Tag Archives: Marcionism

What was Marcion’s gospel all about?

Rene Salm is currently doing a series of exploratory posts on that early “heretic” Marcion and asking what was the nature of his gospel. We tend to think of a gospel as a written story of Jesus, as in our four New Testament gospels, but the word has often been used in its other sense in the earliest Christian literature — that is, to refer to the message of good news that the earliest Christians (or whatever they called themselves then) preached.

Marcion, you will recall, was that early second century religious leader from Asia Minor (Turkey) who gained a following across much of the Mediterranean world and who taught that Jesus was not sent by the Creator God of the Bible but by a higher God, a hitherto unknown God of love unlike the Jew’s God of law and punishment. He also claimed Paul was the only true Apostle, that Jesus’ original followers failed to understand their Master, and that Paul’s letters had been corrupted, that is interpolated, by the “proto-orthodox” church led by Roman bishops. He also is thought to have had a written gospel that was an early form of our Gospel of Luke.

Rene Salm is not satisfied with scholarly attempts to reconstruct what they believe Marcion’s “pre-Lukan” gospel looked like. He argues that Marcion’s gospel was entirely and only the message of grace and love, and was never a written narrative about a life of Jesus at all.

One of the several strands of argument he follows is that since Marcion’s Jesus was never truly a flesh and blood human, it follows that he could have no earthly life or career for anyone to write about. I am not so sure. We do have stories, but Jewish and “pagan”, of non-human deities or spirit beings appearing on earth as if they are human, with those they encounter believing them to be human, and who do have narratives written about them.

One example is Dionysus, the god of wine and frenzy. A very famous play was written about him by Euripides. In that play Dionysus was mistaken by his opponents and the uninitiated as just another person. They even took hold of him and tied him up. Or at least Dionysus allowed them to do so, knowing that he could escape at any time he chose.

In the Gospel of Luke there is a story of Jesus being taken from a synagogue by a mob wanting to kill him. They take him to the edge of a cliff and are about to throw him off when it is said that he simply turned around and walked away from them. Strange scene. I don’t think such an episode requires a real flesh and blood Jesus to work.

Jewish angels can also enter this world and be subject to narrative adventures. Recall the angels who came to rescue Lot and who faced an menacing mob. Recall the acts and travels of Raphael in the Book of Tobit. And of course the Book of Acts and Letter to the Hebrews remind us of gods and spirits who were entertained by humans believing them to be human creatures just like themselves.

But that is only one detail of Rene Salm’s argument. For those interested in the Marcionite question and related quests for gospel origins, his posts begin at: Questioning the Gospel of Marcion.

 

The Teachings of Apelles, Marcion’s Apostate

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This post continues from An Unusual Mix of Beliefs in the Letters of Ignatius Peregrinus

All posts so far in this series: Roger Parvus: Letters Supposedly Written by Ignatius

 

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In my previous post I called attention to the assortment of unusual beliefs held by the author of the so-called Ignatian letters. That assortment and the description of his Judaizing and docetic opponents have convinced me that he was a follower of Apelles, and that the churches he addressed in his letters were Apellean.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with that little-known early Christian and his sect I will start by reviewing what the extant record says about them.

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Marcion’s Deserter

Apelles, the founder of the Apelleans, was at first a disciple of Marcion. If, as is thought, he was born early in the second century, he could have been Marcion’s disciple as early as the 120s, assuming Marcion was already actively proselytizing at that time. It is not known how long Apelles was associated with Marcion, but at some point he broke with him and adopted doctrinal positions that were at odds with those of his teacher. Tertullian says the break was sparked by Apelles’ rejection of Marcion’s rigorist teaching regarding celibacy:

Apelles . . . deserted Marcionite chastity and withdrew from the presence of his most holy master to Alexandria. Returning after some years, he was in no way improved except he was no longer a Marcionite. (On the Prescription of Heretics, 7).

Their differences went beyond the issue of celibacy, however, and the split was likely not an amicable one. Apelles abandoned Marcion’s dualism and returned to belief in one supreme God. He repudiated Marcion’s docetism, emphatically insisting on the real and non-phantasmal nature of Christ’s body. From Marcion’s canon he retained only the Apostolicon, replacing Marcion’s Gospel with one of his own. He did continue to view the Old Testament negatively, and in a way his position in regard to it is, as will be seen, even more negative than Marcion’s. But on the other hand, Origen concedes that Apelles

did not entirely deny that the Law and the Prophets were of God (Commentary on Titus).

In breaking with Marcion, Apelles adopted new beliefs that unquestionably moved him closer to doctrinal positions held by the proto-Catholics, but his new beliefs still differed from theirs in significant ways. No complete exposition of his teaching has survived. Tertullian wrote a treatise against the Apelleans but it is no longer extant. However, the early record does contain enough information to permit at least a partial reconstruction of what Apelles taught. Elements can be found in the following:

  • Tertullian’s On the Flesh of Christ, On the Prescription of Heretics, On the Soul, and an extant fragment of Against the Apelleans (Migne’s Patrologia Latina, 42, 30, n. 1)
  • Pseudo-Tertullian’s Against All Heresies
  • Hippolytus’ The Refutation of All Heresies
  • Origen’s Commentary on Titus and Against Celsus
  • Eusebius’ History of the Church
  • Epiphanius’ Panarion.

For my quotes from the Panarion I will use the translation by Frank Williams in his The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis. Quotes from the other sources are either my own translations or those of the Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. read more »

The Jesus Genealogies: their different theological significances

A late date and anti-Marcionite context for Luke-Acts not only has the power to explain why Luke may have rejected Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus, but even more directly why Luke’s genealogy of Jesus is so different from Matthew’s. (The common belief that Luke records Mary’s family line and Matthew Joseph’s is a simplistic rationalization that defies the textual evidence.)

Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Abraham and is traced through Solomon. Luke’s bypasses Solomon and traces back to Adam and God himself. read more »

Romans 1:2-6 – An anti-Marcionite Interpolation?

I’m undergoing a long process of bringing myself up to date with blogs and the web 2 world and part of that is trying to bring together one by one bits and pieces I have written notes on over the years. Here is another one, where I present a case for arguing that the whole of Romas 1:2-6 was an interpolation by an anti-Marcionite redactor.

Criteria I’ve used are taken from William O. Walker’s “Interpolation in the Pauline Letters” (2001).

Constructive criticism most welcome of course.

Neil Godfrey


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