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Michael Kruger identifies 10 common misconceptions (or misunderstandings) about the origins and development of the NT Canon:

 These are misconceptions that are not only held by the average layman, but are often shared by those in the academic community as well.  It is always difficult to know how such misunderstandings develop and are promulgated. Sometimes they are just ideas that are repeated so often that no one bothers (anymore) to see if they have merit. In other cases, these ideas have been promoted through popular presentations of the canon’s origins (e.g., The Da Vinci Code). And in other cases, scholars have made sustained arguments for some of these positions (though, in my opinion, those arguments are not, in the end, convincing). Either way, it is time for these issues to be dusted off and reconsidered.

Here is his top 10:

  1. The term “canon” can only refer to a fixed, closed list of books
  2. Nothing in early Christianity dictated that there would be a canon
  3. The New Testament authors did not think they were writing Scripture
  4. New Testament books were not regarded as scriptural until around 200 A.D.
  5. Early Christians disagreed widely over the books which made it into the canon
  6. In the early stages, apocryphal books were as popular as the canonical books
  7. Christians had no basis to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy until the fourth century
  8. Early Christianity was an oral religion and therefore would have resisted writing things down
  9. The canonical gospels were certainly not written by the individuals named in their titles
  10. Athanasius’ Festal Letter (367 A.D.) is the first complete list of New Testament books

Dr. Kruger’s books include Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament BooksThe Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (co-authored with Andreas Kostenberger), and The Early Text of the New Testament (co-edited with Charles Hill).

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7 thoughts on “10 Misconceptions about the New Testament Canon”

  1. Matthias says:

    The link for #9 seems to be incorrect…

  2. Arminian says:

    What do you think is the best book on the canon is?

  3. With regard to #3, “The New Testament authors did not think they were writing Scripture,” I think it is very clear is that Paul claimed (and knew) he was writing ‘with authority.’ What is less clear is that he thought he was writing for posterity. Not everything that was true and spoken with authority, by Moses, by Paul, by Jesus, is Scripture, because most of it was not preserved. And what is true of spoken truths is true of written truths as well. Not all inspired writing has been preserved. I am one of those who believe that the abrupt ending of the older manuscripts of Mark is an indication that the outside of a scroll was lost. If so, that is a case in point.

  4. Phil says:

    As stated above, the link for #9 does not work.

  5. Thanks for this. I just went through Blomberg’s Historical Reliability of the Gospels and a few other articles on the canon and this looks very helpful. Actually, it’s funny I had a guy in a Starbucks come after me on this subject asking me about a faith based on a weak textual tradition–I surprised him a bit by knowing what I was talking about and pointing out just how strong the NT tradition was, especially in light of other undoubted, secular sources. I was gentle, but he definitely quieted down.

  6. How about a #11?

    That the canon was decided upon by a small group of dictatorial, closed-minded, repressive church leaders who sat around wringing their hands saying: “Mwahahaha, let’s pick and choose the Scriptures to accomplish our own purposes and so as to stifle real spirituality!”

    This is roughly the misrepresentation I encounter the most pastorally and evangelistically.

  7. Jason Engwer says:

    If anybody is interested, I’ve written an article here that discusses some other evidence supporting Michael Kruger’s conclusion about Origen. I also discuss other sources who seem to have held the twenty-seven-book canon before Athanasius’ Festal Letter in 367.

    And here’s an index to many of our Triablogue posts on the canon in general, including the Old Testament canon.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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