Muratorian fragment

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last page of the Canon Muratori, as published by Tregelles 1868 Canon Muratori.png
last page of the Canon Muratori, as published by Tregelles 1868

The Muratorian fragment, also known as the Muratorian Canon [1] (18:02) or Canon Muratori, is a copy of perhaps the oldest known list of most of the books of the New Testament. The fragment, consisting of 85 lines, is a 7th-century Latin manuscript bound in a 7th- or 8th-century codex from the library of Columbanus's monastery at Bobbio Abbey; it contains features suggesting it is a translation from a Greek original written about 170 or as late as the 4th century. Both the degraded condition of the manuscript and the poor Latin in which it was written have made it difficult to translate. The beginning of the fragment is missing, and it ends abruptly. The fragment consists of all that remains of a section of a list of all the works that were accepted as canonical by the churches known to its original compiler. It was discovered in the Ambrosian Library in Milan by Father Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672–1750), the most famous Italian historian of his generation, and published in 1740. [2]


The definitive formation of the New Testament canon did not occur until 367, when bishop Athanasius of Alexandria in his annual Easter letter composed the list that is still recognised today as the canon of 27 books. However, it would take several more centuries of debates until agreement on Athanasius' canon had been reached within all of Christendom. [1] (7:30)


Muratorian fragment is preserved in Milan, Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, Cod. J 101 sup. Muratorian Fragment.jpg
Muratorian fragment is preserved in Milan, Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, Cod. J 101 sup.

The text of the list itself is traditionally dated to about 170 because its author refers to Pius I, bishop of Rome (140—155), as recent:

But Hermas wrote The Shepherd "most recently in our time", in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the chair of the church of the city of Rome. And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the Prophets, whose number is complete, or among the Apostles, for it is after their time.

The document contains a list of the books of the New Testament, a similar list concerning the Old Testament having apparently preceded it. It is in barbarous Latin which has probably been translated from original Greek—the language prevailing in Christian Rome until c. 200. [3]

A few scholars [4] have also dated it as late as the 4th century, but their arguments have not won widespread acceptance in the scholarly community. For more detail, see the article in the Anchor Bible Dictionary . Bruce Metzger has advocated the traditional dating, [5] as has Charles E. Hill. [6]

The unidentified author accepts four Gospels, the last two of which are Luke and John, but the names of the first two at the beginning of the list are missing. Scholars find it highly likely that the missing two gospels are Matthew and Mark, although this remains uncertain. [1] (19:44) Also accepted by the author are the "Acts of all Apostles" and 13 of the Pauline Epistles (the Epistle to the Hebrews is not mentioned in the fragment). The author considers spurious the letters claiming to have Paul as author that are ostensibly addressed to the Laodiceans and to the Alexandrians. Of these he says they are "forged in Paul's name to [further] the heresy of Marcion."

Of the General epistles, the author accepts the Epistle of Jude and says that two epistles "bearing the name of John are counted in the catholic church"; 1 and 2 Peter and James are not mentioned in the fragment. It is clear that the author assumed that the author of the Gospel of John was the same as the author of the First Epistle of John, for in the middle of discussing the Gospel of John he says "what marvel then is it that John brings forward these several things so constantly in his epistles also, saying in his own person, "What we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears, and our hands have handled that have we written," (1 John 1:1) which is a quotation from the First Epistle of John. It is not clear whether the other epistle in question is 2 John or 3 John. Another indication that the author identified the Gospel writer John with two epistles bearing John's name is that when he specifically addresses the epistles of John, he writes, "the Epistle of Jude indeed, and the two belonging to the above mentioned John." In other words, he thinks that these letters were written by the John whom he has already discussed, namely John the gospel writer. He gives no indication that he considers the John of the Apocalypse to be a different John from the author of the Gospel of John.

Indeed, by calling the author of the Apocalypse of John the "predecessor" of Paul, who, he assumes, wrote to seven churches (Rev 2–3) before Paul wrote to seven churches [lines 48–50], [7] he most likely has in mind the gospel writer, since he assumes that the writer of the Gospel of John was an eyewitness disciple who knew Jesus, and thus preceded Paul who joined the church only a few years after Jesus' death (Acts 9).

In addition to receiving the Apocalypse of John into the church canon, the author remarks that they also receive the Apocalypse of Peter, although "some of us will not allow the latter to be read in church"[line 72]. [7] However, it is not certain whether this refers to the Greek Apocalypse of Peter or the quite different Coptic Apocalypse of Peter , the latter of which, unlike the former, was Gnostic. The author also includes the Book of Wisdom, "written by the friends of Solomon in his honour" [line 70] [7] in the canon.


BookMuratorian CanonPresent canon [8]
Gospel of Matthew Probably [9] Yes
Gospel of Mark Probably [9] Yes
Gospel of Luke YesYes
Gospel of John YesYes
Acts of the Apostles YesYes
Romans YesYes
1 Corinthians YesYes
2 Corinthians YesYes
Galatians YesYes
Ephesians YesYes
Philippians YesYes
Colossians YesYes
1 Thessalonians YesYes
2 Thessalonians YesYes
1 Timothy YesYes
2 Timothy YesYes
Titus YesYes
Philemon YesYes
Hebrews NoYes [10]
James NoYes [10]
1 Peter NoYes
2 Peter NoYes
1 John Probably [11] Yes
2 John Maybe [11] Yes
3 John Maybe [11] Yes
Jude YesYes [10]
Apocalypse of John YesYes [10]
Apocalypse of Peter [12] Yes [13] No
Wisdom of Solomon YesVaries by denomination [14]

Related Research Articles

Apocrypha Works of unknown authorship or of doubtful origin

Apocrypha are works, usually written, of unknown authorship or of doubtful origin. Biblical apocrypha are a set of texts included in the Latin Vulgate and Septuagint but not in the Hebrew Bible. While Catholic tradition considers some of these texts to be deuterocanonical, Protestants consider them apocryphal. Thus, Protestant bibles do not include the books within the Old Testament but have sometimes included them in a separate section, usually called the Apocrypha. Other non-canonical apocryphal texts are generally called pseudepigrapha, a term that means "false attribution".

Deuterocanonical books Books that Catholics and Orthodox accept as part of the canon, but which Protestants do not accept

The deuterocanonical books are books and passages considered by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Assyrian Church of the East to be canonical books of the Old Testament but which are considered non-canonical by Protestant denominations. They are thought to have been written sometime between 200 BC and 100 AD, and most are seen in copies of the Christian Greek Old Testament dating from the 4th century AD. While the New Testament never quotes from or ascribes canonical authority to these books, some say there is a correspondence of thought, while others see texts from these books being paraphrased, referred or alluded to many times in the New Testament, particularly in the Pauline Epistles depending in large measure on what is counted as a reference.

Epistle of Jude Book of the Bible

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Epistle to the Laodiceans Purported lost letter of the apostle Paul, mentioned in Colossians 4:16

The Epistle to the Laodiceans is a lost letter of Paul the Apostle, the original existence of which is inferred from an instruction to the congregation in Colossae to send their letter to the believing community in Laodicea, and likewise obtain a copy of the letter "from Laodicea".

And when this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read before the church at Laodicea, and that you yourselves read the letter which will be forwarded from there.

New Testament Second division of the Christian biblical canon

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Apocalypse of Peter

The Apocalypse of Peter is an early Christian text of the 2nd century and an example of apocalyptic literature with Hellenistic overtones. It is not in the Bible, but is mentioned in the Muratorian fragment, the oldest surviving list of New Testament books, which also states it was not allowed to be read in church by others. The text is extant in two incomplete versions of a lost Greek original, one Koine Greek, and an Ethiopic version, which diverge considerably. As compiled by William MacComber and others, the number of Ethiopic manuscripts of this same work continue to grow. The Ethiopic work is of colossal size and post-conciliar provenance, and therefore in any of its variations it has minimal intertextuality with the Apocalypse of Peter which is known in Greek texts.

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The New Testament apocrypha are a number of writings by early Christians that give accounts of Jesus and his teachings, the nature of God, or the teachings of his apostles and of their lives. Some of these writings have been cited as scripture by early Christians, but since the fifth century a widespread consensus has emerged limiting the New Testament to the 27 books of the modern canon. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches generally do not view these New Testament apocrypha as part of the Bible.

Third Epistle to the Corinthians

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First Epistle of Clement

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Nothing is known for certain of an alleged pseudepigraphical Epistle to the Alexandrians — purportedly by Paul the Apostle — that is mentioned in the Muratorian fragment, one of the earliest lists of the canonical texts of the New Testament. The anonymous author of the Muratorian canon considered spurious the letters claiming to have Paul as author, and that claim to be written to the Laodiceans and this one to the Alexandrians, which are specifically said to be "forged in Paul's name to [further] the heresy of Marcion."

The Canon of Trent is the list of books officially considered canonical at the Council of Trent. A decree, the De Canonicis Scripturis, from the Council's fourth session, issued an anathema on dissenters of the books affirmed in Trent. The Council confirmed an identical list already locally approved in 1442 by the Council of Florence, which had existed in the earliest canonical lists from the synods of Carthage and Rome in the fourth century.

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Development of the New Testament canon Development of the New Testament canon

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The Codex Floriacensis, designated by h in traditional system or by 55 in the Beuron system, is a 6th-century Latin manuscript of the New Testament. The text, written on vellum, is a palimpsest. Another name of the manuscript is Fleury Palimpsest or Palimpsestus Floriacensis. It is one of the eight Old-Latin manuscripts with text of Apocalypse.

The León Palimpsest, designated l or 67, is a 7th-century Latin manuscript pandect of the Christian Bible conserved in the cathedral of León, Spain. The text, written on vellum, is in a fragmentary condition. In some parts it represents the Old Latin version, while follows Jerome's Vulgate in others. The codex is a palimpsest. From its location in León, this palimpsest is sometimes referred to as the Codex Legionensis; but this name is more commonly applied to the 10th-century Vulgate Bible at the Basílica de San Isidoro, León. Nor should the León palimpsest be confused with another 10th-century pandect in León, of which the second volume is conserved in the cathedral archive and is number 193 in the Beuron system.


  1. 1 2 3 Bart D. Ehrman (2002). "21: Formation Of The New Testament Canon". Lost Christianities. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  2. Muratori, Antiquitates Italicae Medii Aevii (Milan 1740), vol. III, pp 809–80. Located within Dissertatio XLIII (cols. 807-80), entitled 'De Literarum Statu., neglectu, & cultura in Italia post Barbaros in eam invectos usque ad Anum Christii Millesimum Centesimum', at cols. 851-56.
  3. "MURATORI - Online Information article about MURATORI". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  4. Hahneman, Geoffrey Mark. The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon. (Oxford: Clarendon) 1992. Sundberg, Albert C., Jr. "Canon Muratori: A Fourth Century List" in Harvard Theological Review66 (1973): 1–41.
  5. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development (1997, Clarendon Press, Oxford),
  6. ""The Debate Over the Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon," Westminster Theological Journal 57:2 (Fall 1995)" (PDF). Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  7. 1 2 3 "The Muratorian Fragment". Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  8. The Assyrian Church of the East does not recognise the following books: 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Epistle of Jude, Apocalypse of John. Moreover, it rejects certain verses of books as non-canonical: Matthew 27:35(b), Luke 22:17-18, John 7:53, 8:1-11, Acts 8:37, 15:34 and 28:29, and 1 John 5:7.
  9. 1 2 The beginning of the Muratorian Canon is lost; the fragment that has survived, starts by naming Luke the third gospel and John the fourth. Historians therefore assume that the first two gospels would have been Matthew and Mark, although this remains uncertain.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Martin Luther doubted the canonicity of Hebrews, James, Jude and the Apocalypse of John. He showed this by the way in which he ordered them. However, he did incorporate the books in his canon, and all Lutheran communities have done so since.
  11. 1 2 3 The Muratorian fragment mentions two letters by John, but gives little clues as to which ones. Therefore, it is not known which of the three was excluded that would later be considered canonical. Bruce Metzger concluded that the Muratorian fragment cites 1 John 1:1-3 when it says: "What marvel is it then, if John so consistently mentions these particular points also in his Epistles, saying about himself, 'What we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears and our hands have handled, these things we have written to you?'". Bruce Metzger (translator). "The Muratorian fragment". Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  12. Possibly refers to the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, although the Apocalypse of Peter is more likely.
  13. With some reservation however: “though some amongst us will not have this latter read in the Church.”
  14. The Wisdom of Solomon is accepted as canonical by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches and also by the Assyrian Church of the East. Most Protestants consider it apocryphal.

Other sources

According to The Catholic Encyclopaedia, lines of the Muratorian fragment are preserved in "some other manuscripts", including codices of Paul's Epistles at the abbey of Monte Cassino.

Further reading