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Marcionites

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Marcionites

Marcionism was an Early Christian dualist belief system that originated in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome around the year 144[1] (see also Christianity in the 2nd century).

Marcion believed Jesus Christ was the savior sent by God, and Paul of Tarsus was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. This belief was in some ways similar to Gnostic Christian theology; notably, both are dualistic, that is, they posit opposing gods, forces, or principles: one higher, spiritual, and "good", and the other lower, material, and "evil" (compare Manichaeism), in contrast to the orthodox Christian view that "evil" has no independent existence, but is a privation or lack of "good",[2] a view shared by the Jewish theologian Moses Maimonides.[3]

Marcionism, similar to Gnosticism, depicted the Hebrew God of the Old Testament as a tyrant or demiurge (see also God as the Devil). Marcion was labeled a gnostic by Philip Schaff,[4] while other scholars have rejected that categorization. Marcion's canon consisted of eleven books: A gospel consisting of ten sections from the Gospel of Luke edited by Marcion; and ten of Paul's epistles. All other epistles and gospels of the 27 book New Testament canon were rejected.[5] Paul's epistles enjoy a prominent position in the Marcionite canon, since Paul is credited with correctly transmitting the universality of Jesus' message. Other authors' epistles were rejected since they seemed to suggest that Jesus had simply come to found a new sect within broader Judaism. Religious tribalism of this sort seemed to echo Yahwism, and was thus regarded as a corruption of the "Heavenly Father"'s teaching.

Marcionism was denounced by its opponents as heresy, and written against, notably by Tertullian, in a five-book treatise Adversus Marcionem, written about 208. Marcion's writings are lost, though they were widely read and numerous manuscripts must have existed. Even so, many scholars (including Henry Wace) claim it is possible to reconstruct and deduce a large part of ancient Marcionism through what later critics, especially Tertullian, said concerning Marcion.

History

Main article: Marcion of Sinope

According to Tertullian and other writers of the mainstream Church (which some scholars refer to as Proto-orthodox Christianity), the movement known as Marcionism began with the teachings and excommunication of Marcion around 144. Marcion was reportedly a wealthy shipowner, the son of a bishop of Sinope of Pontus, Asia Minor. He arrived in Rome c. 140, soon after Bar Kokhba's revolt. That revolution, along with other Jewish-Roman wars (the Great Jewish Revolt and the Kitos War), provides some of the historical context of the founding of Marcionism; see also Anti-Judaism in the Roman Empire. Marcion was excommunicated from the Catholic Church because he was threatening to make schisms in the church.[6]

Marcion used his personal wealth, (particularly a donation returned to him by the Catholic Church after he was excommunicated), to fund an ecclesiastical organization. Marcionism continued in the West for 300 years, although Marcionistic ideas persisted much longer.[7]

The organization continued in the East for some centuries later, particularly outside the Byzantine Empire in areas which later would be dominated by Manichaeism.

Schism within Marcionism

By the reign of emperor Commodus Marcionism was divided into various opinions with various leaders; among whom was Apelles, whom Rhodo describes as: "...priding himself on his manner of life and his age, acknowledges one principle, but says that the prophecies are from an opposing principle, being led to this view by the responses of a maiden by name Philumene, who was possessed by a demon".

But others, among whom were Potitus and Basilicus, held to two principles, as did Marcion himself. Others consider that there are not only two, but three natures. Of these, Syneros was the leader and chief.[8]

Teachings

The premise of Marcionism is that many of the teachings of Christ are incompatible with the actions of the God of the Old Testament. Focusing on the Pauline traditions of the Gospel, Marcion felt that all other conceptions of the Gospel, and especially any association with the Old Testament religion, was opposed to, and a backsliding from, the truth. He further regarded the arguments of Paul regarding law and gospel, wrath and grace, works and faith, flesh and spirit, sin and righteousness, death and life, as the essence of religious truth. He ascribed these aspects and characteristics as two principles, the righteous and wrathful God of the Old Testament, who is at the same time identical with the creator of the world, and a second God of the Gospel, quite unknown before Christ, who is only love and mercy.[9]

Marcionites held that the God of the Hebrew Bible (known to some Gnostics as Yaltabaoth) was inconsistent, jealous, wrathful and genocidal, and that the material world he created was defective, a place of suffering; the God who made such a world is a bungling or malicious demiurge.

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In Marcionite belief, Christ was not a Jewish Messiah, but a spiritual entity that was sent by the Monad to reveal the truth about existence, and thus allowing humanity to escape the earthly trap of the demiurge. Marcion called God, the Stranger God, or the Alien God, in some translations, as this deity had not had any previous interactions with the world, and was wholly unknown. See also the Unknown God of Hellenism.

In various popular sources, Marcion is often reckoned among the Gnostics, but as the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.) puts it, "it is clear that he would have had little sympathy with their mythological speculations" (p. 1034). In 1911 Henry Wace stated:

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A primary difference between Marcionites and Gnostics was that the Gnostics based their theology on secret wisdom (as, for example, Valentinius who claimed to receive the secret wisdom from Theudas who received it direct from Paul) of which they claimed to be in possession, whereas Marcion based his theology on the contents of the Letters of Paul and the recorded sayings of Jesus — in other words, an argument from scripture, with Marcion defining what was and was not scripture. Also, the Christology of the Marcionites is thought to have been primarily Docetic, denying the human nature of Christ. This may have been due to the unwillingness of Marcionites to believe that Jesus was the son of both God the Father and the demiurge. Classical Gnosticism, by contrast, held that Jesus was the son of both, even having a natural human father; that he was both the Messiah of Judaism and the world Savior. Scholars of Early Christianity disagree on whether to classify Marcion as a Gnostic: Adolf Von Harnack does not classify Marcion as a Gnostic,[10] whereas G. R. S. Mead does.[11] Von Harnack argued that Marcion was not a Gnostic in the strict sense because Marcion rejected elaborate creation myths, and did not claim to have special revelation or secret knowledge. Mead claimed Marcionism makes certain points of contact with Gnosticism in its view that the creator of the material world is not the true deity, rejection of materialism and affirmation of a transcendent, purely good spiritual realm in opposition to the evil physical realm, the belief Jesus was sent by the "True" God to save humanity, the central role of Jesus in revealing the requirements of salvation, the belief Paul had a special place in the transmission of this "wisdom", and its docetism. According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article on Marcion:[12]

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Marcionism shows the influence of Hellenistic philosophy on Christianity, and presents a moral critique of the Old Testament from the standpoint of Platonism. According to Harnack, the sect may have led other Christians to introduce a formal statement of beliefs into their liturgy (see Creed) and to formulate a canon of authoritative Scripture of their own, thus eventually producing the current canon of the New Testament.

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Marcion is believed to have imposed a severe morality on his followers, some of whom suffered in the persecutions. In particular, he refused to re-admit those who recanted their faith under Roman persecution; see also Lapsi (Christian).

Marcionite canon

Tertullian claimed Marcion was the first to separate the New Testament from the Old Testament.[13] Marcion is said to have gathered scriptures from Jewish tradition, and juxtaposed these against the sayings and teachings of Jesus in a work entitled the Antithesis.[14] Besides the Antithesis, the Testament of the Marcionites was also composed of a Gospel of Christ which was Marcion's version of Luke, and that the Marcionites attributed to Paul, that was different in a number of ways from the version that is now regarded as canonical.[15] It seems to have lacked all prophecies of Christ's coming, as well as the Infancy account, the baptism, and the verses were more terse in general. It also included ten of the Pauline Epistles (but not the Pastoral Epistles or the Epistle to the Hebrews, and, according to the Muratonian canon, included a Marcionite pseudo-Paul's epistle to the Alexandrians and an epistle to the Laodiceans)[16] In bringing together these texts, Marcion redacted what is perhaps the first New Testament canon on record, which he called the Gospel and the Apostolikon, which reflects his belief in the writings of Jesus and the apostle Paul respectively.

The Prologues to the Pauline Epistles (which are not a part of the text, but short introductory sentences as one might find in modern study Bibles [17]), found in several older Latin codices, are now widely believed to have been written by Marcion or one of his followers. Harnack makes the following claim:[18]

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Conversely, several early Latin codices contain Anti-Marcionite prologues to the Gospels.

Reaction to Marcion by early Christians

According to a remark by Origen (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew 15.3), Marcion "prohibited allegorical interpretations of the scripture". Tertullian disputed this in his treatise against Marcion, as did Henry Wace:

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Tertullian, along with Epiphanius of Salamis, also charged that Marcion set aside the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, and used Luke alone.[19] Tertullian cited Luke 6:43-45 (a good tree does not produce bad fruit)[20] and Luke 5:36-38 (nobody tears a piece from a new garment to patch an old garment or puts new wine in old wineskins),[21] in theorizing that Marcion set about to recover the authentic teachings of Jesus. Irenaeus claimed,

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Tertullian also attacked this view in De Carne Christi.

Hippolytus reported that Marcion's phantasmal (and Docetist) Christ was "revealed as a man, though not a man", and did not really die on the cross.[22] However, Ernest Evans, in editing this work, observes:

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Recent scholarship

In Lost Christianities, New Testament canon is discussed as pivotal, and the first to explicitly state it. There were early Christian groups, such as the Ebionites, that did not accept Paul as part of their canon.

Robert M. Price, a New Testament scholar at Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, considers the Pauline canon problem:[24] how, when, and who collected Paul's epistles to the various churches as a single collection of epistles. The evidence that the early church fathers, such as Clement, knew of the Pauline epistles is unclear. Price investigates several historical scenarios and comes to the conclusion and identifies Marcion as the first person known in recorded history to collect Paul's writings to various churches together as a canon, the Pauline epistles. Robert Price summarizes,

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If this is correct, then Marcion's role in the formation and development of Christianity is pivotal.

Marcionism in Modern history

Historic Marcionism, and the church Marcion himself established, appeared to die out around the 5th century, although similarities between Marcionism and Paulicianism, a later heresy in the same geographical area, indicate that Marcionist ideas may have survived and even contributed to heresies in Bulgaria and France. Whether or not that is the case, Marcion's influence and criticism of the Old Testament are discussed to this very day. Marcionism is discussed in recent textbooks on early Christianity, such as Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman. Marcion claimed to find problems in the Old Testament; problems which many modern thinkers cite today (see Criticism of the Bible and Biblical law in Christianity), especially its alleged approval of atrocities and genocide.

Many atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists agree with Marcion's examples of Bible atrocities, and cite the same passages of the Old Testament to discredit Christianity and Judaism.[25] Most Christians agree with Marcion that the Old Testament's alleged approval of genocide and murder are inappropriate models to follow today. Some Christian scholars, such as Gleason Archer and Norman Geisler, have dedicated much of their time to the attempt to resolve these perceived difficulties, while others have argued that just punishments (divine or human), even capital punishments, are not genocide or murder because murder and genocide are unjustified by definition (see Christian Reconstructionism).

On the other hand, because of the rejection of the Old Testament which originates in the Jewish Bible, the Marcionites have been believed by some Christians to be anti-Jewish. Indeed, the terms "Marcionism" and "neo-Marcionism" has sometimes been used in modern times to refer to anti-Jewish tendencies in Christian churches, especially when such tendencies have been thought to be surviving residues of ancient Marcionism.

During the Nazi period some aspects of Marcion's ideas were appropriated by the German Christians. They advocated a complete rejection of everything Jewish in Christianity, which they termed "Positive Christianity". These ideas fell out of favor after Germany's defeat in World War II. (See also Nazism and Religion)

For some, the postulated problems of the Old Testament, and the appeal of Jesus are such that they identify themselves as modern day Marcionites, and follow his solution in keeping the New Testament as sacred scripture, and rejecting the Old Testament canon and practices. A term sometimes used for these groups is "New Testament Only Christians". Carroll R. Bierbower is a pastor of a church he says is Marcionite in theology and practice.[26] The Cathar movement, historically and in modern times, reject the Old Testament for the reasons Marcion enunciated. It remains unclear whether the 11th century Cathar movement is in continuation of earlier Gnostic and Marcion streams, or represents an independent re-invention. John Lindell, a former Methodist and Unitarian Universalist pastor, advocates Christian deism, which does not include the Old Testament as part of its theology.[27]

See also

Notes

References

  • Baker, David L., Two Testaments, One Bible (second edn; Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1991): pp. 35, 48-52.
  • Legge, Francis, Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity, From 330 B.C. to 330 A.D. (1914), reprinted in two volumes bound as one, University Books New York, 1964. LC Catalog 64-24125.
  • McGowan, Andrew, Associate Professor of Early Christian History at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts , Vol. 9
  • Mead, G.R.S., , London and Benares, 1900; 3rd Edition 1931.
  • Price, Robert M. .
  • Riparelli, Enrico, Il volto del Cristo dualista. Da Marcione ai catari, Peter Lang, Bern - Berlin - Bruxelles - Frankfurt am Main - New York - Oxford - Wien 2008, 368 pp. ISBN 978-3-03911-490-0

External links

  • The Marcionite Research Library
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