I argued in my previous post that sometime between Justin, in Rome around 150-60, and Irenaeus in 185 the Gospels had begun to be known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In my opinion this did not happen earlier (if some of you are wondering about the witness of Papias, I’ll say something about him in a few later posts). In terms of his personal and ecclesiastical life, Irenaeus is best known as the bishop of Lyons in Gaul (i.e., the ancient forerunner of Lyon, France). But he spent significant time in Rome itself before his appointment in Gaul, and he considered the Roman church to be the center of Christendom at his time.
There is another witness to the fourfold Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John from Irenaeus’s time, and also from Rome. This comes to us in a fragmentary Latin text discovered in the 18th century and called the Muratorian Fragment. This document was discovered by an Italian scholar named Lodovico Antonio Muratori in the Ambrosiana Library (and so it is named after him). He published it in 1740, and it has been the source of scholarly fascination since. [As a side note: My first ever PhD seminar in my graduate program at Princeton Theological Seminary, in 1981, was taught by Bruce Metzger on the “Canon of the New Testament.” On the first day of class, Metzger handed out a photocopy of the Muratorian Fragment (in Latin, of course), and told us that our assignment for the following class was to translate it into English. This was not easy to do. The text is in truly *awful* Latin. The guy sitting next to me in class timidly raised his hand and asked what students were supposed to do if they didn’t know Latin. Metzger informed him that they taught Latin in evening school at the Princeton High School, and he suggested he go learn it there. And so the semester began!]
The Muratorian Fragment – that is, the manuscript itself — probably dates from the seventh or eighth century; it is called a “fragment” because it is incomplete: it starts in the middle of a sentence. It is a Latin translation of an original Greek composition. The matter is debated, but the majority of scholars continue to think that the text contained in the Muratorian Fragment was originally composed at the end of the second century – say, roughly around the time of Irenaeus – and that it came from Rome (based on some of the references in the text). (There have been scholars who have wanted to argue that it actually derives from the fourth century and from the East rather than the West, but that view is not generally held.)
The Fragment is a list …
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