Gospel of Marcion

MARCION, GOSPEL OF. A native of Sinope in Pontus, Marcion came to Rome c. a.d. 140 and joined the church there but in 144 was excommunicated for his heretical opinions. The sect which he founded spread widely, and was for a time a serious menace to the Church. Strongly anti-Jewish, he distinguished the merely just God of the OT from the loving God and Father of Jesus revealed in the NT, and accordingly rejected the OT altogether. Only Paul had truly grasped the contrast of law and gospel, so Paul’s letters (purged of Jewish accretions) formed the basis of his canon.

Marcion’s Gospel was not an independent work, but an expurgated VS of Luke, adapted to Marcion’s own doctrinal theories. It does not appear that Marcion added much if anything of his own. According to Irenaeus (I. 25. 1 Harvey) he excised “all that is written about the birth of the Lord and many things from the teaching in his discourses, in which he clearly confessed the Creator of this universe as his Father.” Other deletions include the Baptism and Temptation narratives, which were inconsistent with Marcion’s Docetic Christology. Altogether he omitted between a quarter and a third of the gospel.

A second view, which would make Luke dependent on Marcion’s Gospel and not the reverse, seems in Puech’s words “paradoxical and impossible to maintain” (NTAp. I, 348), but a third theory has been advanced by J. Knox: that what Marcion used was an Urlukas, an earlier and shorter VS, which was later expanded by the Church “in the interest of anti-Marcionite polemic.” The difficulty is that there is no evidence for such an Urlukas (Streeter’s conjectured Proto-Luke is another matter), and Irenaeus within half a cent. of Marcion is quite unambiguous.

The reasons for Marcion’s choice of Luke have been debated. Was it the only gospel he knew, or the gospel of his native Pontus? Or did he make a deliberate choice? Matthew, of course, would be out of the question, but what of Mark or John? Probably use of John would have been difficult to reconcile with Marcion’s view of the relations of Paul and the Twelve, and this gospel has a mystical background out of keeping with Marcion’s spirituality (Turner, 172). Mark was never widely popular in the Early Church, and is mostly incorporated into Luke. That Marcion’s Gospel was an adaptation of one of the Church’s gospels shows the prestige they were already beginning to enjoy even at this early period.

Bibliography

NTAp. I. 348f.; J. Knox, Marcion and the New Testament (1942); Turner, The Pattern of Christian Truth (1954), 168ff.

See also

  • Apocryphal Gospels