Most Americans do not believe that the Bible gives us reliable history, let alone a divinely inspired authoritative history we can trust for the salvation of our souls. Most Christians do believe they can trust Scripture, but few know why. This is unfortunate because in the history of the Church there has never been so many solid, scholarly, easy to understand resources available for Christians to defend that trust.
One issue that is a popular target for skeptics of the New Testament is the idea of canon, which means “a collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine.” Critics of the New Testament insist that what we find in our Bible was the result of a power play by early Church Fathers. What’s at stake is the authority of what we find in our Bible. The goal of skeptics who attack our canon is to undermine that authority by claiming it’s formation was no more than some Shakespearean tragedy.
These critics, however, come to the study of canon either as agnostics or not believing in God at all, and thus assume everything must have a natural (vs. supernatural) explanation. We believe, as Christians, that the books we have in our Bible are exactly the Books God wanted. Neither position can be proved, but the preponderance of evidence looked at without an agenda points to the canon coming together organically as the Church grew in its first two centuries.
Michael Kruger, a New Testament scholar and expert on the canon, wrote about “10 basic facts on canon” I found at Apologetics 315. They are:
- The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess
- Apocryphal Writings Are All Written in the Second Century or Later
- The New Testament Books Are Unique Because They Are Apostolic Books
- Some NT Writers Quote Other NT Writers as Scripture
- The Four Gospels are Well Established by the End of the Second Century
- At the End of the 2nd Century, the Muratorian Fragment lists 22 of 27 NT Books
- Early Christians Often Used Non-Canonical Writings
- The NT Canon Was Not Decided at Nicea—Nor Any Other Church Council
- Christians Did Disagree about the Canonicity of Some NT Books
- Early Christians Believed that Canonical Books Were Self-Authenticating
I haven’t read Kruger’s book, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, but it’s definitely going on my wish list. Ever since the Enlightenment, the inspiration and authority of the Bible as been under attack. It is incumbent upon us as Christians to know why we can trust the Bible we have is the Bible God wanted us to have. These “10 basic facts” are a good place to start.