The Marcion Problem: Canon Formation (Part III)

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

Old BooksHaving examined the perspectives on Harnack, Von Campenhausen, and Metzger regarding Marcion influence on the development of the Christian New Testament canon over the past couple of weeks (namely, that his conceptions of scripture, canon, and authority led to the formation of the new canon of the Great Church), we turn to three distinct considerations stemming from these works. First, there is the consideration of these scholars’ arguments concerning Marcion’s formative impact on a specifically Christian canon. Overall, the line of reasoning by Harnack and Von Campenhausen appears a bit simplistic, as if to say that early Christians conceived of scriptural writings as an ‘either/or’ proposition. Metzger’s positions itself causes some concerns for placing such central importance on Marcion’s canonical influence, as he argues for an early Pauline corpus, early authoritative uses of writings, and notes at least two other influences in the formation of a new canon. As will be seen below, the conception of Marcion as the originator of the Christian canon demonstrates numerous difficulties.

Second, we note some of the central questions that these perspectives point us towards concerning Marcion’s views on canon and authority. Harnack drives towards conceiving of Marcion’s God as a central explanation for his reconceiving scripture and authority. Von Campenhausen notes the impact that Marcion had on the Great Church, forcing them to officially address what may have been implicit, namely questions about new revelation and writings. Both Harnack and Von Campenhausen note that Marcion seems to have allowed for continual revision of his scriptural texts, posing numerous questions not only concerning the stability of written authority, but also posing challenges to text-critical reconstructions of early Christian writings. Metzger rightly notes the importance of widening the lens with which we study Marcion and his relation to scripture, text, and authority, namely the impact of outside forces. All of these perspectives provide worthy considerations of Marcion as we move forward.

jesus_catacombA final consideration from this section are implications for our general argument, namely that for Marcion the uniqueness of Jesus Christ remains behind his reconception of scripture, canon, and authority. Harnack’s perspective that Marcion sought a God who was different than the deity of creation and the Jewish scriptures advocates for such an understanding, as does his argument that Von Campenhausen’s understanding of Marcion’s tension between law and gospel. For those scholars who argue that Marcion’s canon led to the formation of a specifically Christian canon it seems highly likely that such changes could have been driven by a hermeneutic of Jesus’ uniqueness in opposition to Jewish scriptures and influences.


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