Gnosticism, Women, and Elaine Pagels

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

GnosticsFor today’s reflection, I outline and reflect on Elaine Pagels’ “What Became of God as Mother? Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity.”[1] In so doing I argue that while Pagels’ approach to the question of the divine feminine remains an important aspect of early Christian thinking, her characterization of the category “gnostic” remains unhelpful for framing the study of these documents. 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 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).

Second Treatise of Great Seth

Nag Hammadi CodicesThe Second Treatise of the Great Seth is one of the “G/gnostic” texts found at the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt.[1] Generally dated in the third century by scholars, the name and origin of this text remain a mystery,[2] though it has been speculated that the name Seth originated from the son of Adam and Eve from Genesis 4.[3] In this treatise, the gnostic Christ is speaking to the “perfect and incorruptible” ones and describing a true understanding of his life story, crucifixion, relationship to the Father, and his teaching. This document contains both elements of both a pro-Gnostic message and an anti-Christian message, as Christians are said to proclaim the teachings of a dead man while persecuting the true gnostic church. While gnosticism is an oft discussed phenomena of late antiquity and the early Christian age, there remains a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty as to what gnosticism actually was, perhaps mostly because the Christian apologists and writers of the gnostic age did not discuss the actual theology of their opponents aside from what was wrong with it.[4] In this text, Christ seems to be advocating a form of mind-body dualism that seems to be fairly pervasive among certain branches of gnosticism in the early Christian era. It is important to note that most scholars have failed to place this specific gnostic text within any specific genre of gnostic literature, further evidence of the uncertainty of its origin and writing.[5] Continue reading