Category Archives: Marcion


2012-09-09

“The Marcionite Gospel and the Synoptic Problem: A New Suggestion”

by Neil Godfrey

Matthias Klinghardt

Matthias Klinghardt responded to Mark Goodacre’s 2002 book, The Case Against Q, with an article proposing a Marcionite solution to the Synoptic Problem: “The Marcionite Gospel and the Synoptic Problem: A New Suggestion” published in Novum Testamentum, 2008.

For those of us who like to be reminded, here are the traditional theories on the Synoptic Problem:

The Griesbach or Two-Gospel theory — that Mark was the last gospel to be composed — is a minority view. Recently published proponents are William R. Farmer, Allan McNicol and David Peabody (Klinghardt, p.2).

Arguments for Markan priority — summed up in Goodacre’s book as the case against the Griesbach hypothesis — have persuaded most scholars so for the purposes of this discussion Klinghardt [MK] does not call this into question. It is the major part of The Case Against Q that has proved controversial and that MK addresses. Criticism against Goodacre’s thesis has also come from

MK begins by noting two positive arguments supporting Goodacre’s argument for the Farrer hypothesis (also known as the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis) that Mark alone (without Q) was the primary source for both Matthew and Luke, and that Luke also knew and revised Matthew:

  1. the minor agreements (e.g. both Luke (22:64) and Matthew (26:68) have the mockers of Jesus taunt with “Who is it who struck you?”, but this is not found in Mark)
  2. the hypothetical nature of Q

On the question of the minor agreements MK sides with Goodacre:

As for the minor agreements, Goodacre has a strong point insisting on the principal independence of Matthew and Luke according to the 2DH. This excludes the evasive solution that, although basically independent from one another, Luke knew and used Matthew in certain instances.

Methodologically, it is not permissible to develop a theory on a certain assumption and then abandon this very assumption in order to get rid of some left over problems the theory could not sufficiently explain. The methodological inconsistency of this solution would be less severe, if “Q” existed. But since “Q” owes its existence completely to the conclusions drawn from a hypothetical model, such an argument flies in the face of logic: it annuls its own basis.

This is the reason why Goodacre’s reference to the hypothetical character of “Q” carries a lot of weight. More weight, certainly, than Kloppenborg would concede: he tries to insinuate that Mark is as hypothetical as “Q”, since Mark “is not an extant document, but a text that is reconstructed from much later manuscripts.” This exaggeration disguises the critical point: the hypothetical character of the “document Q” would certainly not pose a problem, if “Q” was based on existing manuscript evidence the way Mark is.

It is, therefore, important to see that these two objections are closely related to each other: They prove that the minor agreements are, in fact, “fatal to the Q hypothesis”.  (my formatting)

But there are problems with thinking that Luke knew Matthew, as MK notes: read more »


2012-03-11

Christ Descends to Earth: Marcion’s contributions to Christianity (Couchoud continued)

by Neil Godfrey
an ancient greek ship

Image via Wikipedia

This continues my series on Paul-Louis Couchoud‘s The Creation of Christ. Full set of posts are archived at Couchoud: Creation of Christ.

The previous post was Couchoud’s discussion of view of Christ as a mystical and heavenly being according to early Christian literature, and how in the Epistle of the Hebrews we encounter the first sign of a belief that Jesus took on a flesh and blood body while still operating entirely in the heavens, offering himself as a heavenly sacrifice, and in acting as our celestial high priest. From here it was but a small step to imagining Jesus visiting humankind on earth. In Couchoud’s view it was Marcion who took this critical step with his composition of the earliest form of the Gospel of Luke.

Much has been written about Marcion since Couchoud wrote. Here, however, I will present Couchoud’s argument with very little reference to more recent works on Marcion and Marcionism. The sharing of ideas is not for the sake of others embracing them whole, but in order to stimulate new thoughts by mixing what we know today with what others have thought before us.

Marcion the person and his contribution to Christianity

Couchoud introduces the person of Marcion in much the same colours as another scholar of his day, von Harnack, had done: as a revolutionary or reforming and noble spiritual figure who takes his place among other greats in the history of Christianity.

Marcion was one of the world’s great religious geniuses, and takes his place between St. Paul and St. Francis of Assisi. (p. 124) read more »


2012-02-04

Marcion’s authorship of his Gospel – an overlooked question

by Neil Godfrey

Professor Markus Vinzent has posted on his blog  Marcion’s authorship of his Gospel – an overlooked question, an article that directs readers to a re-consideration of the ideas of Paul Louis Couchoud that I have recently been outlining here. Past scholarship has always taken for granted the claim of Irenaeus that Marcion found and edited an existing Gospel. Professor Vinzent finds only two exceptions in the literature to this view and one of them is Couchoud.

And there is the poet Paul-Louis Couchoud (1879-1959), professor of philosophy and scholar at the Ecole Normale, Paris who, very different from Vogels’ Germanic cautious suggestion, developed a full ‘outline of the beginnings of Christianity’ in his The Creation of Christ (excerpts, a good summary and comments can be found here), based on the idea of a Christ-myth which was turned into a historical Gospel-narrative by Marcion in the years 128-129. And although scholars may rightly reject most of the wild speculations of Couchoud, a critical reading of him is extremely rewarding. He knew his sources and he was prepared to unearth and make fresh and unorthodox connections which even today can inspire serious scholarship. Why has scholarship not picked up the question of Marcion’s authorship – irrespective of whether one agrees or disagrees on it?

Couchoud’s view is debatable (see, for example Roger Parvus’s remarks at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/pre-christian-beginnings-of-christianity-couchoud/#comment-22543) but I fully concur with Markus Vinzent’s observation:

And although scholars may rightly reject most of the wild speculations of Couchoud, a critical reading of him is extremely rewarding. He knew his sources and he was prepared to unearth and make fresh and unorthodox connections which even today can inspire serious scholarship.

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2012-01-28

2 Peters, 1 Jude and 2 Revelations: the first New Testament (Couchoud)

by Neil Godfrey

Apocalypse of Peter

Continuing the series archived at Couchoud: The Creation of Christ – - – (Couchoud argues that our “editor” – Clement? – compiled 28 books, one more than our current 27 that make up our New Testament and this post concludes the section where Couchoud discusses the origin of our New Testament books.)

The perfect balance of the New Testament still stood in need of a counterweight. Just as the tale of Peter counter-balanced that of Paul in Acts, so the letters of Paul required as counterpoise letters from the Twelve.  There were already in existence a letter by James and three by John.  To make up seven, our editor produced two letters by Peter and one by Jude, John’s brother. (p. 305)

I don’t know if Couchoud here means to suggest “the editor” wrote these epistles himself. I find it difficult to accept the two letters attributed to Peter are by the same hand given what I have come to understand of their strikingly different styles, but let’s leave that question aside for now and cover what Couchoud’s views were as published in English 1939.

1 Peter

This epistle is said to have been a warrant for the Gospel of Mark. (Maybe, but some have suggested the name of Mark for the gospel was taken from this epistle. If it were a warrant for Mark one might be led to call to mind the unusual character of that Gospel. Its reputation had been tinged with “heretical” associations.) In the epistle Peter calls Mark “my son” and is supposed to be in his company in Rome, biblically called “Babylon”. The inference this leads to is that Mark wrote of the life and death of Jesus as learned from the eyewitness Peter. This coheres with Justin’s own naming of the Gospel “Recollections of Peter” in his Dialogue, section 106.

The letter is “a homily addressed to baptized heathen of Asia Minor at the time of a persecution.” Its teachings can be seen to be of the same category as those addressed in the earlier discussions by Couchoud – typical of Clement and anti-Marcionite . . . read more »


2012-01-23

Was Marcion Right about Paul’s letters?

by Roger Parvus
I have copied Roger Parvus's recent comment here as a post in its own right.  (Neil)

Couchoud’s books contain many valuable insights. He was rightly dissatisfied with the mainstream scenario of Christian origins, and he rearranged the pieces of the puzzle together in a new way that provides a fresh perspective on them. There is much that he says that I agree with. I would not be surprised, for instance, if he is right about the role played by Clement of Rome. But I am disappointed that Couchoud—like practically everyone else—still does not take seriously Marcion’s claim that the original author of the Gospel and Pauline letter collection was someone who professed allegiance to a God higher than the Creator of this world, to a God higher than the God of the Jews.

The automatic assumption on the part of confessional scholars

The automatic assumption on the part of confessional scholars is that Marcion must have been mistaken in his views regarding the origin of the Gospel and Pauline letters. I cannot recall ever having come across a single mainstream Christian book that even considered for a moment that Marcion may have been right. Their attitude is understandable since, if Marcion was right, it would mean that the original Gospel and the Pauline letters were written by someone who was basically a gnostic, by someone who sounds very much like Simon of Samaria or one of his followers. Perish the heretical thought! But even non-confessional admirers of Marcion like Couchoud seem likewise unable to take seriously Marcion’s claim. Instead they make Marcion himself the creator of the Gospel and say that he either created the Pauline letters or imposed his own religious ideas on letters that did not originally contain them. For some reason this solution is thought to be preferable to taking Marcion at his word. As far as we know Marcion never claimed to be the author of those writings. He claimed that when he came across them they were in a contaminated state. They had been interpolated by people who Judaized them, who turned their original author into someone who believed in a single highest God who was the God of the Old Testament and the Creator of the world. Is Marcion’s claim so unbelievable? Is it really out of the question that the original Gospel and Pauline letters were Simonian and that it was their opponents who Judaized those writings? (I say “Simonian” because the early record does not contain the name of any other first century Christians who held the belief that the creators of this world were inferior to the supreme God, and that those creators tried to hold men in bondage by means of the Law.) read more »


2012-01-21

Paul’s Letter to the Romans – the creation of the canonical edition according to Couchoud

by Neil Godfrey
English: page with text of Epistle to the Roma...

Page with text of Epistle to the Romans 1:1-7: Image via Wikipedia

I continue here the series covering Paul Louis Couchoud’s argument for the creation of the canonical New Testament literature from the 1939 English translation of his The Creation of Christ: An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity. The series is archived here — scroll to the bottom for the first posts where the overall purpose for which the literature is covered, along with when and why and why Couchoud suspects Clement of Rome as the editor (and author) responsible.

The guiding principle for the structure was Marcion’s “canon” that began with a Gospel and included ten letters of Paul.

Background: In brief, Marcion was a prominent leader of a form of Christianity that (at least until recently) has been generally believed to have rejected totally the Old Testament and taught that Jesus came down from heaven to preach about an Alien (unknown) God who was all love and higher than the Jewish God of the law and judgment. Marcion claimed Paul as his sole apostolic authority in opposition to the other apostles who never understood Christ’s message. Couchoud argues that a Roman church elder (he suspects Clement) attempted to unite the diverse Christianities represented by competing Gospels (such as Marcion’s Gospel, Matthew, John, Mark) bringing them all together through the themes expressed in Luke and Acts (his own creations, though Luke was largely a re-write of Marcion’s Gospel) except for the intolerable Marcionite views that had to be countered.

Couchoud has covered the creations and compilation of the Gospels and Acts, and now comes to the orthodox versions of the Pauline letters. Marcion had selected Galatians as the most appropriate for the introduction of Paul’s thought; “Clement”(?) preferred Romans as the one most potentially adaptable as a frame of reference for the “correct” reading of Paul’s corpus. (Marcion had placed it fourth.) This would leave nothing more to do than revise a few details here and there in the other letters.

This editor enlarged Romans to twice its original size. (Couchoud mainly follows Harnack’s reconstruction of Marcion’s thought, Gospel and epistles. I have begun posting elsewhere Sebastian Moll’s revision of Harnack’s basic premis in his 2010 work and must post more on that in the future. I keep with Couchoud’s thoughts here.) Massive additions were: read more »


2012-01-03

The earliest gospels 6(c) – Luke’s Gospel (Couchoud)

by Neil Godfrey
Evangelist Luke writing, Byzantine illuminatio...

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Continuing the series archived here: (I have also marked the name Josephus in bold for easy reference for any interested in the study of Luke’s use of Josephus.)

Irenaeus is the first to speak of Luke as the author of our Gospel and Acts dedicated to Theophilus (Haer. iii.1,2). Before Irenaeus we read in Colossians 4:14 of a Luke with the epithet “the beloved physician” having been interpolated into the original; and in the fictitious 2 Timothy 4:11 we read “Only Luke is with me.” Following

is an outline explication of the Gospel of Luke from Couchoud’s perspective of it having been composed around 142 c.e. by Clement of Rome.

The prologue refers to a number of Gospels and Acts already in existence and leads readers to infer that the author is collating his information from these earlier sources while also being in a unique position to offer more authoritative insights and a more coherent narrative of the whole.

With an acrobatic leap he passes from the fine style of a Greek rhetor to that of Biblical narrative. (p. 275)

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea,
A certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah:
And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

And they were both righteous, walking before God
In all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
And they had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren;
Both were well stricken in years.

Couchoud then outlines the narrative we know from Luke 1:8-38 and that I won’t repeat here. read more »


2011-12-27

The earliest gospels 1 — Marcion’s gospel (according to P.L. Couchoud)

by Neil Godfrey

This post follows on from the previous one outlining Couchoud’s thoughts on Gospel origins. It starts with highlights from what he believes (generally following Harnack) Marcion‘s Gospel contained; looks at the next Gospel written apparently by Basilides; then at the way our canonical Gospel of Mark took shape and why, followed by the Gospels of Matthew, John and Luke.

The Gospel of Marcion

The authorship was anonymous. (p. 138)

It was placed with the letters of Paul and a commentary, the Antithesis, as a replacement for the Jewish scriptures.

There is nothing of a connected narrative in it. (p. 139)

It was composed of some sixty anecdotes, or pericopes, detached fragments without any connection between them. (p. 139)

Jesus was not born but descended from heaven and the gospel begins: read more »


Another explanation of Gospel origins from a Christ Myth perspective

by Neil Godfrey
Marcion Displaying His Canon

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Edited last paragraph re Mark and Basilides ca 6 hours after original.

As to why a gospel was written about a “mythical” Jesus, here is a take by Paul Louis Couchoud from the 1920′s and published in English in 1939 as The Creation of Christ. (For other thoughts on this theme see discussion comments here.)

Couchoud attributes the first gospel to Marcion.

To make sense of this one must understand that Couchoud dates the letters of Clement of Rome and Ignatius to around 150 c.e. One recalls here the more recent ideas about the Ignatian letters by Roger Parvus. This leaves us with the common observation that “the half century from 70 to 120 is the most obscure period in the history of Christianity” (p. 110).

Couchoud argues that before that gap there was Paul, Jerusalem apostles and prophets. They all lay claim to visions of Christ. The Book of Revelation (dated prior to 70 and the fall of Jerusalem) is the outcome of a prophetic vision of one who is starkly opposed to Paul’s theology and visions. “Paul alone understood that the Son thus revealed was a crucified God.” (p. 132)

Couchoud relies heavily on Harnack’s interpretation of Marcion, an interpretation that has more recently met a trenchant challenge with Sebastian Moll’s The Arch-Heretic Marcion (2010). Moll says Harnack was anachronistically trying to make Marcion too much like an ideal Protestant reformer. But in this post I will let Couchoud have his say from his perspective in the early twentieth century.

Whereas many (including myself) have attempted to argue that the gospel narrative was an indirect response to the crisis of the first Jewish war that witnessed the destruction of the Temple in 70 ce, Couchoud places more emphasis on the events of the second Jewish war — the Bar Kochba rebellion (Bar Kochba being hailed as a Jewish Christ and being responsible for persecutions of Christians) and its suppression by Hadrian who erected a pagan temple on the site of the old in the early and mid 130s.

So of what had Christianity consisted up to this time? Couchoud considers how the Christian scene looked to Marcion: read more »


2011-11-07

Marcion’s date

by Neil Godfrey

For all the shortcomings of R. Joseph Hoffmann’s work on Marcion, Marcion, On the Restitution of Christianity, the one point he stressed and that was central to persuading me of the strong possibility that Marcion should be dated much earlier than is traditionally done, even as early as the opening decades of the second century, was a comment in the writings of Justin Martyr. Justin, writing in the middle of the second century, expressed some dismay that Marcion was “even now still” active and influential in the world. The clear implication is that it was surprising to see Marcion still preaching even at that late date.

Sebastion Moll in his 2010 book The Arch-Heretic Marcion knocks out that argument for an early date.

Finally, there is one passage in the work of Justin which has made some scholars believe that Marcion must already have been active before 144/145. In his Apology (ca. 153 – 154), Justin states that Marcion “has made many people in the whole world speak blasphemies” [Adv. haer. I.13,3] and that he is “even now still teaching”. . . .

Justin’s statement that Marcion is “even now still” teaching becomes understandable if we take a look at the preceding sections of the Apology. According to Justin, all heretics were put forward by the demons after Christ’s ascension to heaven. He then mentions Simon, Menander and Marcion, of whom the first two are of course long dead already. The reason for Justins’ surprise that Marcion is still teaching  is not his impressively long heretical career, but the fact that he is still active so long after the demons had put forward the other heretics. (p. 39)

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2011-03-01

Marcion’s rules for “mutilating” the Gospel of Luke

by Neil Godfrey

2009-09-16

Viewing Luke’s “Great Omission” in a context of Marcionite controversy

by Neil Godfrey

The Gospel of Luke relied heavily on the Gospel of Mark but omits everything in Mark that lies between the miracle of feeding the 5000 to Peter’s acknowledgment that Jesus was the Christ. That is, after following much of Mark closely, Luke omits:

  1. Jesus walking on the sea of Galilee
  2. Healing many at Gennesarat
  3. Controversy with Pharisees over eating with unwashed hands
  4. Exorcising the daughter of the woman from Tyre/Sidon
  5. Healing (with saliva) the deaf-mute in region of Decapolis
  6. Feeding the 4000 in the wilderness
  7. Controversy with Pharisees over a sign and warning of leaven of Pharisees and Herod
  8. Healing the blind man (after two attempts)

I have in the past discussed the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts within the context of the second century Marcionite controversy (e.g. Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts) and it recently struck me that there are some features in this Great Omission that anyone editing an anti-Marcionite version of a gospel would want to ensure do not get a mention.

Firstly, Mark had written that the disciples thought they were seeing a spirit when they saw Jesus walking past them on water. If Marcion’s Jesus came down directly from heaven and had more the appearance of a man than the reality, this episode might well have lent itself to supporting a view of Jesus more ethereal than fleshy and boney.

Secondly, the events and miracles of this section are in gentile areas. If Marcion emphasized the foundational role of Paul in establishing the truth that the Jewish disciples of Jesus had failed to grasp, and that Paul’s role was directed among gentiles as a result of Jewish rejection of Christ, then Mark’s themes of Jesus working among both Jews and gentiles had to be revised.

Thirdly, the controversy with the Pharisees over eating with unwashed hands contained a message from Jesus condemning certain Jewish laws. It is not impossible that an anti-Marcionite propagandist would easily be persuaded to omit such an episode for its potential to be manipulated by Marcionites who were “anti-Jewish” to the extent that they regarded all Jewish laws as derived from either humans or the Demiurge.

Fourthly, the two-fold attempt to heal a blind man strikes most readers as having a symbolic relationship with the two-fold blindness of the disciples over the two mass feeding miracles (of 5000 and 4000). Once the second of these miracles was removed, being in a gentile area (see “Secondly” above), the Markan miracle lost its significance and merely made Jesus looked like Superman fast fading in the presence of kryptonite. And no-one wanted to advance Mark’s very human Jesus, one possessed by the spirit and who used spit to heal. There were more “spiritual” ways to counter Marcionism’s view of Jesus.

The arguments for canonical Luke-Acts being an anti-Marcionite product of the second century rest on degrees of probability and plausibility. Maybe if the “Great Omission” can indeed by explained in anti-Marcionite terms then we can add one more degree at least to the plausibility of the argument.


2008-07-10

Reasons for Luke to change Mark’s account of the calling of the disciples

by Neil Godfrey

Someone on a discussion list recently drew attention to how the Gospel of Luke changes the position of the call of the disciples to a period later than that found in the Gospel of Mark, so that it appears awkwardly out of place. Mark first describes Jesus calling Peter and others before going into Peter’s house to heal his mother-in-law. Luke, oddly, first has Jesus going into Peter’s house, and only afterwards calling him and others. It looks like Luke or some later redactor has got into a muddle and put the first meeting of Peter and Jesus AFTER Jesus visited Peter’s place.

Well having recently completed some notes and thoughts about canonical Luke being a possible redaction of an earlier gospel that may well have been closer in many respects to the gospel of Mark, I had to take a few minutes to see if there might be any particular redactional agenda for such a switch of order in events. Or was it just a consequence of clumsy editing? (I’m rolling with the general view that the author of Luke’s gospel knew and copied much from Mark’s gospel.)

We can’t know the latter author’s reasons for making the switch, but we can look at how the change functions in the narrative and see if that can suggest some clue about what the author might have been trying to do.

The Gospel of Mark’s sequence

Jesus starts his ministry in Capernaum

Jesus calls disciples

Jesus casts out a demon – his fame spreads

Jesus enters Peter’s house and heals Peter’s mother-in-law

Jesus heals many after sabbath

Many look for Jesus but Jesus leaves them behind

Apart from calling his disciples at the beginning of his ministry, there is little obvious narrative structural sequence to the events in Mark. It is episodic in the sense of just one thing after the other. I do think there is a structure that holds these episodes together in Mark, but it is not at the narrative level, and is another topic for another time. The most we can see here is that Jesus, logically, calls Peter for the first time before joining him in his house.

The Gospel of Luke’s sequence

Jesus begins his ministry in Nazareth

Jesus moves to Capernaum

Jesus casts out a demon – his fame spreads

Jesus enters Peter’s house and heals Peter’s mother-in-law

Jesus heals many after sabbath

Jesus is hindered by crowds as he teaches throughout Galilee

Crowds press upon Jesus by the lake and Jesus preaches to them

Jesus commissions his first disciples

Is it my imagination or is there really a sequential narrative development that I see here?

  • Jesus begins his ministry in his home town. Result: he is cast out.
  • He then moves to Capernaum. Result. a demon is cast out and Jesus’ fame spreads.
  • After healing in Peter’s house, he heals many more after the sabbath.
  • The crowds are so thick around Jesus he finds it hard to move anywhere.
  • The crowds press on Jesus so he has to get into a boat to preach to them.
  • Jesus then commissions his first disciples to “catch men”.

This looks very much like the sort of thing we read in Exodus and Acts. Crowds become too much for the prophet or apostle. Helpers are marshaled in response to the growing need for help given the escalating success of Jesus’ ministry. The author uses the same trope in Acts, such as when Barnabas enlisted Paul’s help because of the mass conversions at Antioch. (Talbert, p.63)

And Luke elsewhere repeats the theme of needing labourers for the spiritual harvest.

Talbert also observes that with Luke’s narrative the disciples are supplied with a reason to believe in Jesus and follow him. This can be seen in the passages below. In Mark, Jesus calls and the disciples mysteriously follow immediately. In Luke, Peter has already seen the power of Jesus’ word when he exorcised a demon with a command and healed Peter’s mother-in-law with a rebuke. (In Mark Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law without a word.) So when Peter is commanded to cast his net in the sea and he replies, “At your word I will do it”, it is plausibly to think that the reader is meant to understand that Peter already knows the power of Jesus’ word.

So despite the incongruity of Jesus appearing to enter Peter’s house before we appear to be told how the two met, there is a discernible narrative logic to the Lukan sequence. It may not feel complete. Where did Peter come from? Why is he mentioned without any explanation when he first appears? And in other areas too: Why does Jesus mention his deeds at Capernaum before he is said to have entered Capernaum? Nonetheless, there is a narrative logic overlaying the incongruities.

The Gospel of Mark’s calling

Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.
And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.
And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.
And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.

The Gospel of Luke’s commissioning

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.
And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.
And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.

Comparing the two

Secondly, the Luke 5 lake scene is not a calling of the disciples as it is in Mark’s gospel. Canonical Luke does not narrate the calling of the disciples but their commissioning.

Compare Luke’s:

From now on you will catch men!

with the contingent Markan hope:

Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.

The idea in Luke of Jesus commissioning his disciples to help him is supported by the narrative logic already discussed. The crowds make the commissioning of the disciples, more than their calling in the hope they will succeed to the end, the real need.

There is also some ambiguity in the Markan passage about the meaning of being becoming fishers of men. If this is taken from Jeremiah 16:16 it could well be implying judgment, not salvation. But in Luke the theme of the crowds and the miracle of the fish-catch make it clear that the image means the converting of people to Christ.

This is further supported if one embraces the hypothesis that the author of canonical Luke knew John’s gospel and was blending John’s last chapter with the calling in Mark. John’s last chapter also depicts a miracle of an overwhelming catch of fish at the word of Jesus, and in that context it is clearly a metaphor for the conversions that Peter is expected to accomplish.

The theme of commissioning the disciples is elsewhere a prominent one in Luke’s gospel. The resurrected Jesus opens their understanding to the Jewish scriptures that were said to be prophetic of him, and he commands them to remain in Jerusalem until they are given heavenly power. They are confirmed as his witnesses. In Mark’s gospel, there is no certainty about the fate of the disciples at the conclusion, and in Matthew some of the disciples even doubted the resurrected Jesus.

Further, reflecting on the narrative logic above, this commissioning of the disciples arises directly out of the need for them to help with the spiritual harvest. It is the mushrooming crowds that make them a necessity. Calling to follow, with the possibility of failure, is not an option in Luke:

And the Lord said, Simon, Simon! Indeed Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to me, strengthen your brethren. (Luke 22:31-32)

By contrast it is readily possible to read the Gospel of Mark as concluding with the total failure of Jesus’ disciples. There is no resurrection appearance to them, and the narrative development has not encouraged the reader to expect them to follow Jesus at the end when or even if they hear he as gone on (again) before them. Like the seed in rocky soil they end their association with Jesus in fear, denial and betrayal.

Anti-Marcionite / proto-orthodox agenda?

Both these points combined — the need for the disciples on Jesus’ part, and the complementary commissioning of the disciples — are not found in Mark, yet they are consistent with canonical Luke’s interest elsewhere in establishing the authority of the disciples as commissioned witnesses and coworkers with and for Jesus. (See Luke’s resurrection chapter discussion.)

Canonical Luke can therefore be read as making changes to Mark’s gospel that reflect a program to strengthen the foundational place of the disciples in the Church. If so, this may be seen as one more of many other arguably anti-Marcionite agendas in canonical Luke-Acts. (See the Infancy Narratives discussion and the Body of Luke discussion.)


2008-07-02

Vridar makes it to the God Fearin’ Forum

by Neil Godfrey

As an atheist and social-political activist I’ve long had a soft spot for Catholics when it comes to social justice causes, so it was a flattering surprise to see a nice commendation of my recent series on Luke-Acts in relation to Marcionism in the Patristic Carnival XIII section of The God Fearin’ Forum, a blog for Catholic theology, philosophy and apologetics etc.

A companion recommendation listed with mine is Ben C. Smith’s commencement of “a thought provoking thread on the same subject: Which Came First, the Gospel of Luke or that of Marcion?”