Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Muratorian Canon from the late 100's A.D.

I have sometimes discussed the canon of Scripture with people who suppose that there was a mass of writings -- including all the so-called lost gospels and so forth -- which all shared an equal claim to being authoritative Christian writings, and were only separated several hundred years later on the basis of politics or the prejudices of the day, or by a fiat of church authority based on questionable interests. The early Christian writings paint a different picture, and in that picture a unique place is held by the Muratorian Canon.

The Muratorian Canon is an early list of writings accepted and received as Scripture by the Christian Church. (It is also called the Muratorian Fragment because it surives only in fragment, as with many ancient writings). This post will review the status of our current New Testament books as recorded in the Muratorian Canon. Later posts will continue with notes about a handful of other books which were mentioned in the Muratorian Canon as either accepted, rejected, or disputed.

When was the Muratorian Canon written?

While almost every early writing generates arguments about its date, the Muratorian Canon is helpful in mentioning recent occurrences, which provides strong guidance as to when it was written. It makes this comment on the early Christian writing Shepherd of Hermas:
But the Shepherd was written by Hermas in the city of Rome quite recently, in our own times, when his brother Pius occupied the bishop's chair in the city of Rome ...
Pius was bishop of Rome from about 140-155 A.D.; if this is "quite recently, in our own times" then the Muratorian Canon likely dates from 170 A.D. or slightly later. There are those who argue dates that are centuries later, but without widespread acceptance given the author's mention that 140-155 A.D. was "quite recently, in our own times".

Which Christian writings had already gained acceptance as Scripture?

Of the twenty-seven books in our current New Testament, all but a handful already had gained acceptance as Scripture by the late 100's A.D. when the Muratorian Canon was written. When mentioning books which were included, the fact that the list survives in fragment form comes into play. The surviving text begins:
The third book of the Gospel: according to Luke.
After commenting on Luke, it continues to name the fourth gospel as that according to John. As we've seen in previous posts, there are earlier Christian writings mentioning that the four gospels are those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, so it is reasonable enough to suppose that the original list began with Matthew and Mark.

Book of Current CanonIncluded in Muratorian Canon?
Matthew(beginning of document is missing)
Mark(beginning of document is missing)
1 CorinthiansX
2 CorinthiansX
1 ThessaloniansX
2 ThessaloniansX
1 TimothyX
2 TimothyX
1 Peter 
2 Peter 
1 JohnX
2 JohnX
3 John 

In further posts I intend to fill out a more complete picture of the Muratorian Canon, reviewing the other books which were mentioned for good or bad. From there I hopt to review other early lists of Scriptures to show to what extent these inclusions and omissions were typical for lists of Scripture in the early church.

1 comment:

SaintSimon said...

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