Category Archives: Tyson: Marcion & Luke-Acts


2008-01-21

Dating the Book of Acts: the Marcionite Context (1)

by Neil Godfrey

This post continues notes from Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle. Previous posts reconsidering the date of the composition of Acts and the Marcionite challenge can be found in my Tyson and Marcion archives.

Tyson begins with Haenchen. read more »


2008-01-14

Marcion’s challenge

by Neil Godfrey

Marcion presented a formidable challenge to those who opposed his theology and practices. Indeed his opponents spent extraordinary energy in combating his influence, attacking his theology, and constructing alternatives to his practices. It was a massive effort, not only because many people found Marcionite Christianity attractive, but also because his was a complex challenge that, if met at all, had to be engaged on several fronts at once. Marcion’s opponents rightly saw that the very definition of the Chris­tian movement was at stake in the outcome. (Tyson, Marcion and Luke-Acts, p.48 ) read more »


2008-01-13

Marcion’s Gospel, its character and contents

by Neil Godfrey

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)


2008-01-12

Did Marcion mutilate the Gospel of Luke?

by Neil Godfrey

This was the claim of Irenaeus, Tertullian and Epiphanaeus.

Besides this, he mutilates the Gospel which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most dearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is His Father. Irenaeus AH 1:27.2

Now, of the authors whom we possess, Marcion seems to have singled out Luke for his mutilating process. Tetullian, AM 4:2

But these claims are questionable when we think about the times in which they were recorded. Irenaeus was writing in the late second century, Tertullian in the early third, and Epiphanaeus much later still. “The ecclesiastical situation for all these writers was very different from that in Marcion’s time.” (Tyson, p.39 — This blog post is mostly derived from Tyson’s book)

Contrast the date of Marcion, especially as revised by Hoffmann to the early part of the second century: — See previous posts beginning with Dating Marcion Early (2). (This revised earlier date for Marcion is based primarily on a rejection of the the ideologically tendentious date assigned by Irenaeus and an assigning greater weight to the contrasting contemporaneous observations of Justin Martyr.)

Irenaeus saw the need for authority to redress the “riotous diversity” that characterized Christianity till his time. That meant an authoritative canon and a clear genealogy of bishops from the apostles to his own day. And that canon of four gospels had to be four because the world — throughout which the church was scattered — had four corners and four winds. (Irenaeus AH 3:11.8)

Tyson refers to Bauer’s conclusion:

Walter Bauer has convincingly shown that the early part of the second century was a time of great diversity in terms of Christian thought and practice. He observed that heterodoxy probably preceded orthodoxy in many locations and that, particularly in the East, Marcionism, or something closely resembling it, was the original form of Christianity. (Tyson, p.39)

Bauer’s work is online. Tyson refers particularly to his discussion from p.194, his chapter 8. To cite one section from Bauer’s chapter 8:

One final point. The reckless speed with which, from the very beginning, the doctrine and ideology of Marcion spread can only be explained if it had found the ground already prepared. Apparently a great number of the baptized, especially in the East, inclined toward this view of Christianity and joined Marcion without hesitation as soon as he appeared, finding in him the classic embodiment of their own belief. What had dwelt in their inner consciousness in a more or less undefined form until then, acquired through Marcion the definite form that satisfied head and heart. No one can call that a falling away from orthodoxy to heresy.

Tyson discusses the implausibility of Marcion, living at a time when there was no gospel canon as called for by Irenaeus, being faced with an authoritative list of 4 gospels, selecting one of those four, excising large chunks from it, and then elevating it to a level above the others, “in full consciousness of having chosen a practice opposed to the worldwide church”. Such a notion is what Irenaeus suggests, but it is anachronistic.

If the scenario of Marcion knowingly mutilating one of the gospels upheld by his peers to be of the sacred four is implausible, what did Marcion do?

If he did select a gospel from among many known to him, then we must think of unstable texts with various editions, certainly not formal or even quasi-canonical collections.

It may be objected that Marcion would naturally select the text written by the companion of Paul, Luke. However, there is no evidence that the gospels were assigned author names until the time of Irenaeus. The first evidence we have that a gospel was authored by Luke, a companion of Paul, is from Irenaeus. (In a future post I hope to discuss Hoffmann’s suggestion for how Luke came to be assigned the authorship of the gospel and Acts.)

Tyson asserts the most likely scenario is that Marcion worked with a gospel that was originally a text known to his locality (the Pontus).

The evidence for local texts at this time is strong, and the use of one gospel in a specific church is manifest. (Tyson, p.40)

Tyson’s footnoted support for this assertion:

B. H. Streeter, “The Four Gospel: A Study of Origins” (1924), 27-50.

Harnack, “Marcion: The Gospel” (1921), 29. Harnack accepted the idea that Marcion did use the Gospel of Luke, but believed that this gospel may have been the only one known in the Pontus region.

Yet clearly there was significant overlap between Marcion’s gospel and the canonical Luke. For this reason the opponents of Marcion, writing from a very different time and context, accused him of mutilating the canonical gospel.

A follow-up post will outline what Marcion’s gospel must have looked like, with an evaluation of Harnack’s reconstruction of Marcion’s text.


2008-01-07

Dating Marcion early (2)

by Neil Godfrey

Following from previous post re Hoffmann’s arguments for an early date for Marcion:

Marcion is generally said to have launched his heresy from the mid-second century — that is, long after the completion of our New Testament writings. Some of the Pastoral epistles are said to have been completed as late as the early second century. Some arguments exist that Acts itself, and even possibly some of the gospels, were also completed after the first century.

Hoffmann challenges this late date, and Tyson picks up Hoffmann’s arguments. Tyson in fact argues that Marcion was influential, if not always directly, in the shaping of what became our canonical Gospel of Luke as well as the book of The Acts of the Apostles.

It is not difficult to challenge the generally assumed (late) dates for Marcion. They are based on a face-value reading of Irenaeus (ca 180 c.e.) in particular. Yet the earlier author, Justin Martyr (ca. 150 c.e.) gives a very different account of the time of Marcion’s activity. read more »


2008-01-05

Tradition and Invention: & the date of Marcion

by Neil Godfrey

The “heretic” Marcion is a significant figure in the history of early Christianity but the sources for our dates for his activity are contradictory. It is quite possible that if we attempt to understand the reasons for these contradictions in the sources we will see that Marcion’s influence on our canonical New Testament texts as far more influential than it is generally portrayed today in histories of early Christianity. (For more background on Marcion see the Center for Marcionite Research and at Early Christian Writings.)

One recent fresh look at the date — and influence on the New Testament writings — of Marcion is found in Tyson‘s Marcion and Luke-Acts. (See the left column category “Tyson” under “Book reviews/notes”). Tyson argues that Acts was composed in the second century as a response to Marcionite Christianity, which was possibly the largest brand of Christianity at the time and which claimed Paul as its sole apostle.

The ideological bias for dating Marcion late

Part of Tyson’s argument is the possibility that Marcion himself began his work considerably earlier than is often assumed. The generally accepted dates for Marcion are based on a face-value reading of Church Fathers’ polemics against his doctrines. Tyson and others remind us that these authors had an ideological reason for placing Marcion as late as possible: their theological constructs dictated that Christianity heresy infected Christianity late, sometimes as late as 117 c.e. (the accession of emperor Hadrian). The idea was to keep false teaching far removed from what they believed was the “original purity” of the Church and the time of the twelve apostles.

Hoffman’s reasons for dating Marcion earlier

Tyson draws in part on R. Joseph Hoffmann’s argument in his discussion of the possibility of a much earlier date for Marcion.

Following is a dot-point outline from R. Joseph Hoffman’s Marcion, on the restitution of Christianity. It’s all from Hoffmann’s second chapter and my numbering matches the original chapter sections.

read more »


2007-09-09

Dating the Book of Acts: 6, the late date reconsidered (5. Paul’s letters)

by Neil Godfrey

5. Use of Paul’s Letters in Acts

The following hyperlinked notes (continued from Tyson) outline evidence from Knox, O’Neill, Enslin, Walker, Leppa, Aejmelaeus, Goulder and Pervo for collectively “mounting a serious counterargument” that the author of Acts knew and used Paul’s letters. read more »


2007-09-08

Dating the Book of Acts: 5, the late date reconsidered (4. Josephus)

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing notes from Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle (2006) pp. 14ff . . . . .

4. Influence of Josephus

Pervo writes that Luke would have used Josephus as a source quite differently from his other sources such as Mark, Q, Paul and the LXX. He did not quote Josephus or imitate his style. But there are good economic arguments for believing Luke used Josephus as a source and if so, that would mean that he must have written after 93-94 c.e.

Evidence for Luke’s use of Josephus (Pervo): read more »


Dating the Book of Acts: 4, the late date reconsidered (1-3)

by Neil Godfrey

Tyson has presented the selective summary of views on the date of Acts (outlined in previous 3 posts) to bring to readers’ attention the fact that the current majority view for the intermediate date for Acts (80-100 c.e.) has not always held the floor. He believes recent scholarship in a number of fields invites us to re-open the question of the second-century date for Acts, even though it has not been widely entertained now for 100 years. Tyson sees five issues as significant for this reconsideration of a late date for Acts:

  1. External references to Acts
  2. Significance of the events of 70 c.e.
  3. Bearing of the end of Acts
  4. Possible influence of Josephus on Acts
  5. Use of Paul’s letters by the author of Acts

Again, the notes here are from Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle (2006) pp. 10-23 . . . . . read more »


2007-09-07

Dating the Book of Acts: 3, Evidence for the late date (Baur)

by Neil Godfrey

Baur argued that Acts was written in the mid second century, around 140-150 C.E.

Baur saw Acts as an attempt to heal a rift in Christianity between two factions originally led by Peter and Paul. Christianity in Baur’s view had been divided between Jewish Christians who saw Jesus as the hope of their historical expectations, who held to the Torah and allowed gentiles into their ranks if they adhered to the Torah too, on the one hand, and gentile Christians on the other, who taught salvation by faith in Jesus only, and dismissed the Torah as ineffective for salvation.

Baur was influenced by the work of his student, Schneckenburger, who demonstrated extensive parallels between Peter and Paul in Acts. They both: read more »


Dating the Book of Acts: 2, Evidence for an intermediate date (80-100 c.e.)

by Neil Godfrey

In 1897 Harnack’s Chronologie was published. This raised, with respect to the date of Acts, the issues still addressed today:

The evidence of the conclusion of Acts (Chronologie) read more »


2007-09-06

Dating the Book of Acts: 1, Evidence for the early date (before 70 c.e.)

by Neil Godfrey

This is a short list points I have distilled from Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts . This section will summarize the evidence adduced for an early date for the composition of Acts (pre-70 C.E. — before or around the trial and execution of Paul and the fall of Jerusalem) and the arguments against the interpretation of this evidence.

Future posts will look at evidence for:

  • an “intermediate” date (usually around the last couple of decades of the first century/very early second century);
  • and for a late date (well into the second century C.E. — even possibly as late as the mid or latter half of the second century C.E.) read more »

2007-07-29

How Acts subverts Galatians

by Neil Godfrey

There are two different stories, their differences well known, of the circumstances surrounding Paul’s conversion and the later Jerusalem Conference in the New Testament.

The Two Conversions

In the Book of Acts (9:1-30) we read that

  1. Paul was persecuting the church until —
  2. Paul was struck down by a divine call on his way to Damascus,
  3. that he was baptized in Damascus by a lowly disciple (Ananias),
  4. and after some time (“many days”) he fled to Jerusalem because of Jewish persecution,
  5. His contacts in Jerusalem were limited but only on first arriving
  6. until Barnabas acted as his Janus-like gateway by taking him to the apostles
  7. who, we learn elsewhere in Acts, were led by Peter and James
  8. Brethren took him away to Caesarea and then to Tarsus to protect him from the Hellenists

In the Epistle to the Galatians (1:13-24) we read a different story.

  1. Paul used to persecute the church until —
  2. Paul says Christ revealed himself by revelation “in him”,
  3. that he then went to Arabia.
  4. Only after he had been in Arabia did he return to Damascus.
  5. After three years in Damascus he went to Jerusalem because he wanted to see Peter
  6. His contacts in Jerusalem remained limited — the Judean churches did not see Paul
  7. He met Peter (staying with him 15 days) and James only.
  8. Paul then returned to the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

One can conclude that the author of Acts did not know of the Galatians letter. But I think it more likely that the author of Acts composed a narrative polemic against the letter. Each of the differences can be accounted for as a polemical response to some point in the Galatians account. . . . read more »


2007-04-19

On an early date for Acts — and its problems

by Neil Godfrey

One of the historical giants of biblical scholarship, Adolf von Harnack, from 1908 argued for the Book of Acts being composed possibly as early as the 60s ce, in the lifetime of the apostle Paul. His reasons: read more »