The Muratorian fragment, dated 170 A.D., affirms 22 out of 27 New Testament books

The Muratorian fragment / The Muratorian canon
The Muratorian fragment / The Muratorian canon (click for larger image)

I sometimes hear this odd objection that the books that were to be included in the Bible were not decided until the 4th century. I think it comes from some Hollywood movie, or maybe a TV show. Anyway, this post should help fix that myth.

I’m going to quote from New Testament expert Dr. Michael J. Kruger from his blog.

He writes:

One of the key data points in any discussion of canon is something called the Muratorian fragment (also known as the Muratorian canon).  This fragment, named after its discoverer Ludovico Antonio Muratori, contains our earliest list of the books in the New Testament.  While the fragment itself dates from the 7th or 8th century, the list it contains was originally written in Greek and dates back to the end of the second century (c.180).

[…]What is noteworthy for our purposes here is that the Muratorian fragment affirms 22 of the 27 books of the New Testament.  These include the four Gospels, Acts, all 13 epistles of Paul, Jude, 1 John, 2 John (and possibly 3rd John), and Revelation.  This means that at a remarkably early point (end of the second century), the central core of the New Testament canon was already established and in place.

Although there is still dispute about some books, that does not negate the fact that the main books we use (the gospels, Acts, the letters of Paul) are all considered to be canon by 180 A.D., much before any famous church councils ever happened. And those books were decided on because they were in widespread use and respected by everyone.

What about the books that were in dispute? Do they throw any core doctrines into doubt?

Second, if there was a core collection of New Testament books, then the theological trajectory of early Christianity had already been determined prior to the debates about the peripheral books being resolved.  So, regardless of the outcome of discussion over books like 2 Peter or James, Christianity’s core doctrines of the person of Christ, the work of Christ, the means of salvation, etc., were already in place and already established.  The acceptance or rejection of books like 2 Peter would not change that fact.

By the way, I’d actually heard that the date for this fragment was 170 A.D., so it might even be earlier than Dr. Krueger says.

I did search around a bit for something to break the tie between me and Krueger, because I couldn’t remember my source for the date. I found this book “Jesus, Gospel Tradition and Paul in the Context of Jewish and Greco-Roman Antiquity” by David E. Aune, and he writes on p. 22:

The four Gospels are also referred to in the Canon Muratorianus, a seventh or eighth century manuscript originally translated from Greek into a deponent form of Latin and widely regarded as having been produced ca. 170 CE. Though the beginning of this canonical list is fragmentary (though obviously referring to Mark), the first two clear references to New Testament books are to Luke and John (lines 2, 9): tertio euangelii librum secando Lucan guard evangeliorutn lohannis ex decipolis.” (“The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke … The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one) of the disciples”).

So, that’s why the date in the title of this post is 170 A.D., and not the later 180 A.D. he mentions. And that’s why there’s no reason to be skeptical that the Bible we have today is any different than the Bible that everybody in the early church had.

6 thoughts on “The Muratorian fragment, dated 170 A.D., affirms 22 out of 27 New Testament books”

  1. Interesting! Here is a partially authoritative lists of when the Biblical books were written:

    In their book, ‘Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss The Real Jesus And Mislead Popular Culture’, Komoszewski, Sawyer, & Wallace state that the early church fathers believed that the last 5 books, added, were never part of the ‘heretical, and therefore immediately in the rejected category’ and they were not in ‘immediately accepted or Recognized Books (homolegoumena) category as the 22 books’. The last 5 books were in a category of entitled ‘disputed (antilegomena) but still widely read and accepted by the early church.’

    However, did you know that there are many of the ‘heretical books’ of OT & NT still used by theologians, professors, and even pastors (even WLC uses at least a couple of ‘heretical books’ in at least one of his writings) as support for the authenticity of the Bible? Even in the current and previous translations of the Bible, ‘heretical books’ are utilized? Here are a partial list of the ‘heretical books of the Bible’:

  2. This doesn’t detract from your point here, but it’s not a myth that the canon wasn’t settled into the 4th century–see Eusebius’ church history (3.25), where he lists 2 Peter, 2-3 John, James, Jude, Revelation, and the ‘Gospel of the Hebrews’ as disputed books at that time (shortly before Nicea). Blessings.

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