Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.

Heresy in Modern Christians: Marcionism

[Update: this post probably ought not to have been published when it was. In the comments section I explain why.]

Let’s do something, just for a few minutes. Let’s remember that Christianity existed between the death of the Apostles and the founding of the colonies of the United States of America. I know, I know, it’s hard. But bear with me: let’s remember that there are, in fact, roughly two thousand years of Christian history.

See, I exist in two worlds: that of North American Progressive Christians, and that of North American Evangelical Christians. Depending on whom you ask, those two worlds are one and the same. I tend to find, in my experience, that the Evangelical communities of which I am a part tend to think that the two worlds most certainly are not the same, so that’s why I differentiate. In the Evangelical community to which I belong, I find a widespread trend: we focus on, and possibly only believe in, specific times of God interacting with his people. We love and believe in everything from Adam right up through the Apostles. Then, somehow, nothing at all happens until the Pilgrims and such came to America. We don’t focus a whole lot of them, but at least we’re aware of their existence and we tend to believe that they were, in fact, Christians. We hit the highlights of various denominations over the next two hundred years, and we might know the history of our own congregations. We view Christian reality the same way that irresponsible students view educational reality.

By that I mean this: A student in a class is preparing for her final exam. She is intimately familiar with the material for chapters 1 – 21, and also with chapters 47 – 49. She does not, however, know much at all about anything that chapters 22 – 46 cover. But it’s not that big a deal, because hey, there couldn’t really have been anything all that important in those chapters anyway, right? Besides, she only was interested in the chapters that she studied.

She will fail her exam. Period. Reality, the test, is nothing like her reality: thinking that what was worth knowing was only what she chose to know.

All that to say this: there are things that happened with Christians from the years 100 AD – 1700 AD. Things that happened that are worth knowing. Things that happened, that are worth knowing, that could have a tremendous impact on our modern churches.

Today we focus on Marcion of Sinope. Who? That’s right. I thought so.

We have Marcion to thank, quite frankly, for the Bible as we know it.

Marcion is credited with being the one to suggest having a Biblical canon, which is to say, to choose books that we decided were actually God-inspired, put them together in a collection, and call it sacred. The Bible didn’t just fall out of the sky amidst lights and angelic voices, human beings sat down and voted on which letters and writings made the cut.

A popular thing to do in the ancient church was to write a gospel. There are tons of them surviving, and who knows how many that didn’t make it. Everyone and their brother had a gospel, it seemed, and it was clear that they couldn’t all exist together in harmony. So some that didn’t seem to fit with the orthodoxy of the day were purged, and others sanctified.

That was Marcion’s idea. Or at least that’s what we reasonably believe to be Marcion’s idea, though I know that some scholars contest that. [Full disclosure: Marcion put forth this idea hoping to get rid of the entirity of what we now call the Old Testament and most of what we now know as the New Testament. So, idea of canon his, yes, but that doesn’t mean they did with his idea what he wanted. So don’t lose faith and think your Bible is tainted. That’s not my intent by telling you this.]

Also an idea of Marcion of Sinope: viewing God as two different Gods: the god of the Old Testament and the god of the New Testament. The Old Testament God, of course, is one of wrath and anger and judgement. That’s the God we’re talking about when we use words like, “smite” and so many others. The New Testament God is the one of love, compassion, mercy, grace. You get the idea.

Now Marcion took this idea pretty far, even saying that he thought the Old Testament God was a lesser god from whom Jesus and the New Testament God were freeing us. There’s a lot more to this whole idea, but suffice to say that the Church didn’t really think that this idea held water.  Marcion was excommunicated for heresy, and when scholars talk about Marcionism, they mean this idea of duality. This all went down roughly 1,867 years ago. Give or take. About 40 years after John died. You know, John of “The Gospel of John” and “the disciple that Jesus loved” fame. That John.

What’s the point of all this? Well the point is, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about ancient heresies lately. And I’ve been observing where I think that some version of that heresy is alive and well in the Church today. That’s right, I’m going there.

I think there are strains of Marcionism alive and well in the North American churches. And I think that’s bad.

Marcionism in modern churches looks like… people who say things like, “God isn’t like that anymore.”

I’ve said it before, and I say it again now: God is not who you think God is.

We attribute to God humanity, and as such we cannot fathom God being the same person in both Testaments. We don’t go so far as ol’ Marcion, but we’re thinking right along his lines. It’s too difficult to fathom the God of love that we focus on… killing untold numbers of people. Of women and children. Things like that. So we don’t talk much about it, and we don’t think much about it, and when we do, we offer up some half-baked explanation about God just not being like that anymore.

It’s okay to think about those things, and it’s okay to question them. God is big enough to handle it, and he’s faithful enough to walk you through it. I can’t help but think of the book Pride and Prejudice here. Elizabeth hates Mr. Darcy with a passion because she hears, “such differing accounts of [him] as puzzles her exceedingly.” She can’t reconcile the good with the bad, and thus her mental image of Darcy is poisoned from the get-go. The only way that that could be healed was by Elizabeth questioning and reviewing information and prejudices. If she hadn’t had the courage to do that, well, she could never have fallen in love and become Mrs. Darcy.

Again, what I really mean by that is this: Marcionism is dangerous in any form, because the very idea of having different accounts of God will poison you against him in your subconscious, and that’s bad.

There have got to be many, many ways to deconstruct why Marcionism is dangerous and how God can be both images painted of  him. I’m not a real theologian, though, so I’d probably just botch them all. I’m a dabbling theologian, so I’ll offer up the thoughts that go through my head now.

God is not bound by time. God exists outside of time; he can stop time as the story with Joshua goes. 

It is true that we get a glimpse of God working in his construct of time. Galations, for example, talks  of God relating to humanity through the construct of time. Paul uses the example of children with guardians placed over them and now moving on to being full heirs with no need for a guardian. This, to me, makes perfect sense and mirrors the way God interacts with us all: differently over time, working within his construct of time with us.

But I don’t think that means that God is limited by time. We can’t really worship a God that small, I think.

A God that exists outside of time, then, can concievably be interacting with me right now in the 21st century at the same time he is faithfully parting the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites whilst keeping the Egyptians at bay. Not a God of the Old Testament and a God of the New Testament: one God. One God more holy and awesome and merciful and mighty than I can ever wrap my head around.

That’s a big God. That’s the God that Marcionism – among other things – takes away from us. Marcionism limits God to being powerless against the rules of time, and for this reason he has to resort to plans within plans, manipulation and trickery, to finally bring about his End Game. That’s why it’s possible for us to look at that God and cringe. But thanks to deconstructing Marcionism, we know that this God doesn’t exist.

Only our Heavenly Father, the same God of all time and outside of time.

I know I didn’t really nail Marcionism with the depth or thoroughness that a better person could, nor did I offer up perhaps the more important reasons why Marcionism cannot be. But I did it in a way that I currently understand, and in a way that seemed to make sense to me. And hopefully, one or two others.

Also, I’m very tired and fully intend to review this tomorrow or the next day to fix the disjointed parts and logic of this post. But still, for it being my thoughts on a blog that I’m pretty sure only I and a few of my friends read, I think it’ll do. For now.


10 responses to “Heresy in Modern Christians: Marcionism

  1. Michael October 16, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    Just the other day Jessie and I were sitting on this idea of “The GOD of the Old Testament & The GOD of the New Testament”. Believing the truth of our GOD being the SAME yesterday, today and forever we were trying to put ourselves in the shoes of Hebrews. Particullarly the stories (forgive me I do not have the references) about stoning those in the community by GOD’s law. In Numbers; it speaks of a man collecting firewood on the Sabbath and when he is caught the LORD commands the assembly to stone him to death. I could not fathom having to take large stones and kill someone with them. What if this guy was my nieghbor or relative? We sat there trying to live in the emotion of this. I am so far removed from this concept it is not funny. I tried to see myself standing there holding a stone along with others getting ready to stone a man, woman and thier children because of the sin (of the father) committed against GOD. To be honest I could not live in the thought of that for long. BUT through this I did realize the absolute HOLINESS of our LORD and that I deserve to be stoned countless times over with the things I’ve done and will do.

    I TRY NOT to come up with some half-baked conclusion or statement to reason my discomfort away. All I know is that the GOD that JUSTLY condemns sin (through whatever means he wishes) also radically loves me and saves me from such punishment. Looking at the Old Testament and the New I can only say Thank You Father. Even as I write this I feel pressed to release more of this life I hold so tightly to and give it to HIM who is worthy of praise because HE IS HOLY and I am so not. Without CHRIST I do not even want to think of the consequence of my lying, thieving, adulterous, coveteous, murderous, self indulging, sexually immoral, idol loving actions. And I am sure there is more where that came from. I try to justify my sin every which way; but in the end all I see is ME surrounded by those with stones in thier hand.

    IN STEPS JESUS………..Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. As I look up; all I see is HIS face and the mob is gone. Really? Why does HE love so deeply to rescue those that once hated HIM?

    Well have I strayed from the topic enough yet? Marcionism – This is one reason why I love community so much. I’m glad to be in your company Ethan along with others I know have my best intrest at heart. Jesus has been so kind and patient with me and I thank him for the Church and the great cloud of witnesses.


    • emarkthomas October 20, 2011 at 2:19 am

      Mike… I am blessed by you! You live the gospel in your friendship with me, brother, and it floors me. You share your heart with me and it further floors me. Thank you, my friend.

  2. rey October 31, 2011 at 12:19 am

    “What’s the point of all this? Well the point is, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about ancient heresies lately. And I’ve been observing where I think that some version of that heresy is alive and well in the Church today. That’s right, I’m going there.”

    Christianity is from the beginning a heresy hunting religion, a religion divided against itself by constantly scrutinizing each other looking for heresy. Yet at the same time Christianity is from the beginning a heretical religion, a heretical form of Judaism. Does it really make sense for a heretical religion to divide and conquer itself through heresy hunting?

    Matthew could be called a heretic for twisting the prophecy of Jeremiah 31 where Rachel is weeping in RAMAH (not Bethlehem) because her children are not in the land of Israel (not dead by Herod’s hands) for God says to her “weep not, for there is still hope for your children to return from the land of their enemies to their own border.” Here we have a prophecy of the Ephraimites in exile and their return, not of Herod killing babies at Jesus’ birth. Yet Matthew twisted it to make it about Jesus’ birth — is this not heresy? Of course it is, to those who insist on a true interpretation of the Old Testament scripture. But to those who canonize this heresy and make it orthodoxy, it becomes heresy to interpret the Old Testament scripture properly as referring to the Ephraimites in exile!!!! For this reason, that all Christianity even in its canonical documents is literally heretical, heresy hunting is pointless.

  3. rey October 31, 2011 at 12:28 am

    “We have Marcion to thank, quite frankly, for the Bible as we know it.”

    Thanks to Marcion, we have all these attempts at claiming that Jesus was prophesied in the Old Testament, for they were added to combat Marcion’s theory that the God of the OT is a different God than the God of the NT. “Jesus was born in Bethlehem because it was so prophesied of him in the Old Testament” Matthew will tell us, because he must meet Marcion’s challenge against the OT God. Yet, if we read Micah 5 we find it is actually about a physical redeemer who would expel Assyrian invaders from the land (verse 5) and he wasn’t even to be born in Bethlehem but of the tribal affiliation Bethlehem-Ephrata which is described “though you are the least among the TRIBES” (not cities) “of Judah, yet from you shall come…” It is an obvious reference to Zorobabel. Again, Hosea 11:1 “When Israel was a child I love him and called my son out of Egypt” is made by Matthew to be a prophecy of Jesus, for Marcion must be defeated!!!! Yet, this verse is no future prophecy but is a historical statement about the Exodus, when God told Moses to tell Pharaoh “Israel is my firstborn, let my son go that he may serve me, or I slay your firstborn.” Isaiah 7:14 also was timelimited by verses 15-16 to the time of Ahaz and the two kings who were opposing him, for the child was to be born as a sign of WHEN those two kings would be defeated, and Isaiah points in chapter 8 to Mahershalalhashbaz as the fullfillment. But Matthew must defeat Marcion so he twists this also into a prophecy of Jesus, and makes up a prophecy “He shall be called a Nazarene” out of thin air. If it weren’t for the churchfathers being so careless in their attempts to defeat Marcion, these false prophecy attributions would not be in our Bibles.

  4. rey October 31, 2011 at 12:34 am

    “Marcionism in modern churches looks like… people who say things like, ‘God isn’t like that anymore.'”

    Wrong. This is just standard Christianity which clearly all developed post-Marcion, as you yourself have demonstrated, by showing that Marcion’s New Testament came first. Basically the Catholic church took the original idea, Marcion’s, and modified it. Instead of Jesus is a new god who came to defeat the old god of the old testament, now it will be Jesus is the same god who came to invalidate his old testament and give a new one. That is standard Christianity, first Catholic but now Protestant too.

    Christians don’t generally recognize the Old Covenant as still in affect. The Vatican has begun to do this, to say that Jews can still be saved by the Old Covenant and that only Gentiles really need the New…..but this is very new and Protestants will not accept this idea.

    To Prots, the Jews will all burn in hell. The original Covenant cannot save them, because ‘God isn’t like that anymore.’ No, God doesn’t want morality or good works anymore. No sir! Now he wants faith in a crucified man! Is this Marcionism? If it is, all Christianity is Marcionite, all Protestantism anyway…..but the Catholic church interestingly is actually moving away from this and recnognizing the Jew as saved by Judaism.

  5. rey October 31, 2011 at 12:38 am

    Is it right to co-opt a religion, make a few changes, and then condemn those who continue in the original religion? We could ask this about standard Christianity versus Marcionism, since standard Christianity developed out of Marcionism…..but it would be more to the point to ask it about standard Christianity versus Judaism. Is it right to condemn the Jews to hell while claiming that your religion developed out of theirs? Can you really invalidate their religion and tack on new requirements, just simply for the purpose of condemning them? And when your religion clearly does not properly interpret the Old Testament, how can you claim your condemnation of the Jews has any validity? If you insist in condemning the Jews, do you not do it out of some leftover Marcionism? Yet Marcion himself never went so far as to condemn the Jews, only their god. According to Tertullian, he even believed the Jewish Messiah was yet to come and save the Jews! (For to Marcion, Jesus was a new god not the Jewish Messiah). Was Marcion, then, more ecumenical than modern Christianity despite his rejection of the Old Testament as a basis of Christianity?

  6. rey October 31, 2011 at 12:47 am

    I would point out also that Judaism itself does not say Gentiles have to keep the Torah to be saved but only must keep the 7 laws of Noah, which are simply monotheism and a few moral rules. The characterization that Christianity puts on Judaism “its too hard to be saved in Judaism, and Gentiles have no hope according to it, so it had to be replaced and invalidated” is simply not correct. Judaism has never taught that Gentiles have no hope. This concept of Gentiles being saved outside of Judaism is not just a rabbinic invention, for you can read in the OT itself of Naaman the Leper and various other Gentiles who are obviously viewed as saved. Christianity then began as an illegitimate invalidation of Judaism on the grounds that Judaism condemned Gentiles outside its borders when it never did. It was created by men who either did not understand Judaism at all or misrepresented it for their own purposes. And the same basic core that makes up Marcionism — rejection of the Jewish Covenant’s validity — makes up Christianity. Indeed, it is worse in Christianity, for Marcion recognized the Jewish Covenant as valid for Jews, just not for Christians. But Christianity (other than recent developments to the contrary in the Vatican) refuses to acknowledge the validity of the Jewish Covenant even for Jews. Indeed, to admit that the Jews can still be saved by their covenant (which the Torah always describes as Eternal) would be to admit that about 80% of Paul’s epistles engage in pure fiction. Yet this must be admitted, for Paul clearly had no clue what Judaism taught.

  7. rey October 31, 2011 at 12:49 am

    If you don’t post these comments, I will know you are a Marcionite, or worse, and certainly antisemitic.

  8. emarkthomas October 31, 2011 at 4:30 am

    Hey Rey, I’ll have to take some time to process all of what you wrote, but I’ll try to get a coherent thought on it sometime in the next few days. Thanks for commenting, though. I can honestly say that one of my first impressions from reading your comments is the benefit of having feedback on what I’ve written; it helps me look at my own thoughts and writings in a different light.

    I’ll try and get something more formal for a response soon.

    Be well!

  9. emarkthomas November 3, 2011 at 3:00 am

    Okay Rey, here we go :

    I’ve had a few days to ponder and meditate on what you’ve written, and it has had an effect on me. A few thoughts:

    1) You helped me to see that I was premature and incorrect in posting this. I wrote this in a tone dripping with arrogance, and really, it ought to have been tucked away for awhile so that I could revisit it in the future and meditate on it more before ever making any sort of public post on it.

    2) You helped me see that I was arrogant and foolish in thinking I was smarter or better than others for knowing historical facts and theologies and the like. I wasn’t consciously aware of it when I wrote this post, but now I am aware that I was thinking myself superior. You helped me realize that with your comments. Thank you.

    3) I have a very large ego that needs trampling now and again. You did this effectively. Thank you.

    4) As for your specific arguments themselves, I’m not going to pretend to be ready to launch into those specifcs. I’m unfamiliar with some, unreviewed in some, and ignorant in some. That being said, even if I were I’m not sure I’d be ready for a dialogue with you, The focus of your arguments seems to be semantics. I’m a much more big-picture, holistic idea guy than one after semantics and wrestling and fighting to gain inches on a line-in-the-sand mentality.

    5) I’m not entirely sure you’re being serious or logical, since you included the last comment baiting me with accusations of being a Marcionite or anti-semitic. Both are absurd and uncalled for. Respect for others and human beings is critical in dialogues regarding religion, and for that reason I hesitate to enter one with you. It could be, however, like me at the time of writing the post that you actually are honestly and respectfully seeking a dialogue and got caught up. I certainly know that feeling. So if the truth looks more like the latter than the former, by all means, I’d love to engage in a dialogue with you. The way you posted the first several comments must have taken time, knowledge, and thought, and I’d love to honor that by diving further in.

    All in all, thanks for commenting at all. Even if it wasn’t your intention, I grew from your words.

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