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 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 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

NT Canon: Conclusions

This is the final post in our series outlining the formation of the New Testament canon.

BibleHere at the end of our two week examination of New Testament canon formation, what can we conclude? Remembering the distinction between a “formal canon” (an authoritative list of books) and a “practical canon” (a list of authoritative books), we note several important conclusions. First, very early on (if not immediately) the words of Jesus were viewed by his followers as authoritative and equal, if not greater, in status to the Jewish scriptures. This should not be entirely surprising, of course, given the fact that scholars sometimes seem to forget, namely that followers of Jesus followed Jesus. Second, the use of the New Testament writings began very early in the history of Christianity in writings of the Apostolic Fathers. The earliest non-canonical writings of the Christian faith demonstrate reliance upon those writings now included in the New Testament canon. Third, there was a progression of the status of the writings now in the New Testament from the time of Apostolic Fathers to the third century, demonstrating the continuity and development of a “New Testament” tradition among followers of Jesus Christ across the Roman Empire. Continue reading