Why We Trust Our Bible - Lesson 8

Canon: Community Model (2/10) - Dr. Kruger

A canonical worldview is a set of beliefs as to what the canon is and how someone “knows” if a book is canonical or not.  There are three models. According to the community model, a book becomes canonical upon its reception by the community.

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Why We Trust Our Bible
Lesson 8
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Canon: Community Model (2/10) - Dr. Kruger



A. A book becomes canonical upon its reception by the community

B. Historical-Critical model says canon is due purely to human decisions

1. The books we have today are the “winners”

2. Nothing special about the current canon

3. Dates the close of the canon in the fourth century

C. Roman Catholic

1. Church chose the books, but believes the canon is the right one

2. This makes the Church authoritative over the Bible

3. Catholic critique of self-authenticating canon, but Catholic church then becomes self-authenticating

4. Council of Trent



All Lessons
Class Resources
  • Dr. Craig Blomberg begins by introducing the issue of the historical reliability of the New Testament documents, focusing on Dan Brown and some of the other recent "discoveries." He will cover 12 truths agreed upon except by the most liberal theologians. In this lesson he talks about the authorship and dating of the gospels.

  • Would the gospel writers have wanted to preserve accurate history? Why are there four Gospels, with all the similarities and differences?

  • Gain an in-depth look at translations, interpretations, oral tradition, memorization, Gospel stories, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with this seminary professor's class.
  • In his series of reasons, in this lesson Blomberg answers 7 – 9.

  • Blomberg addresses the issues of the non-Christian testimony to Jesus, archaeology, and the testimony of other early Christian Writers. He concludes with a powerful discussion of three ways to believe, and what the relationship is between faith and reason.

  • This class provides an overview of the core beliefs of Christianity and the sources that back them up.
  • Are books in the canon because they are authoritative, or they are authoritative because they are in the canon? The Davinci Code and the common assertions about Constantine are historical fabrications. “Canon” can mean three different things. Has God given us a structure to know which books should be in the canon? Can you prove, or is the point to have sound reasons for what you believe?

  • A canonical worldview is a set of beliefs as to what the canon is and how someone “knows” if a book is canonical or not.  There are three models. According to the community model, a book becomes canonical upon its reception by the community.

  • In the historical model of canonicity, a book becomes canonical when it is examined historically, looking at issues such as authorship and reception. This model suffers  by the absence of an absolute criteria by which you can make this decision.

  • The self-authenticating model of the canon claims that the Bible is itself its own ultimate authority. All beliefs of ultimate authority are circular, otherwise the criteria for deciding would be greater than the ultimate authority itself. The real question is whether or not God has provided a means by which Christians can know what books are truly canonical. The self-authenticating model encompasses the other two, incorporating the best of each model.

  • A “defeater” is an idea that undermines your confidence in knowing something. Are there defeaters for our understanding of the canon? The New Testament books have unity with prior revelation and with each other, and in fact the New Testament completes the Old Testament in surprising ways.

  • Kruger shows that Covenants in the Old Testament needed written documents, and a new covenant required new documents. Writing was not an afterthought. The apostles saw themselves as agents of the New Covenant and saw their writings as having authority. They would have been surprised to be told that it wasn't until Irenaeus that people throught their writing was authoritative. They had to write to accomplish their apostolic ministry within their lifetime.

  • Even if a few of the books took a while to be accepted, there was a core canon of 22 books very quickly. Even the Muratorian Fragment, while including two non-canonical books, recognizes that they are different and may be listing them as such. Just because the early church read non-canonical books does not mean there was not a canon.

  • The early church was a culture of textuality; they liked and publicly read books. The frequency of ancient manuscripts shows us which books were the most popular and were therefore understood to be canonical. The church preferred the new codex format because they could group books together, especially the gospels. We can also tell that the manuscripts were written in order to be publicly read, which means the church knew which books were authoritative.

  • Eusebius described four types of books: accepted, disputed, rejected, and heretical. The early church was careful in what they accepted as authoritative, and there really was not that much of a question.

  • Answers to common questions about the canon, now that these question are targeted to the lay level. 

  • In Part 1, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses the challenges to the believability of the Bible brought by the issues related to the Greek manuscripts, and especially the influence of Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman.

  • In Part 2, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses discussion of the historical process that led to manuscripts and variants, with some examples of variants.

  • In Part 3, Dr. Daniel Wallace responds to three basic challenges by Bart Ehrman: the "black hole"; the quality of the copies; the effect of Constantine on the manuscripts.​

  • In Part 4, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses how now that we understand why there are variants in the manuscripts, how does the art and science of textual criticism help us determine which variants are most likely to be original?

  • In Part 5, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses a brief overview of why the King James Bible is different from all modern translations, and issues of the Greek texts behind it.

  • In Part 6, Dr. Daniel Wallace focuses in on variants, how many there are, how many significant variants are there, and how good of a job has textual criticism done.

  • You will gain knowledge about translation philosophy, including different methods, how to evaluate a translation, and a comparison of the NIV and ESV translation philosophies, with examples of their differences. Understanding translation philosophy is important when interpreting the Bible.
  • You will learn about the first principle of interpretation which involves determining the meaning of words by looking at the word's immediate context, broader context, and historical and cultural context. By accurately interpreting the meaning of a word, it can be applied to the passage as a whole.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible by exploring topics such as the development of the canon, textual criticism, historical accuracy, and theological coherence.
  • You will gain an understanding of the principles behind why we trust the Bible, including the bibliographical, historical, and internal tests.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the process of canonicity, which is the recognition of which books belong in the Bible based on criteria such as apostolicity, orthodoxy, catholicity, and traditional use. Understanding canonicity is essential for recognizing the authority of the Bible and its significance in the Christian faith.

The uniqueness and authority of the Bible are always under attack. Professors and writers are claiming that Jesus never existed, Jesus never claimed to be God, the early church changed the basic preaching of Jesus, books were left out of the Bible, the copies of the Bible that have come down through the centuries are hopelessly corrupt

Dr. Blomberg discusses the reliability of the Bible. Dr. Kruger discusses the process of formation of the New Testament Canon. Dr. Wallace discusses issues relating to manuscripts and textual criticism. Dr. Mounce discusses the philosophies and process of translation. 

I. Historical – Critical Model

Canonical models make up a core part of my book with it asking the question, how we know, or is there a mechanism for knowing which books are in the Canon. There are different ways of thinking about canon to answer that question. So, I define a canonical model like a canonical world view; it tells you about what a person thinks the canon is; it tells you how they know a canonical book when they see one. It is a developed system by which someone says that is canon and here is how we know when we see it; here is how we authenticate it. Everybody has got some way of doing that. So I divided the book into three main canonical models; three main ways that people think they can determine what books are canonical. And the first of those are what I called the community model of canon, which is probably the most common. The community determines the model of canon knowing which books are canonical because of the communities’ affirmation of that book. To put it another way, in a more craft form, a book in one sense becomes canonical upon reception. So the activity of the community to some extent constitutes a book as canon or even to some extent makes the book canon. So, the community becomes a definitive factor in a community determined model. And of course, there are numerous examples of this. There are many different versions of the community model which sound very different from one another at first glance, but when you look at the base-line way which is by virtue of the communities’ decoration about a book.

The example of this would be the historical-critical model which is almost an anti-model. It’s representative of modern critical scholars view of canon; this is someone with no faith commitment, no theological belief in the inspiration of Scripture. When they look at the question of why one book is canonical and another book isn’t, their answer is that the church chose some books and not others. In other words, the historical-critical model says that books are canonical by virtue of human decisions alone. It was a human group of men in a church that decided that we like this book and not that book and that is all there is to it. It is what you might call a naturalizing the canon. It stripes away any supernatural element and just says that the canon is determined by human decisions alone. It is what books that people happen to prefer at the time and therefore, this particular collection of books has no more meaning than any other book. It is simply books that people collected and affirmed at a point in time. So most-higher critical scholars, therefore, when they look at the canon, it is just a historical event. It is simply something that happened when humans make decisions with no meaning to it. There is no distinctive identity in these books. There is no quality to the books that make them any different than any other books.

This is built largely on the Bauer hypothesis with this idea that the books in our Canon happen to be the books of the theological winners. This is because some group became the dominant group of Christianity. Therefore, that dominate version of Christianity got to pick the books they wanted, but just like Bauer always used to ask, so why should we think these books are better than any other books? If a different group had won, you would have had a different Canon today. So, with this whole approach, what you realize with this historical-critical model, the Canon is just sort of an accident in history, it is just what ended up happening, you don’t put any meaning into it. It doesn’t mean anything, it just so happened that one group won and they picked the books they wanted. That doesn’t mean that they are any better than any other books. So there is this naturalized version of the way canon works for most historical-critical scholars. This group has largely followed the definition of canon laid out by Albert Sunburn which is what I called earlier, the exclusive definition. Higher critical scholars that think the Canon is just a product of the church usually date the Canon to around the 4th century. So they typically have a fairly late date for the Canon.

II. The Roman Catholic Model

This is the second example of a community determined model. People are often surprised that I put it alongside the historical-critical model being under the same umbrella. On a surface level, Roman Catholic and sort of higher critical scholars are very different groups. And so how could they have the same model of canon. Ironically they do, they both basically conclude that the church chose these books and the books we have are canonical because the church chose them. It is just that the higher critical group thinks that it doesn’t mean anything but the Roman Catholic group has the view that the magisterium had the Spirit of God behind them and therefore they think it means more. This proves to them that these books are canonical. But both groups still have the same basic underlining premise, all canonical books are books chosen by some community of human beings. The Roman Catholic model are positive and they end up with the same twenty-seven books that we would affirm as inspired, so in one sense, we are on the same team. But the method by which the Roman Catholic get there raises a number of theological concerns. These are long-standing concerns that go all the way back to the reformation and even before that. If in fact, these books are canonical by virtue of the churches’ activities, this raises the question as to whether the church is at a higher level than the books themselves. In other words, how do you have a view where the books are the highest authority but yet the church is exhibiting an even higher authority? So what you end up in the Roman Catholic view seems more along the lines of not Scripture alone, but instead church alone as the definitive factor for the Canon.

III. Self-Authenticating Authority

One of the things that they as Roman Catholics object to in regards to the protestant view or at the protestant view that I abdicate in my book, they think that Protestants have self-authenticating authority. How can the Bible be self-authenticating? Some external authority outside the Bible must tell you that this is the Bible and so this is the core Roman Catholic argument. And Protestants stumble over this. Perhaps we need some external authority outside the Bible to know that it is authoritative. This is all good and well as an argument, but what if you turn the question back to the Roman Catholic asking why we should believe that Rome is the authority. Now there is a bit of a conundrum there; why should I accept the authority of the Roman Catholic Church? If they want to go to some outside authority other than the Roman Catholic Church, then what would it be? It can’t be Scripture because that is the very thing they say you need the church to know. That can’t be an answer. In the end, I argue that the church ends up being the Roman Catholic system of self-authenticating. In other words, according to the Roman Catholics, we should believe the authority of the Roman Catholic Church on the basis of the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. So they end of as being in the same circular problem they claim that the Protestants are suffering from. So, this is an important aspect. And so what I argue in the book is that every open authority is self-authenticating. So is your authority going to rest in the church or will it rest in Scripture and that being self-authenticating? Something has to be self-authenticating. Protestants have chosen Scripture as the appropriate place for that authority.

IV. What was the Role of the Council of Trent and the Closing of the Canon?

Roman Catholic says that you can’t have a Canon without the church's declaration. That is their argument, but that didn’t formally happen until the Council of Trent in the 16th century. The Council of Trent was a post-reformation council designed to push back against the Reformation by affirming certain books as canonical, particular those books of the Old Testament Apocrypha which is a different discussion from what we are on today. But the principle there is that a church council declared books as authoritative. The Protestant response to that was to ask what was happening in the first fifteen hundred years before this council made their declaration? How did the church know what books to read before this? They might respond: well, there were regional councils here and there but there were no ecumenical why spread ruling before Trent that would have told people what to read. The Protestants typically point that out by saying there was a way to know which books to read without a formal declaration. The community asked how can we have an authoritative Bible if, in fact, it requires a community outside the Bible that ends up being more authoritative than the Bible. This is a problem for any view of canon that places the authority outside the canon. I argue that the only place that you can go to authenticate the Bible is the Bible, itself. I know for some people this sounds oddly circular but really that is the essence of what you have to do with ultimate authority.