The Bible Canon, the Muratorian Fragment and the WTBTS.

by Gill 31 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Gill

    I only recently stumbled across information on the Muratorian Fragment and was surprised to find an article on it in the Feb 15th Watchtower.


    'Every line seems to have been written specifically to arouse the curiosity of those who have an interest in primitive christian history.' That is how and ancient document was described. Can you imagine which document?

    It is one you may or may not have heard of - the Muratorian Fragment. In either case, you might wonder, 'What makes the Muratorian Fragment so special?' It is the oldest ixisting canon, or authoitative list of books, of the Christian Greek Scriptures.

    You might take it for granted that certain books belong in the Bible. Yet, would it surprise you to know that there was a time when some doubted which individual books should be included? The Muratorian Fragment, or canon, sets out a list of writings considered to be inspired. As you can understand, the exact content of the Bible is of immense importance. So, what did that document reveal regarding the books that now make up the Christian Greek Scriptures? Well, consider first a bit of the background about the document.


    The Muratorian Fragment is part of a manuscript codex of 76 parchment leaves, each measuring 27 by 17 centimeters. Ludovico Anotonio Muratori (1672 - 1750), a distinguished Italian historian, disvcovered it in the Ambrosian Library, Milan, Italy. Muratori published his find in 1740, this its name - Muratorian Fragment. It seems that the codex was produced int he eight centur in the ancient monastery of Bobbio, near Piacenza, northern Italy.It was moved to the Ambrosian Library at the beginning of the 17th century.

    The Muratorian Fragment consists of 85 lines of text found on leaves 10 and 11 of the codex. The text is in Latin, eveidently copied by a scribe who was not very careful. But some of his errors have been identified by comparing it with the same text included in four 11th and 12 century manuscripts.


    You might wonder, though, when the information in the Muratorian Fragment was originally written. It seems that the original was composed in Greek many centuries before the Fragment text, which is a Latin translation of the Greek. Here is a clue that helps in dating the original. The Fragment mentions a non-Biblical book, the Shepherd, and states that a man named Hermas wrote it 'very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome.' Scholars date the final writing of Hermas' Shepherd between 140 and 155 C.C. Thus, you can see why the Greek language original of the Latin Muratorian Fragment is dated to between 170 and 200 C.E.

    The direct and indirect references to Rome suggest that it could haveen composed in the city. But the identification of the author is debated. Clement of Alexandria, Melito of Sardis, and Polycrates of Ephesus have been suggested. Most scholars, however, point to Hipployturs, a prolific author who wrote in Greek and lived in Rome during the period in which the contents of the Muratorian Fragment were likely composed. While you might find that of passing interest, you probably want to know more about its contents that makes it so valuable.


    The text is not merely a list of the books of the Christian Greek Scriptures. It also comments on the books and their respective writers. If you read the text, you would see that the first lines of the manuscript are missing, and it also seems to end abruptly. It starts by mentioning the Gospel of Luke and the document states that the writes of this Bible book was a physician. (Colossians 4:14) It states that Luke's is the third Gospel so you can see that the missing initial part likely made reference to the Gopspels of Matthew and Mark.If that is your conclusion you would find support in the Muratorian Fragment, which says that the fourth Gospel is that of John.

    The Frament confirms that the book of Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke for the 'most excellent Theophilus'. Then it goes on to list the letters of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians(tw), to the Ephesians, to the Phillippians, to the Colossians, to the Galatians, to the Thessalonians (two), to the Topmans, to Philemon, to Titus, and to Timothy (two) The letter of Jude and two letters of John are also mentioned as inspired books. The apostle John's first letter was already alluded to, along with his Gospel. Apocalypse, or Revelation, concludes the list of the books considered inspired.

    It is significant that the Fragment mentions an Apocalyspe of Peter but states that some felt that it should not be read by christians. The writer warns that counterfeit writings were already circulating in his day. The Muratorian Fragment explains that these should not be accepted, 'for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey.' The document also mentions other texts that were not to be included among the holy writings. That was either because they were written after the apostolic perios, as was the 'Shepherd' of Hermas, or because they were written to support heresies.

    You may have observed from the fore-going that the letter to the Hebrews, Peter's two letter, and that of James are not mentioned in this catalog of authentic Bible books. However, noting the wormanship of the scribe hwo copied the manuscript, Dr. Geoffrey Mark Hahneman observed that it is 'reasonable to sugges that the Fragment may have contained other references now lost, and that James and Hebres and 1Peter may have been among them.' - The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon.

    The Muratorian Fragment thus confirms that most of the books now found in the Christian Greek Scriptures were already considered canonical in the second century C.E. Of course, the canonicity of the Bible books - that is, their right to be included in the divine library - does not depend on their being mentioned in a certain ancient list. What gives evidence that the Bible's books are the product of the holy spirit is their content. They all support the authorship of Jehovah Gopd and are in complete harmony. The harmony and balance of the 66 canonical books of the Bible testify to their unity and completeness. Thus, you do well to accept them for what they truthfully are, Jehovah's word of inspired truth, preserved uantil out day. 1Thess 2:12..

    I have a couple of problems with this article.

    The first is the total lack of mention of the Catholic Church and its role in deciding the Biblical Canon.

    The picutre in the mag of Ludovico Antonio Muratori, is that of a Catholic Priest and apart from the mention of the codex being produced in the eighth century in the ancient monastery of Bobbio, nothing else of Catholocism and its meetings to decide what to include in the NT, is mentioned.

    Another problem is that it assumes that Matthew and Mark are the two missing books, and makes nothing of the manuscript ending abruptly. Were there any other books? It also, despite nothing being missing in the middle assumes that Hebrews, James and 1 Peter are the books that must be included.

    I'm sure that those of you who know far, far more than I do about the Muratorian Fragment will be able to see far more discrepancies in this article than I can.

    I Also don't like the final sentence which insists that the Biblical canon must be correct.

    Any thoughts any one?


  • skyman

    I will diffently look more into this thanks

  • Narkissos
  • skyman

    What is of interest to me, if this thing is accurate it gives creditability to the Catholic Church because The Muratorian fragment tells us that Hermas was the brother of Pope Pius I who reigned about 150 AD (if reign is the right word that early on). The fragment itself refers to Clement who was pope in 100 AD. So if this is true we need to look at the date of the Catholic Church establishment. It had to be established before 100 AD. Making the Church establishment in the same century as the biblical Christ. If Peter established the Catholic Church which it appears he must have done because there is no mention of any Church power struggle in the 1centurty we must conclude the Catholic Church was established by Jesus Christ by means of Peter.

    If we are apostate JW's then the JW's are apostate Catholics the Church chosen by GOD.

    Some historians doubt the age of the Muratorian Fragment (200 AD) many think it was written much later as late as the 7th century because the historians only come up with the 2th century date by using the statement found within the book when it mentions; the book known as the Shepard of Hermans as the most recent book written the book is dated in the first half of the second century. With this statement they date the book to about the second century. Critics say this statement is not grounds for dating the book but more accurate dating methods should be used which give a much later date to the Muratorian Fragment.

  • Gill

    Narkissos - Thanks. I read that up when looking up info on the Fragment, but will have to find out more.

    Skyman - The Watchtower, gives no mention at all of the Catholic Church and its role in developing the modern day recognised Canon of the Bible. Reading between the Watchtower lines, the Canon seems to have developed all on its own, with no decisions on it made by any one .....least of all the Catholics.

  • Gill

    Also, was Muratori a Catholic Priest? From his picture in the Watchtower, he appears to be.

  • Leolaia
    It is significant that the Fragment mentions an Apocalyspe of Peter but states that some felt that it should not be read by christians. The writer warns that counterfeit writings were already circulating in his day. The Muratorian Fragment explains that these should not be accepted, 'for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey.' The document also mentions other texts that were not to be included among the holy writings. That was either because they were written after the apostolic period, as was the 'Shepherd' of Hermas, or because they were written to support heresies.

    Whoa. The Society here completely side steps the fact that the Muratorian Fragment did accept the Apocalypse of Peter and it misleadingly suggests that the Fragment classes this writing with the "gall mixed with honey":

    "There is current also [an epistle] to (64) the Laodiceans, [and] another to the Alexandrians, [both] forged in Paul's (65) name to [further] the heresy of Marcion, [6b] and several others (66) which cannot be received into the catholic Church (67)— for it is not fitting that gall be mixed with honey. (68) Moreover, the epistle of Jude and two of the above-mentioned (or, bearing the name of) John are counted (or, used) in the catholic [Church]; [7] and [the book of] Wisdom, (70) written by the friends [7a] of Solomon in his honour. (71) We receive only the apocalypses of John and Peter, (72) [7b] though some of us are not willing that the latter be read in church. (73) But Hermas wrote the Shepherd (74) very recently, [7c] in our times, in the city of Rome, (75) while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair (76) of the church of the city of Rome. [7d] (77) And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but (78) it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among (79) the Prophets, whose number is complete, [8] or among (80) the Apostles, for it is after [their] time."

    The text also makes clear that Wisdom of Solomon is accepted on the same level as 2, 3 John and Jude, but this fact the Society also omits. Also the Society gives a misleading impression about the Shepherd of Hermas, that it was not included "among the holy writings," what is clear from Fragment is that the Church had finer distinctions pertaining to canon ... which is also clear from the writings of the church fathers ... that there could be some works that were regarded as "scripture" or "inspired of God", but not authoritative or ecclesiastical. Thus the Shepherd was approved for reading, just not public authoritative reading in the church. Similarly with the Apocalypse of Peter, it was received and accepted by the Church, but some churches did not approve it for public reading (while others accepted it fully). Both works are to be distinguished from works that are rejected by the Church, such as the Marcionite epistles to the Laodicians and Alexandrians, and the writings of Valentinius and Basilides mentioned later.

  • Gill

    Leolaia - Thanks for that. I just KNEW there was more than a little 'fiddling with the finer facts' by the Society going on.

    I still find it fascinating that they cannot use the word 'Catholic' or 'Catholic Church'.

  • Narkissos

    It's just amazing that the WT can still offer such a biased presentation of a short text which is now so easy for anyone to read for him/herself.

    Btw, I think the adjective "Catholic" is somewhat misleading. The "Great Church" which defined itself as both "catholic" (i.e. "universal," as opposed to "particular" teachings and practices) and "orthodox" (reflecting the "correct doctrine") in the wake of the first crises (Gnostic and Marcionite) in the 2nd century is the common ancestor of the vast majority of Christian denominations and sects which splitted out later (including the JWs) -- not only, nor even primarily, the present Roman Catholic Church.

    So, yes, the (still pretty loose) Muratori "canon" reflects a late 2nd-century "catholic" stance in the wider sense (as shown by its rejection of Gnostic and Marcionite writings), but it is not yet the exact NT which was fixed by a later "catholic" generation two centuries. As for the NT canon JWs, like the rest of Protestantism, are clearly indebted to that later "catholic" tradition. As for the OT canon they depend on the 16th-century Protestant canon which follows the late 1st- / 2nd-century Pharisaic-Rabbinical canon.

  • Gill

    Narkissos - The Watchtower would never be able to admit that many books were 'lost' or 'abandoned' along the way because they did not fit in with the agenda of the Catholic/ or Great Church. It would naturally raise curiosity of what these other books might say that didn't suit that agenda. After all, the Catholic / Great Church is 'totally wrong' in the eyes of the Watchtower, so perhaps the books it chose to discard may be of interest to an inquisitive JW.

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