Marcion Meets the Facts

I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17)

Who knows the name of the Christian heresy which rejected the Old Testament? This sect had great success for centuries. Indeed, we can say that this particular heresy is alive and well even now.

Also cut-and-pasted his own New Testament
Marcion taught that the Father of Christ is not the God of the Jews. The God of ancient Israel had too much traffic with actual human events, made too many unpredictable demands, and exacted too many bitter punishments.

Marcion produced a corrected and trimmed-down New Testament. It’s god reigns in pure, undisturbed serenity, separate from the affairs of this world—especially from the tumultuous, checkered history of the crazy kosher swarthies from the over-heated province of Palestine.

The Old Testament embarrassed Marcion. But one problem confronted him. The only thing more embarrassing than the Old Testament is the fact that the better part of the New Testament makes no sense without it. So Marcion became the first in a long line of good Christians who cut out a scrapbook of the Bible passages they like, and ignore the rest.

Contemporary Marcionism goes something like this: I believe in the nice God of the New Testament, not the mean god of the Old.

The “nice” God of the New Testament? “You knew I was a hard man. Why didn’t you put the money I gave you in the bank?” “No wedding garment? Out into the darkness with him!” “What will the master do to the faithless tenants? He will put them to a wretched death and burn their cities.” Seems that a certain “nice” Messiah used the word Gehenna at least twelve times in His recorded speeches. The whole Old Testament hardly contains twelve explicit references to hell.

If we want Christ, we are stuck with His being Jewish. If we want to believe in God’s mercy, we are stuck with believing in His exacting justice, too. If we want the God who became man, we can never forget that our ways are not His ways, and that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.

Jesus Christ is not our idea. He is a fact. As with all facts, a lot of other facts come along with Him, in a jumbled tumble of actual reality. We cannot pick and choose. Our job is to do our best to be one of the facts that go along with the fact of Christ.

9 thoughts on “Marcion Meets the Facts

  1. Father Mark,

    Proof-positive exists that you don’t have to be Jewish [ אתה לא צריך להיות יהודי ]:
    [ https://www.google.com/search?q=you+don't+have+to+be+jewish&hl=en&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=QeFhT-HKFaPl0QGOmdmTCA&ved=0CDAQsAQ&biw=1365&bih=884 ]; BUT it certainly helps.

    So, what’s a poor “Myn” [ סוג ] to do? How about getting used to the idea that God’s ways are not man’s; and that He frequently chooses the most unlikely person or process to accomplish His plan — if only to confound and confuse the self-righteous.

    It must have been very exciting to live in the 2nd Cenury Ano Domini, with all the contesting views of what to make of Jesus Christ. But, looking around us today, there is every bit as much confusion about God’s Word — and what it really all means.

    LIH,

    joe

  2. “The Old Testament embarrassed Marcion.”

    All you people who read a Wikipedia article or whatever on Marcion rather than spending time with the first hand sources (Tertullian’s 5 books Against Marcion, Epiphanius, Irenaues, Justin Martyr, Eznik of Golb (or Yeznik of Kobl)) always get the wrong impression from your 2nd or 3rd or 4th hand references to the guy.

    Marcion wasn’t embarrassed of the Old Testament. Marcion was embarrassed of how the New Testament misused the Old Testament. Tertullian says it himself. Tertullian puts it as if Marcion’s theory was that the gospels were Judaized by false apostles. Tertullian didn’t quite understand Marcion himself. But let me help you.

    Marcion’s main beef was with the virgin birth. Tertullian says Marcion interpreted Isaiah 7 like the Jews did, that this was about Hezekiah’s birth being a sign of when the two kings mentioned in the text would be defeated by the king of Assyria (the natural reading of the text). In other words, Marcion was embarrassed that Matthew misunderstood and misused Isaiah 7.

    We could go through other prophecy claims in the New Testament, like the killing of the infants by Herod and the misuse of Jeremiah 31 there. There in Jer 31, the text says that Rachel is weeping for her children “for they are not” but then right after that God seeks to comfort her saying “weep not, for thy children shall return to their own border from the land of the enemy.” In other words, this is about the Babylonian captivity not Jesus’ birth or Herod.

    Marcion was embarrassed by this stuff, not the OT himself. He tried to create a religion not based on the OT only because he saw that to base Christianity on the OT required misusing and abusing the OT and that didn’t sit well with him. He particularly hated allegorical interpretation. He could have gone the other way and rejected Christianity for Judaism, but for whatever reason he chose the other route.

    1. I very much appreciate your comment here. I make no claim to having read Tertullian on Marcion. But please give me credit for a little more than a cursory Wikipedia reading.

      The Catholic encyclopedia explains the failure of Marcion’s doctrine to survive this way:

      “Marcion’s creator or Jewish god was too inconsistent and illogical a conception, he was inferior to the good God yet he was independent; he was just and yet not good; his writings were true and yet to be discarded; he had created all men and done them no evil, yet they had not to worship and serve him.”

      I think we can say that a principle of orthodox Christian scriptural interpretation is: the coming of Christ itself uncovered the true meaning of prophecies that, in and of themselves, remain obscure.

      The question is not: Was Marcion a more perspicacious reader of the Old Testament than St. Matthew? The question is: How could we possibly accept Marcion as a genuine Christian teacher when he rejects that St. Matthew is one?

      Again, I appreciate your comment. But I think your characterization of what I have to say about Marcion as shallow is unfair. Marcion proposed himself to be a Christian teacher, but his Christian doctrine is incoherent and manifestly false, primarily because he taught that the Father of Christ is not the Creator and the God of Israel.

  3. To say that Marcion is not a Christian thinker because he rejects Matthew is no different from saying that Matthew is not a Christian thinker because he rejects Marcion. Such statements are mere dogmatics and mean nothing.

    As to the question of coherency, you argue that Marcion is incoherent and therefore manifestly false. But how is he incoherent? Or to put it another way, how is he any more incoherent than orthodox Christianity? Let me explain. Christianity argues that we must be saved from God. God is the enemy who wants to broil us in hell for all eternity. Yet, in orthodox Christianity, the same God send his son (who is himself in some sense) to save us from himself. God acts the part of the enemy and the savior. That’s a bit incoherent in that your enemy normally doesn’t save you from himself. The Marcionite conception of two gods clears up this incoherence. Now, at one point orthodoxy was different than it is now, and the Christus Victor theory was the major theory of atonement rather than vicarious penal atonement theory. In Christus Victor, Jesus gave his life as a random to the Devil to buy us from the devil. Hence, in the New Testament we will read “ye are bought with a price”. Bought from whom? From the devil. But we moderns have abandoned this theory for it seems to make the devil a bit too much like a god, so a few centuries before the Reformation the penal atonement theory was created, that we owe God a debt and Jesus paid that debt. (The NT never says Jesus paid our debt. See Matt 18, for instance, about it being frankly forgiven not paid.) Ok, so the OLD orthodoxy was Christus Victor, God purchased us (ransomed us) from the Devil by Jesus paying the devil his blood on the cross. Well, that’s not far removed from the Marcionite theory, is it? i.e. Jesus buying us from the OT God by paying his blood to him on the cross. It can be argued effectively that the Old orthodoxy developed directly out of Marcionism, and since the Old orthodoxy (not the new) is the one found in the NT, it can be argued rather persuasively that Marcionism came before orthodoxy and that Christianity was re-judaized by guys like Matthew with their twistings of the OT and the original conception of Christianity was anti-judaic and Pagan in origin. Of course the bias of “I was raised a Christian so I can’t accept that; Christianity must be 100% from God” militates against this interpretation. But the incoherence of modern orthodoxy, i.e. that God saves us from himself, that he is so outraged with us he must burn us in hell, yet loves us so much he must save us from himself, and can find no way to save us other than to ransom or buy us (from whom?) from HIMSELF(?) — its just too incoherent to be true. To use your phrase, the new orthodoxy is manifestly false. Either the old Christus Victor theory, then, is true, or Marcionism is true, or all of it is false, and perhaps then Judaism is true.

    1. Thanks for another thoughtful comment.

      I disagree with you that choosing St. Matthew over Marcion amounts to an arbitrary exercise in dogmatism. One need not hold the faith at all to prefer the testimony of an eye-witness over the speculations of a teacher whose career came a century later. My point about the meaning of Old Testament prophecies coming fully clear only with the arrival of the Christ answers your argument about St. Matthew “twisting” the Old Testament.

      Missing from your summary of atonement theories is the point on which Marcion’s doctrine is incoherent, namely that Christ offered Himself to reconcile us with our CREATOR. The Creator formed the ancient Israelites to be a nation that worshiped Him, unlike the pagans, who worshiped falsely. The Creator is not an idea, but the true God, the One who made heaven and earth.

      I think you make excellent arguments about how difficult it is adequately to explain Christ’s act of reconciling the human race with the Creator. But regarding the business as simply a matter of choosing between two theories ignores the reality of living a human life with the burdens of temptation and conscience and the inevitability of death.

      The Christian faith is hardly incoherent when it comes to explaining these realities. The Creator wills health, life, and blessedness for everything He has made. He endowed His spiritual creatures with a share in His own perfect freedom. We have abused this gift–that is, many purely spiritual creatures much more intelligent and powerful than men, and we human beings–we have abused it. The friendship our Creator offered us, we lost by disobeying Him.

      We could lay no just claim on any benefits from the Creator, so there is no question of His willing our grief. We freely put ourselves under Satan’s power, and the consequences that flow from that are perfectly just.

      God could have, as you point out, forgiven us without our having offered Him any satisfaction for our sins. But, because He loves us so immeasurably, He chose to be one of us and offer His infinite love–as a sacrifice offered by a man. Christ offered man’s sacrifice of atonement, reconciliation, and peace TO THE CREATOR, and this sacrifice is also the infinite love OF the Creator. Thus mankind enters into the undying unity of the three divine Persons.

      Impossible fully to comprehend, yes. Incoherent? No.

      1. “Missing from your summary of atonement theories is the point on which Marcion’s doctrine is incoherent, namely that Christ offered Himself to reconcile us with our CREATOR.”

        Actually his theory (per the summary of Eznik of Golb) was that Christ provoked the Creator to have him crucified so he could then hold that over the Creator’s head and force the Creator to give him all who would believe in him. Tertullian also rails against Marcion’s “Good God” as being not good because he sets the slaves of another (the Creator) free! Of course, today, we would agree with Marcion that setting slaves free — even another man’s slaves — is good. Terty suffered from being a slave owner no doubt, and thus saw this as making Marcion’s “Good God” evil, for how could someone who frees slaves be good(?), he argues.

        “But, [in Orthodox Christianity] because He loves us so immeasurably, He chose to be one of us and offer His infinite love–as a sacrifice offered by a man. Christ offered man’s sacrifice of atonement, reconciliation, and peace TO THE CREATOR, and this sacrifice is also the infinite love OF the Creator.”

        That is why orthodox Christianity is incoherent. God is angry with us and needs appeasing by a blood sacrifice, so he appeases himself with his own blood. That simply doesn’t hold logically. Nor, indeed, does the idea that God even needs a blood sacrifice hold logically with a great number of passages — like Micah 6:8, for instance, or the parable at the end Matthew 18 where Jesus describes the King as frankly forgiving the servant’s debt. There are several passages — like Ezekiel 18 — that demonstrate that God can forgive us on the basis of repentance without a blood sacrifice. Orthodox Christianity is incoherent precisely when it tells us that God needed a sacrifice, that he couldn’t just forgive. After all, God holds himself up as a model of good behavior, and tells us “Be ye Holy as I am holy” and Jesus says if we love others we will be children of God — we are instructed to forgive frankly, not requiring a sacrifice before we forgive others — constantly we are told to just forgive, not to make people jump through hoops for that forgiveness. If God himself is that way, then setting him up as a model of behavior makes sense — but if God is a miser who can only forgive when he’s given a perfect human sacrifice, well then, it no longer makes sense to set him up as a model of behavior when telling people to forgive — and therefore orthodox Christianity is incoherent.

        1. Dear Sir, You have completely missed/ignored what I previously wrote regarding the “necessity” of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God could have forgiven us without a sacrifice. He chose to offer the sacrifice on our behalf. This sacrifice overcomes sin and death. This sacrifice is not aimed at appeasing anyone’s anger. It occurred because of unjust anger and condemnation, but not the unjust anger and condemnation of God. To the contrary, God submitted to being the victim of man’s unjust anger and condemnation. His having done so, as a perfectly just man, establishes man in a state of justice with respect to our Creator, a state we had lost by sin.

          What God has done in Christ–not only to forgive us, but also to give us the gift of being just and holy–this is indeed the model of Christian mercy and charity.

          Perhaps what you are missing is the central fact: Christ is God and man. The sacrifice of Christ is the sacrifice of God and of man. It pertains to man as homo religiosus to offer sacrifice to God. It pertains to God as triune, infinitely merciful and loving, to offer Himself as man’s sacrifice, thereby justifying the sinner and giving us the hope of eternal frienship with our Maker.

          You object to bloody sacrifices, and rightly so: All sacrifices other than the sacrifice of the Cross are vainly offered. Not because they involve blood, but because they involve blood other than the Precious Blood of Christ. Because Christ has risen from the dead, we now offer His Body and Blood to the Father as a living, reasonable, and true sacrifice. He offers Himself on high, we offer Him on our altars here below, under the appearance of bread and wine. Again, a mystery of faith–but not incoherent.

          1. “Dear Sir, You have completely missed/ignored what I previously wrote regarding the “necessity” of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God could have forgiven us without a sacrifice. He chose to offer the sacrifice on our behalf. This sacrifice overcomes sin and death. This sacrifice is not aimed at appeasing anyone’s anger. It occurred because of unjust anger and condemnation, but not the unjust anger and condemnation of God. To the contrary, God submitted to being the victim of man’s unjust anger and condemnation.”

            Whether you can defend it entirely without it being overthrown by this scripture or that, I doubt. But as you state it there, it is coherent enough. So, God didn’t need a sacrifice — we did, because there is something in our psychology that demands blood sacrifice, yea even the sacrifice of God himself — we want God to bleed — so God let us babies have our bottle and bled for us. Ok.

            But the next sentence doesn’t seem to fit with this theory so well.

            “His having done so as a perfectly just man, establishes man in a state of justice with respect to our Creator, a state we had lost by sin.”

            If God didn’t need the sacrifice, how does it put us in a state of justice? It can be said to appease us, but can it be said to put us in a state of justice? You seem to be mixing the theory you put forth above with penal atonement theory now.

            “What God has done in Christ–not only to forgive us, but also to give us the gift of being just and holy–this is indeed the model of Christian mercy and charity.”

            This is further mixing, for by giving people the bloodshed they crave, how do you make them holy? To be holy requires a change in conduct. Perhaps you mean that by appeasing us of our bloodthirstyness he frees us from forrowed animal sacrifices and slavish bondage to superstition enabling us to move on and concentrate on living a moral life rather than arguing endlessly about the proper form to sacrifice the goat in.

            You continue through the rest to use “appease” and “justify” as if they are synonymous, but they aren’t. Your theory ends up being even more incoherent than orthodox Christianity as a result.

            Say for example that you murdered my son. Now, I forgive you, but you won’t believe it without a sacrifice. So I sacrifice a goat to appease your since of bloodthirstyness for sacrifice. Are you now a holy and just person? Not unless you change your life. Is the wrong removed? No. I may not retaliate on you, but you are still guilty — you haven’t been justified. That’s one reason why, I think, Jesus doesn’t use the term “justify” (or rarely if he does) but rather “forgive.” To forgive and to justify — not the same. Pauline theology which prefers “justify” to “forgive” preaches an impossibility. It is possible to forgive the guilty but not truly to justify them.

            The only thing that can ‘justify’ and that not in an absolute sense is to be habitually just. The just man in Hebrew zadik is ‘an habitually just man’ although we only translate it ‘just man’ — for the yod added to the end of the nound before the final letters has the force of habitualness. Aside from that, there is no justification.

            You will say that they are justified ‘by being declared just’. I can declare a cat to be an elephant but it doesn’t make it so. For this reason, then, the whole theory of justification by faith or justification by a sacrifice (justification by anything other than being just) is pure illusion. If only Christianity had never gotten involved with that false terminology and had stuck with talking about forgiveness.

  4. Forgive me for taking a year to answer your last reply, dear interlocutor.

    I believe you have come to the brink of grasping the reality here: the “just man” you describe–‘habitually’ just, truly just–where is he? He is Christ.

    The great missing heart of (what looks to me like) the circles your argument spins around in is this: the means by which to reckon justice–the standard, the measure, the criterion, what have you–all kinds of theories can be proposed, but the only living reality of it is Jesus Christ.

    Justice–not as a theory, but as a fact–proceeds from Him. We are “justified” by Christ, because He alone is just in Himself, and we are just by virtue of being members of His Body.

    To say that He is “just:” i.e., that He is morally perfect; that He is perfectly loving, honest, true; that He is altogether generous; that His religion is true, corresponding to God as He is; that there is no point-of-view from which anything can honestly be held against Him as a fault.

    To say that we are “members of His Body,” i.e., that by His free gift of solidarity with us, we become whole as human beings by virtue of sharing the divine and human life of Christ, through faith, the sacraments, prayer, and Christian living.

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