From Tertullian’s writings emerge several implications for Marcion’s conceptions of scripture, canon, and authority. First, from his Prescription against Heresies it seems that Marcion in some way undermined the existing authority structures of the Catholic Church by appealing to sources of authority outside those which were typically employed. These sources at least appear to be sources imbued with philosophical thought that moves away from what Tertullian references the teachings of Christ and ‘rule of faith.’ Second and also from Prescriptions, Marcion appears to have used and distorted existing Christian scriptures. This could mean a number of things, but from Tertullian’s claims that Marcion rejected the apostolic and Jewish roots of Christian faith it seems to indicate that Marcion had rejected some writings and manipulated others in an attempt to present a unified authoritative corpus of some sort. Continue reading
C. S. Lewis once said that if the incarnation happened, “it was the central event in the history of the earth.” What is the incarnation? And why has it been such an important area of theological consideration since the earliest days of Christianity? The term ‘incarnation’ may be defined as “a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or quality.” For the Christian tradition, the man who has been understood as deified has been Jesus of Nazareth; but the Christian claim of Jesus as God, not merely as one who embodied God, historically presented a plethora of questions to the early Christian theologians. Continue reading
Hippolytus, who incidentally was the first anti-pope in the Roman church, wrote against Marcion in his Refutation of All Heresies sometime after the year 200 CE. Hippolytus argued that Marcion relied upon Greek philosophy for the basis of his theology, especially his belief in two deities. He also noted that Marcion followed the tradition of Cerdo, though the style of this reference appears similar enough to Irenaeus’ claim that Hippolytus here appears to be reflecting the claim of the Bishop of Lyon. More notable is his reference to Marcion’s use of the phrase “a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit,” a reference to material now found in Luke 6:43. Marcion’s reflections upon Christology appear to have led him to the conclusion that Christ could not have been the son of the creator of the world and that, when on earth, Christ was not actually a human, but a phantom. It seems that Hippolytus found Marcion’s views to be relying on extra-Christian sources of authority, and that such reliance placed his conceptions of God and Christ outside the realm of acceptable proto-orthodox belief. Further, Marcion’s reference to the Gospel According to Luke appears to further solidify Irenaeus’ claim that Marcion employed parts of Luke’s Gospel as written sources, here used authoritatively. Continue reading
In some ways Marcion was a rather popular figure among Christians during the mid to late second century, as numerous writers and apologists made reference to his beliefs and churches. These treatments of Marcion, however, were far from positive in their understandings of his theological system. We are fortunate to have extant several major writings of the Early Church Fathers concerning Marcion. Of these, Irenaeus of Lyon’s Against Heresies appears to have been the earliest written, sometime around 180 CE. This was followed later by Tertullian of Carthage’s anti-Marcionite writings, of which at least six books are extant. Also available to us are the writings of Hippolytus of Rome and several references by Eusebius of Casarea to works of Marcion and his followers, as well as several references to works against Marcion that are no longer extant. As is often the case concerning sources in antiquity, it remains unfortunate that the writings of one of Marcion’s direct contemporaries, Justin Martyr (d. 165), have not survived the perils of time although numerous ancient authors reference his work. 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).
The New Testament (NT) writings were read in churches early on (Col 4:16), but were not generally called “scripture” until the end of the second century C.E., despite being used that way earlier. Ancient texts always functioned as scripture before they were called scripture. Only one New Testament author makes the claim that what he wrote was equivalent to sacred scripture (Rev 22:18-19; compare with Deut 4:2).
By the middle of the second century C.E., Justin Martyr (1 Apology 64-67) noted that the Gospels were read alongside of and occasionally instead of the “prophets” (Old Testament books). When New Testament writings were read in church worship, or served as an authority in matters of faith and conduct this was a first step in acknowledging the sacredness of the NT writings. The first writings acknowledged as scripture included the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John and some Pauline letters. Not all New Testament writings were called scripture at the same time or place. Irenaeus of Lyon was among the first to make explicit statements about the scriptural status of the canonical Gospels; however several others took much longer to be recognized, notably Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.
Initially, early Christians also appear to have accepted other Christian writings as scripture. Some of the most popular Christian writings not included in the canon include Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Didache, and others that were read in churches well into the fourth and fifth centuries and in some cases even later.
Finally, decisions made about the sacredness of the church’s scriptures did not take place universally at the same time or location. One church father’s decision does not mean that all church leaders came to the same conclusions at the same time. By the fourth century C.E., most Christians had accepted most of the NT writings, but canon lists varied well into the eighth or ninth centuries.
In the updated 20th anniversary edition of his classic work, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity, Peter Brown examines the “practice of permanent sexual renunciation—continence, celibacy, life-long virginity” that developed in Christian circles from the first through fifth centuries. In this work, Brown examines a vast array of perspectives within the early Christian context, purposing to clarify notions of the human body and society within Christian renunciation and to examine the effects of those ideas among Christian writers. This review will summarize Brown’s work and offer an assessment of the strength of his claim that there was no mainstream perspective on sexuality and the body in early Christianity. Continue reading
Ignatius of Antioch and the letters he wrote on way to his martyrdom in Rome have long fascinated those studying early Christianity. Killed around 117 CE by the Emperor Trajan, Ignaitus’s tale reads like a drama: the bishop of Antioch (one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire and home to one of the most important centers of early Christianity) Ignatius is arrested and set with a group of Roman soldiers across Asia Minor and Greece for execution in Rome. Along the way, he receives fellow Christians for encouragement and sends them back to their churches with letters for the edification of other Christian communities. Ignatius meets his end in Rome, but his letters live on and continue to influence Christians nearly two thousand years after their hasty composure. Continue reading