Here I continue my discussion of Marcion, the arch-heretic of the second century, whose followers forged writings in the name of Paul to support their view that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of Jesus and Paul.  Recall:  Marcion argued that the God of the Old Testament was the Jewish God who created this world, chose Israel to be his people, and then gave them his law.  He was a just, wrathful God:  not evil, just ruthlessly judicial.  The God of Jesus, on the other hand, was a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness.  This good God, superior to the God of the Jews, sent Jesus into the world in order to die for the sins of others, to save people from the wrathful God of the Old Testament.  Salvation comes, then, by believing in Jesus’ death.

To prove his point, Marcion pointed out the contradictions between the Old Testament God and the God of Jesus. The God of the Old Testament sent his prophets, one of whom was Elisha.  One day, we are told in the Old Testament, Elisha was verbally harassed by a group of boys making fun of his bald head.  Elisha called the wrath of God down upon the boys, and two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them to death (2 Kings 2).  Is this the same God who said “let the little children come unto me”?  No, there are two different Gods.

Since the God of Jesus is not the God of the Old Testament, and is therefore not the creator of the world, Jesus could not belong to this created order.  He could not be born into this world as a flesh-and-blood being; otherwise he would belong to the God of the Jews, just as every other created being does.  Jesus must have come from heaven, from the true God, directly.  For that reason he was not an actual, physical human being.  He only seemed to be.  In other words, Marcion was a docetist (see chapter two).  For this view he could again appeal to the writings of Paul, who stated that Jesus came into this world “in the likeness of sinful flesh”  (Romans 8:3).  For Marcion, it was all an appearance.

Marcion is the first Christian of record to have insisted on a distinct canon of Scripture, that is, a collection of books that he considered to be sacred authorities. Marcion’s canon was remarkably short by most standards.  Since the Jewish God was not the true God, his book was not part of the Christian Scriptures.  There was no Christian Old Testament.  The canon, instead, was made up of two sections.  There were, of course, Paul’s letters.  Marcion apparently knew ten of these, all the ones in the Marcion is the first Christian of record to have insisted on a distinct canon of Scripture, that is, a collection of books that he considered to be sacred authorities.New Testament except 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, the so-called Pastoral epistles.  Moreover, in his letters Paul constantly refers to his “gospel.”  And so Marcion included, as the other part of his canon, a Gospel account of the life of Jesus.  This was apparently a version of the Gospel of Luke.

The problem with this eleven-book canon is that even these books quote the Old Testament as an authority and seem to affirm the creation as coming from the true God.   How could that be, if Marcion’s views of Paul and Jesus were right?   Marcion had an easy answer to that.  He believed that after Jesus left this earth, his followers,  the disciples, changed his teachings and went back to their old Jewish ways, misinterpreting his gospel message as if he wanted to affirm the goodness of the Creator God and his creation.  They never fully understood Jesus’ teaching that the creator was not the true God.  That is why Paul had to be called to be an apostle.  The apostles before him had altered the teachings of Jesus, and so Paul was commissioned to set things straight.

This wide misinterpretation of Jesus’ message had affected lots of other Christians, including the scribes who copied the writings of Paul and Luke.  These eleven books had in fact been miscopied over the years.  Scribes who did not understand the truth — that there are two gods, that Jesus was not really born and is not really human, and so on —  altered the texts and inserted false views into them.  Marcion then edited his eleven books, eliminating from them portions that seemed too Jewish.

In addition to these eleven books, Marcion and his followers had other books, which were forged in Paul’s name.  We know this from a fragmentary text that comes to us from the second century, a text that discusses which books actually belong in Scripture, as opposed to the canons of Marcion and other heretics.  This text is called the Muratorian Canon, named after the Italian scholar, Muratori, who discovered it.[1]

Among other things the Muratorian Canon indicates that the Marcionites, the followers of Marcion, had forged two books in the name of Paul, a letter to the Christians in the city of Alexandria and a letter to those in the town of Laodicea.  These letters to the Alexandrians and Laodiceans, regrettably, no longer survive.  But we can be relatively certain that if they ever turn up, they will represent even more forcefully than the books of Marcion’s canon his distinctive views about the two gods, the non-human Jesus, and the salvation that he has brought.


[1] For an English translation, see Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, pp. xxx.  Some scholars date the Muratorian Canon to the fourth century, but this view has not proved convincing to most.

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  1. Stephen March 5, 2024 at 11:55 am

    Can you draw any conclusions from Marcion’s unawareness of the Pastorals? Do we have any reason to think he knew them and rejected them? Or had they not been composed yet?


    • BDEhrman March 6, 2024 at 8:50 pm

      If we knew that he *was* unaware that would rule out one of the lead options. The problem is we don’t know if he knew they existed or not, and if he did know, whether he was familiar with athat they said or not.

  2. 1SonOfZeus March 5, 2024 at 9:46 pm

    Bart, if you do a trip next year. I want to go. I miss the Greece trip this year; The spots sold out before I could get one. Thank you for you what you. Lets have foot prints in sand of being a good person to others.
    Thank you for dedicating your time to educate others and help those in need. You are truly amazing. I will monitor your next trip. Hopefully I can make that one.

    • daniel.calita March 10, 2024 at 12:41 am

      Hi, Bart!

      (1) Why did Jesus want people to follow him? Why do you think people accepted to do it?

      (2) What do you think of Celsus’ writings as a whole?

      (3) Are you working on your book The Radical Teachings of Jesus–And Why No One Follows Them ?


      • BDEhrman March 11, 2024 at 8:22 pm

        1. I’m not sure he did. He wanted them to accept that the Kingdom was coming soon and they needed to prepare. 2. They’re brilliant (We have only the one book, and that only as Origen quotes it. But his positions are intriguing and often Origen’s counter-arguments fall short in my opiniion). 3. yes, but I’ve changed the title: “The Origins of Altruism: How the Teachings of Jesus Transformed the Conscience of the West.” Not sure if that’ll be the final title or not.

  3. c.kennethbauer March 5, 2024 at 10:45 pm

    In revelation 5:10 what do you make of this passage/song? and who are the ones talking (who are the 24 elders?) and who are they referring to (Christians?) The pronouns “US” and “WE”
    (seem) correct based on the use of the same words in this chapter/book but, “them” and “they” are also used in translations. Kings or Kingdom? They will reign? (when the new earth comes they will go back to earth from heaven….?)

    • BDEhrman March 14, 2024 at 6:43 pm

      The 24 elders were introduced in 4:4 as those around the throne worshiping God forever. “Them” in 5:10 is referring to the people who were ransomed by Christ in 5:9. “Us” is found in only a couple of textual witnesses, but in none of th eGreek manuscripts.

  4. dmx March 8, 2024 at 8:13 am

    For a generally illiterate population, it strikes me as odd that writing was such a fundamental thing to do in that period. To the point of producing forgeries! I always thought that the idea of a text being sacred came about from the fact that so few could read them, let alone produce them. Writing is hard, except for guys like Bart, I guess. So I find it surprising that some of these people even found it worthwhile to produce forgeries.
    So maybe in that time, servants or slaves were used as copyists, easing the job for the master? Maybe they had an organization like churches have to have the written material read to the illiterate audience, making the endeavor worthwhile?
    Maybe the elite of that time, the richer merchants and aristocrats, were very uniformly schooled and literate? It would explain, in my mind, the ecosystem of writings in antiquity.
    But I’m grabbing at straws for the moment. You certainly have given thought to this matter, professor Bart. Comments?

    • BDEhrman March 11, 2024 at 7:35 pm

      Yes, written texts were rare and therefore seen as somehow more sancrosanct than spoken instruction by many people. Within Christianity they sometimes were seen to have mystical power even. Apart form that, a text written by someone a hundred years ago accurately reproduces his thougths/ideas, and so if he was an “authority” then his “authored” text is an authority. YOu’re hearin ghis own word.
      Yes, copyists were used widely; yes they sometimes were slaved. And yes, texts not just in churches but in other settigs were read by the literate to the group; “reading” for most people was “hearing it read.”

  5. Erland March 9, 2024 at 12:14 pm

    If I understand this correctly, it was the followers of Marcion that forged books. Marcion himself didn’t forge anything, except in the sense that he removed portions from the eleven books, which he sincerely believed weren’t genuine. Is that correct?

    • BDEhrman March 11, 2024 at 8:09 pm

      That’s what our sources say.

  6. R2alarraga March 10, 2024 at 6:50 am

    Are there any Marcionites still out there? I’d join.

  7. MartinHughes March 12, 2024 at 2:03 pm

    Oughtn’t we, in evaluating Marcion, to place him in a world where the idea of two grades of divinity was familiar through Plato’s solution to the Problem of Evil. The Creator cannot do a perfect job because of the recalcitrance of matter to rational planning, so there must be a process of alienation and rapprochement, leading us Tom God in the higher sense, who is pure thought and (in a pre-Christian sense) love. ‘Two gods’ is a rather tendentious rendering here – High God is Everything. Marcion’s ideas seem more outlandish to us than they would have then. Nor were they wholly alien from Jewish thought, as is seen from the mysterious relationship of Yahweh and El in the Old Testament and later from Metatron, Christianity has focussed the Problem of Evil pretty strictly on the free will and depravity of human beings.
    It may be fairer to talk of Marcion’s interpretation of the Old Testament rather than his rejection of it. We’re having to put together a picture of M from sources so hostile that we might be trying to picture Biden on the sole evidence of tweets from Trump

    • BDEhrman March 15, 2024 at 7:50 pm

      Yes, the study of Marcion is extremely difficult and the experts who work on him know quite well the nature of the sources we’re dealing with. The bifurcatoin of spirit and matter is indeed Platonic, though he didn’t come up with it (he did make it stick!), and though most ancient people subscribed ot the view without reading a word of Plato. And yes, Marcion’s views may sound outlandish to most Xns today, but they were highly appealing in there day, and to some people still are.

  8. Einherji2013 March 17, 2024 at 7:44 pm

    It seems that you take the older Christian views of Marcion as archheretic with adulterated letters of Paul and Paul’s gospel etc.
    Do we in reality have attestation of Paul’s letters among early Christians before ca. 145 CE? As best I can see the clearest attestation of Paul’s corpus is from the letters of Ignatius Antiochus. The work of Dr. Jack Bull, Dr. Marcus Vinzent and others regarding the Ignatian letters being forgeries seem to me rather convincing.

    • BDEhrman March 18, 2024 at 8:44 pm

      I don’t think that this is the older scholarly view. I mean, it is an older view, but it’s still by far the consensus view. Polycarp also knows the Pauline letters. The idea that all of Ignatius is forged has never caught on much, for very good reasons. I’m afraid Marcus Vinzent’s views have never been widely accepted. By far the majority views are represented by folk like Judith Lieu, Dieter Roth, and Jason BeDuhn.

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