The Debate Over the Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon -- By: C. E. Hill

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 057:2 (Fall 1995)
Article: The Debate Over the Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon
Author: C. E. Hill


The Debate Over the Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon*

C. E. Hill

* Geoffrey Mark Hahneman: The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon (Oxford Theological Monographs; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992. xvii, 237. $55.00). A shorter review of this work appeared in WTJ 56 (1994) 437-38.

In 1740 Lodovico Muratori published a list of NT books from a codex contained in the Ambrosian Library at Milan. The text printed was in badly transcribed Latin; most, though not all, later scholars have presumed a Greek original. Though the beginning of the document is missing, it is clear that the author described or listed the four Gospels, Acts, thirteen letters of Paul, two (or possibly three) letters of John, one of Jude and the book of Revelation. The omission of the rest of the Catholic Epistles, in particular 1 Peter and James, has sometimes been attributed to copyist error. The fragment also reports that the church accepts the Wisdom of Solomon while it is bound to exclude the Shepherd of Hermas. Scholars have traditionally assigned the Muratorian Fragment (MF) to the end of the second century or the beginning of the third. As such it has been important as providing the earliest known “canon” list, one that has the same “core” of writings which were later agreed upon by the whole church. Geoffrey Hahneman has now written a forceful book in an effort to dismantle this consensus by showing that “The Muratorian Fragment, if traditionally dated, is an extraordinary anomaly in the development of the Christian Bible on numerous counts” (p. 131), arguing instead for the placement of the MF alongside several fourth-century Eastern catalogues (canons) of the Christian Scriptures. The influence of Hahneman’s book is likely to be significant. R. M. Grant, familiar with the book in its dissertation form, has already signified his acceptance of its major conclusion.1

Before proceeding to examine the argument of the book, it should be noted that Hahneman’s study carries with it more than the simple desire to correct a historical misplacement. Hahneman’s deliberate aim is to advance the work on canon begun by Albert C. Sundberg, who is said to have shown that the Christian church received from Judaism not a closed OT canon but a “looser collection of sacred writings” (p. 1). According to Sundberg, the process of fixing even an OT canon in the church did not begin until the third century and was not completed until the fourth. It was this struggle to

define the OT canon which in turn became the major catalyst for the church also to firm up its own collection of authoritative Christian d...

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