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Canon Muratorianus: The Earliest Catalogue of the Books of the New Testament

Everyone thinks presuppositionally whether they realize it or not. That is, we assume things without evidence before we build a logical train of thought in an attempt to prove other things. Thus an argument and its conclusion may be completely sound based on the premise. But if your premise is false, your conclusion, however sound the reasoning, may be false also.

If you realize this, then you are more likely to be aware of the limitations of your belief system or epistemology. All thinking and logic is ultimately circular. We can know nothing to be true if we cannot latch on to at least one true presupposition without evidence.

If you are epistemologically self-conscious of this stark reality, then you are more likely to be consistent and rigorously logical. You simply accept as a moot point that we each must return to an unprovable premise as a given truth.

I have never debated a “New Atheist” who has understood any of this. Instead, they assume that their “logical conclusions” serve to support their presuppositions and vice versa. Ironically, they claim biblical faith is circular reasoning. But theirs is also a faith that is as blind as any crackpot religion.

If you believe in a God of some type, then you believe that supernatural events are at least possible. Then the question becomes not whether the biblical accounts are possible or even plausible (they certainly are if God exists) but rather whether they likely and reliable given the evidence we have.

If say you don’t believe in God, I will simply reject your presupposition. I will ignore the ridicule you heap on the records of miracles and the supernatural events of the Bible except to point out where your logic is faulty and your presuppositions are fabricated out of thin air. However, I can still dialog with an atheist as to the reliability of the New Testament as a body of literature. This can be shown to be more rock solid than any work from ancient times.

Christianity is a religion that claims to be based on historical fact. Other religions, such as Eastern monism, polytheism and animism are based on allegory. And what’s more, they know it. The reason I accept the historical basis of the life and ministry Jesus and the Apostles as recorded in the New Testament is that the canonicity of these books has a strong pedigree.

Canon Muratorianus: The Earliest Catalogue of the Books of the New Testament was written by S.P. Tregelles, another in a long line of critics in history who was converted to Christ through an honest examination of the evidence. The book is a series of short papers concerning the Muratorian fragment, written by a well-known scholar of the 1800s, who was one of the first people to reexamine the manuscript after it was published (with errors) over 100 years prior to his research. The author writes of his study to correct the errors in the research up to that point and gives us several chapters on the significance of the Muratorian Canon in establishing the canonicity of each New Testament book.

It has been known since the beginning of Christianity, that the canon as we know it today has a pedigree. That is, we have a record in each generation not only of the authors, but also the occasion of the writing. In addition to this testimony of the church fathers (Clement, Polycarp, Ignatius, Papias, the Didache) from the late first century onward, we have this smoking gun from the mid-second century. Whenever I run into people who think that the books of the Bible were “voted on” by a church council many centuries after they were written – either because they read The Da Vinci Code, Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, heard Elaine Pagels, or saw shows about “The Missing Books of the Bible” on A&E – I point them to the so-called Muratorian Canon.

Although not meant to be a canonical list, it shows that the New Testament we have today matches the “Bible” of the second century. The fragment is also useful in dating the writing of John to the pre-70 AD apostolic age when the Apocalypse of John is said to be written by the “predecessor” of Paul, who wrote to seven churches (Rev 2-3) before Paul wrote to seven churches.

Misnamed the Muratorian Canon, the work is fragment of three pages, likely part of a longer homily that was preserved in rough Latin. The purpose of the sermon was to comment (in some unknown context since only this middle section was preserved by some scribe in the 7th or 8th century) on which books were read in the churches in the mid-second century.

Canon Muratorianus: The Earliest Catalogue of the Books of the New Testament by S.P. Tregelles is short and quite readable. It contains a three page facsimile of the manuscript as well as a Latin transcription and a line by line rendering of the translation with commentary.

Although it contains quite a few quotations in Greek, Latin and German, even if you don’t know a word of those languages, you can read the analysis chapters in which the author shows that each of these books were certainly thought to be canonical by the church fathers as early as the end of the first century. The author also deals quite convincingly with the books the Muratorian fragment does not mention, Hebrews, James, 3 John and 1 and 2 Peter.

Suffice it to say that this is a short yet scholarly antidote to the “many Gospels” and “many Christianities” hypothesis of Elaine Pagels, Dan Brown, the Jesus Seminar and their ilk. The author correctly states in a warm evangelical tone in his introduction:

Accuracy of statement of all points of Christian evidence is of no small importance, if we wish to rise from a mere general and indefinite notion to a clear and distinct apprehension of facts. And as Christianity is a religion based on facts, we have to inquire on what grounds we receive the documents in which such facts are transmitted; for thus we shall know how to meet those who would throw distrust or suggest doubt as to this branch of Christian evidence. It behoves us to know how, from the Apostolic age and onward, there never has been a time in which the historic records of our religion have not been received, held fast, and publicly used; so that all along there have been the same records as to the facts of our Lord’s incarnation, His death on the cross as the vicarious sacrifice appointed by God the Father, His resurrection, ascension, the mission of the Holy Ghost, and the preaching by the Apostles of our Lord of the doctrine of repentance and remission of sins in His name, in obedience to His command.

Comments

Your comments are welcome!

Nice review, and nice bit of reasoning at the top.

Posted by Dave Kinsella on 02/22/2012 11:16 AM #

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