Marcionism

I’m not a big fan of jargon, but I used a bit the other day. Jargon becomes a shorthand that lets you express a fuller idea with just a word or two, but everyone involved has to know the extended meaning behind the term.

I referred to Marcionists the other day when discussing the Old Testament. But I never explained who Marcion was.

Marcion of Sinope was born near the end of the first century. He was the son of a church leader and was raised in a Christian home. He came to be strongly influenced by popular philosophies of his day and developed his own unique approach to Christianity. (Eusebius called him a gnostic; I’ll let you research gnosticism on your own)

Marcion believed that the God revealed in the Old Testament was merely what he called a demiurge, sort of a sub-God. He wasn’t God the Father, the God revealed in the New Testament. Whereas the God of the Old Testament was an angry, unmerciful God, the God that was revealed through Jesus was only love and grace.

To strengthen his views, Marcion published a “canon,” a list of the inspired writings as opposed to the other Scriptures. Completely rejecting the Old Testament as an inferior revelation, Marcion’s canon had eleven books in two sections:

  1. The Evangelikon, which consisted of ten chapters from the book of Luke, carefully selected and trimmed by Marcion.
  2. The Apostolikon, which consisted of ten letters by Paul. Marcion thought that only Paul really understood and taught what Jesus taught.

Because of this, the term Marcionism is often applied to the rejection of the Old Testament, even though this doesn’t accurately reflect all of Marcion’s teachings. (I’ve only presented a few pertinent points here; his was a much more elaborate system of thought)

One other interesting tidbit: it was this heresy that first moved the church to seek to identify the canon. Many claim that the canon was established by councils of the Catholic church, but the truth is that the canon was discussed and identified much earlier than those councils.

9 thoughts on “Marcionism

  1. Thanks for putting that link, Adam. I’m using your article as a resource for a series of lessons on the canon that I’m doing for my radio program. I may do some posts here as well.

    I found your article to be very helpful.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. I’ve been re-reading James L. Kugel’s wonderful book, The Bible As it Was. http://tinyurl.com/4squ2hh
    Kugel is the the Harry M. Starr Professor Emeritus of Classical and Modern Hebrew Literature at Harvard University. I had the privilege of interviewing him for a documentary about the Old Testament.

    Kugel looks at ancient interpreters of the Hebrew scriptures like Marcion. An Orthodox Jew, Kugels argues that understanding later ancient interpretation of Hebrew scripture is key to understanding them in context. His reverence for early Christian interpretations of Hebrew scriptures make for fascinating reading.

  3. There sure seems to be a lot of people in these days who profess to be Christians who are also functional Marcionists; in reading, understanding, study, and belief. Yet the books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms was all Jesus and the early church used to testify about God, the Christ, and yes even the Spirit. We would be wise to use the material Jesus, The Twelve, and Paul used over what the wave of emotional sentimentality prefers to neglect.

  4. That didn’t end right. Let me try that last sentence again:

    We would be wise to use the material Jesus, The Twelve, and Paul used as opposed to submitting to the wave of emotional sentimentality, which neglects that material.

  5. If you are interested in Marcionism, you should check out the blog of Stephan Huller, he posts on him, Clement, and a number of others from around that time. See; http://stephanhuller.blogspot.com/ In fact, he is doing a series of posts that are talking about Marcion now.

    If early Church history is something you are interested in, feel free to contact me either by email or via my chat.

    Cheers! Rich

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