Marcion

SECOND CENTURY. Prominent heretic. A wealthy shipowner from Sinope in Pontus (NE Asia Minor), he came to Rome shortly before 140. He was active for a time as a member of the orthodox community, but was excommunicated c.144. He organized his followers into a rival movement to orthodox Christianity; his churches were established in many parts of the empire and were both numerous and influential for nearly two centuries (though the movement did not die out until later).

Marcion stressed the radical nature of Christianity vis-à-vis Judaism.* In his theology there existed a total discontinuity between the OT and the NT, between Israel and the church, and even between the god of the OT and the Father of Jesus. Jesus came to reveal the true God, who was totally unknown up to the Incarnation. The god of the OT, the demiurge,* an inferior being who created the material world and ruled over it, was not exactly an evil being, but he was not good in the same sense as the God and Father of Jesus, a God of love and grace.

Paul was Marcion's hero and the one from whom (he thought) he derived his doctrine. His canon of sacred writings consisted of ten Pauline epistles (minus the Pastorals and and Hebrews) and the third gospel, both appropriately edited to suit his teaching (e.g., all passages were deleted from the letters of Paul which spoke of the Father as Creator, and the birth narratives were absent from his edition of Luke). His theology consisted of a series of antitheses (the title of his major work)-primarily between law (the principle of the demiurge and of the Jews) and gospel (the principle of the God of love and of redemption in Jesus), and between flesh (that which marks the material order and is evil) and spirit (the characteristic of the eternal realm). The law stresses rewards and punishments, and justification by works; the gospel features faith, freedom, and grace.

Scholars debate whether it is right to classify Marcion as a Gnostic.* He is certainly gnostic in his emphasis, especially in his negative attitude toward the body and the physical world; and his docetic Christology (see Docetism) and asceticism* also link him with the Gnostics. He does not, however, reproduce their fantastic mythology of redemption.

None of his writings have survived, though we can reconstruct large portions of his Antitheses from the extensive quotations in Tertullian's* Against Marcion, as well as from the refutations by other Church Fathers (notably Irenaeus*). His prologues or brief introductions to the epistles of Paul found their way into Latin biblical MSS of orthodox origin and have been preserved in this way.

The significance of Marcion lies in the fact that he compelled representatives of orthodox Christianity to deal seriously with the problem of evil, to think deeply about the biblical teaching concerning creation and redemption, to reexamine the Pauline writings, and to decide upon the question of the canon.

A. Harnack, “Marcion,” TU 45 (1921; rev. 1924), and Neue Studien zu Marcion (1923); J. Knox, Marcion and the New Testament (1942); E.C. Blackman, Marcion and His Influence (1948).