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Why Was Marcion Declared a Heretic?

              The question I will be dealing with this week relates to the issue of heresy and orthodoxy in early Christianity.  If you have a question you would like me to address, let me know!

 

QUESTION:

As I am reading about Marcion being declared a heretic I wonder, who had the authority to do this?

 

RESPONSE:

It’s a very good question, and more significant than, on the surface, one might think.  First some background.

Marcion was a second-century philosopher/theologian/teacher who eventually came to be branded as one of the arch-heretics of early Christianity.   Our only sources of information about him are the writings of his enemies – proto-orthodox church fathers (church writers who embraced the theological views that later came to be endorsed as “orthodox” – that is, teaching the “right beliefs”) who saw him, and his views, as dastardly and demonic false teachings meant to led the faithful astray.  It is much debated how much we can trust what his enemies said if we want to determine what it is that he really thought (think about it in modern terms: if you want to know what Republicans or Democrats actually stand for, would you ask the outspoken members of the *opposite* party?).

Certain things do appear relatively clear.  Marcion maintained that …

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Am I an Agnostic or an Atheist? A Blast From the Past
Do I Need to Suffer Myself to Question Whether God Exists?

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Comments

  1. Alfred  July 3, 2017

    Fascinating. What is the probability that actual works by Marcion will be found? As low as 0%? Can you tell us more about the evidence for the persistence of Marcionite Churches for centuries?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      It’s impossible to say. But one can always hope!

      • antoinelamond
        antoinelamond  July 12, 2017

        I hope something lengthy and significant from him is found.

      • llamensdor  August 3, 2017

        Thanks for this post. It clarifies Marcion and his ideas in a way I never really understood before.

    • NABIHSABBAGH  July 4, 2017

      i believe I read once that Quasten, in his book “initiation aux Peres de l’eglise” mentioned that the Marcionite churches existed till early mid-ages. the question I want to add to your’s, is how come a strong heresy like Marcion’s, could survive from 2nd century till early mid-ages without any resources, knowing that most of what we know about Marcion was obtained from the writings of theologians who opposed Marcion’s teachings. and do we have any idea how the marcionite resources were lost?
      thanks

      • catguy  July 9, 2017

        I don’t have an answer for you but is it not also true that Arianism survived amongst the German converts to Christianity until the 700’s or a bit later? Perhaps certain belief systems continue to survive in closed cultures.

  2. godspell  July 3, 2017

    Marcion seems a very modern figure to me.

    I don’t mean that as a compliment.

    • HawksJ  July 8, 2017

      Yes, he actually employed some critical thinking skills, didn’t he?

      He was ahead of his time.

      No theology is completely cohesive, rational, and coherent. His stab at making sense of it was as good any other – and far better than most.

    • webattorney  July 23, 2017

      In some sense, he dared to think outside the box, and he got screwed for it. Oh well . . .

  3. LeRoy  July 3, 2017

    So, believers copied books of the bible but also felt is was important to transcribe commentaries of early church fathers like Tertullian? Even decades after the controversy had passed? How many of these commentaries survive, are there many in number?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      Tertullian didn’t write any commentaries on the Bible, but he certainly wrote lots of other works that were transmitted over the ages. Here on my desk I have a volume of 715 pages of his writings! If you want a relatively full collection of the writings of church fathers from the first three hundred years, look up “The Ante-Nicene Fathers” on Amazon (10 volumes!)

      • NABIHSABBAGH  July 4, 2017

        DR. EHRMAN:
        is it true that modern believers are deeply affected by that heresy when it comes to their views about the Old Testament?
        It is rarely noticed that any modern believer would refer to the Old Testament. Yes they believe it’s the word of God but I noticed that they prefer to Pay high respect to the new Testament since it represents the loving God,as to them.
        is it true that what's called "modern marcionites" or "neo-marcionism" exist in most christian churches?
        best regards

        • Bart
          Bart  July 5, 2017

          I’m hesitant to say what heresy *really* is — since it depends entirely on what you personally think is “true.” But it *is* right to say that many Christians today have a marcionite view of the Bible.

          • antoinelamond
            antoinelamond  July 12, 2017

            I definitely agree with that.

  4. RonaldTaska  July 3, 2017

    Excellent review. Thanks

  5. Wilusa  July 3, 2017

    That prompts me to ask: What, really, is “excommunication”? I’d always assumed Catholic “excommunication” (however it came about) merely barred someone from receiving the Eucharist, and they could go to Confession, say they repented of their “sin,” and all would be forgiven. I was horrified, a while back, to read that if a Catholic woman had an abortion, not only she, but any Catholic who’d assisted her in any way, would be excommunicated – and it involved their being barred even from *Confession*! So would someone who really believed all that have to conclude they’d be damned for all eternity, with no possible way out? (I know the Pope later made the gesture of saying that for, I think, one year, women could “confess” their abortions and be forgiven.)

    On the other hand, I remember my late sister’s saying she’d been excommunicated because she’d remarried after a divorce (even though the second marriage didn’t last). But for all I know, she may merely have *assumed* (rightly or wrongly) that she’d been excommunicated. She was certainly buried as a Catholic.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      The word literally means “to exclude from a community.”

  6. anthonygale  July 3, 2017

    Why do you think Christianity places so much emphasis on what one believes as opposed to what one does or how one lives? I can’t wrap my head around the idea that a kind person who does good but doesn’t believe the right thing should experience eternal torture while the most horrible person should experience eternal bliss by believing the right thing on their deathbed. I don’t even think people can chose what to believe. I think you believe what you believe but choice affects what you do and how you live, regardless of what you believe, which I think is more important. And why are people so threatened by those who believe differently, even if they are otherwise honest, good people, to need to label them heretics? Perhaps that extends outside new testament scholarship, but it seems that Christianity is less tolerant of other religions than pagan and even most modern religions.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      I’ve been thinking for a long time that this would make a good thread. Maybe I’ll get to it! For me it’s one of the most interesting developments in the history of religion.

      • Wilusa  July 4, 2017

        Oh yes, what anthonygale was describing would make a good thread! When I was being raised Catholic, the doctrine seemed to be that if non-believers led good lives, they would be accepted into Heaven. But it was never made clear (at least to me) whether that required their *never having learned anything about* the “true” faith.

      • Sharon Friedman  July 4, 2017

        More than a thread.. possibly a book?

      • Michael Toon  July 5, 2017

        Please start a new thread on this topic, Dr. Ehrman. But not before you finish explaining how suffering is a problem in the world and how it led you to question many things in life that you inherited through oral tradition. Your readership looks with eager interest for the views that you post on this subject!

    • catguy  July 9, 2017

      Luther wrote Sola Scriptura and preached “by faith alone.” Actually he added the word alone for emphasis. Luther detested works and so I think much of the modern denominations have continued this idea into their fundamental beliefs. In the Lutheran tradition you BELIEVE and you act upon faith and give Christ credit for your eternal hope. It isn’t what you do; it is what He did on the Cross. You will hear these statements often in a Lutheran Church. Now, having said that, I would clarify that I think what Luther meant by works had more to do with the sacraments of the Catholic Church rather than good deeds. But neither good deeds or sacraments will lead you to salvation. And again, the idea of good works and your way of life are that they are something the Holy Spirit leads you to do as a manifestation of your faith but not for the purpose of salvation. I don’t know what Calvinist Churches or other post-reform churches preach but I have an idea it would be similar to what Luther taught.

  7. RVBlake  July 3, 2017

    Marcion’s belief about the chasm between the Testaments seems to fly in the face of Matthew 5:17, where Jesus claims to fulfill the Law, not destroy it.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      Apparently Marcion reversed teh saying, so that Jesus claimed not to fulfill the law but destroy it!

  8. ronaldus67
    ronaldus67  July 3, 2017

    Gerd Lüdemann wrote a book on the subject (as did many others) which I’m reading right now.
    The title of this book is: ‘Heretics; the other side of early Christianity’. Although this book is a little dated (first print in 1995) I can recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about heretics and Marcion in particular (who Lüdemann calls the ‘Arch Heretic’). Since you mentioned Lüdemann on your blog before, my guess is that you have read this book also? If so, do you consider it accurate? For instance, Lüdemann calls Paul (more or less) a heretic too. Do you share his opinion?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      I’m afraid I haven’t read that one. If one defines “heresy” as false teaching, then one person or another is a heretic (say, Paul) depending completely on *who* is doing the labeling!

  9. Stephen  July 3, 2017

    I note the irony of the “heretic” Tertullian condemning the “heretic” Marcion. So why did Tertullian get off so easy and have much of his writing preserved? Did the proto-orthodox perceive Marcionism as more of an existential danger than Montanism?

    thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      Montanism was not a “heresy” so much as a “wayward sect.” There were not theological problems with their views so much — they held to “orthodox” beliefs about God, Christ, etc.

  10. gwayersdds  July 3, 2017

    Just goes to show you that no matter how sincere you may be in your beliefs, you can still be sincerely “wrong”. As long as “they” say that you are wrong.

  11. Adam0685  July 3, 2017

    As someone who has sold millions of books, and your videos on your Youtube channel currently have over 2.3 million views (which does not include video views posted by others!), I’m sure you get a lot of readers/watchers who contact you. What kind of comments do you generally get about your books, debates, talks, etc. from them? Who do you find are most interested in your work and who you hear from the most (mainline Christians? conservative Christians? ex-Christians, agnostics/atheists?)

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      Comments I get are almost always positive. I’m not sure why. I guess people who just don’t like what I have to say don’t bother to let me know!

  12. hasankhan  July 3, 2017

    Why do they think flesh and blood needs to be sacrificed? Where is this view coming from? Who said that forgiveness is achieved by spilling blood?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      In the Jewish tradition “the life is in the blood.” So shedding blood meant giving up life — one life in exchange for another.

  13. Tony  July 3, 2017

    Nice segway from suffering to Marcion. Because Marcion found his own solution to the suffering problem – a different kind of God! (June 30). The Jewish God of creation is not the superior God of Jesus. The creation God of the Jews is a demiurge, incompetent and ignorant. The demiurge creation had been an obvious failure. war, pestilence, suffering, injustice, death and messy procreation. Instead, Jesus came from a superior God – unknown to the ignorant God of the Jews.

    I’m with Marcion, and so was about half of “Christianity” in the late second century.

    Interestingly, the Jesus of Marcion was not human but docetic. Marcion’s Jesus only appeared human. Very similar to the Gnostic beliefs as in the Gospel of Judas. Marcion thought Paul was a genuine apostle – but Peter a false one.

    Why did these early Christianities believe Jesus was not human? Paul also never identifies Jesus as a human – in spite of historicist’s protestations to the contrary. Tertullian refers to Paul as the “apostle of the heretics”. The only notion of a human Jesus comes from the Gospels and nowhere else.

    Bart, seeing Marcion had ten letters of Paul in his Canon, can you explain Romans 1:3, which seems to completely contradict Marcion’s fundamental beliefs?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      They didn’t think he was human because they thought he was divine. Romans 1:3 — I can’t recall if Marcion kept that verse or not ,and if he did, how he interpreted it (that he was “thought” to be from the line of David?)

      • Tony  July 4, 2017

        Alternatively, Docetism was a transition phase from Paul’s purely celestial Jesus to the earthly Gospel Jesus. Robert Price makes a compelling argument that it was Marcion who collected Paul’s letters – as he had the means and motivation to do so. That creates the possibility that that Romans 1:3 is a later orthodox (anti-Marcionite) interpolation.

      • Robert  July 5, 2017

        Neither Tertullian nor Epiphanius refer to this verse when discussing Marcion, leading some to conclude that this verse was not in dispute in Marcion’s text of Romans, but there’s no way to know for sure. Codex Boernerianus (G, 012) omits Rom 1,1b-5a, which could theoretically support either idea that Marcion (or a Marcionite) deleted it or that it is a later, proto-orthodox interpolation and there are indeed other elements of thus lacuna that Marcion would object to.

    • godspell  July 4, 2017

      How is that a solution to the problem? A superior God lets the incompetent God ruin everything, then sends his own son to fix things, and nothing actually got fixed?

      Nobody was running polls back then. To the extent Marcion had support, it was because he was making Christianity less Jewish–already, we’re seeing the disassociation of this new religion from its roots (and its founders), as Jews become a minority within it.

      Something similar happened with Pelagianism, later on. It was denounced near the center of the Christian World, but continued to thrive at the edges of it for quite some time. Difference is, Pelagius had actual points to make, and they’re still being made. Marcion has many wacky counterparts today, but none of them are quoting Marcion. 😉

      • Tony  July 5, 2017

        You may be underestimating the impact of Marcion.

        Marcion developed a Canon. Ten letters of Paul and apparently a short version of Luke. The proto-orthodox folks had no such thing. It was Marcion’s Canon that motivated his enemies to start collection documents into what we now call the New Testament.

        We have no Marcion to quote except through material from his sworn enemies. Marcionite material was not copied. The winner writes history.

    • llamensdor  August 3, 2017

      You’re ‘with Marcion’? You think the God of the Jews is “incompetent and ignorant.” That says more about you than about God.

  14. HawksJ  July 4, 2017

    [[proto-orthodox church fathers (church writers who embraced the theological views that later came to be endorsed as “orthodox” – that is, teaching the “right beliefs”) ]]

    When/how did the set of views move from ‘proto’ to orthodox? Put another way, what distinguished ‘proto’ from ‘orthodox’? Was it just ‘pre’ and ‘post’ Nicea?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 4, 2017

      They stop being “proto” as soon as the other groups are fully marginalized (that is the Marcionites, the Sethians, the Valentinians, the Ebionites, and so on). I would say that has happened already by the end of the third century. The Council of Nicea didn’t have to deal with such things, in 325 CE.

  15. antoinelamond
    antoinelamond  July 4, 2017

    Thanks to your books ‘Misquoting Jesus’, ‘How Jesus became God’ and ‘Lost Christianities’ I have re-examined the beliefs I have. I have not given up on them, but have revisited them in a way that makes a bit more sense than before learning about you. Dr. Ehrman I first came to learn about you from the school I used to attend (now I am a psychology major at Truett Mcconnell University). I really think you made more sense than your opponent at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (Greer Heard). That debate alone got me to buy your books.

    This leads me to Marcion. I am a Christian Agnostic Theist who has began to lean towards a lot of Marcion’s views. This is apart from Womanist Theology (i.e. Daniel J. Buhuro, Pamela R. Lightsey, and Diana L. Hayes). So some how I am trying to figure out how to express Marcion’s views on God and scripture along with Womanist Theology. Perhaps that will be what my future graduate level thesis will be on.

    As a 37 year old African American male I am disenchanted by the laziness of pastors when it comes to their parishioners about scripture and the frivolous usage of the King James Version 1611 bible. As long as your blog exist I will be a member and as long as you write I will find some book to study and read. Thanks for being that voice out there that gives us great scholarship, history, and textual criticism. I am learning a lot from your work.

    Marcion’s theology just seems very interesting. I have talked to lots of people about it. Surprisingly enough there are people who know a bit about missing books and different theological interpretations without knowing any of the doctrines and Christianities you talk about. That shocked me.

    Anyway sorry for the long comment. I am just excited to be here and wish I had seen your debate in person to get one of my books signed!

  16. Sharon Friedman  July 4, 2017

    Do we know what version/parts of the Hebrew Bible Marcion actually had available to make his determinations? I wonder what he might have thought if he had the advantage of current biblical scholarship, the documentary hypothesis and so on? There are so many different views of God in the Hebrew Bible of today.

    It seems to me that a major theme of early Christianity was how like the Jews of the time Christians wanted to be, and how and in what ways, they wanted to be different. If we look at Marcion in that context, we see an extremely divergent view (different Gods for heaven’s sake!). Maybe the early Church-ites were trying to walk the line between being Jews with a rabbi who was special, and an entirely different religion. But if Christianity were too different from Judaism, the Romans would have not allowed them the same freedoms. I don’t think we’ll ever know whether the Church folks made their judgments based on spiritual instincts or pragmatism.

  17. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  July 5, 2017

    Did Marcion write anything about Jesus’ blood relatives? How did he explain that if he thought Jesus was only a phantasm?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 5, 2017

      He believed that Jesus descended from heaven in the appearance of a full grown adult at the beginning of his ministry. He wasn’t born and so didn’t have any blood relatives.

      • godspell  July 5, 2017

        Did he say anything about Jesus’ baptism by John?

        I’m going to guess he just ignored that, but if not, I’d be really curious to know his work-around for it.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 6, 2017

          I don’t believe he thought he was baptized, but don’t remember off hand.

        • Tony  July 7, 2017

          Marcion makes no reference to John the Baptist or a baptism. No leaping fetuses as in Lk 1:41. Nada. Not surprisingly, since John’s father was the Jewish priest Zechariah.

          In Marcion’s gospel the docetic Jesus makes a first appearance in Capernaum – suddenly and unexpectantly. Do you think the Gospel baptism narratives are historical?

  18. mannix  July 5, 2017

    You referenced the Jericho slaughter. For Roman Catholics, the god of the OT was not just the God OF Jesus, it WAS Jesus! Remember, the Triune God, 3 persons in one, Jesus is the second person, always was, always will be, etc. Therefore, since Jesus is God, He was the SAME entity that commanded the Jericho slaughter, only later to preach “loving your enemies”.
    Has there ever been a school of thought that contends the OT contains BOTH “Gods” in competing passages? For example, the “good” God dictated the Ten Commandments, the “bad” God the various bloodbaths?

  19. Eric  July 5, 2017

    Too bad Marcionism didn’t win out — then you’d have no difficulty with theodicy!

    • godspell  July 6, 2017

      Marcionism is what I’d call ‘theo-idiocy.’

      😉

  20. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  July 7, 2017

    Marcion didn’t believe that Jesus was a physical human being, but what do you believe was influencing his thinking? He mentioned the demiurge, so I’m guessing he was open to different types of philosophies and ideologies?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2017

      What mainly influenced him was his reading of Paul’s letters, and Paul’s radical distinction between “law” (of the Jewish God) and “gospel” (of Jesus)

      • webo112
        webo112  July 7, 2017

        ..that makes good sense.
        I am in the process of reading “Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” perhaps you get into him more there….

        So in Marcion’s version of Luke’s gospel, it would have no virgin birth story, and no mention of baptism, and no voice from heaven etc correct?
        I know that there was a lot of evolution, development and even new writings etc around his time….but I wonder what the heck made him think that he could convince the council (he called together) of these views? He must have been aware of how there was not a hardline doctrine of Christianity to follow- and that it was debated and “changed” within his own times.
        Wouldn’t the council just pull out their (longer) version of Luke to counter him right away? We don’t know if he knew of the longer version of Luke (with virgin birth etc)?

        It seems to me that Marcion (inadvertently) had a huge impact on the PROCESS of how Christianity was to develop etc.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 8, 2017

          Remember: this was a time before there was anything like a canon of Scripture, and various people had not only different books they considered authoritative but also different forms of the book. My sense is that Marcion’s text of Luke simply didn’t have chapters 1 and 2, for example.

  21. Chasdot  July 10, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, do you think that the reason we have the Book of Philemon in the New Testament is due to Marcion’s collection of the Pauline epistles? It’s a short book and doesn’t introduce a lot of doctrine.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 11, 2017

      I think it was accepted simply because Paul was konwn to write it; that’s probalby why Marcion too accepted it.

  22. fcp  July 11, 2017

    “It appears that Marcion originally came from Sinope …” thus Marcion’s canon included the Sinopic Gospel, right?

    *ducks*

    • Bart
      Bart  July 13, 2017

      Ha!! That’s a good one. Never heard (or thought) it before!

  23. antoinelamond
    antoinelamond  July 14, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman is anything on the http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospellord.html accurate? I just really want to read some good research on Marcion if possible.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 16, 2017

      It’s not clear where the author/editor is getting this text from.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  July 17, 2017

      Early Christian writings.com needs to do a better job with their references. When I want find something quickly I go there then find the source for their information. Sometimes, it’s easy to find all the credible sources. At other times, it sends me on a wild goose chase. When that’s the case, I won’t read it.

      The Gospel of the Lord was a hassle to track, but you might be interested in this–https://www.amazon.com/First-New-Testament-Marcions-Scriptural/dp/1598151312.

      The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon was written by Jason BeDuhn, a historian. Seems like he’s been discussed on the blog before too.

  24. SidDhartha1953  July 15, 2017

    You mention that Marcion thought certain passages in Paul’s letters were scribal interpolations. Was it generally accepted by the first half of the 2nd century that scribes were altering the texts, or was Marcion ahead of his time in that?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 16, 2017

      Yes, throughout the ancient world it was recognized that this could be and often was a problem (not just with Christian texts)

  25. SidDhartha1953  July 15, 2017

    It seems to me that many post-reformation Christians agree with Marcion, except in his assertions that there are two gods and that Jesus was not a real boy. (Hm. That quip leads me to think i should reread Pinocchio. There are allegories galore in that book). But anyway, do you think his views on the disconnect between OT & NT conceptions of God are more compelling than sectarian theologians would like to admit?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 16, 2017

      I think it’s a view a lot of people still have today (though they may not think there are literally two different gods)

  26. SidDhartha1953  July 15, 2017

    One more question before I get on with my day: you said Marcion knew ten Pauline letters. Doing the math, that leaves out Hebrews. How early on did commentators begin ascribing Hebrews to Paul?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 16, 2017

      It was happening by the end of the second century, at least.

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