Marcionism & Churches of Christ: What Value, REALLY, is the "Old Testament?" #2 :How Did We Get Here?Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Ministry, Preaching, Restoration History
The Ghost of Marcion
Marcion had a major impact on the church of the second century and his influence yet resides in Christianity both positively and negatively. Born in Sinope in North East Asia Minor, Marcion was a successful ship owner. He confronted the church with heresy on one hand while the Gnostics did on the other. Marcion moved to Rome around A.D. 140 The church in Rome was not impressed with Marcion’s unique solution to the problem of Jesus and the First Covenant and excommunicated him in 144. Undaunted Marcion promoted his theology with zeal and became a major threat to the existence of Christianity. He died sometime around 160.
What Marcion Believed
Marcion was an anti-Semite (which was not uncommon in the Roman Empire).Marcion declared that the God of Israel was not the God of revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ.Being indebted to Gnostic teachings (though Marcion was not a full blown Gnostic) he stated the God of the Hebrews was a Demiurge, an inferior, capricious, vengeful god. Jesus, in his system, was completely separated from his Jewish heritage … especially the Creator God.
Marcion believed that the church of his day had destroyed the pure faith of Jesus and Paul (especially Paul). By recognizing the books of the Jews they were mixing the Gospel with Judaism. But the “Jewish God” had nothing to do with “us” or Jesus. Since the New Testament writings (which had not all come together in the form we recognize today in his day) are filled with quotations from the “Jewish” Bible, Marcion declared them to be unfit. Thus the traditional Gospels were rejected except for an edited version of Luke. All the writings of other NT authors were also rejected because they preserved impure understanding of the true nature of the Gospel. Only Paul’s writings and Luke’s Gospel were accepted. These writings were themselves systematically edited to weed out Paul’s own mistaken references to Israel and his quotations from the “Jewish” Bible.
Consistent with Marcion’s views that the Demiurge created the world he embraced a rigid asceticism that rejected marriage and sexual intimacy. The world made by the Jewish creator god was not quite “spiritual” enough for Marcion. One can see that Song of Songs would be no more acceptable to Marcion than it was to J.W. McGarvey.
The Legacy of Marcion
The Church rightly condemned Marcion. He was and is a heretic and his doctrine is heresy. Jesus is a Jew. He came to reveal the God of the Jews.The Father of the Lord Jesus is the Creator God of Israel. The Incarnation is God’s greatest complement to the goodness creation. But the Ghost of Marcion lives on in various shades without people explicitly saying the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New Testament but that very theology is subtly held by many misguided teachers in the church.
The church did more than simply condemn the theology of Marcion. Up until Marcion, and the Gnostic crises, the church had not really made an effort to define the canon of Scripture. There was plenty of tradition for sure but no official canon.
One of the legacies of Marcion was the effort of the church to define what truly was her literary treasure. First she affirmed the oneness of God revealed in Israel’s scripture and in the life of Jesus the Messiah. Second she affirmed that canonicity of the Bible, that is the “Old Testament”. The Old Testament is foundational and essential to the Christian faith. While it is true that during those years the extent of the canon as reflected in the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint was not always as finally nuanced as Protestants either claim or would like, the church embraced its Jewish heritage in the “Scriptures.” Third, the church began the discussion of just what was the canon of the New Testament. Though the full extent of the canon would not be settled for quite sometime after Marcion the major elements of the NT were firmly set in place by the end of the second century (this means the Fourfold Gospel, the epistles of Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Acts … there remained questions about Hebrews, Revelation, Wisdom of Solomon [yes the WoS] in some lists, the Didache, Epistle of Barnabas and even the Epistles of Ignatius …).
Though Marcion was officially expelled as a heretic his ghost haunts to this day. It was the rejection of all things Old Testament and Jewish was a major factor that led to the horrors of the Holocaust in Germany.Anti-Semitism has flowered in many places down through the years in Christian garb, sometimes subtly and sometimes not so hidden. In our own day we rarely find those who explicitly reject the OT as Marcion did. It is done more piously. The voice of Marcion is heard quite frequently in the oft repeated phrase “but that is the Old Testament” or “Fortunately we are New Testament Christians” or “law and wrath were in the first covenant but now we have a covenant of grace, spirit and the heart.” These statements are rooted, dare I say it, in ignorance. Ignorance of both the Hebrew Bible and the “New Testament.”
In our next blog we will look at Alexander Campbell’s “Sermon on the Law” which tapped into a vein already present in historic Christianity that would bear poisonous fruit in generations restoration Christians.
P.S. Here is my sermon from last Sunday called “The Coming of a Strange King” from Zechariah 9. I got a little excited and forgot to check the clock … but we got out on time anyway. I do not hold my sermons as models of how to preach from the Hebrew Bible … but just showing that we need to get busy doing it.