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

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Thinking with the Early Middle Ages

“When the thinker thinks rightly, he follows God step by step; he does not follow his own vain fallacy.”1

14472374900_4a7e643a33_oStudying the Middle Ages is a complex process, not only for the plethora of information one must process in order to have a halfway-informed perspective into the period, but also for the multitude of ways in which contemporary—modern and postmodern—attitudes that illuminate Christian opinions of this important period of Christian history. One need look no further than the recent kerfuffle over President Obama’s remarks concerning the Crusades to realize that perspectives on the Middle Ages are varied and often ill-informed. Some commentators reacted along political lines,2 others out on religious grounds,3 and still others from a historical basis.4 But what everyone functionally agrees on is the fact that contemporary Western culture does not really understand medieval Western culture, at least not on their own terms or with any sort of sophistication or charity when it comes to something as verboten as the Crusades.5 Continue reading

Second Treatise of Great Seth

Nag Hammadi CodicesThe Second Treatise of the Great Seth is one of the “G/gnostic” texts found at the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt.[1] Generally dated in the third century by scholars, the name and origin of this text remain a mystery,[2] though it has been speculated that the name Seth originated from the son of Adam and Eve from Genesis 4.[3] In this treatise, the gnostic Christ is speaking to the “perfect and incorruptible” ones and describing a true understanding of his life story, crucifixion, relationship to the Father, and his teaching. This document contains both elements of both a pro-Gnostic message and an anti-Christian message, as Christians are said to proclaim the teachings of a dead man while persecuting the true gnostic church. While gnosticism is an oft discussed phenomena of late antiquity and the early Christian age, there remains a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty as to what gnosticism actually was, perhaps mostly because the Christian apologists and writers of the gnostic age did not discuss the actual theology of their opponents aside from what was wrong with it.[4] In this text, Christ seems to be advocating a form of mind-body dualism that seems to be fairly pervasive among certain branches of gnosticism in the early Christian era. It is important to note that most scholars have failed to place this specific gnostic text within any specific genre of gnostic literature, further evidence of the uncertainty of its origin and writing.[5] Continue reading

Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Applied Ethics?

This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Scholars such as Porter have argued that one of the lasting implications of Luther’s construction involves a radical separation of temporal authority from man’s goals in the kingdom of God.[25] Further, Porter argues that “Luther’s radical separation of the ‘two realms’ or kingdoms—church authority and temporal authority—and the emphasis placed on the divine source of temporal authority lead to an ‘unqualified endorsement of state power’ and to a greater fear of anarchy than of tyranny.”[26] Lohse rightly points out that Luther never used the term “doctrine of the two kingdoms,”[27] and suggests a rejection of the entire dichotomous construction: “The brief slogan of the doctrine of two kingdoms is also misleading insofar as it conceals the fact that Luther did not restrict his understanding of the secular kingdom to government and the state but rather included all secular functions… This brief slogan also is not appropriate insofar as it is not able to express the complex and varied pattern of practical action of both Luther and Lutherans.”[28] Continue reading

Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Introduction

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

“Modern church people and theologians have sharply attacked [Martin] Luther’s attitude [concerning the relationship between the Christian and temporal authority] from two perspectives. On the one hand, Luther is accused of having indirectly contributed to the glorification of the orders of creation and to that extent at least making it difficult for Lutherans to take a critical attitude toward the Third Reich, the National Socialist Government from 1933 to 1945. On the other hand, Luther is also held responsible for the ‘conservative’ attitude of many Lutheran churches toward the political situations and the revolutionary movements for freedom in countries of the Third World.”[1] Thus scholar Bernhard Lohse summarizes the critique of Martin Luther’s theology concerning the relationship of the Christian to temporal authority, the paradigmatic critique of which concerns that role of Luther’s theology in forming the passivity of the German Lutheran church during the horrors of Nazism under Adolf Hitler.[2] In considering Luther’s theology and these concerns, we must remember that Luther wrote for a time and context that was very different than that of the modern American Christian. Yet the questions concerning the proper relationship of the Christian to temporal authority, as well as numerous considerations that Luther raises in his writings are worthy of consideration today, if for no other reason than to provide an additional perspective by which scholars may frame contemporary issues confronting the Christian tradition. While Luther’s theology could be constructed to support a ‘hands-off’ approach for Christians in their relationship with temporal authority, we will see that such a perspective does not constitute an entirely accurate interpretation of Luther’s ‘doctrine of the two kingdoms.’ Continue reading

Book Review: The NIV Journey Bible

NIV Journey BibleAs noted previously on this website, writing a book review of the Bible remains something of a daunting task. Yet reading and reviewing important literature constitutes a central part of what pursuing truth is all about. The Bible we are reviewing today is the New International Version The Journey Bible[1], which is all about “Revealing God and How You Fit Into His Plan.”[2] This Bible has peaceful, water-colored cover, and is sturdily constructed for a paperback. There are always concerns about how long a paperback cover will last for a book as thick as the Bible, but Zondervan’s years of experience in this realm seem to have produced a quality Bible here. The best feature of the Journey Bible comes right at the beginning, in the “Read This First” section. Here the editors explain how this Bible is designed for people asking questions about God, how this version is not offended by intellectual rigor, and how the resources included are designed to help people along their journey to God, provided they approach the message within with an open mind. This seemed like the perfect opening to a seeker friendly Bible, and does an excellent job of setting the tone for an honest reading of the Bible text. [3] Continue reading

Luther on Secular Authority

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

No one even somewhat familiar with the life and work of Martin Luther would deny either that he wrote massive amounts of material over the course of his life or that he was extremely vitriolic and opinionated in some of these writings. For all of Luther’s famous reformation ideals and his seemingly deep pastoral intentions, for many scholars, Luther’s greatest legacy remains his darkest, namely the Lutheran heritage of Christian antinomianism and hatred for Jews that he bequeathed the German people. While few draw clear lines of connection between Luther and Hitler’s Third Reich, almost no serious scholar denies that some form of connection between the two most famous German men in Western history. Luther’s themes of Christian antinomianism and hatred for the Jewish people come across most clearly in On Secular Authority and On the Jews and Their Lies, respectively.  Throughout both of these writings, Luther speaks with characteristic zest and rhetorical flair, demonstrating his opinionated stance on both the relationship between sacred and secular authorities as well as the Jewish people. Determining an overarching theme to both of these works remains difficult, though one finds an interesting contrast between the uses of scriptural references in these two works. Overall, Luther’s main argument in On Secular Authority and On the Jews and Their Lies appears to be the clear superiority of Christ and His Church to any competing claims of authority, either on the secular level or among another religious group such as the Jewish people. Continue reading