Towards Understanding Revelation


Good day to you!

Let’s get into this today by looking at a quote from an early document called THE MURATORIAN FRAGMENT. This is the earliest list of what was considered the “New Testament”, and they think the books on this list were circulated with a probably abridged version of the “Old Testament”; some think that the fragment may have been from a kind of monastic handbook on the Bible. The author is unknown, though there are a lot of guesses, including Papias, Polycrates of Ephesus, Clement of Aexandria, Melito of Sardis, and Hippolytus.

The fragment was discovered by Ludovico Antonio Muratori in a manuscript in the Ambrosian Library in Milan in 1700. It consisted of 76 leaves of coarse parchment, and has 85 lines. It’s considered a fragment because the beginning, and probably the ending, are missing. Muratori published the fragment in 1740 within a six-volume series of essays. There are excerpts from the fragment found in several manuscripts containing the Corpus Paulinum, from a Benedictine monastery on Monte Casino in Italy dated in the 11th and 12th century, as well as a published version of the Corpus in 1897. Apparently the Latin of the fragment found by Muratori is very bad (and was believed to have been translated from Greek), but the versions quoted in the Corpus Paulinum manuscripts had much better Latin, so it’s believed that the monks used a different copy of the fragment (perhaps the whole document?) to take their quotes from.

The earliest date I’ve seen applied to the fragment is around 150 A.D., but there is a lot of controversy about just when it was written. Most of the information I’m giving here comes from an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society from 2014, entitled THE MURATORIAN FRAGMENT: THE STATE OF RESEARCH, by Eckhard J. Schnabel found at: . In this article the author goes into extreme depth regarding all the arguments about when this was written. Basically, mid-2nd century to late 4th century is the time span, depending on who you believe. I’m leaning towards the earlier dates of 170-200 A.D.

The books are listed in a narrative format, and they are: The Gospel of Luke, The Gospel of John, John’s Epistles, The Acts of the Apostles, The Epistles of Paul (specifically: Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, Thessalonians, and Romans, noting that he wrote twice to the Corinthians and Thessalonians), The Apocalypse of John, Paul’s letters to Philemon, Titus, and 2 letters to Timothy. It is noted that an Epistle to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians were circulating but that they were forged under the name of Paul to spread heresy. Next it’s noted that the Epistle of Jude and the 2 Epistles of John mentioned earlier are used in the “catholic Church”, along with the book of Wisdom. The apocalypse of Peter is mentioned, but that some will not read it in church. Interestingly, the Gospels of Mark and Matthew are not mentioned, but Luke is referred to as the “third book of the Gospel”, and John as “the fourth”.

I first want to quote the part about the writing of John’s Gospel, just because it is so fascinating:
The fourth Gospel is that of John, (one) of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him (to write), he said, ‘Fast with me from today for three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us tell it to one another.’ In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, (one of the apostles), that John should write down all things in his own name while all of them should review it. And so, though various elements may be taught in the individual books of the Gospels, nevertheless this makes no difference to the faith of believers, since by the one sovereign Spirit all things have been declared in all (the Gospels): concerning the nativity, concerning the passion, concerning the resurrection, concerning the life with his disciples, and concerning his twofold coming; the first in lowliness when he was despised, which has taken place, the second glorious in royal power, which is still in the future. 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 you’? For in this way he professes (himself) to be not only an eye-witness and hearer, but also a writer of all the marvelous deeds of the Lord, in their order.”

Here is the quote from the portion of the fragment about the Apocalypse of John:
…yet it is clearly recognizable that there is one Church spread throughout the whole extent of the earth. For John also in the Apocalypse, though he writes to seven churches, nevertheless speaks to all…We receive only the apocalypses of John and Peter, though some of us are not willing that the latter be read in church.”

We can see that the idea that the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor speak also to the church as a whole is an old one. We will explore that in great depth when we get there!

This fragment has brought so many thoughts to my mind. Although we are taught that the canon of the New Testament was not finalized until the Council of Laodicea in 363 A.D., certainly the new Church was using readings from sources that they had and were determining what was valid and what was not. We don’t often think about how the churches were getting those books and if they were even thinking in terms of a canon or of scripture. This fragment shows that they were definitely thinking of these books as a New Testament.

The piece about John writing his Gospel just bowls me over. It’s like finding another little piece of scripture. This story came from a much earlier time according to one source, but I’m not sure how early. And, how nice to hear from Andrew after the Resurrection!

And back to the Revelation: it is clear from the fragment that The Apocalypse was an accepted part of scripture early on, in the West at least. In the East it was rejected as part of the canon pretty early, and this is one of the proofs that the fragment came from the West and not from the East. There is also no doubt that it was the Apostle John that was being referred to; we will see that come under attack as time goes on.

That’s it for today. I could just keep going, but I should get this posted! Take care, and I pray for your well-being. k

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