The Marcion Problem: Canon and Literature Formation (Part I)

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

Gospel of LukeWe now turn to the Canon and Literature Formation school, which understands Marcion not only to 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. The first major proponent of this view was John Knox in his work Marcion and the New Testament. Knox affirmed Harnack’s argument that Marcion’s canon was the first distinctly Christian canon,[85] writing that only with the closing of a canon is a canon really formed and thus once Marcion had adopted his “Gospel and Apostle” model and closed his canon, he had made for the first time Christian writings scripture.[86] Knox also agreed with Von Campenhausen’s understanding of Marcion’s “Gospel and Apostle” distinctiveness.[87] But the Canon Formation School understood Marcion’s version of Luke to be a redacted version of our current Luke, Knox argued that Marcion edited a primitive form of Luke’s Gospel.[88] Concerning the relationship between the canonical Luke and Marcion’s Luke, Knox wrote that there would be “a primitive Gospel, containing approximately the same Markan and Matthean elements which our Luke contains and some of its peculiar materials, was somewhat shortened by Marcion or some predecessor and rather considerably enlarged by the writer of our Gospel, who was also the maker of Luke-Acts.”[89]

For Knox and the Canon and Literature Formation School, Marcion’s use of primitive Luke led a proto-orthodox writer to edit the Gospel of Luke; further, his use of “Gospel and Apostle” led the proto-orthodox editor of Luke to write the canonical Acts of the Apostles in the same pattern in an attempt to reclaim both the Gospel of Luke and Apostle Paul from the Marcionites.[90] Thus we see that Knox conceived of Marcion’s notions of scripture, canon, and authority as highly influential for later Christian perspectives. The “Gospel and Apostle” format especially influenced not only the later formation of the Christian New Testament, but also directly influenced the redaction and writing of the proto-orthodox Luke-Acts.


[85] John Knox. Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1942. 19. [86] Ibid., 25-6. It is worth noting that Knox argued that “conservative churches,” when confronted with the teachings of Marcion and other heretical groups who claimed certain writings as authoritative, would have added those writings to their own collections of scripture without getting rid of any existent works. Such churches would not have understood Marcion’s scriptures as incorrect (except for their mutilations and changes), but would have understood them as incomplete for their purpose. See 37-8. [87] Ibid., 44-49; 77. [88] Ibid., 77, 88. [89] Ibid., 110. [90] Ibid., 123, 139.


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