A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 2: The Letters of Paul

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by Roger Parvus

This is the second post in the series: A Simonian Origin for Christianity.

Some argue that Paul’s theology just underwent a very rapid development.

Or that he changed his position to suit changed circumstances.

Others chalk up the inconsistency to his temperament. He was impulsive and wrote things in anger that he probably regretted later.

Or he toyed with ideas that he never seriously embraced.

Some say he just had an undisciplined mind and that we should therefore not expect logical consistency from him.

Was he even aware that his assertions were contradictory? Some scholars think so, and that love of paradox may explain his apparent unconcern for contradictions. But others think he was clueless.

. . . from the very first indications in the extant record of the existence of a collection of Pauline letters voices were raised to protest that it had been tampered with. . . .



A Reworked Collection of Simonian Letters


Pauline Zigzags

A much rarer author portrait of St Paul C9th, ...
A much rarer author portrait of St Paul C9th, follows similar conventions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A major problem for Pauline interpreters has always been how to explain the inconsistency of Paul’s theology. The inconsistency shows up, especially when the letters deal with subjects about which the proto-orthodox and early gnostics had differing positions. It is particularly noticeable in passages concerning the Law.

For instance, has the Law been abolished? Or is it still valid?

You can find passages in the Paulines to support both positions.

Can anyone actually do all that the Law requires?

Again, one can find Pauline passages to support either a yes or no answer.

Was the Law given by God? Or by angels?

That depends on which Pauline passage you look at.

Was the purpose of the Law to incite man to sin and multiply transgressions? Or to lead men to life?

Again, the letters can be enlisted to support either.

Did the author of the letters think that being under the Law was something to be rightfully proud of? Or was it slavery?

It depends.

All kinds of explanations have been offered to account for the zigzagging, but with nothing close to a consensus reached. There are those, for instance, who argue that Paul’s theology just underwent a very rapid development. Or that he changed his position to suit changed circumstances. Others chalk up the inconsistency to his temperament. He was impulsive and wrote things in anger that he probably regretted later. Or he toyed with ideas that he never seriously embraced. Some say he just had an undisciplined mind and that we should therefore not expect logical consistency from him. Was he even aware that his assertions were contradictory? Some scholars think so, and that love of paradox may explain his apparent unconcern for contradictions. But others think he was clueless:

[T]he thought wavers and alters with heedless freedom from one letter to another, even from chapter to chapter, without the slightest regard for logical consistency in details. His points of view and leading premises change and traverse without his perceiving it. It is no great feat to unearth contradictions, even among his leading thoughts. (William Wrede, Paul, p. 77, my italics)

Ten scholars who argue for interpolation

But there have always been scholars who solved the problem of Pauline inconsistency by questioning whether the letters were in fact the work of only one writer. And not just the Deutero-Pauline letters, but also the seven generally regarded as authentic. The inconsistencies existing right within the individual letters are such that many think it more likely that more than one writer was involved:

If the choice lies between supposing that Paul was confused and contradictory and supposing that his text has been commented upon and enlarged, I have no hesitation in choosing the second. (J.C. O’Neill, The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, p. 86)

Among those who put forward interpolation solutions were Allard Pierson and Samuel Naber. In their late 19th century Verisimilia they argued that the letters contain “two strata of thought which have been worked together. The one is of a sharply anti-Jewish character; the other consists of milder and more conciliatory ideas.” (Albert Schweitzer, Paul and His Interpreters, p. 124)

The antinomian parts of the letters are the earliest, while “[T]he present form of the letters is due to the fact that a later ‘Churchman’—the authors call him Paulus episcopus, and think that he may have served as the model for the Paul of Acts—worked into them the second, milder set of ideas.” (p. 124)

Another promoter of an interpolation solution was Daniel Völter. In the early 20th century he disengaged in the letters “the parts which are mainly plain and practical from those which relate to an antinomian speculative system” (Paul and His Interpreters, p. 146). Schweitzer had much good to say about Völter’s book Paulus und seine Briefe, praising it as “one of the adroitest performances in whole field of Pauline study” (p. 145). And he recognized the existence of the contrast that Völter used as his criterion:

It is not particularly difficult to separate in the letters the parts which are mainly plain and practical from those which relate to an antinomian speculative system. The resulting division between original text and interpolations has a more natural and simple air than is the case in any of the other attempts to draw the line between them (pp. 146-7).

But ultimately Schweitzer rejected Völter’s method as a dead end. For on what grounds, he asked, can one decide which of the untangled parts is original and which was added later?

Völter asserts that ‘simplicity’ is the mark of what is genuinely apostolic and Pauline. Since when? How does he know this? How, if it were just the other way round, and the strange, the abstruse, the systematic, the antinomian, the predestinarian represented the original element, and what is simple came in later! (p. 147)

I mention this because I for one would indeed turn Völter’s scenario the other way round. If Paul was Simon of Samaria, almost certainly “the strange, the abstruse, the systematic, the antinomian, the predestinarian” belonged to the original stratum.

Among other subscribers to an interpolation solution are Joseph Turmel, Alfred Loisy, L.G. Rylands, Robert M. Hawkins, Winsome Munro and, most recently, Robert M. Price.

The last named, in his excellent book The Amazing Colossal Apostle, views each Pauline letter as a patchwork quilt and, by using as a measuring rod the soteriology each literary patch exhibits, seeks to match it with the early Christian theological background it best fits. “I want to discern the most plausible Sitz-im-Leben (life context) for each” (p. 248). Thus, Price subjects the individual passages in the Pauline letters to the same kind of treatment that scholars use on Gospel passages. Using that method he reaches some conclusions with which I agree: that some parts of certain letters go back to Simon himself; and that the entire canonical ten-letter collection was padded by the proto-orthodox with new material in order to domesticate and sanitize it for their use.

But my hypothesis does differ from his in one important respect. I will cover that in my 4th post.

The First to Cry: “Interpolated!”

The very earliest Pauline interpreter too was convinced that the Paulines had been interpolated. . . . From the very first indications in the extant record of the existence of a collection of Pauline letters voices were raised to protest that it had been tampered with.
Markion of Sinope
Markion of Sinope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recourse to an interpolation solution should not be dismissed as just an overly-convenient and lazy way to explain the Pauline zigzags. For the extant record testifies that the very earliest Pauline interpreter too was convinced that the Paulines had been interpolated. Marcion claimed that someone had woven additions into the text and that the insertions were not innocent. Someone had deliberately changed the meaning of the original text. They Judaized letters that had been written by an apostle who believed in a supreme God higher than the Creator God of the Jews.

Pope Hyginus
Pope Hyginus

And when we ask how Marcion came up with that idea, the extant record again provides us with a believable answer: he learned it from a Simonian.

Irenaeus says that “a certain Cerdo, originating from the Simonians, came to Rome under Hyginus… and taught that the one who was proclaimed as God by the Law and the Prophets is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Against Heresies, 1, 27, 1).

Thus Cerdo came from Antioch to Rome shortly before Marcion’s arrival there. Pseudo-Tertullian says that Marcion was Cerdo’s disciple and tried to prove the doctrine of his teacher. And apparently Cerdo too held that the Pauline letters had been interpolated: “Of the Apostle Paul he [Cerdo] takes neither all the letters, nor in their integrity.” (Against All Heresies, 6, 2). According to Hippolytus, “Marcion corroborated the tenet of this one [Cerdo] in the work he wrote and which he styled Antitheses.” (Refutation of All Heresies, 7, 25).

Thus from the very first indications in the extant record of the existence of a collection of Pauline letters voices were raised to protest that it had been tampered with. And that protest can be traced back to someone associated with Simonians and who was from Antioch, the city that was the base of operations both for Simon’s successor Menander, and for Menander’s disciple, Satornilus.

Now if, as I have proposed, Paul was Simon, the natural assumption would be that the early letter collection bearing Paul’s name is Simon’s too. And that would explain why the earliest protest to arise regarding the Paulines was Simonian. So it seems to me worthwhile to try to test this,

  1. first by taking what the proto-orthodox tell us about Simon and his followers and, based on that information, seeing if Simonian authorship of some parts of the letter collection is plausible.
  2. And, second, by seeing if the zigzagging in the letters can plausibly be explained as caused by proto-orthodox corrective interpolations to letters that were Simonian in origin.

My hypothesis

I think the earliest parts of the original collection of Paulines were written between 50 CE and 130 CE by Simon of Samaria and his successor, Menander. Simonians were secretive, so the collection was likely intended for their use only. But by the early 130s some proto-orthodox Christians came to know of it and, by making certain additions and modifications, attempted to co-opt it for proto-orthodoxy.

This hypothesis can take in many of the insights of the scholars mentioned above who hold that the Paulines have suffered significant interpolation. And, importantly, it can plausibly identify the parties involved and provide a reason why the interpolations were made. The antinomian and sharply anti-Jewish stratum identified by Pierson and Naber, for example, would be the work of Simon. It is a stratum that includes many of the elements tagged by Völter as strange, abstruse, systematic, antinomian and predestinarian.

I think it can be shown that this was the original part of the letters. And that the other stratum consisting of simpler, milder and more conciliatory ideas was the superimposed work of the proto-orthodox. The reason why they interpolated those ideas into Simonian letters, I submit, was to co-opt them for proto-orthodoxy. It was part of making the new Paul someone distinct from Simon and proto-orthodox in belief.

Now, to make this case is going to be a big project. I will need to go through all the letters and show that there is a pattern to the alleged interpolations and that my hypothesis can explain that pattern. I obviously cannot undertake that project here in this overview. But I do want to give an example of the kind of analysis I am talking about. To illustrate I will discuss a passage that sits right at the beginning of the letter collection as it currently stands.

Romans 1:18 – 2:29

Many scholars view this passage as a digression. An impulsive, undisciplined Paul, they say, immediately digresses from the subject he had just introduced in 1:17: righteousness through faith. But Daniel Völter, Joseph Turmel, J.C. O’Neill, and Robert M. Price, among others, see it as an interpolation.

The passage falls into three easily discernible sections: 1:18-32; 2:1-16; and 2:17-29.

Who was God?

The first of the sections argues that immorality springs “from culpable refusal to recognize God as Creator” (O’Neill, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, p. 40):

Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.

And because the gentiles culpably refused to recognize God as Creator, God gave them up to idolatry (Rom. 1:23 and 25), dishonorable passions (Rom. 1:26-27), and a multitude of other vices (Rom. 1:28-32).

O man, whoever you are!

The second section (Rom. 2:1-16) is addressed to “O man, whoever you are” and tells him that he cannot pass judgment on another, for he himself does the very same things referred to in the first section. And it tells this man, whoever he is, that he is wrongly expecting to escape God’s just judgment:

Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience?

The passage then goes on to assert that

[O]n the day of wrath when God’s judgment will be revealed… he will render to every man according to his works… For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law that will be justified. (Rom. 2: 5, 6, and 13)

The Law

The third section of the passage (2:17-29) is addressed to Jews. It acknowledges that because they are “instructed in the Law” (2:18), they know God’s will and approve what is excellent. Since the Law is “the embodiment of knowledge and truth” (2:20), a Jew instructed in the Law is “a guide to the blind, and light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children” (2:19 – 20). But they are warned that they must not only teach that Law, but also fulfill its precepts,

For circumcision is indeed of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. (Rom 2:25)

Regarding this, J.C. O’Neill notes:

This is a fine appeal to a Jew from a fellow-Jew to keep the Law which they both profess… The whole assumption of this section, as of the last, is that Jews and Gentiles can keep the Law, and can act in a manner to deserve God’s praise by obeying the commandments. There is no suggestion that righteousness is elusive… One Jew is addressing another in confidence that he can be shamed into becoming worthy of his high status, and this section is not attempting to show the utter moral bankruptcy of Judaism. (Paul’s Letter to the Romans, pp.53-54)


For O’Neill the whole of Rom. 1:18 – 2:29 should be recognized as an interpolation on grounds of vocabulary and style (p. 41), and also for reasons of content.

The passage’s “logical lameness” (p. 50) is particularly important to him. All three of its sections “are oblivious of Paul’s problems” and “their line of argument is irrelevant to his immediate purpose” (p. 53). For “Paul’s problem is that even the Jew who conscientiously keeps the Law fails in the end to attain the righteousness acceptable to God, fails to become a truly righteous man.” Of this problem, the interpolator apparently had “no inkling” (p. 53); he had “no understanding of the problem Paul is concerned with in writing to the Roman Christians. (p. 53).

But O’Neill can provide no better reason for the lame interpolation than to say it was an honest mistake. The interpolator saw the word “righteousness” in 1:17 and basically said: “Hey, I know of another tract about righteousness. Why don’t I insert it here as a supplement!”

Naturally, a later commentator could easily feel the urge to say just how much Gentiles needed to become righteous; it seemed an obvious supplement to Paul’s argument to point out that refusal to worship the Creator led to immorality. (p. 41)

The explanation I wish to put forward is that 1:18 – 2:29 was written by some later commentator on Paul. He used a verbal similarity, in writing v. 18, to make a bridge between Paul’s argument and his own. Of course, he believed that his supplement was perfectly in tune with Paul’s thought; by providing arguments to show that God’s wrath descended only on those who could have known the truth, and who acted unnaturally by their immorality, the commentator believed he was supporting the statement that God’s righteousness (i.e. his justice) was revealed in the gospel. I think, however, that he has missed the true force of Paul’s statement in v. 17. (p. 43)


Whatever the true story of how and why the interpolator first added his long excursus, there is little doubt that his motive was not to correct Paul but rather to incorporate into Paul’s epistle another old and revered document which, he thought, bore on the same problem. (p. 54)

Now O’Neill may well be right that that Rom. 1:18 – 2:29 was a pre-existing tract that was brought into the letter. Robert M. Price thinks so too. But I don’t think the reason it was brought in was just an honest mistake. My hypothesis, I maintain, can provide a better reason for its insertion. And it can make much better sense of the murky second section of the passage, the part addressed to “O man, whoever you are” (Rom. 2:1-16).

The author was targeting Jews, they claim, and got ahead of himself. What he meant to say was . . . .

But there is a better solution . . . .

O’Neill points out that the “O man” is “a stylistic device used by Stoic philosophers to enliven the argument by conjuring up an objector” (p. 49). But he and Pauline commentators in general are hard put to identify who that conjured objector is. As we saw above, he is someone who is presuming to judge the gentiles, but does the same things they do. And he knows of the judgment of God but expects to escape it. Since commentators can find no good fit, most of them bring in prematurely the Jews of section three (2:17-29). The author was targeting Jews, they claim, and got ahead of himself. What he meant to say was “O Jew, whoever you are,” and the text of the second section probably made that point more clearly but has suffered some damage in transmission.

But there is a better solution, one that can not only plausibly identify the “O man, whoever you are,” but also show how his identity ties in with section one’s condemnation of those who refuse to recognize the Creator as God, and with section three’s positive evaluation of the Jewish Law. Our mysterious objector is none other than Simon/Paul himself and Rom. 1:18 – 2:29 was an anti-Simonian tract. The interpolator has boldly placed an anti-Simonian tract right at the beginning of the letter collection at the point that Simon/Paul was starting to lay out his righteousness-through-faith doctrine.

An Anti-Simonian Tract

Reading Rom. 1:18 – 2:29 with my hypothesis in view brings the full meaning of the passage into focus. The “very same things” (Rom. 2:1) that the objector, just like the gentiles, has done is “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). He and his followers have failed “to honor him [the Creator] as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). That is to say, Simon passed judgment on the gentiles but, protests the author of the tract, he really has no right to do so. For his failure to recognize the Creator as God is the very same sin the gentiles committed, the sin that led to their idolatry and immorality.

Simon’s “lie” was that the world was made by lower and ignorant angels, one of whom was the god of the Jews. “He [Simon] says that the God who made the universe is not the highest” (Pseudo-Clementine Homilies 2,22).

Who was God?

And although Simonian Christians did not worship lifeless idols, their recognition of a man, Simon, as “the Power of God that is called Great” (Acts 8:10) was, in the eyes of proto-orthodox Christians, a form of idolatry. It was the worship and service of the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). Justin relates that “almost all the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him [Simon] and acknowledge him as the first God” (1st Apologia 26). And according to the Pseudo-Clementine Homilieshe [Simon] wished to be regarded as a certain highest power, even above the God who made the universe” (2, 22).

O man, whoever you are!

And like the “O man” addressed in Rom. 2:3, Simon knew of the judgment of God but expected to escape it:

Although he says there will be a judgment, he does not expect one (Pseudo-Clementine Homilies 2, 22, my italics).

It is fitting too, for an anti-Simonian tract, to make clear that “on the day of wrath when God’s judgment will be revealed… he will render to every man according to his works… For it is… doers of the Law that will be justified” (Rom. 2: 5, 6, and 13). Simon taught that, since certain parts of the Law were instituted by the world-making angels to enslave men, those who believe in him need not heed their precepts, for “by his grace men are saved, not by just works” (Against Heresies, 1, 23, 3). This reliance on grace is what Rom. 2:4 sees as rash presumption on the kindness of God.

The Law

Finally, the third section of the passage (Rom. 2:17-29) too makes sense as part of an anti-Simonian tract. Simon dismissed Judaism and its Law as a way of salvation. Salvation came rather through the knowledge (gnosis) he imparted (Against Heresies, 1, 23, 3), knowledge about the supreme God and the Son he had graciously sent to redeem us from the world-making angels. The author of the anti-Simonian tract in Rom. 1:18 – 2:29 counters this by saying that the Law is “the embodiment of gnosis and truth” (Rom. 2:20). And it is those who are instructed in the Law who are “a guide to the blind, and light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children” (2:19 – 20).

Why the Paulines are Strangely Ambiguous

Heikki Räisänen, in his Paul and the Law, speaks for many scholars when he makes the observation that Paul’s negative statements with respect to the Law “are made problematic because other Pauline statements contradict them. Paul’s most radical conclusions about the law are thus strangely ambiguous” (p. 201). But if, as I submit, an interpolator lodged an anti-Simonian tract right in the first chapter of the first letter of a Simonian letter collection, it is inevitable that strange ambiguity should be the result.

The interpolation cannot help but color the way readers will understand the rest of the letter and the rest of the letters in the collection.

Throughout the letters wherever an unacceptable Simonian zig has been deemed too conspicuous, a proto-orthodox zag has been inserted to render it harmless. . . .

The Simonian zig— righteousness by faith—will be interpreted in light of the accompanying proto-orthodox zag—the anti-Simonian tract. I submit that throughout the letters wherever an unacceptable Simonian zig has been deemed too conspicuous, a proto-orthodox zag has been inserted to render it harmless.

But to make that case adequately will take some time. The above example illustrates how I intend to go about it. In the meantime, I am sure mainstream Pauline scholars will continue year after year to try to construct a cogent Pauline system out of Simonian zigs and proto-orthodox zags. It is wasted effort, in my opinion. They are starting out with incorrect assumptions.


In my next post I will argue that the earliest of the Deutero-Paulines—the letter to the Colossians—was written by Simon’s successor, Menander.


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Roger Parvus

Roger Parvus is the author of this post. Roger is the author of A New Look at the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch and Other Apellean Writings and two series of Vridar posts: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius and A Simonian Origin for Christianity. In a previous life Roger was a Catholic priest.

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32 thoughts on “A Simonian Origin for Christianity, Part 2: The Letters of Paul”

  1. Bold talk for a one – eyed fat man. I mean, what credentials do you bring to the table?

    Oops, I thought for a minute there I was an establishment scholar! 🙂

    Seriously, interesting stuff. Hopefully you will be able to publish a book on this.

  2. Excellent hypothesis. Thank you for posting this.

    Hopefully, your line of thought will bring us to Canonical gMark and how some scholars believe it was written by one from the Pauline faction of early Christianity.

  3. Dumb question… if the proto-orthodox were inserting all kinds of interpolations into the Paulines, then is it very likely that these Epistles originally only referred to a heavenly/gnostic “Christ” .. and the proto-orthodox came along and interpolated the name “Jesus” beside the word “Christ” as much as possible to further their agenda?

  4. It’s a good question, and one that I still mull over. And not just for the name/title “Jesus,” but for the name/title “Christ” too. When did the Son of God acquire these? I’m not sure the proto-orthodox should be credited or blamed for it. I think the Son of God may have already had the names/titles when the first Simonian letters were written in the 50s.

    But my reasons for thinking this are related to the gospel part of my hypothesis, and will be easier to follow after I reach and post that part. I will return to your question at that point.

  5. But my hypothesis does differ from his in one important respect. I will cover that in my 4th post.

    about this difference, I am curious to know how you will answer next to all the many cases where Robert Price shows the alternating of more simple gnostic elements and more complex gnostic elements, a kind of an other ”zig-zag” (zig: more simple, and then proto-gnostic, zag: more complex, and then later ‘fully’ gnostic) inside the general and auto-evident zig-zag (Gnostic vs Catholic), that may undermine the confidence in your pattern :

    ”one only first true author (Simon) versus many (Catholic) interpolators”,

    in favour of the other Price’s pattern :

    ”many (Gnostic) interpolators versus many (Catholic) interpolators”

    (this to simplify, because I know that Price ascribes a very tiny portion of Romans to same Simon).

    Second question: who were the ‘ebionites’ in your view ? Were they interpolators of pauline letters, sometimes ?


  6. How do u solve the clement of rome and Ignatius and Polycarp references to Paul writing….Also clement of Rome has an exclusive quote In Marcion’s Gospel that’s not in Luke showing Luke was after Marcion

  7. There is a very key point about Mosaic Law which is completely overlooked, which greatly impacts the circumstances and controversy the Pauline letters address, especially Romans and Galatians. Mosaic Law was not some abstract religious law as we tend to view it today, rather it was the legal code for the Province of Judea, much as Sharia Law is the legal code in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other Muslim nations today. Rome was rather practical in its conquests of various territories and tribes, leaving local tribes to remain under tribal Law – a much easier way to administer things, where only Romans fall under Roman Law. (Note, this is hinted at in Acts when Paul declares his Roman citizenship and demands he be tried under that Law and not the local Mosaic Law of Judea – this is of course not historical, but it shows the readers were aware of such a distinction in Roman legal jurisdiction.) Tribes without a legal code fell under the section of Roman Law known as “the Law of Nations (Ethnics)” which is referred to indirectly in Romans 2:14.

    The fact is Mosaic Law was in force in Judea up until the Province was dissolved and placed under the jurisdiction of the Hellenistic Syrian province, renamed Syria Palestina. At that moment Jews throughout the empire no longer had a recognized tribal Law. This event occurred in the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba revolt, in the final months of 135 CE. It much more naturally explains Antoninus, quite likely in his first few years of reign (if not upon taking office) granted pleas of Jewish citizens and subjects to allow circumcision – a ruling that survives in the Roman legal code. If one places the arguments of Paul against the Law and its sign of servitude, circumcision, as meaning submission again to the recently abolished Mosaic Law, there emerges an immediacy and currency in his statements that fits well the late Hadrian and the Antoninus reigns far better than the first century. It is only after Kitos and Bar Kokhba that Rome decided to do away with Mosaic Law. Note, Hadrian banned castration of slaves, as part of a series of rulings he made to restrict the slave trade – including a ruling that children gain the legal status from their mother in order to end the claims of surrogate parenting by contract (allowed since Claudius) so that citizen and free women could claim a slave father and sell the children. The claim that Hadrian’s ban extended to circumcision is not supported by the language in the legal code ruling – when they speak of circumcision in the law, they said “circumcision.”

    Basically the point of considering Mosaic Law in the 1st and 2nd centuries along the same lines as we think of Sharia Law, is that it forces us to not simply consider it as an abstract religious Law, but the actual legal code of a significant chunk of the Roman Empire who claimed Jewish nationality. It changes the context of Paul.

    BTW, the commentary about Simon in Justin’s Apology 1.26 is almost certainly a much later insertion (it does not fit the subject or language of the prior and subsequent chapters, and the subject is dropped just as ysteriously as it appears), just as the Simon material in Irenaeus (quoting NT Acts as a source of a heresy in AH 1.24, something he does nowhere else) is also suspect. The position Simon takes in Justin’s report is unmistakably Manichean. The same can be said of Simon in the pseudo Clementines. Bottom line, even the early church fathers were interpolated. Its much easier to see these passages being written at the end of the 3rd century or early in the 4th century than the late 2nd century. Either way seeing a kernel of a 1st century real person of Simon is even more speculative than making the claim for more substantial literary characters like Paul and Jesus. Put another way, claiming Simon is real and Paul is not, is a bit like claiming Severus Snape is real but Harry Potter is a character from fiction.

    1. There is a body of literature (I will try to remember to compile some references) that the laws of the Pentateuch were not real codes used in administration or legal jurisprudence but were in fact literary and philosophical/theological writings. Laws were revised within this code to support varying theological changes. There is more poetry and theological symbolism in the laws than real-life legislation.

      Thanks for the info on Justin’s passage about Simon. Some years ago I also read studies suggesting the references to the “Memoirs of the Apostles” in Justin were likewise interpolations. Unfortunately I don’t have ready access to a good scholarly library on Justin Martyr at the moment to follow these up.

      1. Neil,

        I think Prof. Thompson mentioned the same body of literature to me, and as I recall he specifically pointed me to the work of Calum Carmichael (as I now have some of his books in my library that I have yet to get to).

        I don’t know that I agree with the conclusions, though. The Primary History has the flavor of a Platonic constitution a la Laws (Nomos), and we have to remember that most ancient societies were ordered differently than modern societies. As somebody trained in the law, I have no problem accepting the concept of a code of religious/tribal laws coexisting with a broader code of civic civil and criminal laws. Indeed, today in the US we have at least three different bodies of law coexisting (civil, criminal and administrative/regulatory authority). And the concept of a separation of church and state was foreign to ancient Mediterranean societies (as it should have been, given that it is a product of the Enlightenment). Gods and the fear they instilled in commoners were central to controlling them, especially they were not citizens.


        1. Thanks for the name. I have downloaded dozens of articles and a few books by Carmichael and some others on this theme to try to absorb in coming weeks.

          If I recall correctly the evidence lies in the literary/theological structures, the narrative nature of the law-books, the impracticality and vagueness of a good number of them (ditto for Hammurabi’s code), and the evidence we do have not being what we would expect if they were actually real rules for the daily lives of whoever’s jurisdiction they came under. But I must read a lot more first.

          1. Martin Slicker argues that the Torah, at least, is not theological but political.


            An eBook is available via Google Play. (I own it, but have not gotten to it.)

            another title by Slicker:


            Here is the book by Carmichael that I ordered back in April (still have not read it):


            I don’t believe Slicker and Carmichael are necessarily in conflict because I don’t think Slicker is viewing the Torah as legislation.

            The quote from Thompson, in which he recommended Carmichael: “Your assumption that ancient laws, like those in Exodus and Deuteronomy- or Plato’s nomoi- lesgislate is not supportable.” In addition to Carmichael, Thompson pointed me to ihs latest book, “The Bible and Hellenism” (a collection of essays, in which I’ve found some good stuff but have not dug up that particular gem).

    2. Stuart,

      Assuming that 1st century conversion to Judaism by adult males required the clipping off of foreskins, I expect that the Mosaic Law was already a significant issue for some prospective converts well before the time of Hadrian and Antoninus. Similiarly unpleasant for prospective converts would have been the disruption to their social life by observance of the Law’s prescriptions regarding what one can eat and whom one can dine with. I see no compelling reason to think that the problem of the Law as an obstacle to conversion did not exist before the Bar Kosiba revolt.

      I’m afraid I’m also skeptical about your suggestion that the Simonian passages in the writings of the proto-orthodox church fathers are late 3rd/early 4th century interpolations. For one thing, the proto-orthodox heresy hunters of the first few centuries regularly argued against heresy by claiming that it arrived late on the scene. So I’m reluctant to accept that the kind of Father of heresy they would invent would be one who was contemporary with their Jesus and the Apostles. Similiary, I don’t see why a late proto-orthodox interpolator would add Simon to Justin’s writings but not add any mention of Paul and his letters.

      But in any case, the approach I’m taking in this series doesn’t really require any preliminary firm conclusions about these things. My approach is this: I am assuming, just to see where it leads, that the bits of information the proto-orthodox give us about Simon are basically correct. And I am assuming too that they are telling the truth regarding Marcion’s claim that by his time the Paulines had already been interpolated by someone whose rejection of Judaism was less radical than that of the original author of the letters. With these assumptions in mind, I am examining the letters. And what I am finding is that, even using the proto-orthodox info, Marcion’s scenario for the letters is more believable than the proto-orthodox one. That is to say, the tug-of-war going on right in the canonical versions of the letters makes better sense if they were written by someone who held views very much like those the proto-orthodox ascribe to Simon, and then they were interpolated/corrected by someone whose views were proto-orthodox. To me this scenario seems to explain many puzzling passages in the letters.

  8. Hi Roger,
    Are you open to possibility that was Marcion the first to write a Gospel, followed by reaction from all the others canonical and apocriphal Gospels?

    Robert Price thinks that the first Gospel was written from a marcionite, after Marcion.
    You thinks that the Gospel was a simonian allegory, written before Marcion.

    I’m reading with very gusto posts like this and this by prof Markus Vinzent. His view explains many riddles in Luke and Mark (for eample, he explains very well why Mark starts with John the Baptist and not with Jesus).

    You have said that Marcion is not one that liked allegorizing from OT and was not a liar. But this is correct about the epistles: therefore Marcion didn’t forge them. I find no mendacious intention behind the will of writing a Gospel for the first time(believing to be inspired from God).

    What are your reasons to confute the idea of Marcion being author of the first Gospel in History?

    Very thanks,


    1. If Marcion claimed to have written a gospel, I expect that claim would have turned up somewhere in the considerable anti-Marcionite literature produced by the proto-orthodox. It doesn’t. Anywhere. Others claimed to have written gospels. Valentinus, for example, and Philumena. And the proto-orthodox addressed those claims. But the issue they have with Marcion is his attempted purification of an existing gospel and existing Pauline letters.

      1. Not sure I get this. Didn’t Tertullian for example claim that Marcion distorted the gospel of Luke, rather than the other way round as claimed by Marcion?

  9. After reading your suggestion that Romans 1:18 to 2:29 was a proto-orthodox interpolation, I naturally wanted to compare this with Marcion’s version of Romans. In this passage (using the notes from Jason BeDuhn), these verses are attested: 1:18, 2:2, 12-14, 16, 20-21, 24-25, 28-29.

    How does this fit into your theory? Did Marcion preserve the earliest version of Romans? If so, then at least parts of this passage are original. Or did Marcion take an already interpolated version of Romans and do an incomplete edit job?

    1. I’ve removed my earlier comment that was made in haste this morning — I had wrongly thought the question was in relation to another article and section of Romans. I’ll leave Roger to reply to this query.

    2. Pending Roger’s response, I do note that Rom. 1:18 of BeDuhn’s reconstruction acknowledges that there is no evidence for Marcion’s text containing “of God” and that Tertullian is responsible for injecting that word by way of rhetorical rebuttal. That is, Tertullian is assuming Marcion’s text should be interpreted as a reference to the wrath of the one and only god who was also creator. That leaves open the possibility (probability?) that Marcion’s text was in fact speaking of the Creator’s wrath, and that Tertullian twisted the reference to apply to the Creator cum Only God. Yes? No?

      On Rom 2:12-13 BeDuhn cites his source as a scholion in a manuscript attributed to Epiphanius. Such a source naturally raises questions. Perhaps others can enlighten.

      BeDuhn’s reference to late third century/early fourth century Adam* in relation to 2:14, 16 also raises questions about the original Marcionite text. I recall Hoffmann pointing out (probably others have done the same) that the Marcionite text itself appears to have undergone ongoing revision, changes, even after Marcion himself had died.

    3. Dale,

      I have laid out my thoughts on Marcion in the 4th post in the series, and in some of my responses to questions in that post and others. There you will find that, as I see it, the collection of Simonian letters had already been re-worked by the time Marcion became a Christian. I don’t think he had access to any undoctored version of the letters. And so his attempted restoration of them may or may not have been successful.

      I’m inclined to agree with what Harnack says in his “Marcion — The Gospel of the Alien God,” :

      “… for his purifications of the text—and this is usually overlooked—he [Marcion] neither could claim nor did claim absolute certainty. But this is evident also from the history of his text; his pupils constantly made alterations in the text—sometimes more radical than his own, sometimes more conservative—perhaps under his very eyes, but certainly after his death. We are told this most definitely by Celsus, Tertullian, and Origen, and also by Ephraem, and we possess examples of it. Thus the Marcionite church did not receive from its master the gospel and the ten letters of Paul with the instruction to revere the re-established text as a ‘noli me tangere’ [do not touch], but the master gave to them the liberty, indeed perhaps left behind him the obligation, to continue the work of establishing the correct text.” (p. 30)

      Along the same lines J.C. O’Neill writes:

      “Perhaps the first biblical scholar to have embarked on the task was not Weisse, but the heretic Marcion, and although his results do not seem to be the right ones, the fact that he attempted to discover what Paul originally wrote may be quoted as early evidence that the attempt is necessary. Marcion may not simply have wanted to show that Paul’s thought was a little different from the representation of it in the generally accepted epistles; he may have actually heard that Paul’s original letters had been overlaid by commentary, without possessing accurate information about what was original and what secondary.” — “The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians,” p. 11

  10. Anyone ever consider Mark, where as in the Marcionite system, Jesus first appeared in Galilee descending as an image of a man?

    And in Mark that is where it begins.

    Also Simon in Acts is an obscure reference to Paul and his obsession with buying his way into the confidence of the Poor Saints of Jerusalem (Ebionites) with money.

    Something Paul/Simon (I totally agree with the theory you proposed and have since reading H&R.

    You should read the Syriac translation.

  11. On what basis would Simon judge the gentiles? He is anti-law. So how could he be the “O man whoever you are,” in section 2? This man seems to make the law a boundary between himself and gentiles. Price says 1:18 – 2:29 is a Hellenistic Jewish Synagogue sermon. That makes sense to me.

    1. Kent,

      I wrote the above post in September of 2013, but later revised my hypothesis in March of 2019. I do still regard 1:18 – 2:29 of Romans as a proto-orthodox interpolation written around 140 CE by someone like Justin Martyr. But I now think the interpolation takes aim not directly at Simon Magus, but rather at those of his spiritual descendants who were viewed by the proto-orthodox as being Christians-in-name-only (CINOs). Justin says these ersatz believers called themselves Christians but he knows them to be “atheist, impious, unrighteous, and sinful, and confessors of Jesus in name only, instead of worshippers of Him” (Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 35).

      In the Dialogue Justin can freely identify the guilty ones as Saturnilians, Basilideans, Marcians, and Valentinians (ch. 35). But such precision in Romans would give the game away, and so instead we get the vague “O man, whoever you are.” I think that in both cases the people are the same: Christians of Simonian taint who hold themselves to be superior to the pagans but who , to proto-orthodox eyes, behave just as badly if not worse.

      (It is interesting that in the Dialogue Justin’s condemnation of the CINOs was prompted by Trypho’s observation that “many of those who say that they confess Jesus, and are called Christians, eat meats offered to idols, and declare that they are by no means injured in consequence.” In chapter 8 of 1 Corinthians that is precisely the kind of Christians we see. I suspect that some of the contributors to the Pauline letter collection were Saturnilians, i.e, followers of the ex-Simonian Saturnilus, and that they did not have qualms about eating meats offered to idols.)

      Last, I still see Rom 1:18 – 2:29 as a kind of proto-orthodox guardrail for the Pauline letter collection as a whole. Someone in charge realized that the compilation was a “mixed bag” with many questionable elements. Thus the need for a proto-orthodox insertion early in the collection to guide how the letters should be understood. In that early insertion we get up front the proto-orthodox stance viz a viz pagans, unacceptable Christians, and Jews.

  12. My guess is that all are under condemnation by the creator demiurge, Jew and gentile; and that people are helplessly captive to the elements of the world until enlightened by the emissary of the true heavenly Father. Perhaps this tract writer misinterprets Simon as being judgmental.

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