The Marcion Problem: Conclusions

This post is the final in the series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence of the formation of the New Testament canon.

Sacred ScriptureBy way of closing both our section on modern perspectives on Marcion as well as this series as a whole, I offer the following conclusions. First, upon the review of the various schools of thought concerning Marcion’s impact on the development of Christian views on scripture, canon, and authority, we may conclude that the Canon Refinement School appears to make the best sense of textual evidence and offer the most satisfying overall explanation of Marcion’s theology. This school argues that Marcion’s canon, while the first closed specifically Christian canon, neither formed the Christian ideas of scripture, canon, and authority, as in the view of the Canon Formation School, nor did he influence a major redaction of scriptural literature, as in the view of the Canon and Literature Formation School. Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Canon Refinement (Part IV)

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

Marcion of Sinope

Having examined the particular perspectives of the Canon Refinement School, we now turn to several concerns stemming from these works. First, we must consider the arguments of this school of thought concerning the impact of Marcion’s views on the formation of Christian views on scripture, canon, and authority. Taking into account the evidence espoused by the textual critics, it seems that this view on Marcion makes the best overall sense of his impact on Christian views of scripture, canon, and authority. Marcion’s canon, while being the first closed canon composed of specifically Christian literature, by-and-large followed the general second century pattern among Christians of scriptural collection. Marcion’s canon was unique in that he rejected the Jewish scriptures and placed a great deal of emphasis on the writings of the Apostle Paul. These emphases forced the Great Church to overtly consider the wider implications of new scriptures and their authority in relation to the older writings, eventually leading to the formal canonization of the Christian New Testament. Thus Marcion’s impact on the development of Christian scriptures, canon, and authority may be best described as canon refinement. Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Canon Refinement (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.
Lee M. McDonald

Lee M. McDonald

We now turn to two of the most prominent modern perspectives for the Canon Refinement School, those of Lee Martin McDonald and John Barton. In The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority, McDonald writes that during the second century prior to Marcion, “the words gospel-apostle (sometimes Lord-apostle), representing the words of Jesus and letters of the apostles, began to be placed alongside the Prophets as authorities in the early church.”[119] McDonald argues that from the wider selection of Christian writings available to him, Marcion chose portions of both Gospel (Luke) and Apostle (some letters of Paul) that reflected his understanding of the distinctiveness between Christianity and Judaism.[120] For McDonald, Marcion believed that the love of the Christian gospel was incompatible with the legalistic and oppressive legal codes found in Jewish scripture, this being the type of teaching handed down by Peter and James.[121] Marcion rejected such perspectives, as well as those early Christians who interpreted the Jewish scriptures allegorically, instead emphasizing a simple and literal reading of the text, thereby stripping the church of her first scriptures and connections to antiquity.[122] McDonald concludes that while Marcion set forth a Christian canon, it remains too much to say that he created the idea of Christian scripture.[123] However, while Marcion did not delineate the need for a Christian canon, he did cause the church to consider carefully the scope of its authoritative literature.[124] Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Canon Refinement (Part II)

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

jesus_catacombRobert Smith Wilson also conceived of Marcion’s impact on the formation of a Christian canon as refining but not formative. Central to Wilson’s understanding of Marcion was his desire to understand fundamental questions about the character of God in relation to the world and his high Christology.[113] Wilson argues that the central place of Jewish scriptures in Christian circles, as well as Paul’s concerns with the law in Romans, likely formed the basis for Marcion’s early thinking about the connection between Judaism and Christianity, especially in relation to written authorities.[114] Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Canon Refinement (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.

NT CanonWe now turn to the third perspective on Marcion’s relationship with the notion of a specifically Christian canon, namely that while Marcion likely refined the idea and parameters of canon, he was basically following the example of previous collections of Christian writings. This I term the “Canon Refinement School” of thought. As this position best fits the evidence from textual criticism (as I argued for in last week’s post), this school of thought has become increasingly popular in recent decades. Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Canon and Literature 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.
Marcion of Sinope

Marcion of Sinope

Common to the perspectives of Knox, Tyson, and Price is that Marcion not only formed the notion of a Christian canon, but also influenced the writing of the canonical Luke-Acts and conceptions of Christian scriptures. For this school especially, Marcion’s views on scripture, canon and authority are understood to be paradigmatic for later Christianity. Concerning scripture, Price argues that Marcion was the first to conceive of specifically Christian writings. While Knox and Tyson do not take Marcion’s influence nearly that far, they argue that Marcion not only gave rise to the idea of the Christian canon, and impacted the understood authority of written texts, especially the various versions of Luke-Acts. As with the Canon Formation School, the scholars conceive of Marcion’s views of scripture and authority as seeking to demonstrate and preserve that which is unique about the person and work of Jesus Christ. For the Canon and Literature Formation School, it remains clear that Marcion’s desire was to reinforce the uniqueness of the Christian message in a paradigmatic fashion. Continue reading

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

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

Joseph Tyson

Joseph Tyson

Joseph Tyson

Following Knox’s perspective is Joseph Tyson’s work Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle, in which Tyson argues argues for a late compositional dating of Luke-Acts as a response to Marcion during the period from 100 to 150 CE.[91] Tyson understands Marcion to have presented an enormous problem for the church with his rejection of the Jewish Scriptures, and that writers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian were pressed into finding symbolic or allegorical representations of Christ in those scriptures whilst simultaneously using the gospel narratives to present him as something unique.[92] Pauline writings and theology became especially problematic for use by the proto-orthodox, as they constituted the core of Marcion’s theological system, and thus the proto-orthodox created Luke-Acts to combat the challenge of Marcionite Christianity.[93] Tyson thus argues for three distinct versions of the Gospel According to Luke: the pre-Marcionite gospel of roughly canonical Luke 3-23, the Marcionite Gospel which likely included the pre-Marcionite version with some significant omissions and minor changes, and the canonical edition with added prologue, infancy narratives, a re-writing the resurrection, and addition of post-resurrection scenes.[94] This proto-orthodox version of Luke-Acts became the primary anti-Marcionite tool in the early church, eventually becoming formally canonized.[95] Tyson, following Knox, argues that both Marcion and the editor of Luke-Acts used a primitive form of Luke’s gospel. Such actions on the part of proto-orthodox writers demonstrate not only Marcion’s unique position of canon formation, but also how his use on new Christian scripture influenced the great Christian community. Continue reading

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] Continue reading

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. Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Canon Formation (Part II)

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

Hans von Campenhausen

Image of Marcion (Left) with the Apostle John

Image of Marcion (Left) with the Apostle John

Hans Von Campenhausen, building upon Harnack’s reconstruction of Marcion, argued in The Formation of the Christian Bible that scholars cannot speak of a ‘canon’ of Pauline epistles before Marcion, as there was no normative collection of new writings or scriptures prior to his collection.[75] Von Campenhausen understood Marcion’s primary tension to be between the law and Christian faith, and that he created the formative “Gospel and Apostle” canon format, using the writings Paul as the essential teachings in salvation-history.[76] He argued that Marcion found his authentic gospel behind Luke’s writing because it posed the fewest questions and modifications for his theology.[77] Von Campenhausen concluded that Marcion’s canon, with its Gospel and Apostle components, forced the creation of what became the New Testament canon of the Great Church by forcing them to answer questions about new revelation and writing.[78] He argued that the church’s adoption of the Pauline Epistles and four Gospel accounts were directly influenced by Marcion’s use of Paul and his single gospel text.[79] Thus it was not until after Marcion that Irenaeus of Lyons became the first Catholic theologian to accept the Marcionite principle of new scripture.[80] Thus for Von Campenhausen, Marcion’s rejection of the Jewish scriptures because of his understood tension between law and gospel necessitated the formation of a new set of writings. His adoption of the “Gospel and Apostle” format eventually influenced the shape of the Christian Canon as it began to influence the sources accepted as authoritative by the proto-orthodox. Continue reading