Formation of the New Testament Canon - Lesson 3

Historical Model

In this lesson, you delve into the concept of the historically-determined model of religious canon, contrasting it with the community-determined model. The historically-determined model argues that a book's canonicity is determined by its historical context, focusing on aspects like the origins, the authorship, and the historical accuracy of a book. You explore two sub-categories of this model: the "canon within a canon" model and the "criteria of canonicity" model. The former encourages distinguishing the "true" canon from a larger canon based on certain criteria, which often reflect the individual's worldview. The latter posits that certain criteria, such as apostolicity, popularity, or age, define a canonical book, though the source of these criteria is questioned. 

Michael J Kruger
Formation of the New Testament Canon
Lesson 3
Watching Now
Historical Model




A. Definition: Canon determined by the book’s historical background

B. Canon-Within-a-Canon model

1. Sees only some books within the larger canon as being canonical

2. By what criteria do you make this decision?

C. Criteria of canonicity model

1. Establish a set of criteria, such as apostolicity

2. By what criteria do you make this decision?

D. What is the myth of theological neutrality?

1. All we need to do is follow the facts

2. Problem: facts need to be interpreted


  • Through this lesson, you'll gain an understanding of the challenges and debates surrounding the canonicity of the Bible, learning about its misconceptions, and exploring the various definitions and theories that underline its recognition and authority.
  • You'll gain insight into the community, historical-critical, and Roman Catholic models of determining a book's canonicity, and grapple with debates surrounding 'self-authenticating authority' and the role of the Council of Trent in formalizing the Canon.
  • You gain an understanding of the historically-determined model and how it differs from the community-determined model, learning that the historical context of a book is pivotal in determining its canonicity. You explore two sub-categories of this model, reflecting on the problem of preconceived worldviews influencing canon selection and questioning the origins of canon authenticity criteria. The lesson prompts you to consider the lack of neutrality in historical investigations due to interpretive bias.
  • By engaging with this lesson, you gain a understanding of the Self-Authenticating Model, where the canon is authenticated by its own contents, ultimately providing its authority and maintaining the principles of Sola Scriptura.
  • From this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the concept of 'defeaters' and their role in questioning our knowledge of the Bible. You will learn about the attributes that indicate a book is from God and how these are susceptible to 'defeaters'. You will also understand the harmony between the Old and New Testaments, including the shared narrative structure and symbolism.
  • This lesson covers the significance of the covenant concept in the New Testament, help you understand the Apostles' roles as agents of the New Covenant, recognize their authoritative teachings in both oral and written forms, and help you appreciate the reasons behind the shift from oral teachings to written documents.
  • This lesson reviews the concept of Canonical Core and Corporate Reception, noting the early establishment and widespread agreement on most New Testament books, learn about disputed canonical status of some texts, and differentiate between orthodox and canonical books.
  • In this lesson, you explore the formation of the early Christian canon, examining patristic citations, the role of Christian manuscripts, and the adoption of the codex, which shaped the Christian textual culture and pointed towards an early formation of the canon.
  • This lesson provides an in-depth understanding of the four-fold division of the canon in early Christianity and the content and reasons for the disputed books, underlining the fact that the core of the canon was firmly established from Christianity's inception.
  • You will learn about Eusebius's four-fold division of the canon, the content and context of disputed books, and the stability of the foundational canon in early Christianity.

This course explores the complexities and debates related to the recognition, authority, and understanding of the biblical canon, including modern controversies fueled by discoveries of apocryphal materials and the influence of fictional works like the Da Vinci Code. It emphasizes the critical differentiation between a book becoming canonical and its recognition as such, introduces various canonical models, offers insights into the concept of a "proper epistemic environment," probes the development of the early Christian canon, and provides a comprehensive analysis of Eusebius' four-fold division - all with the aim of deepening the understanding of the biblical canon's formation, its diverse interpretations, and ongoing debates.

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The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate

The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate

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The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate

Dr. Michael J Kruger
Formation of the New Testament Canon
Historical Model
Lesson Transcript


I. Sub-categories of the historically-determined model

The second model, the historical canonical model is almost the opposite of the community model. The community model says that you know the books of the canon by virtue of the community, a sort of affirmation of these books. The historically-determined model just goes the opposite direction; well no, actually you don’t know which books is canon by virtue of the community. Instead, we know which books is canon by virtue of the book’s historical background. In other words, where did it come from, is it historically reliable, who wrote this book? And so it really goes the opposite direction of the community determined model. The community model puts everything later within their perception. The historical model pushes everything to the front and says that it is the origins of these books that tell us whether they are canon. And so for that reason, the historically-determined model is going to be big on historical investigation. You will notice that in the community determined model there is hardly any historical investigation. They are not interested in the attributes of the book as they simply don’t matter. What matters is that the community is saying that these are the books. The historically-determined model asks, don’t the historical aspects of these books matter? Doesn’t it matter who wrote them; doesn’t it matter where they came from? Now, under this umbrella of the historically-determined model, there are a couple of examples such as a canon within a canon.

So, there is what I call, a canon within a canon model, which argues that we have these twenty-seven books and when we start exampling their historical merits, we realize that some of them are not historically accurate. We need to understand how to know which of these books really give us true things and  which of these books don’t. It needs a way to sift through the books so we know what the real canon is in the midst of a larger canon. That is what I mean by a canon within a canon. The problem you run into with this model is determining what criteria I am using to determine which books count as canon and which books don’t and where does that criteria come from. That is a really difficult problem and people end up choosing the books that fit their worldview from the outset. So, if someone goes into the canon interested in feminist theology, they see that the only books from the canon with feminist theology are canonical or whatever that happens to be. There is some sort of grid that people use to sift through these books. The problem is that the grid itself isn’t from Scripture; so you end up with a human collection.

The second example of a historically-determined model is what we call the criteria of canonicity model. This is probably what you would consider to be a very popular one among evangelicals. If we are going to know which books are canonical, we will set up criteria of canonicity. These are the things we are looking for that make a book canonical; it could be a popular book, an old book, an apostolic book and so once a book meets this criteria, then we know it is canonical. There is a rigorous historical investigation to make sure it meets those criteria. Many things about this model are positive. I think it gets a lot of things right, particularly the idea that we might be looking for books that are apostolic. When you look at a book historically, you want a book that goes back to the apostles. The core problem with the criteria of the canonicity model is the criteria for the criteria. This is something that I am a little surprised that hasn’t been dealt with more. So, where did we get these criteria? They seem to be plucked from various places. Some are taken from church history, for this is what the early Christians did. Sometimes, it is from other places. The point I am making is that the criteria of the canonicity model gets many things correct but ultimately you only know what to look for in a book from the Scripture itself. And here we are back again to a realization that you have to use the Scriptures to authenticate them.


II. The Myth of Theological Neutrality

Another challenge to the historically determined model which is designed to go into these books is do a historical investigation which proves their validity. One of the problems with that, there is a sense in which some people approach this from the idea that you can do a neutral historical investigation that will lead to an assured historical resort. If you just follow the facts, you will know whether a book is in or out. The difficulty with this isn’t in the facts, it is the interpretation of those facts and so there is no neutral historical investigation. If I say, hey the canon can be determined by historical investigation and I leave it at that, what happens when the critical scholar comes in and says that he has done that investigation and says, I conclude that these books don’t belong in the canon. So how do we argue this? We can only say that they haven’t done their investigation using the proper grid. You haven’t interpreted the evidence correctly and once you say this, you have to back up to a larger world view. That shows that your investigation isn’t neutral in the first place. So my point is simple this, yes, historical evidence plays an important role but we can’t be naïve about the way people interpret that historical evidence through their grid. We have to recognize that there is no neutrality when evidence is being interpreted.