The Most Important Christian Besides Jesus And Paul

30 Dec

That would be Marcion.

Much of what we know about Marcion’s origins are shrouded in mystery. And the bulk of what we know about Marcion comes from his “orthodox” — sometimes extremely hateful — opponents, such as Polycarp (c. 130) Justin Martyr (c. 150), Irenaeus (c. 180), Tertullian (c. 200), Epiphanus (c. 350) and later heresioloigsts. By far, Marcion and his Marcionites were the heretics polemicized against the most in ante-Nicaea Christianity.

Marcion was a consecrated bishop who was also a shipbuilder; a profession that took him all around the “known world” of the 2nd century. Marcion was educated, affluent, and influential. A dedicated and honest Christian, he was probably the first to realize a conspiracy in Christian theology.

The Christ of Christianity was not the propheciezed Jewish messiah.

Not only that, but Jesus’ teachings were incompatible with the teachings of the god of the Hebrew bible.

Before the “orthodoxy” and the “New Testament” had been cemented, Marcion seemed to be aware of two gospels. One a neutral gospel narrative and a highly Judaized version of it. Thus Marcion might also be the first witness of what would become the Synoptic Problem, and may have contributed to it.

Marcion by his Antitheses accuses [a gospel text] of having been interpolated by the protectors of Judaism with a view to its being so combined in one body with the law and the prophets

– Tertullian, “Against Marcion” 4.4.4

The Law was written, the Prophets were written, it stands to reason that the gospel Marcion accused the Judaizers of falsifying was written too, so as to be combined into one corpus with the Law and the Prophets. This sounds like the Ebionites who only revered a form of Matthew as being Jewish scripture along with the Law and the Prophets. And of course, Matthew is heavily based on Mark which was more than likely the original gospel.

It was probably this highly Judaized gospel that made Marcion realize that many of the “prophecies” about Jesus when read in context simply weren’t messainic prophecies. In this respect, Marcion agreed with the Jews that Jesus was not their messiah and that their messiah had not yet come. Marcion wanted to give the Jews their religion and their book back to them, instead of Christianizing Jewish scripture by reading passages out of their Jewish context to pseudo-proof-text Jesus’ status as the Jewish messiah.

So then what was Jesus, if he wasn’t the Jewish messiah?

Marcion claimed that the god of the Jews was a “just” god; a god of blind justice. And this god’s law was a neutral law – red in tooth and claw like the world of nature he created – meant to establish a covenant between himself and his chosen people. For faithfully following this god’s law, he would send the Jews a king made in his likeness – equally just, but harsh. And this god and his anointed king would give the Jews their own homeland, prosperity, and longevity. Jesus, however, was not this king. Jesus was the son of a different god. An unknown god. A higher god who did not create such a cruel world. A god of love. Not just a god of “justice”.

Much like a lot of modern deconverts from Christianity, Marcion juxtaposed the teachings of Jesus with the teachings of Yahweh and noticed the disconnect (his Antithesis noted above). How could an unchangeable god change so drastically like that? How could a god of mercy and forgiveness also be a god who creates both good and evil (Isaiah 45:7)? So for Marcion, Jesus was no longer the “christus”, the messiah or anointed one, but the “chrestus”. Chrestus (Χρηστου, pronounced “chraestou”) meant the good or useful. A difference of one iota (where that phrase comes from) between the two titles.

So for Marcion, Jesus was the Good, the son of the god of love and mercy, and Paul was his chief apostle who realized this through revelation. As Paul’s letter to Galatians explicitly states. Marcion is the first Christian to present a canon of Paul’s letters and an anti-Matthew gospel as Sacred Scripture. The first “New Testament”, which consisted of 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, and the anti-Matthew gospel. Since Marcion’s profession took him all around the known world, his influence also spread likewise. By 150, Justin Martyr laments that all of the known world is following Marcion:

And there is Marcion, a man of Pontus, who is even at this day alive, and teaching his disciples to believe in some other god greater than the Creator. And he, by the aid of the devils, has caused many of every nation to speak blasphemies, and to deny that God is the maker of this universe, and to assert that some other being, greater than He, has done greater works. All who take their opinions from these men, are, as we before said, called Christians; just as also those who do not agree with the philosophers in their doctrines, have yet in common with them the name of philosophers given to them.

– Justin’s “First Apology” ch. 26

The first Roman encounter with Christians wasn’t with Catholics, but with Marcionites. Roman governors and historians like Seutonius, Tacitus, and Pliny lament that Roman citizens are following a “new, suspicious” religion that makes supplications to a “Chrestus” as they would to a god. When the Roman Catholic Church became the official religion of the Roman empire, they “corrected” these mistakes in official Roman archives.

Chrestians “corrected” to read Christians

As a result of Marcion’s canon, the “orthodoxy” had to react, and they had to react to Marcion’s worldwide popularity… already established in the mid 2nd century. They did this by presenting their own collection of Pauline epistles, the Pastoral Epistles, the Catholic epistles of 1 Peter, James, Jude, and John, Acts of the Apostles (a product of 2nd century “Acts of…” Christian literature), and a [re]Judaized version of Marcion’s anti-Matthew gospel which was first called “Luke” by Irenaeus c. 180. Our current “Luke” is more than likely an anti-Marcionite product.

The Pastoral Epistles and Acts of the Apostles are the more obvious anti-Marcionite creations, where Paul himself supposedly declares in Acts that the “unknown god” of the “Greeks” is in fact Jesus Christ (Acts 17:23). Real Greek citizens already knew who the god of the Jews was; Jews and Greeks had been interacting since the time of Alexander the Great (300 BCE). So this was actually a jab at Marcion and his unknown god. The other coincidence being that the majority of New Testament scholars conclude that the [anti-Marcionite] Pastoral Epistles were not written by the same person who wrote the other Pauline epistles.

The Marcionites’ popularity in later centuries rivaled that of the Roman church and the two competed for the title of “universal” (catholic in Greek) church. Of course, the Pauline epistles we find in our current New Testaments are not exactly the Pauline letters found in Marcion’s canon. Our current Pauline letters are a response to the Marcionite Paul to sway Marcionites to the Catholics. Which is why there are many “truisms” found in our current Pauline corpus, such as “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). This of course is not found in Marcion’s version of Galatians, with Marcion being our first witness to Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Marcion did not think that Jesus was human in any sense, but only appeared human to stay hidden from the creator god, the god of this age (2 Cor 4:4; Eph 3:9[1]) to secretly release man from the “curse of the law” (Gal 3:10,13) and pull a fast one on the god of the Jews’ hyper-emphasis on eye-for-an-eye justice. Though there were subtle clues left by this unknown god throughout the prophets (Eph 3:4). By sacrificing an innocent — Good Jesus (Chrest Jesus, a grammatical phrase only found in Paul/Marcion) — the law of the god of this age demanded recompense for this transgression and the agreement being that Jesus The Good took in and nullified the law to give man an escape from the law for any who believed in his sacrifice. The Catholic reinterpretation of this has the absurdity of god sacrificing himself to himself to save man from himself, instead of a god of love sacrificing its son to a separate god of bare justice to free humans from the law that a god of mercy would not create.

Marcion’s popularity was based on the more logical soteriology of his Pauline letters and his canon is the reason why Paul’s letters are seen as an authority, and why they make up the bulk of our New Testament.

The Catholic rewriting and editing of Marcion’s Paul is why the Pauline epistles are sometimes hard to follow, and why he seems to go off on tangents. There are three voices in our current “Paul”: Paul, Marcion, and the Catholic refutation of Marcion. If I were to somehow go back to Christian belief, I would become some sort of Marcionite, since Marcionite belief is more logical than modern Christianity. And as I argue, Marcionite belief is more original than Catholic belief (and its bastard little brother Protestant belief).

Ironically, Anglicizing Marcion’s (Μαρκιων) Latin/Greek name would end up as Mark.

[1]Note that Marcion’s version of Eph 3:9 has “the mystery hidden for ages from the God who created all things” (Tertullian, “Against Marcion” Book 5, chp 18)

1 Comment

Posted by on December 30, 2009 in early Christianity, marcion, marcionism


One response to “The Most Important Christian Besides Jesus And Paul

  1. Dietz Ziechmann

    July 23, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    There was in ancient Hebrew practice an balance between El and his consort Asherah, the male and female potencies, comparable to the yang and yin of Chinese practice. YHWH, the angry storm god of the Negrev evntually displaced his father god, El, and took Asherah, before his putative revisionist adherents repressed the Divine Feminine and banned acknowledgment of Asherah.

    It is wise to generally acknowledge ethics, inherited codes of justice, before revising them with thoughtful considerations, and tempering them with mercy, Chesed (loving-kindness), or else we leave society with no moral guidelines, with the potential of moral anarchy. We must strive to achieve Tifereth, “beautiful, majestic balance” to have harmony in our communities. Peace be unto all who seek the good of all. Dietz Ziechmann.

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