Daily Archives: July 29, 2009

Paul, the Apostle of the Heretics

So I just read the “Marcion” version of Paul’s letter to the Galatians (here). What’s interesting is that it makes sense… but then again, it’s not all that different from the Catholic version of Galatians. It only has differences of a couple of words. I’m thinking, just like the proto-Catholic church thought, that Marcion edited a version of Paul’s letter to the Galatians to fit his theology. But unlike the proto-Catholics, I think that the Catholics edited the Marcionite version of Galatians, not that they simply presented the “originals”.

Basically, I think there was an “original” set of Pauline letters (possibly the seven that most scholars conclude are by Paul) and that Marcion edited those. Then, after seeing Marcion’s canon, the proto-Orthodox edited Marcion’s versions to make Paul a good Catholic – so that any original Pauline letters (neutral to both Marcionite Christianity and Catholic Christianity) are lost to history.

A “Jesus Mythicist” Earl Doherty argues that Jesus was never a historical person and has some problems with certain phrases in the Pauline corpus (like “born of a woman”). What if the neutral version of Paul’s letters didn’t have those difficult phrases, and that the Catholics put those phrases in their version of Paul’s letters to combat Marcion? Who would write that someone was “born of a woman” in a letter? That’s like saying water is wet! And then the first witness to the “Pastoral Epistles” (1, 2 Timothy and Titus) is Irenaeus in the late 2nd century! Even worse, the first witness to a collection of Pauline letters in the first place is Marcion himself! Maybe Marc wrote the three Pauline letters that scholars are uncertain about Pauline authorship (2 Thessalonians, Colosians, Ephesians), edited the seven originals, and then the Catholics (probably Irenaeus) edited the 10 in Marc’s canon and wrote the extra three Pauline Pastoral epistles.

I think this is a good hypothesis, and might even have been the way things happened. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no way to test it.

Politics. Faith. People valuing subjectivity (they feel it’s right) over objectivity (how one feels has no bearing on “truth”). It’s not like there was a scientific method back then. It was just polemics and politics. Whoever got the most converts simply presented the best sounding tale.

“Paul” did not appeal to the Jewish scriptures for authority. he claimed authority by the direct revelation of Jesus Christ. The appeals to scripture are proto-orthodox interpolations.

From the beginning, the Septuagint was the early proto-orthodox Christians’ favored recension of the Jewish Scriptures, and many alleged prophecies of Jesus were found by non-literal readings of the Septuagint. This process continued at least until the middle of 2c; Justin was first to discover that Jesus had been nailed through the feet as well as the hands. And this revelation came not from any eyewitness testimony or oral tradition, but from pondering the 22nd Psalm. Going beyond allegorical interpretations, we find record of Jews accusing Christians of outright forging the Septuagint to support Christian doctrine (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho).

Marcion insisted upon a literal reading of the Old Testament. For this reason alone, many imaginitive prophecies and references to Jesus Christ were eliminated. This common sense approach aligned Marcion with the Jews on this subject, as was noted by Tertullian, who railed against both. Marcion was likely not as antisemtic as he is often portrayed; he just didn’t think the Jewish scriptures applied to Christians. The Jewish scriptures were perfectly valid for the Jews, and he agreed the Jewish Messiah would yet come; it just wasn’t Jesus Christ.

Marcion established the earliest known canon of Christian scripture. It consisted of one gospel (The Evangelion), and ten Pauline Epistles (the Apostilicon). The Apsotilicon did not included the
Pastoral Epistles, which did not yet exist. The other epistles existed in a shorter and simplier recension. These circulated with Marcion’s own composition (the Antithesis) in which he attempted to prove that the God of Jesus, the Father, was not the same as the God of the Jews. This was done by juxtaposing OT passages along with NT from his canon, showing the harshness and cruelty of the OT god vs the loving kindness of the NT God. Marcion did not consider the god of the Jews (the Demiurge) as absolutely evil, just ignorant with an inflated sense of his own justice. According
to Marcion, this obsession with justice resulted in the atrocities found in the Old Testament.

The authority of Old Testament concerning Christians was rejected in its entirity. For this reason, Marcion with perhaps the aid of Valentinus, wrote his own Psalms to be used in litugury rather than the Davidic psalms of the OT.

For the most part, Marcionite services were so similar to those of the proto-orthodox, that proto-orthodox Chrsitians were warned to be careful not to attend a Marcionite service by mistake. (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechisms 18.26)

Marcion’s church was very large. It rivaled in size the proto-orthodox sects of the time. Already, about 150 CE, Justin Martyr acknowledged that Marcion’s influence extended all over the Empire. (Apol. 1.26 cf. Tertullian Adv. Marc. 5:19). Marcionism challenged the Roman church for the rights to be called the Universal (i.e. Catholic) church.

Marcion and the Gnostics appealed to Paul. In fact Basilides the heretic (about 138 CE) was the first to elevate any Christian text (in this case Pauline Epistles 1 Corinthians and Ephesians) to the level of Scripture (Hippolytus, Refutatio, 7,13-14). The proto-orthodox were forced to lay claim to Paul also, to prevent the charge of not perceiving and preserving the Gospel in all its newness. But this was a grudging process. Irenaeus quotes from the Pauline epistles 206 times, and never introduces it with “scripta ait” or any similar formula. (Werner, _Der Paulinismus das Irenaeus_ (1889), pp. 21-46. Footnote 3, page 31, of _Marcion and his Influences_, E.C. Blackman, 1948)

Lying behind the twisted image of Paul (meaning “the small”) is the shadow of Simon Magus, “the Great.” Thus even Paul’s name is an ironic twist on Simon’s description. Irenaeus linked Marcion with Simon through his teacher Cerdo. (Adv. Haer. 1.27). Even the titles of Simon Magus’ alleged works (non-extant) bear the mystery of heresy; “The Four Quarters of the World” and “The Sermons of the Refuter.”

The proto-orthodox New Testament arose as a mere new edition of the Marcionite canon, revised and largely rewritten. There is no adequate evidence for the the existence of the fourfold Gospel before Irenaeus, 185 CE. Adv. Haer. 3.11.8. Ireneaus admits that the four gospels have authority because various heretics used them first. (Justin Martyr in the middle of 2c. never
called any gospel by the name it is now known by. They are always the catch-all “Memoirs” of the Apostles.

Justin seldom quotes exactly the words from our present gospels, but seemingly some sort of harmonization mixed with heretical (like the Acts of Pilate!!!!) and unknown gospel material.

To be clear, the Pauline Epistles we find in our Bibles today are not the same ones found in Marcion’s version. The Heresiologists accused him of cutting down the epistles, but it is more likely that the proto-orthodox interpolated them heavily to the “tame the Apostle of the Heretics.” That is why when we read the alleged writings of Paul today, the logic seems so convoluted and strange. The text is the result of multiple redactions with clashing theological agendas.
This makes Paul seem to talk out of both sides of his mouth. As van Manen noted, the Marcionite recension is smooth and elegant and proceeds logically. This could hardly be the result of mutilating a previous text; the Marcionite version is more original.

Jake Jones IV

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Posted by on July 29, 2009 in canon, early Christianity, irenaeus, marcion, paul

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