Canonical Model and Self-Authenticating
Summary: Below is an excerpt from Dr. Michael J. Kruger's class on the Self-Authenticating Model and the canon. In this class, he addresses the question, “How do we authenticate the canon in such a way that we don’t undermine its authority?” Dr. Kruger takes you through the Community Determined Model and the Historically Determined Model and the fundamental problems in each of those models. He then presents the Self-Authenticating Model and discusses why this model is the only one to authenticate the canon because it uses the canon to do so and not outside sources which would undermine its authority.
You're looking at the Community Determined Model and the weaknesses there and then secondly the Historically Determined Model and the weaknesses there. I advocate in my book, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (2012), a third model, which is what I call the Self-Authenticating Model. And in essence in that model, I try to address the fundamental problem the other models suffered from. What I argued is that those other models suffered from the main problem of trying to ground the authority of canon in something outside the canon. And of course, that raises an obvious problem that if the canon is only authoritative because it meets some other external standard, then that other external standard now is standing in authority over the canon.
So how do we authenticate the canon in such a way that we don't undermine its authority? That's really what the purpose of the Self-Authenticated Model is and what I argue in that model is that you have to authenticate the canon by using the canon. In other words, the canon itself, God’s Word, and these 27 books have to actually guide its own authentication.
Now I know that in our modern minds we are so used to an empiricist’s world-view that it sounds odd to us. We think that is circular reasoning and you can’t do that. What I point out in the book, and what I said earlier in the discussion, is that when it comes to establishing the ultimate authority and a degree of epistemic singularity is inevitable. What we mean by that is that if in fact, something is an ultimate authority, you can’t demonstrate it without using it.
Otherwise, it wouldn’t be ultimate. So, if I say, “I only believe something because it meets some other standard,” why do I believe that standard? Because then I have to have an endless regress of standards. But, I have to have some stopping point that is ultimate. And if it’s ultimate, it has to be its own authenticating authority. So, that is the rationale. And honestly, it’s a very biblically driven rationale, because God is his own ultimate authority. When God swears, he swears by himself. So, that is the rationale behind having a Self-Authenticating Model.
If you start there, then the next step is simple. When we go into Scripture, what do we see that God provides in his word that can guide us in authenticating it? In other words, does God ever tell us anything about what we should expect in the authentication of his books? And that is where I develop what I call the Self-Authenticating Model.
What I think is proper about the Self-Authenticating Model, is because it allows Scripture to authenticate itself, Scripture stays as the highest authority. That is really the essence of what the Reformers meant by sola scriptura. There is no ultimate authority beyond scripture. There isn’t anything we go to that supersedes Scripture in terms of authority. So really, what I argue for in my book, is that if Protestants want to maintain faithfulness to sola scriptura, you really can’t do that without a model that is self-authenticating.
Otherwise, you end up putting other authorities over the Bible. Look at what the Roman Catholics have done; they have put the church over the Bible. We can put historical evidence above the Bible and we can put other things above it as well. The point is that once you do this, you are challenging the foundations of sola scriptura. A solid foundation of sola scripture will naturally lead someone down the path of a Self-Authenticating Model.
If you look at Scripture and ask, “has God provided a means by which Christians can know which books belong here; is there a means which God has given that allows the church to identify the right books?” I answer that in the affirmative. What I argue is that God has provided what you might call an appropriate epistemic environment. What that means is that there is a situation which we can find ourselves in by which we can know.
What I do is I lay out three aspects that this situation entails:
1. Providential Exposure
2. Attributes of Canonicity
3. Operations of the Holy Spirit