Thus far Kruger has been sketching for us the various ways groups—liberals, Catholics, evangelicals, etc.—go about defining and defending the canon. When we come to chapter three of his book we come to his thesis and what is rightly regarded as a unique contribution. I say unique for two reasons. One, because although he uses the reformers as a launching pad, he clearly goes beyond their arguments and thus presents something genuinely new: “Thus, for the purposes of this study, we shall be using the phrase self-authenticating in a broader fashion than was typical for the Reformers” (91). The second reason is more pejorative; and thus I intend to communicate that I am not convinced by his arguments and additions, and more than this, I think he actually gives away the farm.
The chapter is entitled, Canon as Self-Authenticating. And the thesis is this: “The New Testament canon is a collection of apostolic writings that is regarded as Scripture by the corporate church” (120). Clearly in this definition he goes beyond the traditional reformed definition of self-authentication. He included the apostolicity of the writings and reception of the corporate church as criteria. He is quick to subordinate these to the testimony of Scripture and suggests that they all work together. But practically speaking his approach is not much different from those who would marshal evidence to convince someone of a book’s canonicity. Consider the difference between his definition and Calvin’s, There is no escape from epistemic circularity in the assessment of our fundamental sources of belief.William Alston
for example. “God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word…Scripture is, indeed, self-authenticating.” Similarly, Francis Turretin: “Thus, Scripture, which is the first principle, is the supernatural order, is known by itself and has not need of arguments derived from without to prove and make itself known to us.” You can almost hear our Westminster Confession in their words: “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God…”(WCF 1.4).
There is no escape from epistemic circularity in the assessment of our fundamental sources of belief.William Alston
To the thoughtful reader this sounds like circular reasoning. We know a book is inspired by God because it says so? But as we said last week, there is no higher authority to which you can appeal and any appeal to authority requires the submission of the Scriptures to it. So in the words of William Alston, “There is no escape from epistemic circularity in the assessment of our fundamental sources of belief.” Or my words: embrace the circularity.
One helpful point he does make is that of the work of God’s providence in all of this. For me, I am coming to see this as a stronger and stronger argument. I liken it to my marriage. When over 10 years ago I said “I do”, I wasn’t sure infallibly for certain if she was the one. But we said “I do” anyway. And now looking back I can see the hand of God and realize precisely because we did say “I do”, she is the one. Providence is usually best interpreted in the rear view mirror not through the windshield. I am content to trust that the books we have in our hands are God’s word precisely because we do have them in our hands and don’t have others.