Try out the new Click here!

Michael J. Kruger

  • The 7 Sections of the Bible: A Sign of God’s Inspiration?

    There are so many historical details to manage in the study of the NT and OT canon, that it is often difficult to step back and get the big picture. Scholarly energies are typically preoccupied with whether a certain church father cited a certain biblical book, and thus the entire biblical collection is rarely viewed as a completed whole.

    In short, we tend to study the canon one book at a time. But, as Walter Brueggemann observed regarding this approach, “That is problematic because one never gets a sense of the whole of the Bible” (Creative Word, 5).

    When we take that step back, and examine the overall canonical structure, some fascinating details emerge. One noteworthy example is the fact that the complete biblical canon can be viewed in seven distinct units.

    There are good historical reasons to think that the OT canon in the time of Jesus was divided into the standard tripartite structure: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The structure finds confirmation in a number of historical sources that we cannot examine fully here (b. Bat. 14b; Josephus, Ap. 1.37-42; 4QMMT (95-96); Philo, Contempl. Life, 25. ). Jesus even seems to allude to this tripartite structure when he says, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

    When it comes to the structure of the NT canon, at least as it emerged within the early church, it seems to have been divided into four sections. David Trobisch has demonstrated that these four clear sub-sections—Gospels, Praxapostolos (Acts and Catholic [general] epistles), Pauline epistles, and Revelation—as can be seen from the uniform witness of the manuscript collections themselves (The First Edition of the New Testament).

    Thus, when the OT and NT canons are considered together, it seems the overall biblical canon would have had a seven-fold structure. Given the well-established biblical usage of the number seven as representative of completeness or wholeness, a seven-fold canonical structure would speak to the overall unity of the biblical canon and provides further reason to think that the New Testament canon we possess is the proper conclusion to the original books of the Old Testament.

    Moreover, a structure that has Genesis and Revelation as the “bookends” is particularly fitting given the role the number seven plays in each of those books. Genesis begins the biblical witness with a seven-fold creative structure that provides the foundation for the seven-fold work week, and then Revelation recapitulates this attention to the number seven by having seven churches, seven angels, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven plagues, and so on.

    Thus, in effect, the first and last books of the canon form an “inclusio” of sevens, functioning as appropriate bookends to the overall seven-fold canonical structure—with Revelation as an appropriate “sabbath.”

    Of course, many of these connections are only apparent when we view the canon as a whole and therefore would not have been as accessible to the earliest Christians who did not yet possess a completed canon (or had the books in a different order, as some did). This fact reminds us again that some qualities of canonicity are synergistic—the whole can be greater than the constituent parts. It is like the “fifth voice” of a barbershop quartet; you only hear it when all four voices are joined together in harmony.

    In the end, the canon’s seven-fold structure fits with the kind of structure we might expect God to give to his revelation, namely a structure that attests to the harmony, coherence, and unity of his Word.

    For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

  • No Holy Spirit, No Scripture

    There is an abiding perception in the Christian world that Reformed folks do not talk much about the Holy Spirit. If you want to be in a church where the Holy Spirit plays a key role, so it is argued, then you will need to go in a charismatic or pentecostal direction.

    If one is interesting in speaking in tongues or hearing modern-day prophecies, then I suppose this perception may be somewhat accurate. But this does not mean that Reformed folks do not talk about the Spirit. On the contrary, the history of Reformed theology demonstrates a keen interest in the work and ministry of the third person of the trinity. B.B. Warfield perceptively observed John Calvin’s wide and deep interest in the work of the Holy Spirit, famously dubbing him “the theologian of the Holy Spirit.”

    Reformed folks highlight the work of the Spirit in many areas such as regeneration, sanctification, preaching, the sacraments, and more. But during the time of the Reformation itself, one area took center stage, namely how the Spirit relates to the Scriptures. The two are so connected, argued the Reformers, that if there was no Holy Spirit then there would be no Scriptures.

    The Spirit relates to the Scripture in three critical ways:

    1. Inspiration: the Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture. One of the most fundamental acts of the Spirit is how it inspired human authors to write precisely what God intended them to write. Second Pet 1:21 is particularly clear in this regard: “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” It is this foundational work of the Spirit that allows us to affirm that the Scriptures are absolutely true in whatever they affirm. When the Scriptures speak, the Holy Spirit speaks. The author of Hebrews understood this so well that he even introduced a quotation of Scripture with the phrase, “The Holy Spirit says…” (Heb 3:7).

    2. Testimonium: the Holy Spirit is the Witness to Scripture. It’s one thing to believe the Scriptures are inspired, but it is another thing to know which books are Scripture. God does not leave us in the dark on this critical issue, but has given us the testimonium spiritus sancti internum, the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. This “testimony” is not some private revelation given to believers, but an act of the Spirit by which He opens the eyes of sinful people to apprehend the divine qualities of Scripture. As Jesus declared in John 10:27: “My sheep [those with the Spirit] hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The testimonium was a key part of the Reformers’ response to Catholic claims that one needed official church declarations to know which books are Scripture.

    3. Illumination: the Holy Spirit is the Expositor of Scripture. Even if one believes the Scripture is inspired, and even if one knows which books are Scripture, there is still the question of how we interpret Scripture and whether our interpretations can be trusted. In order to address this concern, the Reformers highlighted the role of the Spirit as one who illuminates our understanding of Scripture and gives us clarity on what it means. The confession acknowledges this truth when it says, “We acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word” (WCF 1.6). This doctrine also played a role in the Reformers’ interactions with Rome, as the latter insisted that only with the church’s help could the Scriptures be rightly understood.

    All three of these functions of the Spirit are critical to having a Scripture that actually functions in the life of the church. Without (1) we would have no reason to think the Scriptures are true. Without (2) we would have no certain way of knowing which books are Scripture. And without (3) we would have no certainty that Scripture could be rightly understood.

    Indeed, it is true that without the work of the Holy Spirit there would be no Scripture.

    For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

  • The Most Important Passage in the Whole of Scripture

    I have been teaching a weekly Bible study on the book of Romans to women in the Charlotte community. For the last several months, we have been plodding our way through the first three chapters as Paul has laid out his case that all mankind—Jew and Gentile—are sinful and rightly under the judgment of God.  Paul finishes this section of his letter with this monumental statement: “For by works of the Law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Rom 3:20).

    You can almost hear the gavel fall with a boom.

    Thankfully, Paul does not end his letter here. This morning, in the last installment of the women’s study for the Fall term (we will resume in the new year), we will move onto to 3:21 and following. There Paul utters two of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture, “But now….” These two little words provide a great sigh of relief for any sin-wracked soul wondering about his fate.

    “But now” tells us that something has been done to solve the problem of our sins.

    What is it that solves the problem of our sins? “A righteousness of (from) God has been manifested apart from the law… through faith in Jesus Christ” (3:21–22). Luther referred to these verses as “the center of the whole Bible.” Martin Lloyd Jones called it “the most important and crucial passage in the whole of Scripture.” Leon Morris said it is “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.”

    This passage is the basis for the great Reformation doctrine of sola fide—the idea that we are saved by faith alone and not by the works of the law.

    But Paul makes a critical clarification here. He makes it clear that the righteous status we so desperately need comes through faith (v.22), but it is not the faith itself that is the grounds of our justification. The grounds of our justification—the reason God can declare us sinners to be righteous—is because of the righteousness of Christ given to us. He can regard us as righteous because a righteous status has been granted to us.

    Thus, faith is merely the instrument or the means by which that righteous status is attained.

    This is a critical reminder for Christians today. Whenever our world discusses religion, they will praise the merits of “faith” and laud people who possess it (think Oprah Winfrey). But notice the world never praises the merits of the object of that faith. It doesn’t matter what you believe in (after all, all religions are the same), what matters is that you are sincerely committed.

    For our world, then, faith is its own object.

    Contrast that to what Paul is saying in Rom 3:21–22. Paul is saying that you are not saved because of faith (as if it were meritorious in itself), but you are saved through and by faith in Christ. The object of the faith is what is definitive.

    So, the Reformed doctrine of sola fide does not mean what the world might think it means. For the world, it simply means that all you need is faith. For the Reformers, it meant faith is the sole instrument by which you acquire a righteous status in Christ (and thus not by works).

    For those who doubt their faith and find their faith to be weak, this is a great encouragement. Our hope is not in how strong our faith is, but in how strong and righteous our Savior is.

    For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

  • Was Jesus Married with Children? Here We Go Again

    By now, most have probably heard the news splash about the forthcoming book by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Sacred Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary Magdalene. If the number of emails in my inbox on this topic is any indication, then apparently the news has traveled fast.

    If the title of this new book sounds like The Da Vinci Code redivivus, then you would be right. Jacobovici and Wilson are not the first to claim Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. They stand in a long line of conspiracy theorists who have claimed the same thing, including the recently debunked Gospel of Jesus’ Wife (see my articles on this manuscript here and here).

    Although I have not yet read this book, it seems that a few comments are in order to help prepare people for what is coming:

    1. The reader should know that Jacobovici and Wilson have certainly not discovered a “Lost Gospel” in any normal sense of the term. We know about many gospels that did not make it into our New Testament canon (e.g., Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Mary), but this newly discovered text is not one of them. On the contrary, the authors base their claim on a Syriac manuscript, dated to the 6th century AD, that contains a pseudepigraphical story entitled Joseph and Aseneth. That story has been well known to scholars for years.

    2. The story of Joseph and Aseneth has nothing to do with Jesus and Mary. It does not even mention Jesus and Mary. The authors are forced to argue that the story must be read allegorically—where Joseph = Jesus and Aseneth = Mary—in order to reach their conclusions. Needless to say, this is highly speculative and subjective.

    3. Jacobovici, a filmmaker known for his documentaries, has already come under fire for his previous sensationalistic claim that he discovered the lost tomb of Jesus. This claim has been widely criticized in the academic community. For more on these criticisms, see the Time magazine article here.

    4. There is absolutely zero evidence from early Christianity that Jesus was married. Not a single historical source anywhere tells us such a thing. The closest any source comes to doing so is a fragmented portion of the third-century Gospel of Philip where we are told that Jesus kissed Mary “on the…,” but the text is missing at precisely this point. But aside from being a late gospel, the context of this passage does not suggest any sexual/romantic love for Mary. Even Bart Ehrman agrees that the affection Jesus shows Mary here is not a different kind than shown to his male disciples (Ehrman, Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code, 179).

    With these four considerations in mind, it seems clear that we have yet another book that is marketed to the masses who love conspiracy theories. Such sensationalistic books no doubt make good financial sense, but they don’t make good history.

    For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

  • About Michael J. Kruger

    Dr. Michael J. Kruger is President and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC. In addition, he is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serve as an Associate Pastor (part-time, of course) at my home church, Uptown PCA.

    • Ph.D., University of Edinburgh(advisor Larry W. Hurtado)
    • M.Div.  Westminster Theological Seminary in California
    • B.S.  The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill

    Visit Dr. Kruger’s website: Canon Fodder. Follow Dr. Kruger on Twitter: @michaeljkruger