How do we know we’ve got the right New Testament canon? – Part 4

Posted: January 20, 2012 by J in Bible, Book review, Theology


Full marks to the big R for attempting a difficult topic. Most of our scholars shy away from it. Also I think Ridderbos’s big idea of viewing canonicity from within the history of redemption is on the money. That’s a big step forward compared to other Protestant approaches to the subject in recent times. So often people (i.e. our evangelical leaders) talk as if the Scriptures were dropped from heaven, as though their authority came direct from God. In particular, we often find it possible to give an account of the unique status of Scripture without mentioning the gospel of Jesus. This is a serious distortion, and Ridderbos does us a favour dragging us back to centre our canonical thinking on Christ.

He is especially helpful in highlighting the importance of apostolicity for our understanding of canon. Somehow modern evangelicals manage to maintain a high view of the authority of the NT while having little or no interest in the apostolic foundation for that authority. I have even heard people say that they believe the writings of the apostles because they are in the Bible! Which is of course to turn things absurdly on their heads. So the big R is definitely hitting us where it hurts at this point. The  NT canon’s authority is based on apostolic authority. Amen.

Also his approach of recognising which books are canonical based on the church’s primitive usage rings true. These the writings which the church embraced because they came from and expressed the apostolic teaching. They’re just what we’ve always had, there’s not really much more to say. We can’t justify it, prove it, we really have nowhere to go with this. We can only receive them. That feels right to me. Quite a relief actually.

However Ridderbos doesn’t really get that far with explaining how the ‘disputed books’ (Hebrews, 2 Peter etc) fit into this approach. More work to be done there.

So big thumbs up for his overall project to reground canonical thinking in salvation history.

However, Ridderbos does not always carry through his project convincingly. His execution has weaknesses both logical and theological. And in general, he just doesn’t carry it through far enough. More tomorrow!

BUT before I sign off, it’s worth mentioning that like so many theological writers, Ridderbos does not often manage to express himself clearly or simply. Perhaps it’s the translator’s fault. But this is not an easy read. One is often carried along for the ride for a page or two without being quite sure where we are going or why. A little more effort in clarifying the structure of his thought would go a long way. As it is, the reader has to work hard, and things come clearer on a second reading. (in that way it’s a bit like reading Gunton, only without the massive rewards for your effort!) Although the ideas are mostly not that difficult, I wouldn’t recommend this book to general readers! If you’re making the attempt, a degree in theology or english lit would probably come in handy.


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