Monday, September 13, 2010

The Heresy Of Orthodoxy

I recently finished reading The Heresy Of Orthodoxy (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010) by Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger. It's about unity and diversity in early Christianity, such as the claim that we have no way of validating orthodox Christianity against its heretical competitors in the early centuries of church history. It's largely a response to critics of Christianity like Walter Bauer and Bart Ehrman. The book has been widely recommended, and I want to add my own recommendation. I disagree with some parts of it, but it gets so many things right. It makes a lot of significant points that aren't often made about early Christian unity, the New Testament canon, textual transmission, and other issues. I highly recommend it.


  1. Jason,

    I'd be interested to know your points of disagreement sometime.

  2. Yes, please give a more detailed synopsis if you can. I bought the book last week and haven't had a chance to get into it yet, (still trying to finish up 'Van Til's Apologetic' as edited by Greg Bahnsen), but would like to hear more of what you agree or disagree with in 'The Heresy of Orothodoxy'.

  3. I don't have any fundamental disagreements with the book. I disagree with it on some lesser issues.

    For example, I think their definition of the canonical criterion of apostolicity (pp. 117, 174-175) is at least ambiguous. More likely, it's wrong. They start off well on p. 117 by referring to the apostles' having "presided over" the production of literature by individuals who weren't apostles. But, later in the same paragraph, they seem to repeat the common claim that apostolicity is about timing, whether a document "derives from the foundational apostolic era". The next sentence even says that apostolicity is about "when" rather than "who". Later, they refer to "books from the apostolic time period" (pp. 174-175). I've explained elsewhere why I think apostolicity is about apostolic approval rather than the timing of the apostolic era. I've seen people object to the definition of apostolicity put forward by Kostenberger and Kruger for reasons like the ones I've mentioned in the article linked above. It's not just a theoretical problem. It does come up sometimes in discussions about the canon. Roman Catholics raise the issue, for example. In my experience, Evangelicals, including scholars, generally aren't careful enough in defining apostolicity.

    I was glad to see the book argue that the twenty-seven-book New Testament canon appears in Origen more than a century before it appears in Athanasius (pp. 172-173). Few people make that point, even though it's so significant. Unfortunately, Kostenberger and Kruger don't offer much of an argument for their conclusion on the issue, and they make some misstatements along the way. There are some ambiguities in the passage in Origen, which I've addressed here, but Kostenberger and Kruger don't directly address those issues, and the primary source they cite (Bruce Metzger) doesn't say much. They also cite Lee McDonald regarding whether Origen's text has been altered. I haven't read that work of McDonald, but they only cite one page from it. McDonald surely didn't directly address the issue sufficiently on that one page. Maybe he cites sources there who do address it in sufficient depth, but I'm skeptical of the value of McDonald's evaluation based on his material that I have read. In a later book, McDonald argues against the authenticity of the Origen passage (The Biblical Canon [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007], pp. 306-308), and I found his argument there unconvincing. I doubt that the one page Kostenberger and Kruger cite from his earlier book would add much to a consideration of the issue. See my article linked earlier in this paragraph, in which I defend the authenticity of the Origen passage, address its ambiguities, and cite other lines of evidence for the acceptance of the twenty-seven-book canon prior to Athanasius' list. Kostenberger and Kruger give an insufficient defense of the passage, and they don't mention the other pre-Athanasius arguments I've discussed. They also place Origen's canon in "the early third century" (p. 172), even though the passage was written around the middle of the century.

    (continued below)

  4. (continued from above)

    Though Kostenberger and Kruger's treatment of the New Testament canon is generally good and among the best I've seen, they neglect a lot of the points I made in my series on the canon last year. For example, given that their book is so much about orthodox Christianity's competition with heresy, I was disappointed that they said so little about heretical and other non-Christian corroboration of orthodox Christianity, including the canon. They do address it somewhat, but they could have said a lot more. Names like Trypho, Porphyry, and Julian the Apostate are absent from the subject index, and they have little to say about Celsus.

    Concerning issues of textual transmission, I made seven points on the subject in the comments section of a recent thread, and there are four of those points that I don't remember seeing made in Kostenberger and Kruger's book (the first two and last two points). Maybe they do use one or more of those arguments in their book, and I overlooked it or have forgotten about it. But I don't think so. If they did use any of those arguments, they didn't use them as clearly or as emphatically as I think they should have. As with so many other discussions of textual transmission, not enough was said about the evidence for the reliability of the transmission in its earliest stages, prior to the manuscripts of the second century and beyond. I addressed those earliest stages in a three-part series last year: here, here, and here.

    I thought there was too much appeal to the possibility that traditional Christian positions are correct (Paul's authorship of the pastorals, Peter's authorship of 2 Peter, etc.) without being forceful enough about the problems with the alternatives. The book is too defensive at some points.

    (continued below)

  5. (continued from above)

    I also thought they should have used more examples from other contexts to illustrate their arguments. They did it well on some of the textual issues when they contrasted the manuscript evidence for the New Testament and the manuscript evidence for some extra-Biblical literature. I wanted to see more of that. They should have given more examples of how their arguments for orthodox Christianity are accepted by critics when those arguments are applied to other subjects. Instead, they stayed in the theoretical realm too much, without giving illustrations of how Christianity's critics often already accept pro-Christian arguments in other contexts. For instance, why not cite examples of how people, including critics of Christianity, often harmonize extra-Biblical sources more than critics are willing to harmonize the New Testament documents? James White did that well in his debate with Robert Price this past May, when he cited differences between some of the books Price has written and pointed out what would happen if we would apply the same sort of reasoning to those books that Price applies to the Bible. Like I said above, Kostenberger and Kruger are too defensive at times. Some of their good arguments, on issues like harmonization and Biblical authorship, should have been presented less defensively and more persuasively.

    I'll stop here. I don't want to leave anybody with the impression that the book is worse than it is. As I said above, I highly recommend the book. Even where it can be criticized, it's not as far off the mark as most other treatments of these subjects that I've seen. It gets so many things right, addresses such a large number of topics, and gives the reader so much information and so many other sources to consult. I expect it to be on a lot of lists of the best books of the year.

  6. By the way, a few years ago I wrote a review of a book by Craig Allert, and I said that I hoped others would interact with Allert's claims as well. I was pleased to see Kostenberger and Kruger do that in their book. In fact, they criticize some of Allert's dubious claims on multiple issues.

  7. Thanks. Could you suggest some material on Peter's authorship of 2 Peter?

    Also, I tried asking this in a relevant thread last week (I think) by Patrick Chan, but the comment wouldn't post. So I'm going to try again here, even though it's not related:

    In reading Augustine's City of God, I came across this passage:

    "For in his [Porphyry's] book called [ek logion philosophias], in which he collects and comments upon the responses which he pretends were uttered by the gods concerning divine things, he says--I give his own words as they have been translated from the Greek: 'To one who inquired what god he should propitiate in order to recall his wife from Christianity, Apollo replied in the following verses.' Then the following words are given as those of Apollo: 'You will probably find it easier to write lasting characters on the water, or lightly fly like a bird through the air, than to restore right feeling in your impious wife once she has polluted herself. Let her remain as she pleases in her foolish deception, and sing false laments to her dead God, who was condemned by right-minded judges, and perished ignominiously by a violent death.'" (19.23.1).

    Now, my question is this: could someone with more historical acumen than me tell me whether this passage might have any weight in a list of early persons (Porphyry being c. 245 I suppose) who attest to Jesus' existence? I'm thinking along the lines of the Julius Africanus reference.

  8. "In my experience, Evangelicals, including scholars, generally aren't careful enough in defining apostolicity."

    "As with so many other discussions of textual transmission, not enough was said about the evidence for the reliability of the transmission in its earliest stages, prior to the manuscripts of the second century and beyond."

    Well noted. Thank you for taking the time to lay out your constructive criticisms. Your notes and points will make my reading of the book that much more fruitful.

  9. I sent Michael Kruger an email about some of my disagreements with the book (Origen's canon and apostolicity), and he replied. It seems that I don't disagree with him as much as I initially thought. He said that they didn't write more about Origen's canon because of space constraints. And he agrees with me that apostolicity includes apostolic approval of a book. I would have given more space to Origen's canon, and I wouldn't have given such prominence to the timing aspect of apostolicity while not saying more about other aspects of it. But our disagreements seem to be more about emphasis than about the concepts involved.

  10. Could you recommend some resources on Peter's authorship of 2 Peter?

  11. Jonathan,

    Origen is such a significant historical witness in so many contexts, and that's especially true with regard to 2 Peter, since earlier sources say much less about the book. My article about Origen's canon addresses some disputed passages in which Origen discusses 2 Peter. Even where he doesn't comment on its authorship directly, he's doing so indirectly when he affirms the book's canonicity. The early Christians wouldn't have considered 2 Peter canonical if they didn't think Peter wrote it.

    And that brings up another point. Some general principles that are applicable to the authorship of other books are applicable to 2 Peter as well. You could consult the posts in our archives about issues like pseudonymity, the general trustworthiness of the ancient Christians, their moral character, their alleged gullibility, the inconsistencies of critics, etc. An example that's particularly relevant here is the issue of just how much weight we should assign to internal evidence.

    Thomas Schreiner's commentary on the Petrine epistles and Jude (1, 2 Peter, Jude [Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003]) has some good material on the authorship of 2 Peter. Michael Kruger wrote an article on the subject that you can read here. See the 2 Peter commentaries and New Testament introductions that Steve Hays recommends here and here. Glenn Miller wrote a two-part series on the authorship of the Petrine epistles. You can read the first part, and get a link to the second part, here.

  12. E. E. Ellis, The Making of the New Testament Documents, has an excellent analysis of 2 Peter (among other things of value in that work).

    It's been reissued in paperback.

  13. Jonathan, I addressed your question about Porphyry in another thread.

  14. Thanks. As you've directed me to the archives I'll take a minute to complain about the archives.

    When you do a search at the top left hand corner of the homepage it only brings up enough posts to fit on a single page. So, for example, if one page can hold 10 posts, but you've done 15 posts on a particular subject, it will leave out 5 posts and I don't see anyway to find them, unless the searcher can think of something really specific from the post, which is unlikely.

    For example, a few weeks ago I was looking for Paul Manata's interchange with an atheist (I forget who) on abortion. But since the post was from a few years ago, there was no way for me to reach it by searching for "abortion" or clicking on the "abortion" tag.

    Any way to fix this or just tough luck?

    And thanks for answering my Porphyry questions. I must have tried to post that about 4 or 5 times and each time it wouldn't appear, even though I waited several hours or sometimes a day.

  15. I'm no expert, but you're not limited to the search box. You can also do a standard google search using "Triablogue" and another search term to pull up some of our posts on the desired subject.

  16. Just a quick note or two in passing:

    * I hope others can weigh in and explain the situation better than I can. Perhaps even offer a solution.

    * At least as I understand though this is primarily an issue with Blogger. Google has been trying to fix it for a long time now. I haven't had the time to look into it myself, but I don't think there's been any resolution to the problem. See here for example.

    * It might be best to use Google to search for stuff here on Tblog (assuming Google is archiving all posts, which I'm not clear on whether they are or aren't). I know, it's strange how (it seems) we can use Google to search for stuff on Blogger better than we can use Blogger itself even though Google runs Blogger! So, in addition to what Steve said, you could go to Google and type "" (without the quotation marks) and follow it with whatever key term(s) you're interested in searching for. That way it searches for stuff on Tblog.

  17. I just saw this. Apparently the issue isn't resolved.

    The advice given is what I said above as well. It's a stopgap until Google fixes the problem. But it's already been a while and I don't see any recent updates.

    Well, given that Blogger is free, I guess you get what you pay for.

    But again maybe someone else knows something else or, better yet, has a solution for this problem?