Why We Trust Our Bible - Lesson 9

Canon: Historical Model (3/10) - Dr. Kruger

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.

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Why We Trust Our Bible
Lesson 9
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Canon: Historical Model (3/10) - Dr. Kruger




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


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. 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.