Having 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
Hans von Campenhausen
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. 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. He argued that Marcion found his authentic gospel behind Luke’s writing because it posed the fewest questions and modifications for his theology. 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. 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. Thus it was not until after Marcion that Irenaeus of Lyons became the first Catholic theologian to accept the Marcionite principle of new scripture. 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
The 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. Continue reading
When examining Marcion, one must be careful to note his long and varied history of interpretation. For centuries Marcion, his writings, and his followers were generally conceived of in terms of their theological content, which was declared by the early Fathers of the Church to be heretical. It has only been in the past few centuries that Marcion perspective has become understood as a contributor to the early Christian context of diversity. Understandably then, this shift from polemic to scholastic interest has uncovered some problems, most notably that we no longer have extant copies of Marcion’s works, either his Antithesis or his canonical collection of writings. Modern reconstructions of ancient sources tend to focus on extant copied materials from that source. However, the few references to Marcion’s perspectives and works may only be found in the polemical writings of the early Christian apologists. Several modern scholars have attempted a detailed reconstruction of Marcion’s work. However, the highly speculative nature of these works and their heavily reliance upon the writings of Tertullian for our purposes makes the value of such reconstructions questionable.
In this series, I take a two-fold approach to the examination of Marcion’s perspective. First, I engage historical sources in an examination and reconstruction his perspective on scripture, canon, and authority, drawing up the anti-Marcion sources of proto-orthodox writers such as Irenaeus of Lyons and Tertullian of Carthage. This allows us to closely examine original source materials claiming to accurately represent Marcion’s perspective. Second, I engage modern scholars of Early Christianity and canonical development as they attempt to interpret Marcion’s position on scripture, canon, and authority, drawing on scholars ranging from Adolph Harnack and Hans Von Campenhausen to John Barton and Lee Martin McDonald. This enables us to grasp the questions that the major Marcion scholars have asked over the years, as well as draw several probable conclusions concerning Marcion’s views on scripture, canon, and authority. As a result of this two-fold method of study, we see that for Marcion the work and words of Jesus of Nazareth were understood to uniquely reveal the purposes of the supreme God of the universe in such a way that any hermeneutical position denigrating that uniqueness, be they writings or traditions, were argued to be unauthoritative for followers of Jesus.
For the previous post in this series, click here.
See Harnack (Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God) and Price (The Pre-Nicene New Testament).
We come to what may be the hottest current debate among scholars concerning the formation of the Christian canon: the role of heretics. For scholars such as Adolph von Harnack and Hans von Campenhausen, the Marcionite heresy all but forced the formation of the New Testament scriptures. Indeed, Campenhausen went so far as to call Marcion the “creator of the Christian holy Scripture.” Bruce Metzger argues that the formative heretical forces were threefold: Gnosticism, Marcion, and Montanism; each of these respective theological battles pushed the church to develop a canon of scripture. Lee McDonald argues that while it is overbearing to say that Marcion created the New Testament, his influence in hastening the development of the canon must not be overlooked. Concerning Gnosticism, Montanism, and heresy in general, McDonald concludes that the response of the early church was not a canon of sacred books, but the production of a “canon of faith.” John Barton argues that Marcion actually followed the orthodox example of developing a collection of authoritative books and thus was in no way truly formative in the development of the Christian canon, thus presenting a view that is diametrically opposed to Campenhausen. J. N. D. Kelly argues that the essential contours of the canon were in place before the controversies, arguing that their impact was minimal as most. The prevailing modern view concerning the role of heretics on the formation of the canonical scriptures seems to be primarily that of McDonald and Barton, that while the Marcionite, Gnostic, and Montanist conflicts certainly had an impact upon Christian theology and the role of the canon, the form of the books viewed as scripture seems to have been roughly intact prior to the controversies, thereby making the impact of the heretics slight at most. Though this position is hotly debated in some realms, it seems to represent the growing scholarly consensus. Continue reading
By the end of the second century, Christians and Christian writings had spread to every corner of the Roman Empire. And with this increase came an increase in quotations, allusions, and citations of New Testament writings. The research of scholars such as Franz Stuhlhofer, Biblia Patristica, and Bruce Metzger is invaluable in understanding the quality and quantity of these uses by the early Church Fathers. From a detailed study of second century writings, we notice a distinct pattern of use. Excluding Old Testament allusions and quotations, the use of specifically Christian writings (that is, those written after the death and resurrection by those claiming to follow Jesus of Nazareth) fell into three categories: books viewed as authoritative and scriptural, books viewed as non-scriptural, and “fringe” books. Among the books generally accepted as scriptural (and thereby part of the “practical canon”), a core of immediately emerged as the chief texts of Christianity, including the Synoptic Gospels (especially Matthew), the Fourth Gospel (John), and the major Pauline epistles. Metzger and Barton indicate that surrounding these core Christian texts were two additional categories of “practically canonical” writings: writings which were generally accepted but less used than the core texts, and writings which were candidates for the fringe category. By the second and third centuries those categories had become clearly differentiated, with books such as the Acts of the Apostles, the minor Pauline letters, the Catholic Epistles, and the Apocalypse of St. John, being widely viewed as scriptural and texts such as First Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Herman, and the Didache generally categorized as “fringe” writings. Continue reading