The Marcion Problem: Introducing Modern Scholarship

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence of the formation of the New Testament canon.

Bible Formation WordcloudThe history of the modern interpretation of Marcion has been — not surprisingly — closely linked with general canonical research. In canonical studies in particular, there has been the tendency to form of schools of thought which have been handed down through successive generations of scholars. Regarding Marcion’s influence on the canon, three primary schools of thought have emerged: Canon Formation, Canon and Literature Formation, and Canon Refinement. Over the course of the next several weeks, Pursuing Veritas will consider the argument of each of these perspectives in turn, followed by Marcion’s views on scripture, canon, and authority as conveyed by that particular school. But first, some explanation as to what each of these schools believes about Marcion’s influence on the formation of the New Testament Canon.

For the Canon Formation School Marcion is understood as the originator of a specifically Christian canon. Scholars belonging to this school of thought are Adolf von Harnack, Hans von Campenhausen, and (to a lesser extent) Bruce Metzger. The Canon and Literature Formation School understands Marcion to not only have been formed the notion of a Christian canon, but also to have influenced the major redaction and writing of texts now found in the Christian New Testament. Scholars belonging to this school include John Knox, Joseph Tyson, and Robert Price. The Canon Refinement School argues that Marcion, while likely refining the parameters and meaning of a specifically Christian canon, was generally following the example of previous collections of Christian writings. Scholars belonging to this school of thought include J.N.D. Kelly, Lee M. McDonald, and John Barton. In the weeks to come, we will examine these respective schools of thought, noting the questions that each school considers formative for their position on Marcion’s influence, as well as drawing some conclusions not only concerning which of these schools of thought better solves the Marcion problem, but also regarding Marcion’s purposes in the formation of his canon.


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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