The Marcion Problem: Tertullian (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
Tertullian of Cathage
Tertullian of Cathage

In comparison to all other extant ancient works, the writings of Tertullian of Carthage against Marcion remain the fullest and most precise rejection of Marcion’s theology. Tertullian composed as least six works against Marcion, including his Prescription against Heresies and Five Books against Marcion which are extant today.[37] In the Prescription against Heretics, Tertullian made a number of accusations concern Marcion’s use of scripture, canon, and authority, perhaps the most clear being that Marcion had induced a schism within Catholic church authority.[38] Writing somewhat generally, Tertullian wrote that Marcion introduced new material to the Christian faith,[39] formed a theology based on philosophical thought that moved beyond the teachings of Christ and the ‘rule of faith,’[40] twisted and distorted Christian scriptures,[41] and had moved Christian faith away from its Jewish and apostolic roots to a new theology.[42]

In his Five Books against Marcion, Tertullian shifted from the broad rejection of Marcion’s teaching to a specific engagement with his perspectives. For our purposes in considering Marcion’s views on scripture, canon, and authority, the contents of Books One, Three, Four, and Five are worthy of consideration. In Book One, Tertullian was greatly concerned with Marcion’s doctrine of two gods, each of whom had communicated with humanity through a set of writings.[43] Tertullian noted Marcion’s authoritative use of materials from the Gospel According to Luke and the writings of Paul,[44] as well as his apparent sacramental knowledge of baptism.[45] Of special importance is Tertullian’s writing that infers Marcion’s use of the Jewish writings of Isaiah and the Psalms in his arguments concerning the demiurge.[46] Here too Tertullian indicated Marcion’s philosophical and extra-Christian interests, namely his use of Greek philosophical concepts and connections with astrology.[47] Of greatest importance for our purposes is Tertullian’s writing on Marcion’s use of written materials, demonstrating his use of scriptural materials as authoritative sources for doctrine and practice.[48] In Book Three, Tertullian notes that Marcion rejected the prophecies in the Jewish Scriptures as pointing to Christ,[49] rejected Christ’s human existence along with Luke’s birth narrative,[50] and may in fact have denied the physical death and resurrection of Jesus.[51] Tertullian also writes of Marcion’s adoption of Jesus’ saying involving the undesirability of new wine being poured into old wineskins, a reference now found in each of the Synoptic Gospels.[52]

CarthagoIn the fourth of his Five Books against Marcion, Tertullian examined Marcion’s writings in his Antitheses and redacted Gospel of Luke. He notes that Marcion’s Antithesis included explanations for his understanding of two deities and the need for such strong division of old from new.[53] He further wrote of Marcion’s redaction of Luke’s Gospel and his censure of all written materials ascribed to Peter, James, and John.[54] The portion of Marcion’s edition of Luke that Tertullian was primarily interested in appears to be his spiritualizing redaction of Christ’s teaching narratives, especially those which were post resurrection in the gospel.[55] As his final task Tertullian took up Marcion’s use of Pauline literature. Here he noted that Marcion edited several letters ascribed to Paul and rejected others.[56] Galatians appears to have been one of Marcion’s primary source texts, as Tertullian notes its place of prominence in the Marcionite canon and his strong redaction of material, apparently including almost a chapter in length.[57] Throughout the duration of this work Tertullian examined each of the edited Pauline works in Marcion’s canon, including the First Epistle to the Corinthians,[58] the Second Epistle to the Corinthians,[59] the Epistle to the Romans,[60] the First Epistle to the Thessalonians,[61] the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians,[62] the Epistle to the Laodicians,[63] the Epistle to the Colossians,[64] the Epistle to the Philippians,[65] and the unedited Epistle to Philemon.[66] Missing of course from the current canonical list of are the Pastorals, which Tertullian argued had been rejected by Marcion.[67]


[37] The Anti-Marcion Writings of Tertullian. [38] Tertullian Prescription, V. [39] Ibid., VI, XXIX, XXX, XXXIII. [40] Ibid., VII, X, XIX, XXX. [41] Ibid., XV, XVII, XXXVII, XXXVIII; though he here does not specifically define what materials constitute “Christian” scriptures. [42] Ibid., XXI, XXX, XXXII, XXXVIII, XXXIV. [43] Tertullian Five Books Against Marcion, 1.2; 1.13-14. [44] Ibid., 1.2; 1.15; 1.19. [45] Ibid., 129. [46] Ibid., 1.2; 1.7; 1.19. Reference to Isaiah appears to use of language and concepts from Isaiah 45.7. [47] Ibid., 1.18; 1.23. [48] Ibid., 1.29. [49] Ibid., 3.4; 3.19. [50] Ibid., 3.8; 3.11. [51] Ibid., 3.8. [52] Ibid., 3.15; See Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:37-39. [53] Ibid., 4.1. [54] Ibid., 4.2-4. [55] Ibid., 4.7; 4.29; 4.43. [56] Ibid., 5.1. [57] Ibid., 5.2, 4. The chapter redaction that Tertullian alludes to appears to have been from Galatians 3:15 to 4:3. [58] Ibid., 5.5. [59] Ibid., 5.11. [60] Ibid., 5.13. [61] Ibid., 5.15. [62] Ibid., 5.16. [63] Ibid., 5.17. Tertullian argues that this was actually the Epistle to the Ephesians, though under a different name. [64] Ibid., 5.19. [65] Ibid., 5.20. [66] Ibid., 5.21. [67] Ibid., 5.1. Whereas many early Fathers of the church ascribed the Epistle to the Hebrews to Paul, Tertullian thought the letter to have been written by Barnabas, and thus does not mention it as a Marcion rejection of Paul.


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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