The Marcion Problem: Canon 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.

Adolf von Harnack

Adolf von Harnack

Adolf von Harnack

The great Adolph von Harnack was a forerunner in both general canonical studies as well as specific considerations of Marcion, with his works setting the tone for the years of scholarship since. His fullest treatment of Marcion came in Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God, in which he not only treated Marcion’s theology and offered a reconstruction of Marcion’s writings, but also argued that Marcion’s canon became the originator of the later canon of the Great Church. Arguing that Marcion was influenced by the syncretism of an early Christianity formed between the influences of Greek philosophy, Jewish scriptures, Judaism, Greco-Roman syncretism, Jesus’ disciples, and the apostle Paul, Harnack understood Marcion to proclaim God as an alien force at work leading the world out of the oppression of the creator god. [68] For Marcion, the “Christian concept of God must therefore be stated exclusively and without remainder in terms of the redemption wrought by Christ. Thus God may not and cannot be anything other than the God in the sense of merciful and redeeming love.”[69] Marcion’s novel idea was his rejection of the Jewish scriptures, where the alien nature of the true God was not found, and the implementation of the new books of the gospel and Paul against the old writings.[70] Because the Jewish god could not be understood as the God of Jesus, Marcion concluded that there the writings of Paul included elements of Judaism, they must have been corrupted, as had at least one narrative account of Jesus’ life.[71] Continue reading