The Marcion Way

At times in the churches of Christ, we’ve seen a resurgence of what is often called a neo-Marcionism. A while back, I wrote the following about Marcionism:

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:

  • The Evangelikon, which consisted of ten chapters from the book of Luke, carefully selected and trimmed by Marcion.
  • 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.

Contrary to what the New Testament writers did, many believers today relegate the Old Testament writings to a secondary status. I want to discuss a bit this week as to why this happens, look at some of the motives behind this, and try to help us regain a more biblical perspective.

For now, let me close by reminding us what the apostle Paul said about the Old Testament writings:

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14–17)

What sacred writings had Timothy known from his youth? Not the New Testament, for those writings weren’t around then. The Scripture Paul talks about is the Old Testament, and he says those writings:

  • Are able to make us wise for salvation
  • Are profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training so that we may be equipped for every good work

Does it sound like Paul saw little value in the Old Testament? If we aren’t able to find teachings about salvation and Christian living in the Old Testament, then we haven’t learned to study it the way Paul and Timothy did.

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.