Daily Archives: 2008-01-13 23:10:30 UTC

Marcion’s Gospel, its character and contents

Continuing my notes from Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle . . . .

Tertullian’s entire fourth book attacking Marcion is a comparison of Marcion’s gospel with canonical Luke.

Marcion’s opponents never accused Marcion of adding to the Gospel of Luke, but only of omitting sections and changing the wording in places.

Knox compared the pericopes that Harnack believed were found, or possibly found, in common in Marcion’s gospel and canonical Luke and concluded there was a 60 to 75 percent overlap between the two. The wording within the common pericopes may well have varied, sometimes significantly, however.

Harnack‘s reconstruction (not included in the English translation of his book) is the most frequently cited for Marcion’s gospel. The most obvious differences from canonical Luke:

  • Luke 1-2 (birth narrative) has no counterpart in Marcion’s gospel,
  • Luke 3:1a is the beginning of Marcion’s gospel but there is very little from Luke 3:1-4:15 in Marcion,
  • The parable of the prodigal son is not found in Marcion
  • Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is missing from Marcion
  • Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem is not in Marcion’s gospel
  • Nor is the cleansing of the temple scene in Marcion

These, especially the opening omissions, make a significant difference to how the gospel of Marcion would have been read compared with the gospel of Luke.

Tyson discusses the criticism by David S. Williams of Harnack’s reconstruction, but concludes that his points affect the confidence we can have in the specific wording of Marcion’s gospel as opposed to its general content.

Tyson argues that

  • Marcion’s gospel resembled the canonical gospels, hence contained discourse and narrative:
    • — since its opponents were convinced it was indeed “a gospel”
    • — and since its opponents said to resembled Luke

Tyson further argues that the differences between Luke’s and Marcion’s gospels that offended Marcion’s critics consisted of the wording found within common pericopes. When asked by the young man what must be done to have eternal life Marcion’s Jesus does not respond, as per Luke, “Don’t call me good. One is good, God”, but says, “One is good, God, the Father” — thus pointing to the God above the Creator God; and instead of Christ saying “You know the commandments”, Marcion has him say, “I know the commandments”. So we can think of a scene in common between Marcion’s and the canonical gospel, but with different wordings and messages.

Tyson’s impression of the contents of Marcion’s gospel

“Impression” is the best that can be done. We can’t know the finer details. Much of this is what Marcion’s gospel was “not”. The “nots” are of course as important as the “is’s” in order to appreciate its broader place in the history of early church literature, doctrines and practices. Tyson does not claim his description is the last word, and admits to many problem areas, but does present it as a plausible reading based on the studies of previous “specialists” and what we know of Marcion’s teachings.

  • no predictions of Jesus or John,
  • no reference to their parents, or relationship with John,
  • no birth or infancy narratives
  • no circumcision or presentation at the Temple,
  • and nothing of Jesus appearing in the Temple at 12 years
  • No account of the preaching of John the Baptist,
  • nor John’s imprisonment,
  • and no mention of Jesus’ baptism by John,
  • no temptation in the wilderness,
  • no genealogies
  • begins with the time setting — the 15th year of Tiberius (Luke 3:1a) —
  • but jumps immediately to the exorcism of Luke 4:31.

Thus Jesus appears suddenly and without prior notice, “without human connection or local habitation.” Marcion does not associate Jesus in any way with a Christ who was expected by the Jews or the subject of prophecies in scripture. Other examples of Marcion distancing Jesus from the Jewish scriptures:

  • What then was the role of John the Baptist in Marcion’s gospel? John asks Jesus if he is “the coming one”, implying the one expected according to Jewish scriptures. Marcion’s gospel has Jesus reply indirectly — “Whoever is not repelled by me is blessed” — indicating that he is not that Christ. (cf Luke 7:18-23)
  • While Luke 20:41-44 includes a quotation from Psalm 110, this is reference to the Psalms is absent from Marcion’s gospel. The resulting exchange is accordingly a clearer denial that Jesus is not the Son of David Messiah who was the expectation of the Jewish scriptures.
  • In Luke 16:17 Jesus says it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one part of the Law to fail, but in Marcion’s gospel Jesus speaks of “his words” in place of “the Law”.
  • Marcion appears to have seen some, if not permanent, value in the Jewish Torah, however. His gospel’s Jesus tells the healed leper to offer a Mosaic sacrifice as a testimony to him, the leper. (cf Luke 5:14)

Marcion also stressed the distance between Jesus and the original disciples:

  • Jesus does not accept Peter’s confession that he is the Messiah, presumably because his understanding related to Jewish expectations. (cf Luke 9:20)
  • Peter ignorantly wanted to build tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, thus demonstrating again the misunderstanding that Jesus was closely related to the Law (cf. Luke 9:33)
  • Jesus predicted Peter’s denial, but Tyson notes that “it is curiously unclear whether or not Marcion’s gospel included the story of Peter’s denial that appears in Luke 22:55-62.”

Marcion’s take on the resurrection narrative (Luke 24) — this is the most difficult section of Marcion’s gospel to reconstruct from the sources but Tyson draws on Williams and Harnack to suggest the following:

  • Jesus reminded his witnesses that he had predicted his suffering
  • Jesus rebuked those who had not heeding his words (contrast Luke where Jesus rebukes them for not heeding the words of the prophets of Scripture)
  • Jesus invites witnesses to see his hands and feet

Not included in Marcion’s gospel:

  • No reference to the stone that had been rolled away from the tomb
  • No names are given for the women who first discovered the tomb to be empty
  • No mention of Peter visiting the tomb and then leaving perplexed (the disciples remain blind and do not discover the empty tomb nor believe the women who do)
  • Jesus does not discuss the Hebrew prophets nor claim the prophets foretold him
  • No hint of an ascension

Fragmentary allusions in Marcion’s gospel to the Emmaus road incident also clearly distances Jesus from the Jewish scriptures in Marcion’s gospel:

  • Jesus scolds Cleopas when he expresses disappointment that Jesus had not fulfilled the Jewish Messianic expectations
  • Jesus scolds the two disciples for not believing his words, not the words of the prophets
  • Marcion’s gospel may have included these allusions to Luke’s “Emmaus episode” as part of a single appearance to followers at Jerusalem. Problematic reconstruction here.

The resurrection appearance in Marcion’s gospel is the most problematic:

  • There may have been only one appearance
  • The names of those Jesus appeared to are not given
  • The remaining eleven disciples are mentioned as unbelievers (cf Luke 24:9, 11)
  • There are other unnamed disciples who finally recognize the risen Jesus in what appears to have been a Eucharistic meal of bread and fish
    • (Vridar note: compare Justin Martyr’s account — only one resurrection appearance at which the eucharist was instituted. — The linked page is in need of revision on some significant points but the section on the post-resurrection narrative is still fine.)
  • No appearance to Peter — Peter is not even named in the resurrection narrative. Marcion appears to have excluded him along with the rest of the disciples from a resurrection appearance.
  • No appearances to any of the disciples and they disbelieve the reports that come to them. The apostles are thus left on the outer as disbelieving false apostles.
  • Marcion’s Jesus does say: “Look at my hands and my feet . . . a spirit does not have bones as you see I have”. Tertullian claimed that Marcion interepreted “as you see me having” to refer to “a spirit”, not to “bones”, so that it meant to say that he did not have flesh and bones, but was spirit.
    • (Vridar note: If I recall correctly Gregory Riley in Resurrection Reconsidered argues that this statement of Jesus does not deny what moderns would still call the spirit essence or composition of Jesus. He discusses the various ancient usages of “flesh” when used in relation to both here and now as well as departed persons. Unfortunately I cannot comment off hand on the argument — will have to have another look at the book to refresh my memory re the details.) — Added June 13 2008, See more notes on Riley’s discussion here.

(See also Center for Marcionite Research)