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Paul’s “Gospel” and Marcion

Question: (Here is a question that has been raised about one of my posts. The question begins with a quotation from what I said, in contrast to something else I said, which seems to contradict it. Far be it from me every to eschew contradictions! 🙂 But in this case, I have been misunderstood, probably because of the poor way I phrased it. A couple of people have asked me about the same thing, so here’s the gist of their questions, in the form of one iteration).

“The apostle Paul – well-connected and well-traveled and familiar with lots of churches – shows no knowledge that such a thing as Gospels exist.” I should have asked you about this earlier. I was surprised when, back in a post on Marcion, you said the other “gospel” Paul talked about was “a version of our Gospel of Luke.” Would you explain?


OK, so how can I have it both ways? How can I say that Paul did not know about any Gospels AND say that Marcion used the gospel that Paul talked about, the Gospel of Luke?

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The Mayan Calendar, Y2K, and the Letter of Barnabas



  1. Avatar
    Mikail78  January 6, 2013

    Bart, I have two questions. I hope they are not too time consuming. First, I want to say just how awesome this blog is. It is SO cool to be able to study the bible from a historical and critical perspective with you, an expert in this area. I would love to be able to formally study under you at UNC, but since that can’t happen, this is the next best thing, so thanks a lot for this blog! I will definitely be renewing.

    If the same author wrote Luke and Acts, how come in Luke, the ascension of Jesus happens almost immediately after he appears to his disciples, but in acts, Jesus ascends after spending forty days with his followers. This is a contradiction….isn’t it? If it is, how could Luke and Acts have had the same author?

    Also, I’ve heard that if Marcionite Christianity had become considered the “orthodox” version of Christianity, then there probably would have been less tension between the jewish and early Christian communities, and the jewish community would not have been persecuted as much. Are you familiar with this argument? If so, do you think it is a valid one?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 6, 2013

      1. There is a textual problem at the end of Luke: the “ascension” narrated there is not found in some manuscripts. Some top scholars think it was added to the text by a scribe to stress that Jesus really did physically rise and ascend. But when it was added, it created the contradiction you note.

      2. Yes, this is sometimes said. The logic: if Marcionites had won, there would be no disputes over the Hebrew bible with Jews (since Christians wouldn’t be interpreting it in ways contrary to the way Jews do, since it wouldn’t be there bible). I am writing my next book (after How Jesus Became God) on this very topic. So stay tuned. (But in answer to your question, my sense is that really there is no way to know….)

  2. Avatar
    John  January 6, 2013

    A great post Professor, what reason(s) do you think that the “we” passages were added in?

  3. Avatar
    RParvus  January 6, 2013

    You write:

    “We also know that Marcion grew up as a Christian in the church of Sinope in north-central Asia Minor.”

    But do we really know that he “grew up as a Christian” there?

    Heikki Raisanen sums up the matter thus: “Modern scholars are increasingly inclined to reject as unreliable all information concerning Marcion’s life prior to his arrival in Rome” (Raisanen’s article on Marcion in “A Companion to Second-Century ‘Heretics’” edited by Marjanen and Luomanen, p. 103).

    And Tertullian says that Marcion made his donation of money to the Roman church “primo calore fidei” (Against Marcion, 4,4). That first heat of faith sounds to me like the initial fervor of a new convert; an adult convert much like Tertullian himself was.

    Moreover, the proto-orthodox heresiologists say that Marcion, at Rome, came under the corrupting influence of a Simonian from Syria named Cerdo. And that Cerdo “only receives the Gospel of Luke, although not in its integral form” (The “Against All Heresies” of Pseudo-Tertullian).

    So could it be that the reason he chose Luke’s Gospel was that it was the gospel that he, as a new convert, was introduced to by Cerdo at Rome?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 6, 2013

      I think it’s too extreme to reject *everything* about Marcion before he went to Rome. If he *were* a Christian it makes sense that he went to Rome in the first place, made the donation, and developed his views there (influenced, yes, by Cerdo, etc.). I do think we should treat everything in the record wiht a dose of skepticism, but I don’t think that we can conclude that just because all of our records say one thing we should believe the opposite. (To further the point: what evidence is there that Cerdo knew only Luke’s Gospel, or that it was his favorite; and to provide counter-evidence, we *know* that in Rome there were at least three Gospels in use at the time. So it doesn’t seem to work.)

      • Avatar
        RParvus  January 7, 2013

        You wrote:

        “If he *were* a Christian it makes sense that he went to Rome in the first place, made the donation, and developed his views there (influenced, yes, by Cerdo, etc.).”

        But even if he *weren’t* a Christian, is there anything implausible about a wealthy ship-owner sailing to Rome and there learning about Christianity? Surely it was not only wealthy *Christian* ship-owners who were setting sailing for Rome in the mid-second century.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 7, 2013

          Well, he couldn’t sail there from Sinope!

          It’s just a question of whether all of our sources are wrong in the most basic things they say or not, and if they are, how an alternative reconstruction is by its nature more plausible.

          • Avatar
            RParvus  January 8, 2013

            You write:

            “It’s just a question of whether all of our sources are wrong in the most basic things they say or not…”

            But that’s my point: “All our sources” don’t say that Marcion “grew up a Christian in Sinope.” In fact, the most comprehensive proto-orthodox source about Marcion—-Tertullian’s five volume “Against Marcion”—-says exactly zilch about Marcion’s life prior to his arrival in Rome. And what Tertullian does say about Marcion’s enthusiastic entry into the Roman church (that he made a sizeable donation to it “primo calore fidei”) would lead one to think that Marcion’s joining was also his initial embrace of Christianity.

            But I’m also unclear what you meant by: “Well, he couldn’t sail there from Sinope!” Wasn’t there maritime trade between the Black and Mediterranean Seas in the second century? Or, put differently, were the Bosphorus and Dardanelles open for travel by ship in the second century?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2013

            Well, the sources that mention it do say that. Others don’t say. So unless you have a *reason* to think otherwise….

            Sailing. Good point.

  4. johndash
    johndash  January 6, 2013

    Thanks! And thanks for that further exploration, too. Best regards, John Dash

  5. Avatar
    gregmonette  January 6, 2013

    Why don’t you think the “we” statements by the author of Luke-Acts is referring to an actual travelling companion of Paul?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 6, 2013

      Long story. But Greg, READ MY BOOK!!! 🙂 (I’ll make some posts on it; short story is that if he was Paul’s companion, he’s remarkably ignorant about Paul’s life and teachings!)

      • Avatar
        gregmonette  January 6, 2013

        Do you mean your new book on Forgery and counter-forgery? That’s a quite a beast and could prop up a piano!

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  January 7, 2013

          Takes less time to read than to write. 🙂 (And it *does* have an index!)

          • Avatar
            gregmonette  January 8, 2013

            Ok, Dr., Mr. Professor, Monseiur Ehrman: I’ll buy it!!! It better make me happy, angry, laugh, and cry by the end. 🙂

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  January 9, 2013

            My guess is that it’ll make you cry, for the most part. 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Jdavis3927  January 6, 2013

    Hey Bart,

    What are your thoughts on this theory?

    The so-called Epistle to the Romans is certainly not a Pauline letter. It is a composite document exposing all the incompatible views expressed within the Roman Jesus Messiah Assembly turning towards Gentile dominance. It is the first history book of the Roman Church made up with compilations of Jewish fundamentals, Pauline ideas manipulated by Marcion for the sake of lobbying the Gentile Christians against the Jewish members, Gnostic shades coming from nearly elected Valentinius as well as miscellaneous attempts to reconcile different parties. The multi-focal Roman debates were later set in the form of a Pauline letter when Gentile Christians were inexorably gaining the upper hand. The core document was probably Marcion’s letter to the Romans, set under Paul’s signature and later expanded by incorporating all the community conclusions and debates


  7. Avatar
    nsnyder  January 7, 2013

    As far as we know, Marcion was not aware of Acts, right? That seems to be a big problem for the first theory. Given Marcion’s affection for Galatians, it seems unlikely that he would think highly of Acts, and at any rate he certainly did not include Acts in his cannon.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  January 7, 2013

      Right, no evidence that he knew Acts. But Acts *may* have circulated separately from Luke (which is possibly why they are not together in NT; later mss tended to combine Gospels without Acts)

  8. Avatar
    Stephen  October 15, 2014

    It seems to me that if Marcionite Christianity won out, it would have been a huge blow for Creationism as the Hebrew Biblical account of creation would not have been followed. What was the Marcionite origin tale?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 16, 2014

      They accepted the OT account. It just wasn’t the true God who did it.

  9. Avatar
    edmlvr  February 13, 2016

    Bart, what did you mean by “Far be it from me every to eschew contradictions!”?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 13, 2016

      I was joking. It means “I’m not saying that I don’t ever contradict myself!”

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