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

The Marcion Problem: Introducing Modern Scholarship

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence of the formation of the New Testament canon.

Bible Formation WordcloudThe 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

The Marcion Problem: Tertullian (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
Tertullian of Carthage

Tertullian of Carthage

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

The Marcion Problem: Tertullian (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
Tertullian of Cathage

Tertullian of Cathage

In comparison to all other extant ancient works, the writings of Tertullian of Carthage against Marcion remain the fullest and most precise rejection of Marcion’s theology. Tertullian composed as least six works against Marcion, including his Prescription against Heresies and Five Books against Marcion which are extant today.[37] In the Prescription against Heretics, Tertullian made a number of accusations concern Marcion’s use of scripture, canon, and authority, perhaps the most clear being that Marcion had induced a schism within Catholic church authority.[38] Writing somewhat generally, Tertullian wrote that Marcion introduced new material to the Christian faith,[39] formed a theology based on philosophical thought that moved beyond the teachings of Christ and the ‘rule of faith,’[40] twisted and distorted Christian scriptures,[41] and had moved Christian faith away from its Jewish and apostolic roots to a new theology.[42] Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Hippolytus and Eusebius

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
Saint Hippolytus

Saint Hippolytus

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.[29] Hippolytus argued that Marcion relied upon Greek philosophy for the basis of his theology,[30] especially his belief in two deities.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] 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

The Marcion Problem: Irenaeus

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence on the development of the New Testament canon.
The Early Church Fathers

The Early Church Fathers

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.[12] This was followed later by Tertullian of Carthage’s anti-Marcionite writings, of which at least six books are extant.[13] Also available to us are the writings of Hippolytus of Rome[14] 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.[15]  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),[16] have not survived the perils of time although numerous ancient authors reference his work.[17] Continue reading

The Marcion Question: Sources

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Marcion of Sinope’s influence on the formation of the New Testament canon.
Marcion of Sinope

Marcion of Sinope

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.[1] 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.

Apostolic FathersIn 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.

[1]See Harnack (Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God) and Price (The Pre-Nicene New Testament).

The Marcion Question: Introduction

Over the next several weeks, Pursuing Veritas will be examining the theology of Marcion of Sinope, especially his role in the formation of Christian Scripture, Authority, and Canon.

Marcion of SinopeMarcion of Sinope remains one of the most intriguing and polarizing figures in the discussion of Early Christianity.[1] Labeled everything from the true originator of the Christian canon to arch-heretic, the unique views of Marcion continue to foster scholarly analysis within the field of Early Christian and Ancient Mediterranean Studies. Marcion of stands apart as an example of an early Christian whose conception of God and authority were such that his beliefs placed him outside what were argued to be the acceptable boundaries of the youth church. Perhaps most intriguing was Marcion’s use of early Christian writings as authoritative and his collection of some of these writings into the first specifically Christian canon of writings. Understanding Marcion’s theology, as well as his role in the collection, use, and canonization of Christian writings, has long been the project of historians. In an attempt to understand Marcion’s conceptions of scripture, canon, and authority, this paper examines Marcion’s views from a number of perspectives, arguing 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. Continue reading

ECA: Lee McDonald on Early Christian Scripture

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Early Christian Authority.
Lee McDonald

Lee M. McDonald

Over at Bible Odyssey, Lee Martin McDonald has offered a brief response to a question about when the writings of the New Testament became scripture:

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.

Continue reading