Why We Trust Our Bible - Lesson 13

Canon: Corporate Reception (7/10) - Dr. Kruger

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.

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Why We Trust Our Bible
Lesson 13
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Canon: Corporate Reception (7/10) - Dr. Kruger


A. Corporate reception of the canon happened sooner and was more widespread and earlier than typically indicated

B. Core canon

1. 22 New Testament books accepted by middle of second century

2. Seven remaining shorter books struggled

C. Conclusion

1. Wide-spread unanimity

2. The theological trajectory of Christianity was established early


A. Includes The Apocalypse of Peter and The Wisdom of Solomon

B. Core was set but edges were fuzzy

C. Suggests The Apocalypse of Peterwas questionable

D. Lists these two books at the end


A. Doctrine in early Christianity was not that diverse

B. The use of an apocryphal book doesn't mean there was not a canon

C. Clement of Alexandria


A. All canonical books are orthodox, but not all orthodox books are canonical.

B. Shepherd of Hermas

C. Compare our current libraries

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. What is the Canonical Core and Corporate Reception?

By way of review, there are three attributes of canonicity: divine qualities, marks that are from God and they are from apostles and thirdly, they are received by the church in what I call cooperate reception. What I argue for in the last few chapters of my book is actually that reception by the church happened a lot sooner and was more widespread than typical critics of the New Testament will allow for. One of the ways that I make that case, I argue to what I call a core New Testament. So when people ask, was there a canon or wasn’t there in the early church? Well, what do they mean? Was every single dispute resolved in the early stages of the church? No. But what I do argue for, there was a core canon in place almost as early as we can see. What I mean by core, there were the twenty-two of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament that seemed to be firmly in place by the middle of the second century. From that time, looking back, things get really fuzzy in terms of historical sources. There were the apostolic fathers who only refer to some canonical books. So to have that core by the middle of the 2nd century and it was remarkable to have that much unanimity around that many books. And there are a lot of sources that we can appeal to that tell us that there was this core. One of those is the earliest list, the Muratorium list, which is also known as the moratorium canon, a list of the twenty-two books aforementioned. These include the letters of Paul, the thirteen epistles of Paul, Acts, the four Gospels and most likely 1st Peter, 1st John, Revelation; something along those lines is what we mean by the core. The remaining books or what you might call the disputed books were the smaller books: 2nd Peter, 2nd & 3rd John, Jude and James. These are the books that we are typically talking about, books that had a little bit more of a struggle in the canon. Now, once you realize that there was a core from the very start; this is a very important piece of the puzzle. This tells you that there was widespread unanimity from a very early time about that core. There wasn’t a lot of debate or question about this in the canon; much of it was settled. The other thing that it tells us is that the theological trajectory of Christianity was established at a very early point. Just think about it, if you have thirteen letters from Paul and four Gospels, the doctrine was fairly set regardless of what one might decide about 2nd Peter, regardless of 2nd and 3rd John; this wouldn’t change things much. So the content of the core canon is really important.

II. Why does the Muratorium canon list include, the Apocalypse of Peter and the Wisdom of Solomon as canonical books?

There are lots of things interesting about the Muratorium fragment. The list does mention additional two books: the Apocalypse of Peter and the Wisdom of Solomon. People have speculated on what that means and why. This tells us again that the edges were fuzzy; that yes, you have a core but there were some ongoing disputes about a few books. The Apocalypse of Peter was popular in many circles and apparently there were some that thought it should have been in the canon. It was accessible to some but not all. The Wisdom of Solomon was more of an intertestamental book. Some scholars point out the fact that those two books are mentioned at the end of the list, which in itself is suggestive that they are in the disputed category. It listed all the agreed on books first and then listed two that are questionable. I think this is the case with these two books. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging this but the core was still there.

III. The Presence of Heresy Questions Whether There was a Core Canon

What scholars do with this third attribute of canonicity, the fact that the church reached a consensus on these books doesn’t mean anything because they were always fighting about stuff in the early centuries. Okay, fine, the church finally settled on these twenty-seven books, but evangelicals overlook the wide-spread disagreement in the 2nd and 3rd centuries where people were even using some apocryphal books and there wasn’t a lot of agreement on anything. It wasn’t actually as diverse as people say. Another point, the mere use of apocryphal literature by the early church isn’t evidence that there wasn’t a canon. There is almost an assumption in modern scholarship that if any early church father used an apocryphal book, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a canon. You can believe in a core canon and still find apocryphal literature beneficial and useful, but they are not Scripture. The key example of this was Clement of Alexander. A late 2nd-century church father was very clear when it came to which books that was in the canon. He was clear that there were only the four Gospels but yet he would also cite apocryphal gospels from time to time. He never cited them in Scripture but he would cite them as useful and beneficial and even helpful sometimes. What we would say is that activity does not mean that there wasn’t a canon.

IV. What about a book being Orthodox, but not being Canonical?

People don’t realize that the early church found many books useful and many orthodox books that were beyond the books they found to be in the canon. Another way to say this, all canonical books are orthodox but not all orthodox books are canonical. In early Christian reading practices for beneficial
orthodox but not canonical books. A good example of this is the Shepherd of Hermas. This was a very popular book in the 2nd century and was widely spread and copied. Most Christians with a few minor exceptions did not regard it as Scripture but yet it was deemed to be orthodox and helpful. That category is there and so you can be orthodox without being canonical. The same thing is true in our libraries, we have a lot of books that we read and even cite from a lot of books that are fully orthodox but aren’t Scripture. We find them to be helpful and useful and beneficial, but no one would think that we consider them part of our Bible and that is an important distinction for us to understand also.