The Muratorian Fragment on the New Testament Canon

I have been reading through the Christian Theology Reader.  Over the past week or so, I have not really found any thing that stirred me. I am not sure if it was the lack of energy on my part or the theological depth of the text.  There is a whole spectrum of expressions, ranging from ontological arguments (which we covered) to the background of theology, including the metaphor of God as our mother.

I did find something that fascinated me though. It is the Muratorian Fragment on the New Testament Canon.  It is not as fancy as it sounds. Essentially, this is a piece of work documenting the canonization of the scripture. It is called the Muratorian Fragment because it was discovered by L. A. Muratori in 1740 AD.  An internal examination of the work dates itself around 190 AD. Here’s an excerpt from the fragment:

The third book of the gospel is according to Luke. This Luke was a physician who Paul had taken after the ascension of Christ to be a legal expert. Yet he had not seen the Lord in the flesh. So, as far as he could, he begins his story with the birth of John. The fourth of the gospels was written by John from the Decapolis, one of the disciples…

Matthew and Mark are omitted, but this is because the opening lines of the work are missing. However, Hebrews, James and both letters of Peter are also missing. And even more interesting is that this author notes a contemporary at the time of the writing, The Shepherd of Hermas.

But “the Shepherd” was written by Hermas in our times in the city of Rome, while his brother Pius was sitting in the chair of the church of the city of Rome. Therefore it ought to be read, but should not be read in public to the people of the church, since it is not among the complete number of prophets nor apostles to the end of time.

The fascinating part to me is that it gives us insight into how the early Christians thought about the different texts selected in the piecing together of the scriptures.  It is almost like picking up someone’s personal diary from the second century and reading their general musings about what should be considered scripture.