10 Misconceptions about the NT Canon: #2: Nothing in Early Christianity Dictated That There Would be a Canon
by Michael Kruger
Note: This is the second installment of a new blog series announced here.
Contemporary challenges to the New Testament canon have taken a number of different forms over the years. For generations, scholars have mainly focused upon the problem of the boundaries of the New Testament. The perennial question has usually been “How do we know we have the right books?” But, in recent years, a new challenge has begun to take center stage (though it is really not new at all). While the validity of the canon’s boundaries is still an area of concern, the attention has shifted to the validity of the canon’s very existence. The question now is “Why is there a New Testament at all?” The answer, according to critics of the canon, is not to be found in the first-century—there was nothing about earliest Christianity (or the books themselves) that would naturally lead to the development of a canon. Instead, we are told, the answer is to be found in the later Christian church. The canon was an ecclesiastical product that was designed to meet ecclesiastical needs. Thus, the New Testament canon was not a natural development within early Christianity, but a later, artificial development that is out of sync with Christianity’s original purpose—it was something imposed upon the Christian faith. Gamble argues this very point: “There is no intimation at all that the early church entertained the idea of Christian scriptures…Therefore, the NT as we think of it was utterly remote from the minds of the first generation of Christian believers.”
However, are we really to think that there was nothing about earliest Christianity that might have given rise to a new collection of scriptural books? I will argue here that the earliest Christians held a number of beliefs that, especially when taken in tandem, would have naturally led to the development of a new collection of sacred books—what we could call a “canon.” In other words, the theological matrix of first-century Christianity created a favorable environment for the growth of a new written revelational deposit. Let us consider what three of these theological beliefs might have been…
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