Rawlings School of Divinity
Doctor of Philosophy in Theology and Apologetics (PhD)
Canon, Muratorian, New Testament, Patristic, Early Christianity
History of Christianity | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion
Lingelbach, John F., "The Date of the Muratorian Fragment: An Inference to the Best Explanation" (2019). Doctoral Dissertations and Projects. 2202.
Three hundred years after its discovery, scholars find themselves unable to identify the more likely of the two hypotheses regarding the date of the Muratorian Fragment, whether it is a late second- to early third-century composition or a fourth-century composition. In light of the lingering problem of the Muratorian Fragment’s date and its significance, a new study has been conducted, and this dissertation features an exposition of that study’s conduct and findings. The study sought to break the impasse and identify the more likely of the two hypotheses regarding the date of the Fragment—that it is either a late second- to early third-century composition (the Early Hypothesis) or a fourth-century composition (the Late Hypothesis). This study found that, by making an inference to the best explanation, the Early Hypothesis is preferred. This methodology consisted of weighing the two hypotheses against five criteria: plausibility, explanatory scope, explanatory power, credibility, and simplicity. The Early Hypothesis surpassed the Late Hypothesis in every category. The problem of whether the Muratorian Fragment is a late second- to early third-century or a fourth-century composition warrants consideration because the elimination of one of the hypotheses will contribute to the resolution of other critical problems surrounding the document. Of arguably greater import, answering the question of the Fragment’s date would ultimately shed light on the residual effects of ancient orthodox theology’s interaction with heterodoxy upon the twenty-first century, effects possibly having a direct correlation with the authority Christianity ascribes to the texts which it currently includes in the New Testament. What makes this dissertation unique in its contribution to both theology and apologetics is the fact that it marks the first time the rigorous application of an objective methodology, known as “inference to the best explanation” (or IBE), has been applied to the problem of the Fragment’s date insofar as its findings have implications for Bibliology, and the demonstration of its methodology may serve as a template for the resolution of apologetic problems.