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The Muratorian Canon

The Muratorian Fragment is the oldest surviving New Testament canon list—that is a list of books believed to comprise the canonical New Testament—known to exist. The document is named after L. A. Muratori, the Italian scholar who discovered it in a library in Milan in the early eighteenth century. Written in ungrammatical Latin, the fragmentary text begins in mid-sentence by describing the production of an unnamed Gospel; since it continues by explicitly calling Luke the “third book of the Gospel” and John, then, the “fourth,” the list evidently began with Matthew and Mark. Twenty-two of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament canon are included here—all except Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, and 3 John. But the author also accepts as canonical the Wisdom of Solomon and the Apocalypse of Peter (see p. 280). The Shepherd of Hermas is accepted for reading but not as part of sacred Scripture for the church. The author explicitly rejects the Pauline Letters to Laodicea1 and to Alexandria as forgeries made by the followers of Marcion, indicating that they are not to be accepted by the church, since “it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey.”2 His list concludes by condemning forgeries made by various heretics, such as Valentinus, Basilides, Marcion, and the Montanists. The time and place of composition of the Muratorian Canon are in great dispute. But since the author shows a particular concern with the false teachings of heretical teachers who lived in the middle of the second century, and knows something of the family of bishop Pius of Rome (d. 154), many scholars think he was living in the latter half of the second century, possibly in Rome. If so, then this list shows that at that time, some proto-orthodox Christians were already accepting the core of what were later to be almost universally regarded as the books of the New Testament.

1

This is probably not the Letter to the Laodiceans that survives. See p. 165. Marcion, see Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 103–109.

2

On the views of

Translation by Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987) 305–7; used with permission.

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