the fact that we have very little information about these books, there's really no way to know who the person was that wrote them during that time. We can come with vague senses of date and vague senses of provenance, but we really have very little information about who wrote these apocryphal books.

BA: Many scholars we talk to will say, 'Well, go ahead and read, say, the Gospel of Thomas, and you kind of realize what we're all talking about here’. These things are not really like the canonical books. What would you say about that? If we simply read these other books, would you have the strong impression of, 'Yeah, obviously this doesn't belong in the Bible'?

MK: I think you would. This goes back to a point I was making earlier about the kind of qualities in a book that are God-given and are trustworthy. When you read the canonical Gospels and then you read apocryphal gospels, there is a decided difference between them in lots of ways—certainly a qualitative difference, certainly a tone difference, certainly a style difference, and there's a difference that I think any person reading could pick up on. One example of this is is the canonical Gospels are remarkably humble and tame in the way they describe miraculous events. What I mean by that is they simply tell it like it is in a very sober way—without a lot of embellishment or what you might deem to be truth—or exaggeration or sort of polemical, propaganda-type style.

Whereas in the other types of apocryphal books, that's simply not the case. You see in those books all kinds of embellishments, all kinds of extras, all kinds of different things that would throw it over the top. A particular type of gospel that does this in the ancient world are what we call infancy gospels. Infancy gospels are purportedly stories of Jesus as a child, and these are notorious for legendary embellishment type features.

One very famous one is called the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is often confused with the Gospel of Thomas. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is actually a different gospel designed to tell you what Jesus must have been like as a boy, but when you read the gospel, it doesn't read at all like our canonical gospels. It's not at all a sober-minded assessment of what happened in a historical account; rather, it's sort of a ridiculous, over the top account where Jesus is this little firebrand of a child whom if you upset, he might zap you dead and ends up killing other children and raising them from the dead. He gets in trouble with the authorities for making clay pigeons on the Sabbath, and then he turns them into real pigeons and they fly away. There are all kinds of almost borderline humorous and strange and bizarre stories.

So yeah, the canonical gospels, at the end of the day, sound reasonable and very sober-minded. I would always encourage people to read these apocryphal gospels and if they do, they would find out very quickly they don't sound at all like our Canonical Four.

BA: I was eating dinner with some friends the other night, and something came out about particular books that were apocryphal books that weren't in our Bible, and they said, 'Oh well, it's heretical'. The question that came into the discussion was, 'Does not being part of the canon immediately make something heretical?' and I was hoping maybe you can unpack that a bit as far as the content that we find in these non-canonical books.

MK: Very good question. One of the points that I often make to my students is don't think that apocryphal means, by definition, heretical. What I mean by that is, to simply be outside the canon is not to be inherently wrong. It just simply means to be outside the canon is to not be Scripture. Those aren't the same things. I think one of the unfortunate reactions that we'll have when they hear something like an apocryphal text is I think, 'Okay, this is a book that should be burned' or something like that. But not necessarily.

What you have is some apocryphal texts are orthodox or relatively orthodox within Early Christianity. A good example of this is called The Shepherd of Hermas, which is a famous 2nd century writing about a particular vision that someone had, sort of a book like Revelation, if you will. This particular book was widely received as orthodox, incredible, and helpful. Even a few people think it might be Scripture, but even with that, it was widely rejected when it came to the canon, but nonetheless, it was still regarded as a helpful, useful book.

So, I always tell people, there's two kinds of apocryphal books: there's apocryphal books that are heretical but there's also apocryphal books that might be useful and helpful. So you don't have to always have to throw them all out. The apocryphal book I did my doctoral work on is Oxyrhynchus 840, which is a fragment of an apocryphal story of Jesus. That also is a fairly orthodox document. There's nothing in there that would be decidedly heretical, but it's not in the New Testament, so yet again, you're facing a story that's probably theologically accurate, but we simply just don't know whether it happened, and there's certainly no reason to consider it Scripture.

I think that distinction is helpful, and I think it's important to recognize that not all apocryphal stories of Jesus are necessarily fabricated. Some of them might be based on ancient traditions that made their way into these apocryphal books.

BA: Very good. What would be the difference between the books that we find in most Bibles and those we see in the Catholic Bible?

MK: This is a common question that comes up as well. So I have been talking about apocryphal New Testament books, but there's also the issue of what's called the Apocrypha. Now the Apocrypha refers to, normally, the books added by the Roman Catholic Church—the Old Testament. These are also what we know as intertestamental books, so they'd be books like First and Second Maccabees, and Judith, and Tobit, and so on. These type of books in the Apocrypha were written between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New, documenting various events during the intertestamental time period. At the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church officially declared those books to be Scripture.

Now, as you can imagine, the story behind the Apocrypha is a long and complicated one that we certainly couldn't go into here. The short version is that Protestants have not accepted the Apocrypha as Scripture, and the reason they have not done that is because Protestants would argue, as I would, that the Early Church for the most part did not accept the Apocrypha as Scripture. Certainly there were pockets that did, but as a whole, the Early Church did not, and it wasn't really until much later that those books begin to attain the status that would be equivalent with Scripture, then eventually was declared to be such by [the Council of] Trent in the 16th century.

So Protestants would argue, therefore, that the Apocryphal books should not be considered Scriptural. However, this again brings up the distinction I mentioned a moment ago, which is, just because they're not Scriptural doesn't necessarily mean they're not useful or are necessarily heretical. Now there's some aspects with the Apocryphal books that we might have concerns about, but as a whole, they're fairly useful and I think helpful and I think historically reliable; but I don't think they're Scripture, and I think there's good historical reasons for that conclusion.

BA: That's helpful as well. Dr. Kruger, some people might come from a point of doubt. They might think sort of the same thing as you alluded to at the very beginning of the interview, this whole idea of 'Well, gee, how do I know there aren't some books that maybe have been left out and maybe they should be in my Bible today?'. How do you respond to something like that, and maybe that's a common question?

MK: That's the most common question, and the humorous answer I would give to that is to read my book. I wrote my book, Canon Revisited.

BA: [Laughing] I hope they do.

MK: Yeah, exactly. I wrote my book, Canon Revisited, to answer that exact question; but if I were to give a short answer to it, I would say that our trust in the reliability of the canon is predicated in our trust in God. In other words, if God would've given these books to His people, do we think that God would have given a means by which His people would reliably recognize those books? I think it's a very fair question to ask. So once again, the question is this, if God would give books to His people, would He provide the means that reliably would allow His people to recognize those books? I think the Bible itself provides some of the answers to those questions. I think it shows that God, indeed, is not only the kind of God that does give revelation, does give books, but then he would also make sure when He gave those books that they would be recognized by His church, and He wouldn't leave that to chance.

So one of the indications, I think, of the fact that the church got it right or, another way to say it, is I think an indication of which books should be regarded as canonical is to simply ask the question: Which books has the church achieved a consensus about? Which books has the church achieved a consensus about in terms of what books God has given? Well, one must at least believe as a Christian, if God gave books to His church and that He put the [Holy] Spirit in His church and put the [Holy] Spirit in His books, that the books that the church received might just be the books He intended. I would argue, in fact, that's exactly what we see. We see a remarkable amount of unity around these 27 books. In fact, since the 4th century, when the dust has settled on the original giving of the canon, there really hasn't been much to talk about. Basically, churches all across the world all agree these are the 27 books. We have a couple minor exceptions here and there, but the consensus is wide and the consensus is deep.

So my answer to someone just on the surface is, 'Look, if you believe that God can give books and make sure the church receives them, and they are the books that the church received, then you have good reasons to think they might just be the books that God intended.' I think that's, at least, a good place to start.

BA: In a sense, that's an argument for the faithful transmission and preservation of Scripture.

MK: It's an argument from God's providence. Of course it's an argument from God's providence, but it's also an argument on the basis of God's intent. In other words, if God intended to give His word to His people, we would wanna believe that He would also give a mechanism by which the church would reliably recognize the Word that He gave. That doesn't mean that the church is infallible or the church has some secret revelation. It just simply means that God providentially and also circumstantially created an environment with which the church would recognize His Word as coming from Him.

In my book, I go deeper into this concept in terms of what this environment looks like, and how God does this. You, of course, presume the providence of God and His sovereignty and why He would do what He does.

Another way to say it is that our understanding about the reliability of the canon is predicated on our understanding of the reliability of God's character, in what He's like, in how He acts. I think those are natural deductions from Scripture itself. So I think there is certainly a sense in which providence is in play there, but I think it's maybe slightly a different argument than the inerrancy argument in terms of the preservation of the Scriptures. I think those are a little bit different, and of course its hard at this point to explain all the nuances of why; but at the end of the day, certainly trusting in God's character and trusting in His providence play a role in our assurance that we have the right books.

BA: Thanks for that. Now many of our listeners are gonna be those who are studying or are very interested in the area of Christian apologetics, so they'll be real keen on defending the reliability of the Gospels, understanding and defending the canon of Scripture that we have today. I wonder if you have any advice for apologists who are trying to do this and defend Scripture. I know that there are certain pitfalls that people can fall into unknowingly, so I wanna ask what approach you take to defending the Scriptures and if maybe there are any approaches to defending the Scriptures that you would wanna steer people away from.

MK: That's a great question, and a big one. Several thoughts come to mind. One is if you're going to defend the canon or text of the New Testament, you definitely gonna have to be willing and ready to do some background reading. It's not an easy area. It's a complicated area. It's an area ripe with all kinds of misunderstandings and misconceptions, and so you’re gonna wanna make sure that you're not promulgating some of those. Sometimes I hear evangelicals promulgating misconceptions and misunderstandings about the canon, and certainly anybody who defends it wouldn't wanna be in that camp. That would be one thing that I would say in terms of how to give people encouragement as they defend the faith.

There's probably other pieces of advice I would give as well. The second piece of advice would have to do with the way evidences play a role in our defense. I'm a big fan of evidence. I'm a big fan of facts and giving people good historical answers. But at the same time, I think it's naive to think that apologetics is sufficiently done by simply handing people evidence. People do not come to the evidence neutrally. They don’t come to it with no worldview at all. They come to it with a worldview that's already predisposed against Scripture and against God. So to give them evidence and only evidence is I think a step in the right direction but not a sufficient step. Apologetics has to be done in a more macro level than that. It can't just be backing up the dump truck and unloading the patristic data on someone. It's got to be framed in light of the whole Christian worldview.

Another way to say that is when you're defending the faith, we need to do it on a worldview level, realizing that there are reasons they accept or reject evidence, and it has nothing to do with the evidence. It actually has to do with what they already believe before they look at the evidence. That particular reality is key to doing apologetics, and certainly I would encourage people to pay attention to that as they defend the faith.

So those are the two practical pieces of advice for folks who are heading out there to try to bolster confidence in the Bible.

BA: Very good and very helpful. Well, Dr. Kruger, we covered quite a bit of ground here and it's been really great. I know you've written a lot of good content on your own blog. You've also got a number of lectures available online. So I was hoping maybe you could direct our listeners now to where they can find your blog, your resources, and your writing.

MK: The best way to do that is to start with my blog, because my blog has links to all my writings, many of which are available on the website. Then for the books, there's links to how those can be purchased.

My blog is called Canon Fodder (, and they can find out more information about how they can learn more about both my articles and my books.

BA: Excellent. We'll link to all of those things at the blog post at Apologetics 315. Dr. Kruger, it's been a great interview, and I appreciate you taking the time to do it.

MK: Thanks, Brian. Enjoyed our conversation.

BA: I have been speaking with Dr. Michael J. Kruger, professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, and author of Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Links to Dr. Kruger's writings and lectures can be found at today's blog post at Apologetics 315.

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