Michael J. Kruger

Michael J. Kruger
President, Reformed Theological Seminary

Early Christians Believed that Canonical Books were Self-Authenticating

Note: for the complete series see here.

How do we know which books are from God, and which are not? There are many answers to that question, some of which we have covered in prior posts. Certainly the apostolic origins of a book can help identify it as being from God (see post here). And the church’s overall consensus on a book can be part of how we identity it as being from God (see post here).

But it is interesting to note that the early church fathers, while agreeing that apostolicity and church-reception are fundamentally important, also appealed to another factor that is often overlooked in modern studies. They appealed to the internal qualities of these books.

In other words, they argued that these books bore certain attributes that distinguished them as being from God. They argued that they could hear the voice of their Lord in these particular books. In modern theological language, they believed that canonical books are self-authenticating. As Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Origen is quite clear that the divine qualities of books play a role in their authentication: “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 the words he is reading are not utterances of man but the language of God.”[1]

Elsewhere Origen says similar things. He defends the canonicity of the book of Jude because “it is filled with the healthful words of heavenly grace”[2] and defends the canonical gospels because of their “truly venerable and divine contents.”[3] He even defends the canonicity of the book of Hebrews on the ground that “the ideas of the epistle are magnificent.”[4]

Tatian is very clear about the role of the internal qualities of these books: “I was led to put faith in these [Scriptures] 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.”[5]

Jerome defended the epistle of Philemon on the grounds that it is “a document which has in it so much of the beauty of the Gospel,” which is the “mark of its inspiration.”[6] Chrysostom declares that in the gospel of John there is “nothing counterfeit” because the gospel is “uttering a voice which is sweeter and more profitable than that of any harp or any music… something great and sublime.”[7]

Right before citing Matt 4:17 and Phil 4:5, Clement of Alexandria says that you can distinguish the words of men from the words of Scripture because “No one will be so impressed by the exhortations of any of the saints, as he is by the words of the Lord Himself.”[8]

These examples (and more could be added) are sufficient to show that the early church fathers believed that evidence for the canonicity of books can be found in the books themselves. In other words, canonical books are self-authenticating.

Of course, at this point one might object: “If the internal qualities of these books really exist, then how do we explain why they are rejected by so many? Why don’t more people see these qualities?”

The answer lies in the role of the Holy Spirit in helping people see what is objectively there. Due to the noetic effects of sin (Rom 3:10–18), one cannot recognize these qualities without the testimonium spiritus sancti internum, the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit.

Needless to say, the non-Christian will find this explanation to be largely unpersuasive. “Isn’t a little suspicious,” he might object, “that Christians claim they are the only ones who can see the truth of these books and everyone else is blinded to it? That seems enormously self-serving.”

This objection is understandable. But if Christian doctrines concerning the fall, original sin, and the corruption of the human heart are true, then it naturally follows that a person without the Spirit cannot discern the presence of the Spirit (such as whether He is speaking in a book).

Moreover, it is not all that different than the reality that some people are tone-deaf and therefore unable to discern whether a musical note is “on key.” You can imagine a tone-deaf person objecting, “This whole ‘on key’ thing is a sham run by musical insiders who claim to have a special ability to hear such things.” But despite all the protests, the truth of the matter would remain: there is such a thing as being on key whether the tone-deaf person hears it or not.

In the end, the church fathers teach us a very important truth. The NT canon we possess today is not due to the machinations of later church leaders, or to the political influence of Constantine, but due to the fact that these books imposed themselves on the church through their internal qualities.

Or, as Harvard Professor Arthur Darby Nock used to say about the formation of the canon, “The most travelled roads in Europe are the best roads; that is why they are so heavily travelled.”[9]

[1] Princ. 4.1.6.  

[2] Comm. Matt. 10.17.

[3] Cels. 3.21. 

[4] Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.25.12; translation mine.

[5] Address to the Greeks, 29.

[6] Prologue to Comm. Phlm.

[7] Hom. Jo. 1.2.

[8] Protr. 9. 

[9] Metzger, Canon of the New Testament, 286.

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

What is a “Gospel” Anyway? A Few Thoughts on Gospel Genre and Why it Matters

When it comes to reading (and interpreting ) the Gospels, one of the fundamental questions pertains to the kind of document we are reading.  What exactly is a “Gospel”?  And did the earliest readers of these books know what they were reading?

Such questions may seem pedantic to the average reader, but they matter more than we think.  Right interpretation is built on (among other things) correctly assessing the literary genre.  We don’t read parables like historical narrative, nor do we read poetry (Psalms) like apocalyptic literature.

An example of confusion over “genre” in our modern world (though in a different medium) pertains to the growing practice of making internet ads look like internet content.  In other words, some companies are positioning their ads to look like a news story.

This is quite controversial for an obvious reason: people read and interpret ads differently than news. People expect one thing from ads, and expect something very different from news.  One is viewed as propaganda, the other is viewed as fact (though that distinction itself is subject to dispute today).

Options on the Table

So, then, what is a Gospel? Suggestions have ranged all over the map, including the Gospels as oral folk literature, as a summary of the early Christian kerygma, as accounts of a “divine man” (or aretalogy), and beyond.

But, most popular today is the view that our gospels are a form of Greco-Roman biography, or “lives” (bioi), similar to the accounts of Plutarch, Suetonius, or Xenophon. To be sure, there is much to commend this view.  On the surface, our gospels share a certain family resemblance with the bios genre, including a similar length, focus on a single protagonist, extra attention to the protagonist’s final days, and various types of content such as sayings, stories, and great deeds.

However, if we look at the Gospels merely as bios we miss one of their most salient features, namely the manner in which their story connects to, and even continues, the story of the Hebrew Scriptures.

If we are searching for a literary model readily available for our Gospel authors—three of whom were Jews—then we might ask why we would look to the broader Greco-Roman context when “much closer to hand is the Hebrew Bible” (Reading the Gospels Wisely, 26).

Or, as Loveday Alexander has argued, “It is to the biblical tradition, surely, that we should look for the origins of the ‘religious intensity’ of the gospel narratives and their rich ideological intertextuality with the biblical themes of covenant, kingdom, prophecy, and promise—all features hard to parallel in Greek biography” (“What is a Gospel,” 27-28).

So, while our gospels may be similar to Greco-Roman biography in terms of structure, they are indebted to the Old Testament in terms of their narrative.  And when we consider the narrative features of the four gospels, it quickly becomes clear that they are stories of God’s eschatological, redemptive, covenant-fulfilling, activity through the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Or, put differently, they are not merely history—which would be implied by the bios genre—but are, in fact, redemptive history.  As Jonathan Pennington has observed, “This is good news, not just a biography!” (Reading the Gospels Wisely, 31).

Covenant Documents

This indebtedness to the Old Testament narrative raises questions about how to best characterize what the Gospels are as documents.  Meredith Kline, recognizing the unequivocal Old Testament backdrop, has argued that the Gospels are best understood as covenant documents.

In particular, Kline suggests that the book of Exodus is the closest counterpart to the Gospels: “the Book of Exodus appears to have the same thematic focus and to exhibit comprehensively the same literary structure as the Gospels…the book of Exodus is an Old Testament Gospel—the Gospel of Moses” (Structure of Biblical Authority, 175).

Both documents have a clear covenantal purpose: they focus on the life of the covenant mediator, the inauguration of the covenant, and a new law delivered by the covenant mediator.

These structural connections between the Gospels and Exodus are confirmed in two ways. First, extensive Moses-Exodus typology is found throughout all four Gospels. Jesus is portrayed as new Moses (Matt 5:1John 5:46; 7:40), leading a new Exodus (Matt 2:15; 4:1-17Mark 1:1-13Luke 3:4-6) , giving a new law (Matthew 5-7), supplying new bread from heaven (John 6:32-34), and offering a new/final Passover sacrifice (Matt 26:26Mark 14:22Luke 22:19).

Second, much of the teaching of Jesus fits into standard treaty language of covenantal texts: Jesus’ self- declarations as the God of the covenant (John 6:35; 8:12; 8:51), condemnation of Israel’s covenant breaking (Matt 21:40-41Mark 12:9), teachings on how to live within the covenant community (Matthew 5-7), blessings and curses of the covenant (Luke 6:20-26Matthew 23), and even covenant discipline (Matt 16:18-19; 18:15-20).


If indeed our Gospels should be construed as covenant documents, two important implications follow.  First, the covenantal nature of these books means they are not so much human testimony about God, but rather God’s testimony to humans about the terms of his covenant through Jesus.

After all, God is the maker of divine covenants and therefore rightly understood to be the author of covenant documents (e.g., Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 32:16).

Thus, the Gospels are authoritative not by virtue of some later ecclesiastical court, nor by virtue of the fact that the human authors are reliable eyewitnesses (though they are), but because the Gospels are, from their very inception, a legal and divine witness on behalf of covenant-keepers and against covenant-breakers.

Second, the covenantal nature of these books allows us to see, perhaps more clearly than before, the remarkable unity between the old covenant and the new covenant, and the place of the Gospels in that unified structure. Although the Bible is made up of diverse types of writings—law, history, wisdom books, prophecy, letters, etc.—Kline argues that each of these different writings serve a singular covenantal purpose.

History (which includes the Gospels) recounts God’s great covenantal acts, law provides God’s covenantal stipulations (usually with blessings and curses), wisdom literature provides guidance on how to live as a member of the covenant, and prophecy/letters function as covenant “lawsuits” to those who break the terms of God’s covenant.

It is precisely here that we see that most apocryphal gospels don’t really count as gospels at all.  Take the Gospel of Thomas for example. It is just a list of sayings, with no narrative structure. Thus it could never be construed as a covenantal document finishing the Old Testament story of Israel.

So, here’s the big pay off. To read the Gospels as covenant documents keeps the larger redemptive-historical narrative of the Bible front and center, allows us to see how the whole of Scripture is unified around the person and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, and reminds us what makes the canonical gospels distinctive from the other “gospels” in the ancient world.

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

Confused by All the Attacks on the Bible? Here Are Three Categories to Help You

When it comes to the truth of the Bible, our world has found plenty of reasons to reject it. We are bombarded with a dizzying variety of objections. So much so, that the average believer is quickly overwhelmed.

It’s a bit like being in a fight with multiple opponents at the same time.  You might have a chance in a one-on-one contest, but it is disorientating when punches are coming from all sides.  You can’t block them all.

One helpful way to address this problem is to learn how to separate these varied objections into distinct categories.  This simple step allows us to organize our thinking. This helps us get a clearer picture of what particular opponent we are dealing with.

So, here are the three categories of Bible objections.  Indeed, I might argue that just about any objection falls into one of these three categories.  Our purpose here is not to answer the objections but just to explain them.

The Bible’s Origins 

The first category has to do with where the Bible comes from–i.e., its historical origins.  Objections abound in this category:  Who wrote the Bible? How did they get their information? Why should we trust them?

In addition, scholars have raised questions about whether the biblical books were really authored by the names attached to them.  What if they were forgeries?  What if they were written by someone pretending to be someone else?

On top of this are questions about the biblical canon.  Why just this number of books?  Who decided these were the right ones?  And what about the “other” books out there that didn’t make it into the canon?

So, there’s plenty of fodder for discussion in this first category.

The Bible’s Transmission

But, even if we conclude that the biblical authors are legitimate and trustworthy, and even if we have reasons to think we have the right books in our canon, there is still a second question to be asked: Do we actually have these books? Or, put more precisely, do we actually have the wordsof these books?

Even if, say, John wrote the Gospel that bears his name, and even if he is reliable, there’s still the question of whether we actually have what John wrote.  Were biblical books reliably copied?  Who were the scribes?  Did they make mistakes?  How many mistakes?

Of course, this sort of objection has gained new traction in recent years with the writings of Bart Ehrman. He has put his sights precisely on this question of whether these books have been reliably transmitted to us.  And he says they have not:

How does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly?

The Bible’s Content

It is worth noting that the objections thus far have very little to do with what the Bible actually says.  They have been more about the history of the Bible or the transmission of the Bible.

But there’s a final category to consider, and this is a big one.  Many people know nothing about the Bible’s history or transmission.  Indeed, they may have never even thought about it.  But, they have read the Bible.  And they find what they read to be deeply problematic.

There are several objections people make to the Bible’s content.  Some think the Bible contradicts itself (or at least they have heard that it does).  For others, the Bible makes historical errors–it claims something happened a certain way when it didn’t.  And still for others, the Bible contains things that are just not possible (seas parting, people rising from the dead, etc.).

But a major reason people object to the Bible’s content is on moral grounds.  They find the teachings of the Bible to be bigoted, misogynistic, judgmental, or offensive.

In short, they just don’t like it.  For more on moral objections to the Bible, see here.


The purpose of this post has been simple, namely to lay out the three major categories of Bible objections.  I am convinced that just about any sort of objection can fall into one of these three areas.

It has not been my purpose here to answer these objections, but merely to help people understand them.  And understanding them is the first step to responding to them.

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

The Peculiarity of Early Christian Worship (or How Early Christians Managed to Offend Just about Everybody)

“What in the world is this Christianity thing?”

A phrase like this would not have been unusual among Romans in the first couple of centuries.  In the eyes of the average citizen, Christians were an odd bunch. And what made them odd was not just what they believed.  It was how (and who) they worshiped.

To be sure, worship was a big deal in the ancient world.  The ancient Greco-Roman culture was very religious. Even more to the point, they were publicly religious. Worship rituals and activities were visible for all to see.

And it was precisely here that this “Christianity thing” was found to be strange and unusual.  Indeed, Christian worship seemed to hack off just about everybody.  Here’s why:

The Exclusivity of Early Christian Worship

A fundamental aspect of early Christian worship was its exclusivity. Only Jesus was to be worshiped. Whatever other religious loyalties one possessed before coming to Christ, they had to be abandoned and full devotion given to Jesus the King.

One might think the Roman state wouldn’t care about such things. Wasn’t religion a private matter?

Not at all. To be a good citizen, your duty was to pay homage to the Roman gods who kept the empire prosperous and flourishing. To refuse to worship the gods wasn’t only socially rude (Christians were viewed as sanctimonious), but it risked invoking the gods’ displeasure.

Thus, Christians’ refusal to participate in the broader Roman worship caused them to be viewed as reckless and callous to the welfare of their fellow man. Indeed, they were called “haters of humanity” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44). As a result, they often suffered serious persecution.

The Object of Early Christian Worship

Of course, the idea of an exclusive religion was not offensive to everyone. Monotheism was not, in principle, a problem in the Jewish world.  This is what the Jews had been doing for thousands of years.

But, they found Christian worship offensive for a very different reason.  Christians were worshiping this human being, Jesus of Nazareth.  How could any good Jew (the earliest Christians were Jewish) worship a human being?  Worship was to be given to Yahweh alone.

Needless to say, the earliest Christians did not see this as a problem.  For them, Jesus was the God of Israel in the flesh. Thus, they were quite comfortable praying to Jesus, singing to Jesus, and offering him all adoration and praise.

This was a stunning move by the earliest Christians. They remained committed to monotheism and yet, at the same time, offered worship to both the person of Jesus and to God.  They didn’t view themselves as worshiping two Gods.  Yes, there were two figures, but they shared a single divine identity.

So Christian worship offended both Romans and Jews–but for very different reasons.

The Manner of Early Christian Worship

In terms of the particular details of the early Christian worship service, there were plenty of things that would have offended (or at least confused) the Romans.

For one, Christian worship was very much centered on a book.  The Scriptures, both OT and NT, were a central feature of early Christian worship services.  They were read aloud.  They were expounded.  Christians studied them, memorized them, and were devoted to them.

In our modern western world, this doesn’t seem at all unusual.  But in the ancient world, books were not a featured part of pagan religious practices.  They were more about ritual than they were about doctrine or teaching.

For this reason, the Romans did not know quite what do with this “Christianity thing.”  Was it a religion?  It certainly didn’t seem like one.  In fact, it was the “bookishness” of Christian worship that led some Romans to regard it more as a philosophy.  For them, it didn’t even qualify as a religion at all.

The other offensive aspect of Christian worship was their private meetings.  For obvious reasons, Christians weren’t eager to put their worship practices on full public display.  So, they tended to meet early in the mornings, or in the evenings, often when it was dark, away from the masses.

Of course, this was seen as highly suspicious.  As already noted, Romans regarded religion as public.  So, what were these Christians up to in their “secret” meetings?  As is well known, this occasioned all sorts of speculation (and accusation) about whether Christians were engaging in licentious or even cannibalistic activities in these gatherings.


So, Christian worship managed to irritate just about everyone.  The Romans were agitated.  The Jews were upset.  Christianity was seen as a subversive threat.

But, here’s the key. Christians did not, for these reasons, decided to abandon, change, or modify their worship.  Despite the opposition, they stayed true to their practices and true to their Lord.

That’s a great lesson for today’s church.  Exclusive, Christ-centered, Scripture-based worship must continue to be the heartbeat of the modern church.

Even if it happens to offend just about everybody.

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

5 Things You Should be Doing with God’s Word

Psalm 119 is an amazing Psalm. Not only is it the longest Psalm (176 verses!), but it is also the Psalm that deals the most directly with the topic of Scripture. Virtually every verse, in one way or another, refers to God’s Word.

David (who is most likely the author) uses a variety of terminology to describe God’s Word: commandments, law, statutes, precepts, ordinances, rules, words, testimonies, etc. These all refer to the Scriptures as they existed in David’s day (essentially the Pentateuch).

Thus, Psalm 119 is one of the best examples of Scripture speaking about Scripture. It is the Word about the Word.

And in it, we find David interacting with the Word of God in five ways that should be paradigmatic for all believers:

1. Trusting the Word of God. Time and time again, David expresses his belief that the Scriptures are true (v.151). He believes in them (v.66). He trusts in their reliability (v.42). He states: “The sum of your word is truth” (v.160).

This first step is key. If a believer doesn’t really regard the Word of God as being fully and entirely trustworthy, then none of the other steps below will follow. This is why the church needs to be quick to deal with the repeated criticisms of the Bible that so often permeate our culture.

2. Studying the Word of God. David doesn’t just believe the Word; he is a student of the Word. He learns it (v.73), he seeks it (v.155), he has memorized it (v.153), and regularly meditates on it.

This step ought to naturally for the follow the first one. If God’s Word really is true, then we ought to commit ourselves to being diligent studiers of the Word. We need to embrace it with our minds, as well as our hearts.

3. Using the Word of God. It’s one thing to believe and know the Word. It is another thing to rely on it. To look to it as a guide during the difficulties and challenges of life. To lean on it for encouragement and hope.

David repeatedly affirms that he uses the Word of God as a “counselor” (v.24), to give “strength” (v.28), and to bring “comfort in affliction” (v.50). He states, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v.105). In short, the Word of God is the very source of life for David (v.156).

This reminds us a very important attribute of God’s Word: it is alive. It is powerful and active. When we talk about the attributes of Scripture, we must remember that it is more than just a true book (encyclopedias can be true). It is also a living book. It is the place where the God of the universe meets us and manifests himself.

4. Delighting in the Word of God. What is amazing is that David takes things one step further than we might expect. It’s not just that he trusts, studies, and uses the Word of God. He actually has affection for it. He has a deep emotional affinity towards it.

He “loves” God’s Word (v.159), he “rejoices” at his Word (v.162), the Word is “wondrous” (v.18), it is “better than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v.72), and “sweeter than honey to my mouth” (v.103).

I am convinced that this is the missing piece for most believers today.  For many, the Bible is viewed almost in a utilitarian fashion—it is a mechanical, sterile tool that Christians are supposed to use. It’s like taking your medicine.

In contrast, David has passion, zeal, and excitement for the law and commandments of God. And the reason for this is not hard to find. David loves God’s law not because he is a closet legalist. He loves God’s law because the law reflects God’s own nature and character. He loves God’s law because he loves God—and who God is and what he is like.

Any Christian who says they love God but then despises God’s law is living a life of contradiction. Indeed, they are living a life that is the opposite of Psalm 119. To love God is to love his law.

5. Obeying the Word of God. Not surprisingly, the prior four characteristics naturally lead to this last one. David repeatedly expresses his desire to actually obey God’s law. He wants to follow it, keep it, and fulfill it.

In our world today, the concept of “obeying the law” is not a popular one. Many see this as contrary to grace. However, two things should be kept in mind. One, David is not keeping the law in order to earn salvation—he is obeying out of love for God. He is obeying out of a heart of faith.

Second, we should remember that Jesus himself was very much about “obeying the law.”  Before we too quickly despise the concept of law-keeping, we should remember that Jesus delighted in keeping his Father’s law. And he kept it absolutely perfectly—for us. He obeyed on our behalf, and his righteous status is imputed to us by faith.

Indeed, Jesus embodies all five of these characteristics. He trusted, studied, used, delighted in, and obeyed God’s Word. In fact, he did all these things even more than the first David. While David certainly serves as an example of what to do with God’s word, Jesus is the ultimate example. One greater than David has come. And he loved God’s Word.

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.

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.

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 Matthew Think He Was Writing Scripture?

One of the most common misconceptions about the New Testament canon is that the authors of these writings had no idea that they were writing Scripture-like books. I dealt with this misconception on a general level here, showing that there was a clear apostolic self-awareness amongst the New Testament authors.

While this apostolic self-awareness may be easy to show for authors like Paul, what about the gospels which, technically speaking, are formally anonymous? Do their authors exhibit awareness that they were writing something like Scripture? To explore this further, let us just consider just one of our gospels, namely the Gospel of Matthew.

The first step is to get our expectations clear. We should not expect that Matthew would say something like, “I, Matthew, am writing Scripture as I write this book.” Gospels are a very different genre than epistles, and we would not expect the authors to provide the same type of direct and explicit statements about their own authority as Paul does in his letters. Indeed, the gospel authors are decidedly behind the scenes and only rarely make appearances within the flow of the story.

However, the formal anonymity of the gospels need not be taken as evidence that their authors did not view these texts as bearing authority. Armin Baum has argued that the historical books of the New Testament (gospels and Acts) were intentionally written as anonymous works in order to reflect the practice of the Old Testament historical books, which were themselves anonymous (as opposed to other Old Testament writings, like the prophets, which included the identity of the author).[1] Thus, the anonymity of the Gospels, far from diminishing their scriptural authority, actually served to increase it by consciously placing the Gospels “in the tradition of Old Testament historiography.”[2]

Matthew itself contains fewer internal clues than other gospels that it is passing along apostolic tradition (Matt 9:9, 10:3). Nevertheless, there are still indications that this gospel was written with the intention to be a scriptural-like book. Most notable in this regard is the unique way that Matthew begins his gospel, with an opening “title” (v.1) followed by a genealogy (v. 2-17). Davies and Allison argue that Matthew’s very first phrase, Βίβλος γενέσεως, is not so much a reference to the genealogy that follows but to the book as a whole.[3] They comment, “Genesis was a Βίβλος, and its name was Ge,nesij. One is therefore led to ask whether the introductory use of Βίβλος γενέσεως would not have caused Matthew’s readers to think of the Torah’s first book and to anticipate that some sort of ‘new genesis,’ a genesis of Jesus Christ, would follow.”[4]

Thus, the opening phrase of Matthew is best understood as “Book of the New Genesis wrought by Jesus Christ.”[5] Such a beginning suggests that Matthew is intentionally writing in a scriptural style—he viewed his book, and wanted his audience to view his book, as continuing the biblical story.

The fact that Matthew appears to be molding his gospel after the pattern of Old Testament books is confirmed by the fact that he turns immediately to a genealogy, placing the Jesus story into the story of Israel, with a special emphasis on David. The genealogy, of course, is a well-known Old Testament genre that is frequently used to demonstrate the historical unfolding of God’s redemptive activities among his people. In this regard, Matthew’s closest parallel is the book of Chronicles, which also begins with a genealogy that has an emphasis on the Davidic line.

If by the first century Chronicles was regarded as the final book in the Hebrew canon,as some scholars have argued, then Matthew’s gospel would certainly be a fitting sequel. An Old Testament canon ending with Chronicles would have placed Israel in an eschatological posture, looking ahead to the time when the messiah, the son of David, will come to Jerusalem and bring full deliverance to his people.

If so, then Matthew’s opening chapter would be a clear indication that he is intending to finish this story. He is picking up where the Old Testament ended, with a focus on David and the deliverance of Israel. Regardless of whether one accepts that Chronicles was the final book in the Hebrew canon, the close connections between Matthew and Chronicles remain. Indeed, on this basis, Davies and Allison conclude that Matthew “thought of his gospel as continuation of the biblical history—and also, perhaps, that he conceived of his work as belonging to same literary category as the scriptural cycles treating of the OT figures.”[6]

[1] Armin D. Baum, “The Anonymity of the New Testament History Books: A Stylistic Device in the Context of Greco-Roman and Ancient Near Eastern Literature,” NT 50 (2008): 120-142.

[2] Baum, “Anonymity,” 139.

[3] W.D. Davies and D.C. Allison, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (ICC; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 150–153.

[4] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 151.

[5] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 153.   

[6] Davies and Allison, Matthew, 187.

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

Does the Bible Ever Get it Wrong? The Moving Rock

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

The first contributor in this series is Greg Beale (Ph.D., Cambridge University). Greg is the J. Gresham Machen Chair of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, and the author of numerous books. A few notables are A New Testament Biblical Theology, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC), and The Temple and the Church’s Mission.


Peter Enns begins his new blog series with his own story about what caused his view of the Bible to change.  One of the “culminating ‘aha’ moments” came from his study of 1 Cor 10:4: “for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

Paul is clearly referring back to the times when God refreshed the Israelites with water from a rock during their desert wanderings (Exodus 17; Numbers 20). However, Enns argues that Paul is doing more than just referring to the Old Testament accounts. Paul describes the rock as something which “accompanied them”—a clear reference, according to Enns, to ancient Jewish tradition that the rock in the desert actually travelled along with the Israelites.

Since the Jewish tradition about a travelling rock is clearly a legend—a legend that Paul apparently took to be fact—then we have a real problem, says Enns, for the evangelical view of biblical authority. He puts it bluntly, “no rock moved in the Old Testament, but Paul said one did.”

Of course, I have already responded to Enns’ argument in prior works (e.g., see my Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism, chapters 4 and 5). But I shall try to summarize some of those earlier points here, but the fuller discussion should be consulted, which also interacts with Enns’s responses to my critiques.

The problem with Enns’ argument is twofold: (a) there are doubts about whether this Jewish “tradition” of a moveable rock was present in the first century; and (b) even if the tradition was present, there are doubts about whether Paul was alluding to it.

As to the first problem, there is only one Jewish reference to this “tradition” that plausibly is dated around the first century A.D., but even part of this reference is clouded by textual uncertainty. The lone Jewish source is Pseudo-Philo, which is dated by the majority of scholars as early as the first century A.D., though there is some debate even about that. The main text in Pseudo-Philo is 11:15: “and the water of Marah became sweet. And it [the well or the water] followed them in the wilderness forty years and went up to the mountain with them and went down into the plains.” However, while some very good manuscripts (the ∆- group of mss. [A, K, P]) have “it followed,” the majority of manuscripts (the π – group of mss. [H, R, W, X, Y, Z, S, Ad, D, E, V, M, B, C, O, G]), which are also manuscripts of very good, indeed almost equal, authority with the ∆- group of manuscripts, have “the Lord [Dominus] followed.”

If “Lord” is the correct reading, then the identification of the “following well” in Pseudo-Philo 10:7 (as well as, presumably, in 20:8) would apparently be the Lord himself. Put another way, if “Lord” is original, then the “following well” in 10:7 and the “water” in the preceding clause of 11:15 could well be viewed as metaphorical for the “Lord” in 11:15, which would take the legendary punch out of the evidence.

The point is that this is not a minor textual problem, despite one’s final conclusions about it, and to base a major conclusion in 1 Cor. 10:4 on this Pseudo-Philo text is precarious. This leaves only Tosephta Sukka 3.11 (date ca. 300 A.D.) and Targum Onquelos >Numbers 21:16–20 (date ca. 250–300 A.D.). These are the only really solid textual witnesses to the kind of Jewish legend that Enns says Paul was dependent on; however, because of their late date, it is difficult to say that the legendary tradition was even extant in the first century.

As for the second problem, even if this Jewish “tradition” was extant in the first century, there are serious doubts about whether 1 Cor 10:4 demonstrates Paul’s adoption of it. He may well be doing a biblical–theological exegesis of >Exodus 14–17 in the light of Psalm 78:14–20 (e,g., “he splits the rocks... and gave them abundant drink... he struck the rock so that waters gushed out”) and 78:35 (“God was their rock”), the latter of which appears to identify God with the “rock” of Ps. 78:15–16, 20.

Note also some of the differences between Paul’s reference and that of later Judaism: (1) he identifies the rock as the Messiah, (2) he does not use the language of a “well,” and (3) he refers to the “rock” from which they drank as a “spiritual rock” from which “spiritual drink” was obtained (1 Cor. 10:4), not a literal rock, significant differences with the later Jewish legend, which appears to see a literal traveling well that “followed” Israel. Incidentally, note also that the idea of God in association with a “rock” that “followed” Israel in the wilderness is not unique to the later Jewish midrashic literature but occurs also in Exod. 14:19 in relation to Exod. 17:5–7, where in the latter passage the presence of the rock from which drinking water came may also implicitly suggest that God is a rock or at least is directly linked to the phrase “the Lord is among us” in response to the people’s doubt about this.

In this respect, note the “following” concept in Exod. 14:19: “and the angel of God who had been walking before the camp of Israel, moved and walked behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them.” And the presence of God continues to move between the Egyptians and the Israelites as the latter go through the sea. Note similarly that Isa. 52:12 and 58:8 allude to Exod. 14:19 and prophesy that in the new, second Exodus God would also be Israel’s “rear guard.” Thus, in light of the fact that Exod. 17:6 very closely associates God with the “rock” (as does Psalm 78), it does not take much ingenuity to see how Paul could posit that Christ was a “following rock” in his pre-incarnate divine existence as the “angel of the Lord.”  Paul may be doing intratextual and intertextual exegesis, which is a form of biblical theology. Thus, Enns’s attempt to say that the “following” aspect is unique to the Jewish well legend is not correct, since both linguistically and conceptually the notion occurs in the Old Testament itself.

In sum, we can conclude that Enns’ primary conclusions about 1 Cor 10:4 simply remain unproven. It is not certain that this Jewish tradition was even extant in the first century, nor is it certain (if it was extant) that Paul was alluding to it or adopting it.

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

Preaching Christ Only as Frodo: Reflections on Christ-Centered Preaching

Although Tolkien was always quick to declare that The Lord of the Rings was not an allegory (like Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia), it is still evident that the figure of Christ is prevalent throughout the books. But this raises the question, which figure is the Christ-figure? Frodo? Gandalf? Aragorn?

One of the wonderful complexities of Tolkien’s work is that the answer is: all three. Unlike Lewis, Tolkien does not take all of the characteristics of Christ and pour them into a single character, but rather spreads out those characteristics (albeit unconsciously) over what are arguably the three main characters.

And when you consider these three characters in tandem, it is clear that they line up rather nicely with the three offices of Christ: prophet, priest, and king.

  • Gandalf is the prophet: Middle Earth needs a wise teacher who can bring counsel, instruction, and guidance. Gandalf is the one who proclaims truth—often when no one else will.
  • Frodo is the priest: Middle Earth also needs someone willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of everyone else. Frodo offers his own life, and suffers greatly, in order to save others.
  • Aragorn is the king: In addition, Middle Earth needs a warrior, one who can fight and defeat the enemies and who can guard, protect, and lead the people.

Tolkien’s vision in Lord of the Rings is a wonderful reminder that Christ is a complex, deep, and multi-faceted character. He embodies not a single office, but three. And they are all related and intertwined with one another.

The three offices of Christ, thus provide a helpful framework as we consider what is (or should be) meant by the idea of “Christ-centered preaching.” Certainly Christ-centered preaching is a good and wonderful thing.  But what exactly counts as Christ-centered?

Some today will say that the only thing that counts as Christ-centered preaching is if we talk about how Christ has suffered and died to save us. But, this would, in effect, limit our preaching to just a single office of Christ. It would be like preaching Christ only as Frodo.

As wonderful as the priestly role might be, one can quickly see how limited and one-dimensional such preaching might become. It would be a Christ who saves, but doesn’t rule. A Christ who suffers, but does not reign. A Christ who redeems, but not a Christ that instructs. It would be a Christ who is only the lamb, and not also the lion.

It would be like having Lord of the Rings and no Gandalf and no Aragorn. Only Frodo.

Thus, Christ-centered preaching cannot be restricted to just preaching the priestly office of Christ as is so often done in pulpits today. If we are going to preach Christ, let’s preach all of him.

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

Why Christians Can Be Both Humble and Certain

One of the most common objections made to the absolute claims of Christianity is that Christians are arrogant. Christians are arrogant to claim that they are right; arrogant to claim others are wrong; arrogant to claim that truth can be known. Unfortunately, in the midst of such accusations, no one bothers to ask which definition of humility is being used. Over the years, the definition of humility has undergone a gradual but nonetheless profound change. Especially in the intellectual community. In the modern day, humility has basically become synonymous with another word: uncertainty. To be uncertain is to be humble. To be certain is to be arrogant. Thus, the cardinal sin in the intellectual world is to claim to know anything for sure.

Of course, this shift presents a real problem for Christianity. Christians believe that God has revealed himself clearly in his Word. Thus, when it comes to key historical questions (Who was Jesus? What did he say? What did he do?) or key theological questions (Who is God? What is Heaven? How does one get there?), Christians believe they have a basis on which they can claim certainty: God’s revelation. Indeed, to claim we don’t know the truth about such matters would be to deny God, and to deny his Word. (This doesn’t mean, of course, that Christians are certain about everything; but there can be certainty about these basic Christian truths).

Thus, for Christians, humility and uncertainty are not synonymous. One can be certain and humble at the same time. How? For this simple reason: Christians believe that they understand truth only because God has revealed it to them (1 Corinthians 1:26-30).  In other words, Christians are humble because their understanding of truth is not based on their own intelligence, their own research, their own acumen. Rather, it is 100% dependent on the grace of God. Christian knowledge is a dependent knowledge. And that leads to humility (1 Corinthians 1:31). This obviously doesn’t mean all Christians are personally humble. But, it does mean they should be, and have adequate grounds to be.

Although Christians have a basis on which they can be humble and certain at the same time, that is not necessarily the case with other worldviews. Take the atheist for instance. He is quite certain of a great many things (contrary to his claim that one cannot be certain of anything). He is certain either that God does not exist (hard atheism), or certain that one cannot know whether God exists (soft atheism). And, in his critique of Christianity, he is quite certain that Christians are mistaken in their claims to be certain. In essence, the atheist is claiming, “I know enough about the world to know that a person cannot possibly have a basis for certainty.” That in itself is a pretty dogmatic claim.

But, on what is the atheist basing these far reaching claims about the universe? His own finite, fallen, human mind. He has access only to his own limited, knowledge. So, now we should ask the question again: Who is being arrogant? The Christian or the atheist? Both claim certainty on a great many transcendental issues. But one does so while claiming to be dependent on the one who would know such things (God), and the other does so dependent on only themselves. If either position is a posture of arrogance, it would not be the Christian one.

No doubt, the atheist would object to this line of reasoning on the grounds that he rejects the Bible as divine revelation. But, this misses the point entirely. The issue is not whether he is convinced of the Bible’s truth, but rather the question is which worldview, the Christian’s or the atheist’s, has a rational basis for claiming certainty about transcendental matters. Only the Christian has such a basis. And since his knowledge of such things is dependent on divine grace, he can be humble and certain at the same time.

For more on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and the issue of Christian knowledge, see my recent sermon.

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

Do Genesis 1 and 2 Disagree?

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 my friend and colleague John Currid (Ph.D., University of Chicago). John is the Carl W. McMurray Professor of Old Testament here at RTS Charlotte and the Project Director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project in Israel (1995–present). He is the author numerous books, including Against the Gods (Crossway, 2013); Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible (Baker Academic, 1999); and Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 1997).


Those who read this blog know that Peter Enns has a blog series called “aha moments from biblical scholars.” The “aha” moment for these scholars is simply coming to the realization that the Bible is not true in all that it says, but it contains many contradictions that call into question the nature and veracity of the text. One of the guest scholars who has had an “aha” moment is Charles Halton, an assistant professor at Houston Baptist University.

Prof. Halton’s enlightenment regarding the nature of Scripture occurred during his study of Genesis 1 and 2. His conclusion is simple, common, and it has been around a long time: Genesis 1 and 2 are conflicting accounts of creation and are, in reality, two different renditions of creation. The seminal issue for him appears to be that the two texts give two different sequences or chronologies of the creation event. Whereas Genesis 1 presents humans as the last created, Genesis 2 presents them as the first created, even before plants and animals.

The two verses that Prof. Halton uses to support his view of conflicting creation accounts are Genesis 2:5 and 2:19. We will consider each of them in turn.

Although Prof. Halton provides little discussion about Genesis 2:5, it is still clear, at least in my reading of him, that he sees a contradiction between it and Genesis 1. He says in reference to that verse, “after the human is made, God sows a garden and plants begin to sprout.” I assume that he is arguing, as do many others, that humanity was created prior to the plant life in Genesis 2, and, if so, that would be contrary to Genesis 1 in which the opposite is true.

However, one needs to be careful at this juncture to make certain exactly what the text says. Observe that the text does not say there were no plants in the field, but it merely says that they had not yet sprouted or budded. In other words, they are there but they have not grown yet because there is no rain and no man to till the ground at this point.

Many scholars, like Prof. Halton, assume that Genesis 2:5 includes all plant life. As Meredith Kline says, “Verse 5 itself describes a time when the earth was without vegetation.” It seems more likely that this verse merely refers to two categories of plant life and not to all vegetation. And, as we already mentioned, one of these categories is in the ground but has not yet budded. Therefore, it is probably the case that some plant life existed on the earth prior to the creation of mankind in Genesis 2 as in Genesis 1.

Dr. Halton saves most of his discussion for Genesis 2:19. He reads that verse as saying, “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the sky.” God was, according to Halton, trying to find a companion for Adam. So in this account the animals are created after humanity in contrast to Genesis 1 in which they were created before humans. Indeed, this appears to be a contradiction that is troubling and cannot be easily dismissed.

Halton then accuses two translations—the ESV and the NIV—of obscuring the natural flow of the passage by translating it as “had formed,” which would be an example of a pluperfect tense. The translation “had formed” would reflect a previous creation of animals prior to the creation of mankind. God, then, would simply be bringing the animals before Adam that had already been created. Halton argues that a pluperfect translation does injustice to the verb. The Hebrew verb is a narrative preterite which indicates sequential action, but the pluperfect would, in fact, remove the immediate sequential aspect of the verb. Thus, he is saying that the ESV and the NIV are attempting to harmonize and reconcile two contradictory creation accounts by removing immediate sequential action from the verb “to form.”

Thus, with the flick of the grammatical wrist Prof. Halton concludes that the ESV and NIV translations “opt for a rather forced reading of the Hebrew.” The case, however, is not that simple. Yes, he is correct that normally the narrative preterite verb does require sequence from the immediately preceding verb and the flow of the passage, but certainly not always. There is plenty of evidence to indicate that the narrative preterite verb (sometimes called wayyiqtol) does at times, in fact, serve as a pluperfect. We cannot take the time here to lay out all the evidence and, therefore, I would refer the reader to the important study of C. John Collins, “The WAYYIQTOL as ‘Pluperfect’: When and Why,” Tyndale Bulletin 46.1 (1995):117–40. More recent Hebrew grammars are recognizing the wayyiqtol verb form can be used in a pluperfect sense. For example, the significant syntax book written by Waltke and O’Connor concludes that the wayyiqtol form may indeed entail a pluperfect situation, and they provide some examples of that usage (pp. 552–53). Consequently, the claim of Prof. Halton in this matter is too sweeping and, therefore, should not be used as evidence for contradictory accounts of Genesis 1 and 2.

A hermeneutic of suspicion appears to dominate those who hold to two separate, contradictory creation accounts from two different sources. It is true that the two chapters of Genesis view the creation event from two different angles or perspectives. Genesis 1 paints the creation of the cosmos in a sequential, broad stroke, whereas >Genesis 2:4–25 presents an elaboration of the sixth day and focuses primarily on the creation of mankind. This is one reason that Genesis 1 employs the name Elohim for God: this is the name of the powerful Creator who made the heavens and the earth. Genesis 2 primarily uses the name Yahweh Elohim, not because it is a different account, but it is stressing the covenantal name for God who has a covenantal relationship with his people. Genesis 1 and 2 are not contradictory accounts of the creation, but complementary accounts that highlight different aspects of the creation event.

Prof. Halton’s view has been around for a long time, at least as early as the late 19th century. There is nothing new here. In fact, it really is not an “aha” moment, but actually a “ho-hum” moment.

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

Seminary Students: Love People AND Papers

Yesterday I noticed that someone sent out a tweet that said: “Seminary students: Love people not papers.” Now, in many ways, this advice is spot on. Seminary students often need to realize that there is more to ministry than Greek syntax or lengthy bibliographies. God calls us to engage with the flock personally, relationally, and intimately. As Paul himself noted about his ministry to the Thessalonians, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

However, at the same time, to say that we should “love people and not papers” sets up a bit of a false dichotomy. It presents the issue as if one must choose between the two. Either I decide to engage with people and love them faithfully, OR I decide that I will excel in scholarship and study of the Word of God. Pick one. Either you become a person that does “real” ministry, or you become an egghead who only cares about academics.

Of course, I have no doubt that the original tweet did not intend to set up this false dichotomy—it was probably just trying to remind seminary students that loving people is important. Fair enough. But, unfortunately, the way it was phrased feeds a polarization between ministry and study that is all too prominent among Christians today. Many churches, ministers, and laymen already see “study” as antithetical to real ministry. They don’t want a pastor who reads; they want a pastor who gives himself to his people.

But here is the problem. While pastors should certainly give themselves to people (1 Thessalonians 2:8), that is not enough to fulfill one’s calling. God calls pastors not only to give themselves, but ultimately (and primarily), he calls them to give people the WORD. The pastors are a conduit for something greater and bigger than themselves: God’s own voice.

Put simply, pastors are not the means of grace.

Unfortunately, many young pastors head into ministry with the perception that if they just give themselves to their congregations—if they are just personal and loving—then they will succeed in ministry. But they soon realize that they are not enough to satisfy the church. The church needs more than the pastor can give. And inevitably they burn out.

What the church needs more than anything is to hear the voice of her Lord. The church needs the Scriptures carefully explained, exposited, and applied. That is the food that can satisfy. And that requires a pastor who is a serious student of the Word. It requires a pastor who (dare I say it) studies.

So, instead of saying “Seminary Students: Love people not papers.” Perhaps we need to say: “Seminary Students: Love people AND papers.”  We don’t need to pick one. God calls us to love him with our heart and our mind. Thus, we should call our future ministers to do both.

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

Why Does Jesus Use the Phrase “I Am”?

One of the most stunning scenes in the Gospel of John is when Jesus debates the Jewish leadership at the end of chapter eight and declares, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). There is little doubt that this constituted a claim of divinity because in the very next verse we read, “So they picked up stones to throw at him” (8:59).

While there is little doubt that the Jews understood Jesus to be claiming a divine identity, there is some doubt regarding why they believed this. What is the background of Jesus’ “I am” declaration? Most of the time, it is assumed that Jesus is alluding to Ex 3:14 when Yahweh expresses his own name as “I am who I am.”

This is certainly a possibility. But the Greek constructions are not precisely the same. There is another possibility that is more likely the background of Jesus’ “I am” declarations, namely the book of Isaiah, particularly chapters 40-55. Not only are these chapters formative for early Christian theology (e.g., Is 40:3/Mark 1:3), but they contain some of the most direct declarations of God’s identity as the only true God. And many of these declarations use precisely the same “I am” construction (ego eimi).

A few examples:

Isaiah 41:4 Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he (ego eimi).

Isaiah 43:10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he (ego eimi). Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.

Isaiah 48:12 “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he (ego eimi); I am the first, and I am the last.

These instances show that Isaiah uses the “I am” language to emphasize God’s exclusive status as the one true God. The phrase, in essence, means “I am [He]” or “I am [the One]” or “I am [the LORD].”

If so, then this brings insight into how John uses the “I am” language outside of John 8:58. For instance, when Jesus is arrested in the garden, he declares in 18:6: “I am he (ego eimi).” While most readers would miss the connection here, the response of the soldiers gives us a clue to what is meant: “When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he (ego eimi)’ they drew back and fell to the ground” (18:6).

The falling back is a contextual clue that Jesus is speaking like God speaks in Isaiah. Thus, there is likely a double entendre here in 18:6. On the one hand Jesus is simply answering the soldiers’ question by saying, “I am he [the one you are looking for].” But, on the other hand, he is saying, “I am he [the one true God].”

In the end, the “I am” language in John is a likely reference to God’s self-declarations in Isaiah, and thus a dramatic claim by Jesus to be the one true God of Israel. By appealing to Isaiah, Jesus is not portraying himself as another God, but the one and the same God of the Jews.

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

The Book of Revelation: How Difficult Was Its Journey into the Canon?

The story of the New Testament canon is a fascinating one, with many twists and turns. There are books that were accepted very quickly, almost from the start (e.g., the four gospels), and there are other books that struggled to find a home (e.g., 2 Peter).

And then there is the book of Revelation.

Few today would contest the claim that the book of Revelation stands as one of the most controversial, complicated, and esoteric books in the New Testament canon. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that its reception by the early church was equally complicated and controversial.

But, the story of the book of Revelation is not what one might expect. Other debated books tended to have a lukewarm reception at the earliest stages, only to gain more and more acceptance over time. Revelation, on the other hand, had nearly the opposite experience; it had a very early and positive reception in many parts of the church, only to run into serious challenges at a later point.

Lately, I have been doing a good bit of research on Revelation’s canonical history in preparation for writing an academic piece on the subject. Here are a few highlights about Revelation’s journey:

1. Revelation’s early reception was outstanding. Perhaps as much as any other NT book, we have evidence for an early, widespread, and consistent reception of Revelation. Our evidence goes back as early as Papias (c.125), and also includes Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, the Muratorian Fragment, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. That is an impressive list.

In addition, it is worth noting that almost every one of these church fathers accepted the book of Revelation on the same grounds, namely the belief that the apostle John, the son of Zebedee, was the author.

B.W. Bacon was so impressed with Revelation’s initial reception that he was able to say, “There is no book in the entire New Testament whose external attestation can compare with that of Revelation, in nearness, clearness, definiteness, and positiveness of statement” (The Making of the New Testament, 190).

2. Objections to Revelation were later and limited. Our first evidence of any real objection to the book of Revelation comes from the person of Gaius in the early third century who rejects the book on the grounds that it was a forgery of the heretic Cerinthus. Curiously, this is really the only specific objection we hear about from someone who rejected the book (most scholars agree that the so-called “Alogoi” mentioned later by Epiphanius is not a real group).

Dionysius of Alexandria, in the late third century, makes the argument that Revelation was written by another John besides the apostle. Eusebius appears to agree with him. But it is worth noting that Dionysius does not reject the book on these grounds (despite the impression many give that he did), but still regards it as holy and inspired.

3. Objections to Revelation were not driven by historical matters. As we noted above, the main (and to some extent, the only) person who offered specific objections to Revelation in the early church was Gaius who believed it was a forgery of Cerinthus. But what led him to this conclusion? It was not the historical merits of the book, but rather Gaius’ objection to chiliasm (the belief in a literal millennial reign of Christ).

Gaius opposed the chilastic teachings in the church, particularly the chiliasm he attributed to Cerinthus. There is little doubt that the reference to a millennium in Revelation 20 led Gaius to erroneously presume that Revelation was a product of Cerinthus’ pen.

4. Objections to Revelation were eventually sesolved. Even though Gaius is pretty much alone in his specific objections to Revelation, apparently it did have a negative affect in some quarters of the church. Particularly in the East, there was a resurgence of doubt about the book in the fourth century and later.

However, there were also many who supported the book. It was affirmed by the synods of Hippo (c. 393) and Carthage (c. 397). It was also received by Philastrius of Brescia (c. 385), Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 404), Jerome (c. 414), and Augustine (c. 426). And the reason why these groups accepted the book was simple: it was an ancient book quoted by the early church fathers as authoritative. And for this reason, eventually their view prevailed.

In the end, the problematic canonical journey of Revelation reminds us that the development of the NT canon was not always a smooth, pristine affair. However, it also remains that in the case of Revelation, the problems had little do with the historical merits of the book itself, but rather with the particular theological peccadillos of some in the early church. When the actual history of the book is understood, its canonical status stands in little doubt.

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

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.