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

A Brief Introduction to Ephrem the Syrian

“The greatest poet of the patristic age and, perhaps, the only theologian-poet to rank beside Dante.” — Robert Murray

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Saint Ephrem the Syrian

Over the next several weeks, Pursuing Veritas will be running a series on reflections on the theology and hymns of St. Ephrem of Nisibis (often called Ephrem the Syrian). Before launching into these discussions of Ephrem’s theological mind and literary genius, however, I felt it prudent to offer a brief historical introduction to Ephrem. There are two primary reasons for this: first, because while some Christians may have heard Ephrem’s name associated with early Christianity before, few actually know much about the fourth century poet. And second, Ephrem’s context—ancient Syria—is somewhat different than the typical “Greco-Roman” culture that may be safely assumed for engaging most other early Christian writers. Continue reading

Book Review: The Body and Society (Brown)

The Body and SocietyIn 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] Continue reading

ECA: Epistle of Polycarp

This post is part of our ongoing series on Early Christian Authority.
St. Polycarp

St. Polycarp

Polycarp of Smyrna remains one of the best attested figures of the early Christian Church. As bishop of Smyrna (cx. Rev. 2.8), recipient of a letter from the Ignatius of Antioch, and a martyr of the church, Polycarp stands apart as an exceptional figure in early Christianity, in that there exists a comparatively good deal of extant material concerning his life. In addition to this letter having been written by the bishop, extant copies exist of Ignatius’ letter to him as well as a later account of his martyrdom. While his Letter to the Philippians has often been looked down upon for its lack of original content and heavy reliance upon other written sources, it remains useful for ascertaining relevant issues within the second century Philippian church and for its use of textual authority. Continue reading

NT Canon: Marcion, Montanus, and Gnosticism

This post is part of an ongoing series outlining the formation of the New Testament canon.
Image of Marcion (Left) with the Apostle John

Image of Marcion (Left) with the Apostle John

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.[1]  Indeed, Campenhausen went so far as to call Marcion the “creator of the Christian holy Scripture.”[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.”[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]  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