Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Marcion And The New Testament

"According to the Church Fathers, Marcion rejected certain books, and selected others for his canon out of a more comprehensive Church canon. Harnack, on the other hand, developed the thesis that Marcion was the first to construct a formal canon of Christian Scripture and that the Church followed his lead, eventually adopting four Gospels and thirteen Epistles of Paul, in addition to other books as well. John Knox, following suggestions made by F.C. Baur and others, went still further and maintained that Marcion had a kind of proto-Luke which the Church later enlarged in the interest of anti-Marcionite polemic, producing our present Luke sometime after A.D. 150. Knox was unable, however, to show that after the middle of the second century conditions prevailed in the Church to render possible the immediate general acceptance of a newly redacted gospel....It is nearer the truth to regard Marcion's canon as accelerating the process of fixing the Church's canon, a process that had already begun in the first half of the second century." (Bruce Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997], pp. 98-99)

"[the theory] that Marcion used a 'Proto-Luke' which has been expanded by the church for the purpose of anti-Marcionite polemic not only completely fails to recognize the historical context of the Third Gospel but also comes to grief on its stylistic and theological unity. Moreover there is no manuscript evidence for such a hypothesis. Such a manipulation of the text would have had to find a record around 150; moreover it would no longer really have been generally recognized." (Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels And The One Gospel Of Jesus Christ [Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000], n. 131 on p. 230)

"More recent studies have shown, however, that Marcion's Pauline corpus is derivative in both content and structure from another early edition of the letters. With the exception of Galatians, Marcion's arrangement of the letters follows the principle of decreasing length, with letters to the same communities being counted together. Since this principle was not maintained by Marcion and apparently had no importance for him, his edition must have depended on another for which this principle was fully constitutive....Such an edition emphasized by its arrangement the number of communities to which Paul had written, namely precisely seven churches....It may be in consequence of such an edition of Paul's letters that we have two other groups of early Christian letters similarly addressed to seven churches: the letters of the Apocalypse (2:1-3:22), and of Ignatius....This arrangement of the letters [with Galatians at the head] is presupposed by the old prologues to the Pauline letters. While they have long been regarded as Marcionite, it is now clear that they are catholic products, and thus the edition itself must be catholic. Marcion's edition was not only substantively and structurally derivative from an earlier one, but also textually derivative....his [Marcion's] text of the epistles belonged to a common pre-Marcionite form of the Pauline text that was already current around the beginning of the second century....Marcion's importance for the history of Pauline texts has been substantially diminished....most recent studies offer more moderate estimates of his [Marcion's] influence, suggesting that he prompted the church to become more self-consciously reflective about the scope of its scriptures and the basis of their authority, or that he only accelerated a development that was already underway. Even this, however, may concede too much. It is quite uncertain, for example, that Marcion considered his canon to be closed and exclusive; his followers, in any case, apparently did not....The Gospel-Apostle framework of Marcion's canon was certainly not his creation." (Harry Gamble, in Lee McDonald and James Sanders, edd., The Canon Debate [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002], pp. 283-284, 292)

"More recent scholarship has been less sure of Marcion's influence on the formation of the canon, but still regards him as important....Marcion's concern was to exclude books that he disapproved of from his 'canon.' He was not assembling a collection of Christian books, but making a (very restricted) selection from the corpus of texts which already existed and which must already have been recognized as sacred by many in the church - otherwise he would not have needed to insist on abolishing them....if Marcion caused the church to have a 'New Testament,' we should see an increase in the use of New Testament texts from the mid-second century onwards, as the church in general became more aware of its own scriptures as distinct from the Old Testament. Christians should have become, for polemical reasons, more self-conscious in using the texts that would eventually form the New Testament. But in fact this is not the case. The New Testament books, or at any rate the central 'core' of the Gospels and the Pauline and Catholic Epistles, were already used very widely in the time before Marcion, and continued to be so used after him. Franz Stuhlhofer has shown by a detailed statistical analysis that, proportionately to their length, the New Testament scriptures were already cited considerably more intensively than the Old by the early second century, and no difference in their use can be established following Marcion....Thus Marcion seems to have had far less influence on the development of the New Testament canon than he is still given credit for, despite modifications to Harnack's rather extreme proposal....The development of the New Testament followed its own logic, and Marcion did not influence it one way or the other....To put it in a somewhat exaggerated form, Marcion was not responsible for Christians' adopting a New Testament; he was responsible for their retaining an Old Testament. Interestingly enough, Stuhlhofer's statistics indicate an increase in the citation of Old Testament texts by Christian writers from about the time of Marcion onwards....In short, Marcion was not a major influence on the formation of the New Testament; he was simply a Marcionite." (John Barton, in Lee McDonald and James Sanders, edd., The Canon Debate [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002], pp. 342-344, 350-351, 354)

"But although Marcion's list is the first, it is going too far to say that the very idea of a Christian Bible is the work of Marcion. Paul's letters were already circulating in collected form, and probably the four canonical gospels as well. More important, the idea of New Testament Scripture, certainly well established in the first part of the second century, presupposes some sort of canonical limit sooner or later." (D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction To The New Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005], p. 732)


  1. "More recent studies have shown, however, that Marcion's Pauline corpus is derivative in both content and structure from another early edition of the letters."--How? We don't have Marcion's canon nor do we have earlier editions of Paul's letters! Everything we have is POST Marcion. Such "studies" are therefore FLAWED from the get-go.

  2. beowulf2k8,

    If a historian who writes about a war is "post-war", do you dismiss his testimony as "FLAWED from the get-go"? We don't need something like a document from Marcion in order to arrive at conclusions about what he probably believed and did. Other people, both contemporaries and people who lived or wrote after Marcion's death, give us information about him. If you want us to believe that such information is unreliable, then you'll need to explain why. And if you're to be consistent with your reasoning, you'll have to reject a lot of other historical conclusions as well.

  3. If all the documents of the losing side were destroyed in a cover-up, then yes.