|On-Line Bible Lessons|
Pastor Ovid Need
"Marcion was the most earnest, the most practical, and the most dangerous among the Gnostics, full of energy and zeal for reforming, but restless, rough and eccentric." This is the famous church historian Philip Schaff's assessment of the man whose doctrine was considered heretical for the first 600 years of Church history. Though rejected by the early Church, the 692 Trullan Council thought it worth while to make provision for the reconciliation of Marcionites, and Marcion's Gonsticism gained Christian legitimacy.
The Marcionites held fast to their Gonsticism; the church failed to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, and Marcionite Gnostics have since become respectable Christian leaders.
Marcion (died, c. 160) was regarded by Justin Martyr as the most formidable heretic of his day. Policarp of Smyrna, upon meeting Marcion in Rome, called him "the first-born of Satan." Marcion's own father, the bishop of Sinope in Pontus, excommunicated him. After his excommunication, he associated with Cerdo, a Syrian Gnostic, and soon founded a separate church which merged Gnosticism and orthodox Christianity. Marcion dispersed his doctrine by travels, making many disciples from different nations.
Marcion's Gnosticism was/is extremely dangerous because it subtly mixed Gnosticism and Christianity. Marcion rejected Gnostic heathen mythology while accepting Christianity as the only true religion, but accepting the Christ of Christianity does not change the fact that Marcionism not only denies God's inspired Word, but is a form of Gnosticism.
..."the Gnostics took over only the ideal of a redemption through Christ, not the full Christian doctrine, for they made it rather a redemption of the philosophers from matter, than a redemption of mankind from sin." (Early Church History to AD 313, II, 20. Dr. Gwatkin, quoted by ISBE, 1240.)
Dr. Orr writes, "Gnosticism may be described generally as the fantastic product of the blending of certain Christian ideasparticularly that of redemption through Christwith speculations and imaginings derived from a medley of sources... Gnosticism was a species of religious philosophy." (The Early Church, 71. Dr. Orr, ibid.)
"Although it became a corrupting influence within the church , it was an alien by birth. While the church yet sojourned within the pale of Judaism, it enjoyed immunity from this plague; but as soon as it broke through these narrow bonds, it found itself in a world where the decaying religions and philosophies of the West were in acute fermentation under the influence of a new and powerful leaven from the East; while the infusion of Christianity itself into this fermenting mass only added to the bewildering multiplicity of gnostic sects and systems it brought forth" (Law, The Test of Life, 26. Ibid, 1241.)
"Gnosticism," says Dr. Gwatkin, "is Christianity perverted by learning, and speculation" (Early Church History, 73). The intellectual pride of the Gnostics refined away the gospel into a philosophy. The clue to the understanding of Gnosticism is given in the word from which it is derivedgnosis, "knowledge." Gnosticism puts knowledge in the place which can only be occupied by Christian faith. ... (Ibid, 1241.)
The profane babbling mentioned by Paul (1 Tim 6:20) were:
[T]hat peculiar kind of religious speculation which originated in the East, but gradually spread westward to Asia Minor, Greece, and Egypt, and which bears the general name of Gnosticism, because of the predominant account it made of gnosis, or knowledge. It was this... which appeared one after another in the second and third centuries, and which, though courting alliance with Christianity, were always denounced as essentially antichristian by the Fathers. (Fairbairn, Pastoral Epistles, 254.)
The church received the deposit of the Truth; its responsibility was to guard the Truth at all costs. Paul instructed Timothy to guard the faith once delivered to the saints from profane, unmeaning language and from speculative propositions opposed to Apostolic teachings. (Explanatory Analysis, 92.)
Though Paul and Marcion are separated by many years, no doubt the Spirit warned pastors particularly (Paul's warning was given to Timothy), and the church in general, of false teachers like Marcion. But rather than protecting the Apostolic teaching, the church allowed it to be mixed with Gonsticism, thus Marcionism. The church's failure to effectively contend for the faith allowed the truth to be convincingly mixed with Marcion heresy.
Probably the most lasting Marcion Gnostic influence was his militancy against the Old Testament revelation of God. Marcion could see only superficial differences in the Bible, not its deeper harmony. Being utterly destitute of historical sense, he put Christianity into radical conflict with all previous revelations of God. In Marcion's view, Christianity had no connection whatever with its Jewish past. Marcion developed a work on what he saw as contradictions between the Old and New Testaments, "Antitheses." His zeal was primarily directed toward enforcing what he saw as the irreconcilable dualism he established between the gospel of grace and the law, Christianity and JudaismMarcion would say, "We are under grace, not under law." The modern division many place between the Old and New Testaments can clearly be traced to Marcion's influence. However, the ready acceptance of the division is because the people love to have it so.
To support his dualistic system of theology, i.e., Old Testament law vs New Testament grace, he held that the God of the Old Testament was/is harsh, severe and unmerciful because His law commands, "Love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy," and returns "and eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." On the other hand, the New Testament commands, "Love thine enemy." Therefore, Marcion's god of the New Testament was only a god of love, having no wrath against sin.
Hence, Marcionism is a faith as is humanism, Islam, Christianity, &c., as the Marcionite reads and understands the Christian Bible, Gen-Rev, in terms of his faith. His faith basically believes that the Word of God is divided into two parts: one identified as Old and the other, New. His faith then requires him to divide the One Sovereign Tri-Une God of Scripture into two gods: one Old and one New. With two gods, he can assign different attributes to each: one law and wrath, the other love, mercy and grace. His faith in two gods provides two sets of standards: one set for his Old god and one set for his New god. His two gods allow him, though professing to believe the Word of God, to justify in his mind antinomianism and denial of the Sovereign God of Law. His faith edits the Word of God to his liking.
Mutilating the Word of God
Because Marcion's cannon of Scripture completely rejected the Word of God present in Christ's and the apostle's day, the Old Testament (cf. 2 Tim 3:16), he had to mold a new cannon to conform to his belief. First, he developed two divisions of the total Word, Old Testament and New Testament; then he established an eleven book New Testament cannon to conform to his "two god" theory, viz., an abridged and mutilated Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul's epistles. Marcion condemned Hebrews, Matthew, Mark, John and Acts. (History, II.486.) Thus he removed God's threats and warnings against sin from the entire Word of God, e.g., Deut 4:24/Heb 12:29, God is a consuming fire. Obviously, despite Marcion's denial of Hebrews and Deuteronomy, God is still a consuming fire against unrepentant sinners.
Accordingly, Marcionism not only permits but encourages antinomianism by removing Old Testament law from the realm of New Testament Christianity. The Marcionite is able, and even required by his faith, to ignore or excuse away any New Testament passage that might bring the Old Testament law forward to New Testament Christians. A good Marconite can read passages like Rom 13:1-7 and never connect it with the practical application of God's Sovereignty in the Book of Daniel. Additionally, a Marcionite can read Rom 13:8-10 without connecting it with the Ten Commandments, for he will have passages to separate vv. 8-10 from the Church.
Though reducing "Church age" Scripture to only ten or so of Paul's books, the Marcionite may still look to other books in both Testaments for good illustrations of faith.
Tertullian (c. 160-220), defending Apostolic Christianity against heretics and false teachers, identified and proved Marcion's dual god scheme "ABSURDLY DEFECTIVE," calling Marcion's dual god, "NO GOD AT ALL." (Fathers, II.287. In The Five Books Against Marcion, Marcion's god was intentionally left in lower case to show it is no god at all.)
Marcion supposed at least three principal forces: a good or gracious god, whom Christ first made knownthus unknown in the Old Testament; the evil matter, ruled by the devilheathenism; and the righteous creator, the finite, imperfect, angry Jehovah of the Jews. Marcion supported his militancy against the Unchanging, Tri-Une God of Scripture by wresting Christ's words in Mat 5:17, making Him say, "I am come not to fulfil the law and prophets, but to destroy them." (History, II.485.)
His system of theology was more critical and rationalistic than mystic and philosophical, i.e., pure Gnosticism. Though violently antinomian, he practiced the strictest ascetic self-discipline, which not only revolted against all pagan festivities, but even from marriage, marital relations, flesh (except fish), and wine. Thus his followers may be recognized by their morality without Biblical basis, for they deny the validity of God's law upon them, yet they remain moral.
The Marcionites were very dangerous to the Church because of their severe, ungodly morality and, unlike other Gnostics, they did not escape persecution. They had many martyrs. (History, II.487. "Ambrosius, a friend of Origen, was a Marcionite before his conversion.") Though they served dual gods and had a Christ after their own imagination (not the Christian Christ who was revealed in both the law and the prophets, Luke 24:44-47), their willingness to die for their faith in the false Christ gave an appearance of truth to uninformed onlookers.
Finally, Marcion had a very gloomy, pessimistic view of the world and of the Church; he addressed a disciple as "his partner in tribulation, and fellow-suffer from hatred." After all, he held that the devil was sovereign ruler of the material world, quite contrary to Job, we must add.
The Ante-Nicene Fathers considered Marcion's separation between the Old and New Testaments heresy worthy of excommunication. They held that the Christian God of the Bible was one Sovereign God over all history from beginning to end. Accordingly, thought Marcion's followers preferred persecution and death to denying their faith in their Christ, the early Church explicitly regarded them as heretics, for there faith was not in the Christian God as revealed in the Christ of God's Word. The Marcionites destroyed the unity of God's Word and served another god. To the Anti-Nicene Fathers, any god that did not conform to the Jehovah God Who met Moses on the Mount was not the Christian God as revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mal 3:6).
Marcion was rightly regarded by the early church fathers as the most formidable heretic of his day, "the first-born of Satan." Though the early Church cast out Marcion's leaven many times, it continually works its way back in, causing many sincere people to serve two gods, a god for the Old Testament and a god for the New. (See History, II.483-489; Who, 270; ISBE, 1240-1241, and Fathers, III.270-423: At the end of The Five Books against Marcion is the translator's, Dr. Holmes, lengthy note showing how Marcion mutilated the Word of God to conform to what he wanted to believe, 423-425.)