Michael J. Kruger

Michael J. Kruger
President, Reformed Theological Seminary

Tolkien, Lewis, and the Blessing of a Messy Desk

Last week I finished a key portion of one of my research projects. And then I did what I normally do during such times (indeed, it is coming a bit of a tradition)—I cleaned up the colossal mess that I had made.

Before it was all said and done, books were strewn all over my desk, across my computer table, on the floor (on both sides of my desk), and up against the wall.

My wife stopped by the office with the kids and was so aghast at the chaos that she snapped [a picture] and sent it out on Twitter.

After I had finally cleaned up my desk–and returned a couple of cart fulls of books to the library—I began to reflect on my life with a messy desk. What did it mean, if anything? Most likely, it means that I am just disorganized and absentminded—like many other professors.

But as I looked at the picture, I found a sense of joy in the chaos of my office. It reminded me of what I love about being a professor of biblical studies—the joy of learning and discovering the endless treasures that God has for us in his Word, and in the world that he has made. The messy desk was (to me at least) a sign of how thrilling theological study can be. The stacks of books were a symbol of the creative intellectual potential God has given each of us.

Of course, many in the church today have lost the passion for serious intellectual pursuit of the Christian faith.  Indeed, in many circles, such intellectual pursuits are viewed critically and suspiciously. Academically-minded people are all head and no heart, one might think. Sure, they love ideas but they don’t really love people.

But the Scriptures themselves (not to mention the history of the church) are not willing to draw such a sharp dichotomy between mind and heart. Christ called us to love the Lord our God with both our heart and our mind.

Even more, Christians throughout the ages—particularly in the time of the Reformation—viewed serious intellectual engagement as a way to glorify God.  Although Christianity was available (and understandable) for even the uneducated, it was deep enough and robust enough for the most sophisticated philosopher.

After a little snooping around, I was encouraged to see two intellectual giants of the 20th century—J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis—both had messy desks. And their intellectual achievements went beyond the stodgy halls of academia, but affected the hearts of millions through their fictional works.

Even in the non-Christian world, a messy desk is often associated with a love of learning. Albert Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

As I think especially about pastors today, my hope is that when parishioners enter their study they would see a desk piled high with books. And that those parishioners would know that their pastor is a thinker, has a passion for the Word, and is eager to pursue God with his mind, as well as his heart.

Of course, there are some pastors out there—rare though they may be—who love books and still find a way to have a clean desk. Well, if that’s you, then well done. You are neater than the rest of us.

But if you had left the books on your desk, you would’ve had even more time for study.

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

The Oldest Trick in the Book

I love that GEICO commercial where the guy in the movie theater says, “Did you know there really is an ‘oldest trick in the book’?” Then the scene flashes back to ancient times where a man looks into an old book, and says, “Trick number one. Lookest over there.” The man then points across the room. His apprentice looks and, of course, sees nothing. Then the man says, “Madest thou look.”

The Puritan Thomas Brooks, in his wonderful work Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, reminds us that there is also an “oldest trick in the book” when it comes to Satan’s devices against us. The title of his opening chapter is this: “His First Device to Draw the Soul to Sin.”

What is this first device, Satan’s oldest trick in the book? Brooks tells us: “to present the bait, and hide the hook.”

The fundamental deception of sin is that it promises to bring blessing, when it only brings cursing. It promises to bring life, when it only brings death. It never presents itself as it really is. Just as Satan presents himself as an angel of light, so sin presents itself as the bringer of joy and peace. Given that this was Satan’s means of tricking Adam and Eve, it really is the “oldest trick in the book.”

Brooks lays it out more fully:

Satan’s first device to draw the soul into sin is, to present the bait—and hide the hook; to present the golden cup—and hide the poison; to present the sweet, the pleasure, and the profit that may flow in upon the soul by yielding to sin—and to hide from the soul the wrath and misery that will certainly follow the committing of sin. By this device he deceived our first parents, “And the serpent said unto the woman, You shall not surely die—for God does know, that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened; and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5). Your eyes shall he opened, and you shall be as gods! Here is the bait, the sweet, the pleasure, the profit. Oh—but he hides the hook—the shame, the wrath, and the loss that would certainly follow!

What is the remedy against this trick? Brooks offers a very simple one: don’t play with the bait. He says:

Keep at the greatest distance from sin, and from playing with the golden bait which Satan holds forth to catch you…. It is our wisest and our safest course to stand at the farthest distance from sin; not to go near the house of the harlot—but to fly from all appearance of evil (Proverbs 5:8, 1 Thess. 5:22). The best course to prevent falling into the pit is to keep at the greatest distance from it; he who will be so bold as to attempt to dance upon the brink of the pit, may find by woeful experience that it is a righteous thing with God that he should fall into the pit. Joseph keeps at a distance from sin, and from playing with Satan’s golden baits, and stands. David draws near, and plays with the bait, and falls, and swallows bait and hook!

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

Did Early Christians Believe Jesus Would Return in Their Lifetime?

One of the most-oft repeated ideas about the earliest Christians is that they believed that the Kingdom of God would come (apocalyptically) within their own lifetime. In fact Schweitzer famously argued that Jesus himself thought the world would end in his own lifetime; of course the world didn’t end and Jesus died disillusioned on the cross saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). In recent years, some have suggested that this belief in early Christianity would even have affected the development of the canon. If Christians thought the world would end in their own lifetime, then, it is argued, they would not have been interested in composing new scriptural books. Thus, the idea of a canon must be a later ecclesiastical development.

But, this argument simply doesn’t hold. First, it is by no means evident that early Christians believed Jesus would necessarily return in their own lifetime. Schweitzer’s views have been largely rejected–and rightly so. But, let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that Christians did have this apocalyptic mentality. Does that mean they would have resisted the composition of new books, focusing instead on only oral methods of delivery? There appears to be little reason to think so. Ironically, Paul is put forth as one who believed that Jesus would return in his own lifetime (as supposedly indicated by texts like 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), but yet we only know about this belief because Paul wrote it down in a letter! And Paul viewed this letter, as all his letters, as authoritative (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and to be read publicly to the church (1 Thessalonians 5:27). Such a scenario indicates that apocalyptic beliefs are not necessarily incompatible with the production of written, authoritative texts. Moreover, we have examples of apocalyptic communities that were prolific producers of literature, namely Qumran. On the basis of Qumran, David Meade argues that apocalypticism in the early Christian communities, far from preventing literary activity, actually “provides the ideological basis for the extension of Scripture” (“Ancient Near Eastern Apocalypticism,” 308).

Gerd Theissen sums it up well, “The thesis about the imminent expectation of the end as a factor impeding literary creation is false. Jewish apocalyptic writing is full of imminent expectations and yet attests to a flourishing literary production” (The New Testament, 10).

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

Did the Earliest Christians Really Think Jesus Was God? One Important Example

One of the most common critiques of Christianity is that some of its major tenets are late inventions. Core Christian doctrines, we are told, were never believed in the earliest phases of the church but were developed only at a later time period. Orthodoxy, therefore, was not early but late.

The most obvious example of a doctrine that was purportedly added later (we will cover another such doctrine in a future post) is the divinity of Jesus. The popular internet-level narrative goes like this: Jesus was not God, nor did he claim to be God. He was just an ordinary man. At a later point, his followers began to assign attributes to him that were semi-divine–like an angel. And it wasn’t until even later, around the fourth century council of Nicea, that Christians began to conceive of Jesus as the one and only creator God of the universe.

Of course, this is not the place for a full-scale assessment of early Christology. But it is worth noting that some of our earliest Christian sources outside the New Testament don’t at all seem confused about the divinity of Jesus, but affirmed that he was fully God in every sense of the word. One example is the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, a popular early Christian work that affirmed a very high Christology. Here are a few select passages:

But the truly all-powerful God himself, creator of all and invisible, set up and established in their [Christians’] hearts the truth and the holy word from heaven, which cannot be comprehended by humans. To do so, he did not, as one might suppose, send them one of his servants or an angel or a ruler… but he sent the craftsman and maker of all things himself, by whom he created the heavens, by whom he encloses the sea within its own boundaries, whose mysteries all the elements of creation guard faithfully, from whom the sun was appointed to guard the courses that it runs during the day, whom the moon obeys when he commands it to shine at night, whom the stars obey by following the course of the moon, by whom all things are set in order and arranged and put into subjection, the heavens and the things in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and all the things in the sea, fire, air, the abyss, creatures in the heights, creatures in the depths, and creatures in between—this is the one he sent to them. (7.2)

This is a remarkable description of Jesus–especially so early. Notice that the author expressly states that Jesus is NOT an angel, or any other divine servant. Moreover, the author goes out of the way to say that Jesus is the very creator of the universe. Indeed, the author drives this point home by examining every part of creation—heavens, sea, sun, moon, stars, animals, heights, depths—and showing that Jesus made it all.

Although angels received many attributes that made them seem semi-divine, there was one thing they were never given, namely the status as creator. For Jews, that was an attribute that God and God alone possessed.

In the very next passage, the epistles goes on to say:

So, then, did he [God], as one might suppose, send him [his Son] to rule in tyranny, fear, and terror? Not at all. But with gentleness and meekness, as a king sending his own son, he sent him as a king; he sent him as God; he sent him as a human to humans. So that he might bring salvation. (7.3–4).

Here we see the epistle invoke plain language that Jesus is the “Son” of God, and then expressly state that Jesus was sent “as God.” Ehrman’s translation of the Epistle to Diognetus translates this as “a god” (indefinite article and lower case), but there is no warrant in the Greek text for doing so. In fact, the original 1917 Loeb edition of the Apostolic Fathers translated this phrase as “he sent him as God.”

It is also worth noting that while the author fully affirms the divinity of Jesus, he also affirms the full humanity of Jesus when he says God “sent him as a human to human.” Here we see the beginning of the doctrine of the incarnation, namely that Jesus was fully God and fully man at the same time.

A final example:

The Word appeared to them [the apostles] and revealed things, speaking to them openly. Even though he was not understood by unbelievers, he told these things to his disciples, who after being considered faithful by him came to know the mysteries of the Father. For this reason he sent his Word, that it might be manifest to the world. This Word was dishonored by the people but proclaimed by the apostles and believed by the nations. For this is the one who was from the beginning who appeared to be recent but was discovered to be ancient, who is always being born anew in the hearts of the saints. This is the eternal one who “today” is considered to be the Son, through whom the church is enriched and the unfolding grace is multiplied among the saints. (11:2–4).

The author’s use of “Word” (logos) suggests he is familiar with John’s gospel, or at least teaching based on John’s gospel. His high view of Jesus as the pre-existent God is evident from the phrase: “the one who was from the beginning who appeared to be recent but was discovered to be ancient.” What a fabulous, and profound, way of describing how Jesus is both God and man.

Although more patristic sources could be called as witnesses, it is at least worth noting that this patristic source, the Epistle to Diognetus, has a a view of Jesus in the second century that supposedly was not invented until the fourth century.

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

Why the Biblical Languages Matter

In another month or so, a new crop of seminary students will begin the grueling month-long experience of summer Greek. And, like all seminary students before them, they will begin to ask the question of why studying these ancient languages even matters. After all, a few years after graduation all will be forgotten. In the midst of a busy pastoral life, who could possibly maintain proficiency in the languages?

As a result of these questions, some students decide (very early on) that the biblical languages are just something to be endured. They are like a hazing ritual at a college fraternity. No one likes it, but you have to go through it to be in the club. And then it will be over.   

Behind this “take your medicine” approach to the biblical languages are a couple of assumptions that need to be challenged. First, the characterization of pastoral ministry as somehow incompatible with the languages (due to busyness, or other causes) is an unfortunate misunderstanding of what a pastorate is all about. No doubt, pastors should be busy shepherding their flock, meeting with ministry leaders, and running the church. But the core of the calling is to be a “minister of the Word.” 

And if the pastoral call is to be a minister of the Word, then there is a significant component of pastoral life that should be devoted to serious study of the biblical text—beyond just the preparation for that week’s sermon. Put differently, pastors should continue to be students. They need to be readers, thinkers, and theologians.  

Unfortunately many modern pastors do not view themselves this way. This is evidenced by the language used to describe the place a pastor works at the church. In prior generations, it used to be called the pastor’s “study” (because that is what he did in there!). Now, it is called the pastor’s “office” (because pastors view themselves more as a CEO). 

One of my biggest disappointments is when I go into a pastor’s office and see that there are no (or very few) books. It is like going into a carpenter’s shop and seeing no tools. I remind such pastors of the words of Cicero: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

If pastors recover their calling as ministers of the Word, then keeping up with the biblical languages should be a more natural part of their weekly activity. If they work in a “study” instead of an “office,” then studying might just come more easily. 

But there is a second assumption behind the “take your medicine” approach to the biblical languages. Many students assume that the study of the languages is useless if the specifics are forgotten at a later point. Indeed, this may be the biggest assumption in the mind of today’s seminary students.

This assumption, however, is profoundly mistaken. Even if a student forgets every single vocabulary word and every verb paradigm, the intensive study of the languages during seminary still plays an enormously significant role. Put simply, it helps students think textually

Prior to learning the languages, most of us simply do not know how to think on a textual level when it comes to studying the Scripture. But after learning Greek or Hebrew (even if we forget it), we now understand grammar, syntax, logical flow, and sentence structure. Moreover, we understand the way words work, how their meaning is determined (or not determined), the importance of context, and the avoidance of certain exegetical fallacies. 

These factors alone are incredibly important for proper interpretation of the text and preparation of a sermon. And they are drilled into our heads when we take the biblical languages—even if we forget them later.

So, students and pastors should be encouraged. There are good reasons to think you can retain your knowledge of the languages, if your role as “minister of the Word” is properly understood. But, even if you don’t, many of the benefits still remain.

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

5 Warning Signs for the Church in a “Facebook Culture”

One of my favorite childhood memories is watching the movie Star Wars in the theater in 1977. I (along with an entire nation) was awestruck. Nothing like that had ever been done before. We were all sucked into a new world of spaceships, light sabers, strange creatures, and distant galaxies. But of all the things that caught the attention of the average Star Wars viewer, no doubt the amazing technology of the future was near the top of the list. What would it be like to have robots with personalities, to hover above the ground on a “land speeder,” to play “chess” with virtual-holographic images, and to have lost limbs restored with robotic parts?

Of course, in our modern day these very things have largely been realized. In fact, I noticed that when my own son watched Star Wars on DVD a few years ago, he was not amazed by much of anything technological—some of that probably seemed pretty realistic to him. He was mesmerized instead by the fast flying ships, light saber fights, and fun action scenes. We live in a world where technology advances at such a mind-boggling pace that we hardly have time to stop and be amazed by it. We feel this today particularly in the area of “social media” such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and just plain ol’ texting. We are (supposedly) more connected with each other, more in touch with each other, more often communicating with each other, than ever before.

But, as I think about my son’s future, and even about life in the modern day, I have to ask the simple question: What effect does “social media” technology have on the way we view church? What effect does it have on the way we conceive of life in the body of Christ? Of course, much of social media is positive. And the church has used this technology to advance the cause of Christ. Moreover, I cannot miss the irony of writing about the affects of technological forms of communication on my own website! Nevertheless, I do have some concerns—and so should you. Here are a few characteristics of a “Facebook culture” that we certainly need to reckon with as believers:

1. Short attention span/limited learning style. For folks who can absorb information at the rate of a short text message or “tweet,” it’s difficult to imagine them sitting through a 35 minute sermon and being able to engage in a sustained manner. Does this mean we shorten our sermons or make them more entertaining? Or does this mean we have to work harder to train our congregations in the way they learn? Hopefully the latter.

2. Low view of authority/over-focus on equality. One of the most oft-overlooked impact of social media is the effect it has on the way we view authority figures. The Internet is the great equalizer—everyone has a voice. Now everyone has a platform to speak their mind, say their piece. After any blog article or any news story, a person can write their own opinion and their own comments. And certainly much of this is good. But it can also lead to an “egalitarian” view of authority; that no one person’s opinion should be valued or weighted anymore than another’s. This presents problems for a biblical ecclesiology that understands the church and the pastors to have real authority in the lives of its people.

3. “Surfacey” interactions/artificial relationships.  MIT professor Sherry Turkle has recently written the book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011). She observes, “On social-networking sites such as Facebook, we think we will be presenting ourselves, but out profile ends up as somebody else—often the fantasy of who we want to be” ( p.153). In other word, people might feel more connected, but they can really be more distant, at least from who they really are. In contrast, true Christian fellowship requires that we engage with people as we really are, so that we can honestly face our sin and grow together in Christ.

4. Lack of Physical Presence. Turkle observes again: “People readily admit they would rather leave a voicemail or send an email than talk face-to-face…. The new technologies allow us to ‘dial down’ human contact, to titrate its nature and extant” (p.15). Modern technology can create an almost non-physical, quasi-Gnostic existence. It’s ironic that one of Christianity’s earliest enemies was Gnosticism, which held the belief that the physical world was inherently evil and that salvation was largely a release from the physical body. In contrast, biblical Christianity has always had a robust and positive view of the physical. Face-to-face presence matters. Indeed, one day, in the new heavens and new earth, we will have new, resurrected bodies and we will see Christ (and each other) physically. Forever.

5. Low Commitment/Accountability. One of the attractive features of a Facebook-style of communication is that it requires very little of us. It is a low-commitment and low-accountability type of interaction. We control—and entirely control—the duration, intensity, and level of contact. At any moment, we can simply stop. But the Christian life and real Christian relationships don’t work like this. We do have obligations to one another, covenant obligations. Put differently, Christianity has a corporate aspect to it that stands directly against the trend of individualistic and self-determined relational patterns of our modern technological age.

So, where do we go from here? Do we abandon the technology of our modern world, move to the countryside and adopt an Amish-style existence? Not at all. The point of this post has not been to condemn modern communication technology (I am using it this very moment!).  Rather, the point has been that we must be aware of the challenges that it creates for ministry in our modern and postmodern world. The technology does not necessarily create sin patterns, but exacerbates the sin patterns that are already present within our hearts, and the hearts of our congregations. In response, we need to do something that we needed to do anyway: give our people a robust and vibrant picture of what the church is and their place in it.  In other words, we need to give them a full-orbed biblical ecclesiology.

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

Did John Get the Timing of the Last Supper and Crucifixion Wrong?

In a prior post (see here), I announced a new blog series designed to address problematic passage in the Bible. This new series will feature guest posts from other evangelical scholars and is largely a response to the series by Peter Enns’ entitled, “Aha moments: biblical scholars tell their stories.”

The contributor for this installment is Darrell Bock (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen). Darrell is the Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and the author of numerous books. A few notables are Who Is Jesus?, Acts (Baker Exegetical Commentary), and Luke (Baker Exegetical Commentary).


One of the more famous and most discussed differences on chronology in the gospels deals with the timing of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.[1] Here is a difference often trumpeted forth as a clear error between the Synoptics and John. This is the very issue raised by Daniel Kirk in his contribution to Pete Enn’s “Aha moments” series. However, things are not so simple.

Here is the problem in a nutshell. In Mark 14:12 we are told the supper took place on the first day of unleavened bread when they sacrificed the Passover lamb (also Luke 22:15 goes in this direction referring to this Passover). Part of what is taking place here is that the Passover (14 Nisan) and unleavened bread (15 Nisan and following for a week) were celebrated one right after the other, so that both names became attached to the feast (Josephus, Jewish War 5.99, speaks of the feast of unleavened bread on 14 Nisan). The very way in which these dates and feasts are handled shows proximate dating could be used. As a popular designation, one could refer to the whole period as either Passover or Unleavened Bread. The problem comes in that John 19:14 and 31 have Jesus crucified on the Passover preparation day which appears to be the day after the meal the Synoptics portray as the Passover meal.[2] This is a complex problem as a detailed study by Howard Marshall shows.[3]

Several proposals exist to deal with the difference without seeing an error. Some posit the use of two calendars or of differences in the reckoning of a day with each gospel writer selecting a different reckoning.[4] This is possible, but there is no clear evidence for a difference in calendar at this point in Second Temple history (though we do have some evidence for it later in certain cases), nor is it clear that the evangelists reckoned days differently, although they could have done so.[5] So this solution can explain the difference, but it is not clearly demonstrable either. Others argue that the Synoptics are correct, and that the day of preparation in John 19 refers not to the Passover day but the sacrifice of the Sabbath of Passover week (which was the next day with a Friday crucifixion).[6] Again this option is possible, but it is not the most natural reading of these texts from John. Others, favoring John’s chronology but accepting the Synoptic sense of the meal, suggest that the meal has a Passover feel to it or was presented like a Passover, even though it was not technically a Passover meal offered on the official day.[7] Once again, this could work, but there is no direct evidence for doing this kind of a thing.

So where does this leave us? Two approaches could work. The early sacrifice might explain what is taking place or reading John’s Preparation as referring to the Sabbath preparation in the shadow of the Passover. If the latter is the point, then John is saying that Jesus is crucified in the mix of the Passover season, not on the day of Passover. This can work in the sense that the entire period is associated with the Passover. A modern analogy would be that people celebrate Christmas office parties all the time, and it is not Christmas. Such associations are popular in orientation and not technical. So Jesus is crucified in the midst of the Passover season with his death connected to a Passover meal and so he is seen as crucified with a Passover significance. It may be that rather than trying to work out all the details of how this works technically, we are better off to see the season being appealed to in a popular ancient manner and the association made that way. The point should give us pause in not over-literalizing as we read some of these texts. So one or a combination of the solutions noted above could well be answers to the charge of a clear error but being able to show it is more difficult. If less technical approach is taken, then we are dealing with a popular reckoning in a generalized ancient chronological approach as a key to understanding what is taking place. Also, what we have is not an error, but the application of a season that ran many days to events tied to Jesus’ death. All of this is quite plausible given the significance of this season in the Jewish calendar and its shadow on the Jesus event.

[1] The following is an update of a discussion I gave in “Precision and Accuracy: Making Distinctions in Cultural Context That Give Us Pause in Pitting the Gospels Against each other,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? ed. by James Hoffmeier and Dennis MacGary (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), pp. 367–81, esp. 379–80. This was but one of several examples I considered in this article.

[2] Verse 14 is explicit in mentioning the Passover preparation day, while v 31 speaks only of the day of preparation.

[3] I Howard Marshall, “The Last Supper,” in Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus, WUNT 247 (eds. Darrell L. Bock and Robert L. Webb: Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2009) 481–588, esp. 549–60.

[4] Harold Hoehner, “Chronology,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 120–21. David Instone-Brewer, “Jesus’ Last Passover: The Synoptics and John, Expository Times 112 (2001): 122–23.

[5] M Zeba1:3 seems to suggest a debate about when to sacrifice all of these lambs and allows for an early start. One must recall that we are speaking of sacrificing several thousand lambs on this day. Technically the early offerings were called peace offerings, but they were tied to the Passover as well. Instone-Brewer’s work notes this issue.

[6] Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus. Translated by Norman Perrin. NTL (London: SCM, 1966), 81-82.

[7] Scot McKnight, Jesus and His Death (Waco: Baylor University, 2005), 271–73.

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

Did Jesus Get the Priest Wrong?

In a prior post (see here), I announced a new blog series designed to address problematic passage in the Bible.  This new series will feature guest posts from other evangelical scholars and is largely a response to the one by Peter Enns’ entitled, “Aha moments: biblical scholars tell their stories.”

The contributor for this installment is Craig Blomberg (Ph.D., University of Aberdeen). Craig is the Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, and the author of numerous books. A few notables are The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, and Can We Still Believe the Bible? (the latter of which I reviewed here).


In a recent post on his blog, Old Testament scholar Peter Enns invited New Testament scholar John Byron, professor at Ashland Theological Seminary, to write about an “aha moment” that changed his understanding of the Bible. Byron chose the same passage that Bart Ehrman described in the introduction to his Misquoting Jesus, which led to his reneging on his Christian commitment altogether in favor of agnosticism: Mark 2:26.

Now clearly Byron and Ehrman are a far cry from each other theologically. Ehrman teaches at a state university (the University of North Carolina) and tells classes regularly he wants to disabuse them of any form of Christian faith. Byron teaches at a theologically centrist United Methodist Seminary, helping to train people for professional ministry, and still considers himself a devout Christian. But both appeal to this same passage as one reason they reject the inerrancy of the Scriptures.

It’s too bad Byron actually says so little about the passage itself in his blog. Here is the sum total of his exegetical remarks: “Jesus got it wrong. The story in 1 Samuel 21 relates how David fled from Saul alone. When he stops at the tabernacle and asks Ahimelek for help the priest enquires why David is alone. David seems to lie when saying that his men well meet him later (v. 2). Moreover, Mark has the wrong priest. In 2:26 Jesus states that the priest was Abiather [sic], but 1 Samuel 21 clearly states that it was Ahimelek.”

Let’s look at each of these two claims one at a time. Byron first claims that Jesus was wrong in saying that David gave some of the consecrated bread he received from the priests at Nob to his companions, because he traveled to Nob alone. He also takes David’s words that he has told his men to meet him at a certain place to be a lie, probably because the first part of 1 Samuel 21:2, that David was on a mission for King Saul, is clearly a lie. That also means that everything David says in verses 4–5 about his men being ritually pure would also have to be made up. But why then would David ask for enough bread for himself and others? The story in 1 Samuel makes no sense if everything David says is untrue. Just because he is trying to deceive the priest on one matter hardly means everything he says is false. Indeed, the most convincing deceptions in general tend to be based on half-truths.

On any interpretation, however, nothing here suggests that Jesus got it wrong, as Byron claims. Jesus tells the story exactly as he would have learned it from the reading of the Hebrew Scriptures year after year in the synagogue. He is recounting the story perfectly accurately. We can debate to what extent David might have been lying, but Jesus has made no mistake in excerpting from the narrative precisely in the form he and his countrymen believed it to have been inspired.

The more significant claim that Byron makes is that Jesus has the wrong priest. There is no doubt that 1 Samuel 21:1 explicitly says that the priest David spoke with at Nob was Abimelek. But the wording of Mark 2:26 in the Greek is very unusual. It uses none of the several standard ways of expressing when something occurred. Instead it says these events happened epi Abiathar. Epi is a preposition that commonly mean “upon,” “on,” “in,” “over,” “at,” “by,” “before,” and numerous other things, but only very rarely, “when.” Why did Mark use such a strange construction to translate Jesus’ Aramaic words, unless he recognized that Jesus meant something a little different than “when Abiathar was high priest”?

In Mark 12:26, the same unusual construction reappears when Jesus is appealing to the story in Exodus 3 about Moses and the burning bush. He asks the Sadducees if they have not read epi tou batou—literally “upon the bush.” But that makes no sense. Translators recognize, therefore, that Mark is using epi in the sense of “in the passage about [the bush].” This is exactly how the Revised Standard Version of the Bible translated it; the New Revised Standard modified that to “in the story about [the bush].”

Because ancient synagogues developed the practice of reading through the entire Law once a year and the rest of the Jewish Scriptures once every three years, they divided what Christians call the Old Testament into specific sections so rabbis knew exactly every Sabbath how much was to be read and expounded. They would often give a two-to-three chapter segment of text a simple one or two-word name, often based on a key character in that segment. Unfortunately, we have no comprehensive list of what these names were, if one ever even existed.

John Wenham, a British biblical scholar, as far back as 1950 published a short note in the Journal of Theological Studies suggesting that “Abiathar” was the name of the larger multi-chapter segment of text in which this specific story about David and Ahimelek was found. Abiathar is, after all, the more important of these two characters for the Samuel narrative overall. Because this interpretation is somewhat speculative, several Bible translations settle for the well attested but vaguer translation, “in the time of Abiathar” or “in the days of Abiathar,” which equally leaves Jesus free from having made any mistake.

I can understand why some scholars may not be convinced by this solution. But I am consistently amazed at how few ever even acknowledge knowing about it, much less interacting with it. I have cited it in several of my books, as have other leading evangelical commentators, who have found it completely satisfactory. It’s unfortunate that Ehrman, Byron, and Enns never once disclose if they are familiar with it and, if they are, what objections (if any) they have to it. Until they do, it really is inappropriate for them to claim with such confidence that they know Jesus or Mark got it wrong!

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

Are Christians “Intolerant Haters”? The Charges are Not New

In the midst of the high-octane cultural wars of the last five years—particularly the debate over homosexual marriage—evangelical Christians have been slapped with all sorts of pejorative labels. Words such as “bigoted,” “arrogant,” “exclusive,” “dogmatic,” and “homophobic” are just a few.

But there are probably two labels that stand out the most. First, Christians are regularly regarded as intolerant. Christians are not only regarded as intolerant religiously—because they affirm the words of Jesus that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)—but they are regarded as intolerant ethically because they refuse to approve any and all behaviors as morally good.

Second, Christians are regularly (and ironically) regarded as haters. Apparently, our modern world regards the act of telling someone they’re wrong as a form of hatred—it is a slight against mankind (of course, it is never explained how the charge does not apply equally in the other direction, since those who make this charge are telling Christians they are wrong; but we shall leave that issue unaddressed for the time being).

Needless to say, such a situation can be very discouraging to Christians in the modern day. We might be tempted to despair and think that the church is entering into dark days. But a little historical perspective might be useful here. Truth be told, this is not the first time Christians have received such labels. Indeed, they were given to Christians from the very beginning.

Pliny the Younger: Christians are Intolerant

It is well known that in the Greco-Roman world there was a pantheon of gods. Every group had their own deities, and they were easily and naturally placed alongside other deities. For the most part, no one objected to the existence of other gods. It was a polytheistic world.

Of course, the earliest Christians were as monotheistic as their Jewish predecessors and quite unwilling to play along with the standard religious practices of Greco-Roman culture. For Roman rulers trying to keep the peace, the Christian intolerance of other gods was a perennial frustration.

Pliny the Younger, Roman governor of Bythinia (writing c. 111–113), expressed his own frustration over the fact that Christians would not “invoke the gods.” In a letter to emperor Trajan, he lamented their “stubborness and unyielding obstinancy.” In other words, he was angry over their intolerance.

Why was Pliny so bothered by this? Because the influence of the Christians had caused the pagan temples to be “deserted,” and, thus, “very few purchasers could be found” for the sacrificial animals.

In other words, they were losing money.

To fix the problem, Pliny decided to force Christians to worship the pagan gods and curse Christ, and if they refused they were put to death. He says, “As I am informed that people who are really Christians cannot possibly be made to do any of those things.

It is interesting to note that Pliny, while torturing these Christians, acknowledges their high moral standards: “[Christians] bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.”

Apparently, intolerance of the Roman gods is a enough of a reason to kill Christians, despite their holy lives.

Nero: Christians are Haters

In the late first-century, the Roman emperor Nero made himself famous for his persecution of Christians. The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that under Nero,

Mockery of every sort was added to their [Christians'] death. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, as exhibiting a show in the circus.

So, what awful crimes did Christians commit to warrant such unthinkable torture? Tacitus acknowledges that Christians weren’t really guilty of the trumped up charges of setting fire to the city. Instead, he admits they were killed for “hatred against mankind.”

What had Christians done to warrant the charge of “haters”? Again, they refused to condone the pantheon of gods and religious practices that went along with them.

In sum, the stories of Pliny and Nero are both encouraging and frightening at the same time. They are frightening because they sound eerily similar to the kind of language and accusations being used today against Christians. But instead of Christians being asked to pay homage to the Roman gods to prove their acceptability, they are now being asked to pay homage to the gods of tolerance or homosexual marriage or what have you.

At the same time, these stories are encouraging. They remind us that this sort of persecution isn’t new. Indeed, this persecution was not the end of Christianity, but was the beginning. In the midst of it, the church grew, and thrived, and expanded.

As Christ said, “I will build my church. And the gates of hell shall not stand against it” (Matt 16:18).

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

Gospel Critics and the Argument from Silence

“You can’t say everything.” This is one of the refrains I often cite to my students as we discuss historical documents. When ancient authors put quill to papyrus (or parchment), we need to remember that they had a limited amount of space, a limited amount of time, a limited number of goals, and often a very specific purpose for which they wrote.

Inevitably, therefore, an historical account will include some things that other historical accounts (of the same event) might omit, and they might omit some things that other historical accounts might include.

This reality is particularly important to remember when the Gospel accounts are analyzed and compared with one another. Differences aren’t (necessarily) the same as contradictions. Each author inevitability gives a limited perspective on the whole. They can’t say everything.

Unfortunately, in Bart Ehrman’s recent book, How Jesus Became God–The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (HarperOne, 2014), this particular principle goes unheeded. In order to demonstrate contradictory Christologies in the New Testament (particularly amongst the Gospels), Ehrman leans heavily on what the Gospel authors don’t say. Put directly, Ehrman uses an argumentum ex silentio (argument from silence).

This discussion of Ehrman’s use of the argument from silence will be the final installment of a series of posts interacting with and responding to his new book (for the prior post see here, here, and here).

For Ehrman, a central example of contradictory Christologies comes from comparing Mark with Matthew and Luke. Mark, he argues, believes Jesus became divine only at his baptism and was a mere man prior to that point. Matthew and Luke, in contrast, present Jesus as divine even from birth (since he was born to a virgin).

But how does Ehrman know that Mark rejects the virgin birth and therefore rejects the higher Christology that goes with it? Simple: Mark doesn’t mention it. Ehrman states,

[Jesus] was already adopted to be God’s Son at the very outset of his ministry, when John the Baptist baptized him. This appears to be the view of the Gospel of Mark, in which there is no word of Jesus’s pre-existence or of his birth to a virgin. Surely if this author believed in either view, he would have mentioned it (238).

Here is where we see the clear use of the argument from silence. Ehrman assumes that if a New Testament author doesn’t mention something, then they must not believe it. But there is a reason why arguments from silence are regarded as fallacious. As noted above, we simply do not know why an author included some things and not others, and it is very dangerous to suppose that we do.

Think, for example, of Paul’s discussion of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor 11:23–26—a topic he never discusses anywhere else. Now, imagine for a moment that (for some reason), we didn’t have 1 Corinthians. We might conclude that Paul didn’t know about Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper; indeed, we might even conclude that Paul didn’t believe in the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  And we would be flat out wrong.

Likewise, to suppose that Mark’s omission of the virgin birth means he doesn’t believe in the virgin birth (and thus must not share Matthew and Luke’s Christology) is an unsustainable line of reasoning. After all, Mark doesn’t even include a birth account!  Should we conclude from that fact that he didn’t believe Jesus was born at all? Indeed, Mark omits many other stories that the other Gospels include; shall we conclude that he did not know any of them?  Historical records are inevitably limited in scope; an author cannot say everything.  Thus, we cannot draw hard and fast conclusions about things an author did not include.

Later, Ehrman makes the same argument from silence again.  This time, he wants to show that Matthew and Luke don’t share John’s view of Jesus as pre-existent.  He states:

I should stress that these virginal conception narratives of Matthew and Luke are by no stretch of the imagination embracing the view that later became the orthodox teaching of Christianity. According to this later view, Christ was a pre-existent divine being who ‘became incarnate through the Virgin Mary.’ But not according to Matthew and Luke. If you read their accounts closely, you will see that they have nothing to do with the idea that Christ existed before he was conceived. In these two Gospels, Jesus comes into existence at the moment of his conception.  He did not exist before (243).

Notice particularly the last line:  “He did not exist before.” But, how does Ehrman know that Matthew and Luke don’t believe Jesus existed before? Do they state such a thing anywhere? No. Ehrman is simply assuming this because they don’t directly mention Jesus’ pre-existence. In other words, he assumes this because Matthew and Luke are silent on the matter.

In the end, the repeated use of the argument from silence suggests that Ehrman is more intent on finding contradictions than he is on simply exploring the Christology of the New Testament authors. But if one gives historical documents the benefit of the doubt, and doesn’t assume that omissions of a fact equal rejection of a fact, then the Gospel accounts actually prove to be quite complementary in regard to their understanding of Jesus as the divine Son of God.

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

Christians Did Disagree about the Canonicity of Some NT Books

Note: for the full series, see here.

When it comes to basic facts that all Christians should know about the canon, it is important that we recognize that the development of the canon was not always neat and tidy. It was not a pristine, problem-free process where everyone agreed on everything right from the outset.

On the contrary, the history of the canon is, at points, quite tumultuous. Some Christians received books that were later rejected and regarded as apocryphal (this was discussed in an earlier post). More than this, there was disagreement at times even over some canonical books.

For instance, Origen mentions that books like 2 Peter, 2–3 John, and James were doubted and disputed by some in his own day. Also, Dionysius of Alexandria tells us that some thought that Revelation was not written by the apostle John and should therefore be rejected.

It is important that we be reminded of such disputes and debates lest we conceive of the history of the canon in an overly-sanitized fashion. The canon was not given to us on golden tablets by an angel from heaven (as claimed for the Book of Mormon). God, for his own providential reasons, chose to deliver the canon through normal historical circumstances. And historical circumstances are not always smooth.

What is unfortunate, however, is that these disagreements amongst Christians are sometimes used as an argument against the validity of the 27-book canon we know today. Critics claim that such disagreements call into question the entire canonical enterprise. Why should we trust the outcome, it is argued, if some Christians disagreed?

Several factors should be considered in response. First, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that these disputes only affected a handful of books. Critics often present the history of the canon as if every book were equally in dispute. That is simply not the case. As we saw in a prior post, the vast majority of these books were in place by the end of the second century.

Second, we should not overestimate the extent of these disputes. Origen, for example, simply tells us that these books were disputed by some. But, in the case of 2 Peter, Origen is quite clear that he himself accepts it. Thus, there are no reasons to think that most Christians during this time period rejected these books. On the contrary, it seems that church fathers like Origen were simply acknowledging the minority report.

Third, we should also remember that the church eventually reached a broad, deep, and long-lasting consensus over these books that some disputed. After the dust had settled on all these canonical discussions, the church was quite unified regarding these writings. Of course, critics will suggest this is an irrelevant fact and should be given no weight. For them, the decisive issue is that Christians disagreed. But why should we think that disagreements amongst Christians are significant, while unity amongst Christians is insignificant? The latter should be given the same consideration as the former.

But even after offering these three responses, we should recognize that there is still a deeper issue in play for those who think disagreements amongst Christians invalidate the truth of the canon. Beneath this objection is a key (and unspoken) assumption, namely that if God were to give his church a canon, he would not have done it this way.

Put differently, there is an assumption that we can only believe that we have the writings God intended if there are very few (if any) dissenters and if there is virtually immediate and universal agreement on all 27 books. But where does this assumption come from? And why should we think it is true? 

Indeed, there are many reasons to think it is false. For one, how does the critic know how God would give canonical books? This is a theological claim about how God works and what he would do (or wouldn’t do). But how does the critic know what God would or wouldn’t do? To what source is he appealing? Surely, not the New Testament for that is the very source being criticized!

But even more than this, we have good reasons to think that some dispute amongst Christians would be inevitable. Just the practical reality of giving books in real time and space, in real historical circumstances, spread out over different authors, on different continents, and at different times, would naturally create dispute in some places.

Whenever someone shows angst over these early canonical disagreements, I often ask a simple question: “What did you expect the process would be like?” It is at this point that people often realize they have an overly-pristine expectation about how God would deliver his books—an expectation that is entirely their own and not derived from Scripture or from history.

All of this reminds us that God sometimes uses normal historical processes to accomplish his ends. And those historical processes are not always neat and tidy. But this should not detract from the reality that the ends are still God’s.

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

Why Do Modern Christians Rarely Talk about Rewards in Heaven?

When is the last time you heard a sermon that suggested that a motive for our obedience should be the rewards we receive in heaven? I imagine for most of us it has been a long time, maybe even never. Whenever a sermon (or book) provides a motive for obedience, it is almost always thankfulness for what Christ has done. And certainly that is a wonderful and foundational motivation. But is it the only motivation?

The New Testament writings suggest it is not. For those who faithfully endure persecution, Jesus makes it clear, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23). Paul states it plainly, “But each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8). The author of Hebrews even reminds us that Moses was motivated by rewards, “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:26).

But if rewards are clearly presented as a motivation in the Christian life, why don’t we hear more about rewards in our modern pulpits? I am sure there are many answers to that question, but let me suggest one: we have been convinced that our obedience doesn’t matter. While we are rightly told that only Christ’s obedience can secure our justification and that he has kept the law perfectly for us, our own obedience receives far less attention in the pulpit. Justification is center stage, and sanctification is peripheral.

No doubt, the downplaying of Christian obedience is borne out of good motives—some think Christ is glorified the most when we disparage our own obedience. Our good works are just “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), we are reminded.

But, this whole line of thought misses the distinction between an unbeliever’s attempts at law-keeping and that of regenerated believer. Granted, neither can merit salvation or justification. Both fall woefully short of God’s perfect standards. But that does not mean that the believer’s obedience doesn’t matter. God can still be pleased with it, even though it is imperfect. Consider John Piper’s comments on this point:

It is terribly confusing when people say that the only righteousness that has any value is the imputed righteousness of Christ. I agree that justification is not grounded on any of our righteousness, but only the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. But sometimes people are careless and speak disparagingly of all human righteousness, as if there were no such thing that pleased God. They often cite Isaiah 64:6 which says our righteousness is as filthy rags…[But] when my sons do what I tell them to do—I do not call their obedience “filthy rags” even if it is not perfect. Neither does God. All the more because he himself is “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight” (Hebrews 13:21). He does not call his own, Spirit-wrought fruit, “rags” (Future Grace, 151-152).

It is only when we recognize that the obedience of the believer really does matter, and that we really can please our Father, that the rewards passages in the Bible will make any sense. And that can be a tremendous encouragement to those of us who labor heavily in ministry. When we toil for the cause of Christ, we want to hear, and are bolstered by hearing, the encouraging words of Paul: “Your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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

Do You Obey God with Hopefulness?

God has a habit of asking his people to do difficult things. Unthinkable things. Nonsensical things. He asked Noah to build a 400-foot ark in the middle of dry land. He asked Gideon to send 32,000 troops home before the battle with the Midianites, leaving him only 300 men. And he asked Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman—a prostitute. In all such instances, God calls his people to radical obedience. He calls us to trust Him.

But do we? The issue isn’t just whether we obey. The issue is how we obey.  Do we do the difficult thing God is calling us to do with hope and confidence that all things work for good? Or do we obey God with a sense of resignation and despair? I fear the latter is all too often the case. Sure, we may do the unthinkable thing God is asking us to do. But we have already determined ahead of time that all hope is lost. No good can come from this. So, we obey out of sheer duty.

But there is a better way. And Abraham models it for us. Perhaps no one was tested more deeply and profoundly than Abraham when he was asked to sacrifice his one and only son (Gen 22:1). Not only was this the beloved boy that he and Sarah had waited and longed for, but all the promises of God converged upon him. Abraham had been told that all nations would be blessed through his offspring—blessings that included the coming of the promised Messiah. And Isaac was the key to all of these promises.

While this scenario would certainly constitute a good basis for wallowing in despair, Abraham does not take this path. Instead, he does something radical. He believes. We see this amazing faith at a point in the story that is often overlooked. After reaching Mt. Moriah, Abraham tells his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Notice that Abraham expressly states that both he and the boy will return from the mountain. This is not just Abraham putting on a good face for his servants. Abraham really believed that somehow, some way God would keep his promises regarding Isaac. In fact, Hebrews 11:19 tells us why Abraham was so confident, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.”

In other words, Abraham didn’t just obey God. He obeyed with hopefulness. He obeyed with a Godly optimism. And that is the only way we can obey God in the midst of unthinkable trials. And it is the only way we can obey God over the long term. Our obedience must flow from our belief that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28).

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

How Do You Know the Scriptures are from God?

It probably comes as no surprise that the most common question I receive from both Christians and non-Christians is “How do I know the Bible is the Word of God?” And the reason this question is at the top of the list is not hard to determine. The authority of the Bible is the foundation for everything that we believe as Christians. It is the source of our doctrine and our ethics. Thus, we need to be able to answer this question when asked.

Let me say from the outset that there is not just one answer to this question. I think there are many ways that Christians can come to know the Scriptures are from God. God can certainly use historical evidences to convince us of the truth of his Word (though it is important to understand the limitations of evidence). And God can use the testimony of the church to convince us of the truth of his Word (I cover the details of this in Canon Revisited).

But it is noteworthy that throughout the history of the church, many Christians have ascertained the divine origins of the Bible in yet another way: its internal qualities. Apparently some Christians were persuaded of the Bible’s authority by reading it and observing its distinctive character and power.

Tatian is one such Christian. Tatian was a second-century Christian thinker, a disciple of Justin Martyr, and the author of an apologetic work known as Oration to the Greeks (c.165). In this work, Tatian makes his case for the truth of Christianity. During one section, he lays out his personal conversion story and recounts how he carefully examined all the pagan religious writings and found them incoherent, problematic, and, sometimes, downright evil.  But then he happened to come across the Scriptures and began to read:

I was led to put my faith in these by the unpretending cast of the language, the inartificial character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts, and the declaration of the government of the universe as centered on one Being. And my soul being taught of God, I discern that the former class of [pagan] writings lead to condemnation, but that these [Scriptures] put an end to the slavery that is in the world (29).

This is a profound statement. Tatian, the impressive intellect that he was, was not persuaded by historical evidence nor from the testimony of the church (though, as noted above, both are legitimate when appropriately utilized), but by the internal qualities of the Scriptures themselves. There was something about the Scriptures that came alive to him. How did he discern this? As he indicates, “my soul being taught of God.” Presumably this is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit.

And Tatian was not the only one who thought like this. One century later, Origen says something very similar:

If anyone ponders over the prophetic sayings… it is certain that in the very act of reading and diligently studying them his mind and feelings will be touched by a divine breath and he will recognize that the words he is reading are not the utterances of men but the language of God (Princ. 4.1.6).

The Reformers also thought this way.  They believed the truth of Scripture could be ascertained, by the help of the Holy Spirit, from the Scriptures themselves. This is what they meant when they said the Scriptures were self-authenticating.

Such a reality should come as no surprise. After all Jesus said, “My sheep here my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

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

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.

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.

Some NT Writers Quote Other NT Writers as Scripture

Note: This is the fourth installment of a new blog series announced here.

One of the most controversial issues in the study of the New Testament canon is the date when these books were regarded as Scripture. When were these books first used as an authoritative guide for the church? Critical scholars will argue that these books were not written to be Scripture and were not even used as Scripture until the end of the second century.

But one of the most basic facts that Christians should know is that some New Testament writers actually quote other New Testament writers as Scripture. This demonstrates that the concept of a new corpus of biblical books was not a late development, but one that seems to be present in the earliest stages of Christianity.

The most obvious example of this phenomenon is 2 Pet 3:15-16 where Peter refers to Paul’s letters “Scripture” on par with the books of the Old Testament. It is noteworthy that Peter mentions multiple letters of Paul, indicating that he was aware of some sort of collection. And, even more importantly, he assumes his audience is aware of this collection as well. There is no indication that the scriptural status of Paul’s letters is a new or novel idea—Peter mentions it quite casually and naturally.

The implications of Peter’s statement should not be missed. It shows that apostolic letters (in this instance Paul’s) had a scriptural status in early Christianity. If so, then it hard to imagine Peter would not have expected his own letter to be received with the same authority. After all, just a few verses earlier Peter made it clear that the teachings of the apostles were on par with the Old Testament itself (2 Pet 3:2).

Another example of this phenomenon is found in 1 Tim 5:18 which says: “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while it treads out the grain’ and ‘the laborer deserves his wages.’” While the first quote comes from Deut 25:4, the latter quote is an exact match with Luke 10:7. Although one might suggest that Paul is citing oral Jesus tradition, that option is precluded by the fact that he introduces the saying with “the Scripture says.”

Although Paul might be citing some unknown apocryphal gospel (that just happens to have the exact same wording of Luke 10:7), why should we prefer an unknown hypothetical source over a known source? We know that Luke actually was used as Scripture in the early church—the same cannot be said of this hypothetical apocryphal gospel.

Of course, because these two passages seem to cite other NT books as Scripture, scholars have argued these books are forgeries, having a late date probably around the turn of the century (c.100).  We cannot delve into these academic debates here, but it should be noted that these debates are by no means settled. Moreover, even if one concedes the late date for these books (for the sake of argument), that still puts the date of the canon at a remarkably early time.

If the NT writers were citing other NT writers as Scripture, then that suggests the canon was not a later ecclesiastical development, but something early and innate to the early Christian faith. And that is a basic fact that all Christians should know.

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

The “Mother” Sin We Have Forgotten

The last of the ten commandments seems a bit out of place, doesn’t it? “Do not covet.” While the heinousness of the other commandments is relatively obvious to us, the tenth commandment stands out, in our own minds, as relatively benign. How serious can it be?

But when you probe deeper into this commandment, something very different emerges. It is much more serious than we think. For one, aspects of coveting are mentioning in a number of key places in the Bible.  It is the “love of money,” a form of coveting, that is the “root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). And when Paul is looking for a good example of how sin traps and tricks us, he chooses the sin of coveting (Romans 7:7).

And, most foundationally, the very first sin, that of Eve in the garden, appears to be that of coveting. When she looked at the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we are told that she “desired” it, and it was a “delight to the eyes.”

It is for these reasons, that the Puritan author Thomas Watson referred to coveting as a “mother sin.” The problem with coveting is not just coveting itself, but the manner in which it gives birth to other sins. It leads us to hate our neighbor, instead of love him. To despise him, instead of wishing him good. It leads us to steal and take. It robs us of our joy and peace. And ultimately, it leads us to despise God, whom we think has deprived us of what we really desire.

For more on this topic, I highly recommend the two interviews below by my wife, Melissa. One of these is on CBN, and one on the Reformed Forum. And, of course, check out her book, The Envy of Eve.

Video Clip

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

A New ‘New Testament’ is an Old, Old Idea

My email inbox has been flooded over the last day or so with queries about the recent book by Hal Taussig called A New New Testament (Houghton Mifflin, 2013). I have to admit, I love the title. When it comes to sensationalistic claims about the New Testament canon, modern publishers know what sells. This volume has bypassed the normal catchwords found in the titles of such books—words like “lost”, “forgotten”, “secret”, or “banned”—and has set a new standard for marketing apocryphal writings.

This volume also sets itself apart by the grandiosity of its claims. Here is the promo for the book:

To create this New New Testament, Hal Taussig called together a council of scholars and spiritual leaders to discuss and reconsider which books belong in the New Testament. They talked about these recently found documents, the lessons therein, and how they inform the previously bound books. They voted on which should be added, choosing ten new books to include in a New New Testament.

It’s one thing to suggest apocryphal books are early, or that they contain some true historical nuggets, but it is quite another to pick an entirely new canon on the basis of some arbitrarily chosen council of modern “scholars and spiritual leaders.” Do we really think these 19 people are in a position to decide such things? Is that the way we know which books are Scripture and which are not?

But while such grandiose claims about the New Testament canon may seem entirely new, it is in fact a very, very old idea. For one, there are other modern examples of such activity. The book The Five Gospels (Harper One, 1996), effectively rewrote the 4-Gospel canon by adding a fifth gospel, The Gospel of Thomas. Moreover, the book included the results of the votes of members of the “Jesus Seminar” about which sayings/stories of Jesus were authentic and which were not.

In the end, we were left not with a New Testament, but with the Jesus Seminar’s personal, private New Testament. And that is something entirely different.

But the idea of rewriting the canon according to one’s personal preferences goes back even further. In fact, this was a challenge faced by the very earliest Christians. In the 140’s, a wealthy shipowner named Marcion decided that the canon of the church was not the one he preferred and proceeded to offer his own—a truncated canon composed of only Luke and 10 epistles of Paul. But Marcion went even further. In addition to selecting his own books, he took out the scalpel and edited these books, attempting to take out as much of the “Jewish” aspects as he could.

Marcion’s actions were widely condemned by the early church. He was condemned not only for his heretical views, but for his willingness to reshape and rewrite the New Testament canon according to his own personal preferences. The canon is just not something that one person (or 19!) can create.

Thus, despite the claims of this modern book to be doing something new and original, it is nothing of the sort. The idea of a New New Testament, is an old, old idea. One that has already been tried, and already been rejected.

Over the next few months, I will offer an extended review of Taussig’s new book, spread over a number of different blog posts. And I want to assure my friend Michael Bird that I will take a “nice deep breath” before I do so!

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

How the Scandal of Preaching Will Reach Our Postmodern World

By now it is old news that we live in a world marked by postmodernity. In such a world, truth is not something that is outside ourselves, but something that is self-determined. Each of us constructs our own private, personal realities. What’s ‘true’ for you is not ‘true’ for me.

So, how do we break into the lives of people who are immersed in this postmodern reality? How do we reach them for the gospel? Do we find ways to show them how the gospel is existentially satisfying? Do we offer therapeutic entertainment to draw them in?

Nope. Instead, we do the unthinkable in our modern age. We preach.

Of course, the first reaction to such an idea is, “Are you kidding?” When faced with the challenges of postmodernity, do we really think the solution is to stick some guy in front of the group and let him talk for 30 minutes? Wouldn’t a video be more effective? Or at least a dialogue or panel discussion?

But, as scandalous as it is, there is something about preaching that is unique and special. Let us consider what those things are.

1. Preaching is Word-Centered (in a world that is people-centered).

Preaching doesn’t ask first, “what works?” nor does it ask “what is personally satisfying?” Rather, preaching asks, most fundamentally, what does God have to say in his Word? Thus, preaching is a decisive challenge to the postmodern world because it takes the attention off of us and onto the Scriptures. It forces us to go outside of ourselves.

This is precisely why preaching that does not focus on the Word is not really preaching. Indeed, such an activity (whatever you want to call it) actually serves to exacerbate the problem of postmodernity rather than remedy it. It reinforces people’s perception that they get to define truth for themselves.

2. Preaching is Authoritative (in a world that is anti-authority).

Our world’s anti-authority posture is so pervasive that even Christians cannot escape its effects. Indeed, it even influences the way we receive God’s Word. We prefer Bible studies, personal devotions, or small groups, as the primary means we receive God’s Word. It allows us to be in charge. We are the authoritative interpreters and guides.

There is nothing wrong with these activities, but preaching is something wholly other. In the act of preaching, a duly-ordained man comes to us representing God himself and speaks with real authority. So much so, that the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) can declare, “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.”

Of course, our world will find this highly offensive. “Who does this man think he is?” they might ask incredulously. But they are missing the point. He speaks not for himself, but for another. The preacher is a representative.

Thus, preaching, at its core is a vertical act (between man and God), not a horizontal one (between man and man).

3. Preaching is Proclamation (in a world that wants ‘dialogue’).

What makes preaching so unique is that is intentionally one-directional. It is not designed for discussion, or conversation, or for Q&A. It is designed as a powerful, one-way act of declaration by which we are encouraged, challenged, rebuked, and inspired. Sure, preaching includes information; it does supply us with data. But at its core it is an act of powerful exhortation. Thus, preaching is the antithesis of Oprah’s couch.

I am reminded of the story of George Whitfield where a man came to ask if he could print his sermons. “Well, I have no inherent objection if you like,” said Whitfield, “but you will never be able to put on the printed page the lightning and the thunder.”

4. Preaching is Corporate (in a world that prefers individualism).

People might prefer to sit at home on a Sunday morning and listen to a sermon on the web. But that does not capture what preaching is intended to be. Preaching is a corporate enterprise that takes place when the people of God are gathered together. In effect, preaching is the team meeting when the coach gives the big pep talk. Such things cannot happen individually. They must happen as a group.

And when preaching happens as a group, the entire enterprise is (rightly) taken out of our control. We cannot so easily change the channel or shut off the iPod. We are drawn into an event that is larger than ourselves. We are being drawn into the very body of Christ where preaching finds its proper home.

Thus, preaching is anti-individualistic. It directly challenges the postmodern sentiment that all I need is me, my Bible, and Jesus. It forces us to recover a higher ecclesiology.

In sum, preaching is a stunningly simple solution to a complex and daunting problem (postmodernity). But, the solution has been there all along. Paul said it plainly when he laid out our mission, “But we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23).

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