The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How and When was the New Testament Canon Put Together?

Michael J. Kruger

Posted on

November 20, 2017

For the last few weeks, I have been posting a series of videos where Andreas Köstenberger and I discuss our response to Walter Bauer’s thesis on heresy and orthodoxy in early Christianity.

These discussions are based on our book, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Crossway, 2010).

The first week was an overview of Bauer and why we wrote the book (see here), and the second week was on the role of diversity in the NT books themselves (see here).

In this video below, we discuss an area very central to the Bauer thesis, namely the development of the NT canon.  Bauer argues that we have no reason to think the books in our NT are the “right” books because they are simply the books chosen by the theological winners.  And the winners get to determine the scope of the canon.

After all, argues Bauer, what if another early Christian group had prevailed?  What if the Gnostics had won?  Then we might have the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip in our Bibles instead of, say, Matthew and John.

This sort of narrative about the origins of the canon has been repeated countless times over the years, in both popular and academic literature.  But it runs into a significant problem:  the historical evidence suggests that there was a “core” canon of books well established in early Christianity by the middle of the second century.  And this is long before the purported theological debates had been settled.

Put differently, if early Christianity was as wildly diverse as Bauer claims, how could we possibly see a canon emerge this early?  Here’s the video:

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