Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Muratorian Canon (AD second century)

Here are some more notes from study of the canon of the NT:

The Muratorian Canon is perhaps the oldest extant record of an attempt to list the canonical books of the NT (find an English translation and the Latin text here).  The document gets its name from the Italian scholar L. A. Muratori who discovered the work in the library in Milan, Italy in the early eighteenth century.  The document is written in ungrammatical Latin and is fragmentary.  It begins with a description of Luke and John as the third and fourth Gospels, so we can assume the original also discussed Matthew and Mark.  The work is usually date to the second half of the second century and its provenance is thought to be Rome.  Here is a summary of the data in the fragment:
Accepted books
Questionable but accepted books
Not accepted but edifying books
Rejected and Heretical books
Apocalypse of Peter
Paul’s Epistle to the Laodiceans [Marcionite forgery]
2-3 John
Shepherd of Hermas
Paul’s Epistle to the Alexandrians [Marcionite forgery]

Writings of Arsinous
Apocalypse of John (Revelation)

Writings of Valentinus

Writings of Militiades
1-2 Corinthians

Marcionite Psalms

Writings of Basilides of the Cataphyrigians



1-2 Thessalonians




1-2 Timothy


1.  The Muratorian Canon shows there was generally an early recognition of most of the books we now consider part of the canonical New Testament.

2.  It affirms consensus on a fourfold Gospel:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

3.  It affirms the Pauline epistles but offers an alternative ordering of the books.

4.  It assumes Paul’s letters were written to seven churches (Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Galatia, Thessalonika, Rome), following the pattern of John’s letters to seven churches in Revelation chapters 2-3.

5.  It distinguishes Paul’s letters to churches from the letters to individuals.

6.  It affirms the authenticity of the Pastoral epistles (1-2 Timothy, Titus).

7.  It omits Hebrews, James, and 1-2 Peter altogether.  Note:  B. Ehrman in Lost Scriptures (Oxford, 2003) also lists 3 John as excluded in the canon (p. 331).

8.  It includes the book of Wisdom as likely acceptable.

9.  It makes a distinction between canonical books and books that are edifying and orthodox but not apostolic (e.g., The Shepherd of Hermes).

10.  It rejects heretical books and recognizes some of these works (Pseudo-Pauline epistles) as forgeries.  This attention to authenticity of authorship argues against any notion that early Christians would have accepted pseudonymous works.  Thus, it argues in favor of the fact that the early Christians accepted the authenticity of the purported authorship of the accepted NT books.


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