The Marcion Question: Introduction

Over the next several weeks, Pursuing Veritas will be examining the theology of Marcion of Sinope, especially his role in the formation of Christian Scripture, Authority, and Canon.

Marcion of SinopeMarcion of Sinope remains one of the most intriguing and polarizing figures in the discussion of Early Christianity.[1] Labeled everything from the true originator of the Christian canon to arch-heretic, the unique views of Marcion continue to foster scholarly analysis within the field of Early Christian and Ancient Mediterranean Studies. Marcion of stands apart as an example of an early Christian whose conception of God and authority were such that his beliefs placed him outside what were argued to be the acceptable boundaries of the youth church. Perhaps most intriguing was Marcion’s use of early Christian writings as authoritative and his collection of some of these writings into the first specifically Christian canon of writings. Understanding Marcion’s theology, as well as his role in the collection, use, and canonization of Christian writings, has long been the project of historians. In an attempt to understand Marcion’s conceptions of scripture, canon, and authority, this paper examines Marcion’s views from a number of perspectives, arguing that for Marcion the work and words of Jesus of Nazareth were understood to uniquely reveal the purposes of the supreme God of the universe in such a way that any hermeneutical position denigrating that uniqueness, be they writings or traditions, were argued to be unauthoritative for followers of Jesus.

Sacred ScriptureBefore turning to considerations of Marcion, it seems useful to define such important terms as ‘scripture,’ ‘tradition,’ ‘authority,’ and ‘canon.’ For the purposes of this series, references to ‘scripture’ should be taken to connote written texts viewed by at least some readers as authoritative, typically because of divine insight or authorship. The diversity of Christianities during this period should make it clear that references to ‘scripture’ do not necessarily indicate references to written works now included in the sacred collections of Judaism or the Christian church.[2] Use of the term ‘tradition’ should be understood as references to non-written materials circulating throughout the Christian communities of the Greco-Roman world. These non-written materials may include materials thought to be oral sayings traditions, rites or worship formulae, oral narrative accounts, or other faith influencing materials, either specifically Christian in origin or adopted by the Jesus Movement. References to ‘authority’ should be understood to connote use of materials in a manner determining, adjudicating, or otherwise controlling or commanding the actions and perceptions of the Christian community. That is to say that authoritative writings and traditions should be understood as those sources which members of the early Jesus Movement appealed to as their basis for influencing, allowing, or disallowing certain practices within the Christian community.


[1] Though discussion continues within the fields of historical and religious studies on how to best label the early followers of Jesus, for the purposes of this paper, use of the term “Christian” indicates those persons following Jesus of Nazareth in any historically meaningful way, regardless of how otherwise such persons may have historically identified themselves. As an example, the Apostle Paul of Tarsus, by admission of his claims to follow Christ, would be for the purposes of this paper labeled a Christian, though the historical Paul may well have understood his personal identify more in terms of Second Temple Judaism.

[2] See Bart D. Ehrman in Lost Scriptures (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2003.), The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford University Press: New York, 1993.), and Lost Christianities (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2003).


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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