The anti-Marcionite character of the Pastoral epistles?

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by Neil Godfrey

Since Marcion is assumed to be “anti-Jewish” it seems nonsense at first blush to associate his “heresy” with the “Jewish error” in the Pastorals. But in fact what Marcion rejected was the typographical or allegorical reading of the Jewish scriptures. He read them literally and was accused of believing a form of Jewish error. See my previous post on Literal and allegorical scriptures in orthodoxy and heresy. But to start from the beginning . . . .

The Pastoral epistles, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, are unlikely on linguistic and historical grounds to be by Paul. (See the discussions at the links above for more details and resources on the authorship question.)

Following are my notes from R. Joseph Hoffmann’s work exploring the possibility that the Pastorals originated in the time of conflict with Marcion (early second century) and were part of the wider effort to combat Marcionism.

The Pastorals make their first appearance among the surviving records in the “anti-heretical” writings of Irenaeus. For Irenaeus (late second century) they were from the pen of Paul and serve a heresiological function. Ditto for Tertullian shortly afterwards.

The Muratorian Canon mentions them directly before its discussion of the rejection of the Marcionite epistle to the Laodiceans.

They do not appear in The Gospel of Truth. Nor in the 3rd Century Codex p.46 (Chester Beatty Papyrus).

There are no Marcionite Prologues for the letters to Timothy or Titus.

There are linguistic similarities across the Pastorals, the writings of Ignatius and the epistle of Polycarp that can be seen as pointing to the following:

  • The Pastorals were born in the same cultural tradition as the writings of Ignatius and Polycarp
  • The possibility even that the Pastorals were written by Polycarp or “Luke”
  • The Pastorals, Polycarp, the epistles of John and Ignatius were all contemporaneous documents moving to catholic thought (Von Campenhausen)

The Pastorals, Hoffmann argues, were part of the larger effort, along with Luke-Acts, to reclaim Paul’s authority from the Marcionites in particular.

Out of the Pastorals and Ignatian writings and those of Polycarp, the only individual we have a firm grip on is Polycarp:

  • he was very likely a contemporary of Marcion (see earlier posts on the early dating of Marcion)
  • he was associated with John and others “who had seen the Lord”
  • he presided over the Christian community 40 mile north of Ephesus,
  • in his Phil 2.7f he echoes the language of 1 John 4.2 & 2 John 7.
  • he complains that certain heretics claim “Paul’s wisdom” is exclusively “theirs” (3.2) and discusses (Marcion’s) doctrine of false apostleship (9.2)

If Luke-Acts and the Pastorals are a triad created in response to Marcion by those associated with a Johannine circle in Ephesus, then it is conceivable that Polycarp was their author. Note also the altercation between John and Marcion in the anti-marcionite prologue to the 4th Gospel – Is it this that lies behind Polycarp’s warning? Hoffmann suggests the possibility that it was Marcion’s radical (ditheistic) Paulinism that led to his expulsion from a circle of John, Aristion, Polycarp and Papias, and later Ignatius.

The ‘Jewish error’ in the Pastorals

  • Justin (Trypho 7, 11, 12, 44 . . .) — Justin argues relentlessly that the Jewish preophecies were fulfilled in Christ that Goodspeed (1966) wonders if he was intending a rebuttal of Marcionism.
  • Barnabas (1.7; 4.7; 7.1)
  • Luke-Acts
  • Pastorals (1 Tim 1.7; 2 Tim 3.8; Tit 1.10, 14; 3.9)

For all of the above any form of Christianity not based on a typological interpretation of the Old Testament was a “Jewish error”.

Titus 1:14 charges the heretics with holding on to “Jewish myths”.

Compare the teaching of Marcion. Marcion held a literal historical and non-allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies and a belief in the literal restoration of the kingdom of God under a Davidic Messiah (distinct from the saviour Jesus who came from the Alien God) — for the Jews in the future.

Only Marcion among the heretics is known to have taught such “Jewish fables” or shared his “Jewish error” — Tertullian.

Opponents claimed Marcion “formed an alliance with Jewish error” by refusing an allegorical interpretation of the Jewish scriptures. His literal view led to his rejection of the idea that the true Messiah or Christ was the Son of the Creator God (cf Rom 11.26) (Justin’s 1st Apology condemns this).

1 Tim 1.7 accuses heretics of being ignorant/legalist “teachers of law”

Marcionites were well known for their moral rigorism, their dietary and purifactory laws. These would not easily have been distinguished from the Jewish practices that Paul rejected. Compare Ephesians 2:15 and Colossians 2:14. Romans 14:3 was not known to Marcion.

Irenaeus (Haer 1.28.1) made Marcion the spiritual founder of the Encratites, thus implying Jewish provenance for Marcionite ascetism.

But one needs to note the gulf between the Pastoral and earlier “Pauline” writings (taught by Marcion) about the status of the law. Galatians 5:18ff, Romans 8:2f, 1 Corinthians 6:12a, 2 Corinthians 3:6b all teach that the law is associated with sin and death and that salvation means the liberating of the Christian from its power. This is not the teaching of the Pastoralist: see 1 Timothy 1:8-9 and comments below.

It is often assumed that the Pastoralist misunderstood Paul’s teaching about the Law, but Hoffmann proposes that rather than attempting to summarize Paul’s thought he was in fact attacking the Paulinism of Marcion.

Further differences between the Pastoralist’s teaching of the law and Pauline thought:

  • Pastor’s “law” is not “mosaic legislation”. I Tim 1.5, speaks of the ‘end of command’ (parangelia), not of law (nomos).
  • When Pastor does use nomos (1 Tim 1.8) in explicating the ‘use’ of the law he adopts a most unpauline stance (cf Rom7.12ff; 8.4f; Gal 3.19, 21-25). For the Pastor, Law is designed to prevent disobedience and sinfulness of those who oppose sound doctrine (1 Tim 1.10b; cf 2 Thes 3.6, 14) – not, like Paul, ‘to lead into sin’.
  • Col 2.16f (vs. Col 3.5f) – Col 2.8 (cf Eph 5.6a) corresponds to Tit 1.14b (cf Polycarp’s Phil 7.1) where ‘commandments’ are from ‘men who pervert the truth’ – not the Mosaic law, but commands of men that the Pastor deems to be “Jewish” practices (cf Rev 3.9)

Thus the “law-teachers”in the Pastorals are actually teaching a different line about the law from Pastor himself. 1 Timothy 1.8-9 is foreign to Paul who thought law was liable to abuse precisely when it was used lawfully.

Thus it is quite possible that law-teachers may have been more Paulinist than the Pastor here.

Pastor deliberately recasts the teaching of Paul to respond to heretical teaching about the law. Hoffmann sees Marcion preserving the speculative value of the Jewish law while rejecting its pragmatic value. There is thus no reason to think the Pastor naively misunderstood Paul in 1 Tim 1.6ff, since that would imply he was trying to sum up Paul’s view, and he is not trying to do this at all.

Marcionite motifs in Pastorals

Paul addresses Timothy as a true child of the faith, as one who can be trusted to pass on Paul’s legacy. Timothy is left in Ephesus to make sure no-one teaches anything else, and the error threatening the church in Ephesus appears stubborn enough for the writer to have Paul intending to return there soon himself. Meanwhile Timothy is encouraged to continue holding on to the sound doctrine he has personally received from Paul.

Hoffmann asks: Is it possible to imagine a Jewish-gnostic heresy making such strong inroads in a city where there is such hostility between Jews and gentiles, especially given the memory of Paul’s troubles there? (cf the Acts of Paul for this memory, too.)

Thus Hoffmann concludes:

(a) the heresy is one with a different interpretation of Paul, and one that is not yet taking over the Ephesian church;

(b) the struggle is nevertheless tense: the danger is near Ephesus (cf. Acts of John, 30) since Paul has to return there soon. Meanwhile Timothy and Titus are to act as Paul’s loyal front-liners;

(c) Timothy and Titus are called legitimate and true sons of Paul etc, implying the heresy is a variation of Paulinism. (Note also the “orthodox” interpolation in Ephesians 2.20 insisting that the church’s foundation was of the apostles and prophets);

(d) Hoffmann also offers reasons for suspecting Polycarp as a possible author of the Pastorals, and as one who was prepared to fight false letters with false letters. But I will leave that side of the discussion to one side for now.

The Threat to Ephesus

1 Tim 1.17 makes the point that there is only one god

1 Tim 2.3, 5ff emphasizes that this one god is also their saviour; and that there is one mediator, the man Jesus Christ (i.e. referencing the ditheism and docetism of Marcion? — Marcionites denied the creator god was the saviour)

2 Tim 3.5 — the heretics have false ideas about power of this (creator) god (cf Marcion who taught that the creator god was “a lesser” god)

The above also implicitly reject a notion of a second christology (one of the myths of Titus 1:14a taught by Marcion?)

1 Tim 2.3, Tit 1.3 are possibly repudiating Marcion’s strong soteriological emphasis?

Tit 3.6, 4f God saves through mercy for our sins against him (contrary to Marcion’s teaching that the sins were against the lesser god’s laws and the saving higher god acknowledged humanity’s ignorance)

2 Tim 2.18 combats a heresy saying the resurrection is past . . . (Marcion taught salvation is present now)

2 Tim 2.8 and that denies the physical resurrection of the man Jesus

2 Tim 1.7 — the heretics seem to teach god has been fickle to mankind (2 Tim 1.9f) (cf as per Marcion’s creator god)

1 Tim 1.18; 2 Tim 3.15-16 — affirm that Jewish prophecy is proof of god’s steadfastness in his promise (contra Marcion)

1 Tim 2.11 — the attitude to women is not like Paul’s – Note also that Marcionite women were teachers or prophetesses (Tert, Hipp, Epiph, Eznik)

1 Tim 3.2, 12, 5.11, 14; 4.3 — the Pastor encourages marriage — presumably responding to contrary practices — such as Marcion’s?

1 Tim 4.1ff — ascesis includes separation of married couples (cf Acts of Paul and Thecla) and a life of continence for those who remain married. (cf Marcion’s teaching)

1 Tim 5.5, 3, 16 — notes those who are “really” widows, and artificially designated “widows” by the ascetic command of men

1 Tim 4.3 — sex and marriage and childbearing are gifts of God pleasing to him (2.15, Tit2.4). Ignatius and Polycarp speak of a heresy that divorces partners and corrupts families at Ephesus. They beg them to be contentedly married: they also refuse to name the heretics – eg Ign. Smyrn 7,2, . . . — not wanting to give them free publicity?

1 Tim 4.7 — Some women are carried away by silly myths, turned after Satan (5.15), families disrupted (Tit 1.11), weak women who listen to anyone…= last days (2 Tim 3.6). Note that Ignatius and Polycarp have the same problem. And note the arguments for dating Marcion earlier to their time frame.

In all the above we see the outline of Marcion’s teaching on marriage; and Tertullian ridicules Marcionite women for “flaunting their rigorist moral principles and impugning the purposes of the creator (AM 5:8.12; Praes. 41).

1 Tim 5.23 appears to repudiate the heretical practice of using only water (in eucharist)?

1 Tim 4.3 — and abstaining from certain foods (cf Rom 14.20)

1 Tim 1.8 — goodness of the law is aimed against prohibitions on food and marriage

The Pastoralist has taken over the language of Rom7.12 here. Rom 7.4ff was basis of Marcion’s view of the law, and one can imagine Marcion using the same being proof text against marriage, and Rom 14.21 as the justification for his dietary laws. The Pastor has reduced Paul’s cautionary note to a simple request for discretion (Titus 2.3!) and further declared the law to be a restraining good thing.

These issues presume a dualistic world view among the heretics, with the things of the Creator being disparaged (2 Tim 3.5).

Yet the Pastor admits the heretics have a form of piety. The Pastor, with Tertullian, argues creation cannot be against the creator, and that the Marcionites really despise god himself (Tit 1.15f)

Tit 2.14; 1 Tim 5.25; 2 Tim 3.17 — stress the importance of doing good works

2 Tim 3.15ff — faith is a communicated body of doctrine

2 Tim 3.17; Tit 3.14 — which serves as a spur for doing good works (cf James 2.17ff)

Tit 3.8 — good works are the proof of belief (opposes faith alone as salvation)

Tit 1.16 — heretics profess to know god but don’t do good works

4 further clues to identify the unnamed heresy?

1. focus on church order and chain of authority

1 Tim 5.22 — the “corporatized” policy of an orderly transmission of teaching authority and church office are central to letters. Marcionism was accused of being slack in this regard, using gifts as a basis for teaching opportunities (2 Cor 8.14; 1 Cor 12; Rom 12). The Pastor ignores any mention of such gifts.

2. The seafaring metaphor applied to heretics?

1 Tim 1:19 — Is this shipwreck metaphor an allusion to Marcion’s being a wealthy shipowner from Pontus? (Hoffmann discusses how far back this tradition goes and the issues surrounding the possibility of the Pastoralist knowing and using this metaphor.)

3. The love of money being associated with heretics?

1 Tim 6.10 (cf Polycarp’s Phil 4.1) may speak to the tradition that Marcion had once tried to buy the faith? Compare its link with 1 Tim 6, with men of corrupt minds supposing gain is godliness. Important here to note the difference between the Pastor’s and Marcion’s views of faith. To the Pastor faith was a body of truth to be received and guarded; for Marcion it was acceptance of God’s gift of love and mercy. Marcion would not have understood the later Pastoralist concept of “buying faith”.

Hoffmann discusses the way the biographies of Marcion and Diogenes the Cynic coalesced confusing the actual details of Marcion’s life. He also sees Tertullian’s accusation of Marcion presenting the church at Rome with 200 sesterces as improbable. But it was what the author believed that was significant, regardless of the actual facts.

4. The reference to Paul’s companionship with Luke

2 Tim 4:11 — Marcion rejected as false the claim that Paul and Luke were companions. This companionship tradition was used to justify “orthodox” interpretations of Paul.

Irenaeus first used 2 Tim 4.11 to prove Luke had special access to Paul’s teaching. Luke, Timothy and Titus were presented as the three guardians, with Luke named as being especially close (“only Luke is with me”).

Luke is most importantly named as the last witness of Paul’s teaching. The Pastoralist had written that Paul had hoped to return to Ephesus, but knows he did not, but died — and this is hinted at in the verses just prior to the mention of Luke — Paul was ready to be offered up and receive his crown. (vv 6-8). Then follows the list of names of all others who had deserted him, leaving only Luke to remain as the one to guard Paul’s work.

Hoffmann sees one of the primary reasons for the Pastorals is the establishment of a Pauline succession. Timothy was guardian at Ephesus, Luke the constant companion to the last.

Irenaeus understand the polemical value of this information. He used the “we passages” in Acts to “prove” Luke was the constant companion, and again this Pastoral mention to confirm his role as the guardian of the teaching of “an orthodox Paul”.

Hoffmann writes:

“In the absence of any independent sources identifying Luke as holding this privileged position, one is obliged to conclude that the tradition originates in the course of anti-heretical propaganda . . . ” (p.303)

Yet the historical Luke had occupied no special position in relation to access to Paul’s teaching. There is no reason to infer this from any of the earlier references to Luke, nor that he held a secretarial position. (cf Philemon 24 and the interpolation in Col 4.14)

It appears that the “orthodox” in Ephesus looked back to a Luke who was one of their “fathers”. Perhaps Marcionites knew him as such as well. But over time as the battle over “heresy” mounted, this past historical Luke was marshaled into the service of the orthodox as the one correctly passing on the “orthodox” teachings of Paul — and also became known as the author of the gospel and Acts.

wheh! i’ve been trying to finish off this post for over a year! finally!

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Neil Godfrey

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9 thoughts on “The anti-Marcionite character of the Pastoral epistles?”

  1. That statement was based on the following in Hoffmann’s book:

    Hoffmann, p. 302: “We have already noted the existence of a ‘companionship tradition’ in the struggle over the entitlement to Paul’s teaching. The Marciontes (whether in Marcion’s lifetime is uncertain) rejected this tradition, [woops, i should have said marcionites there, not marcion — i misread some very old shorthand] and made the claim that the orthodox version of Luke ‘is falsified in respect of its title’.” Here Hoffmann footnotes Tert’s AM 4.3.5

    The “we have already noted” reference appears to me to be to an earlier chapter where the name of Marcion’s gospel is discussed (p139-141). Hoffmann does not accept at face value Tertullian’s assertion that M’s motive for discrediting the apostles was to denigrate the gospels that bore their names (AM 4.3.2) — to M they the apostles had already discredited themselves in their preaching, and anything bearing their name would be discredited from the start.

    & there is no evidence M ever knew of any gospel by Luke. The Marcionites in Tertullian’s day maintained GLuke was “‘falsified in respect of its title’ and that their own gospel ‘was not to be attributed to Luke’.” Footnote to Tert AM 4.3.5

    For Marcion the gospel was not something that was “received” but something “revealed”, and that to Paul alone. The true gospel was a revelation attributable to none other than Jesus Christ, not to any apostle. Marcionites believed the orthodox gospel to be an adulteration of their own (AM 4.3.5), “and provided they understood theirs to be given by Paul, there would have been little reason for them to adopt the tradition (cf Haer. 3.14.1) that the gospel had been written by a companion of Paul.”

    No evidence M knew of the words re Luke in 2 Tim 3.11. M did know Col. 4.14 and Philemon 24 where Luke is mentioned. But nothing at all special about Luke there — the companionship tradition begins with 2 Tim 4.11 and its takeup by Irenaeus and Tertullian, and was unknown to Marcion.

    “There thus exists no rationale for a deliberate decision to exclude Luke’s name from the gospel, since if the companion-tradition had been accepted by Marcion as legitimate, he could have retained the title without loss of credit to his expurgated text.”


    I don’t think Hoffmann mentions it in this book anywhere but his clear distinction between Marcion’s uniquely “revealed” gospel to Paul alone and the “received traditions” of the orthodox reminds me of Luke’s preface (unknown in M’s gospel of course) and raises the question whether that preface itself was part of the polemic. But I’ll have to get back to my notes from Tyson to discuss that some time.

  2. what a refreshing blog – I cant tell you how much twaddlespeak and feel goodism infect these blogs and the church – you are the welcome exception

    Its nice to see someone stake a doctrinal position and explain it with something other than the il percieved whisperings of the HS

  3. Again, the rejection of the Epistles or Letters as not Paul’s is simply to reject the whole internal evidence itself. As we can see in other Pauline Letters themselves..2 Thess. 2:2-3 ; 3:17 / 1 Cor.16:21/ Gal. 6:11/ Co. 4:18 / Phm.19. The whole idea of Pseudonymity in the NT has not been made!

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