Marcionism was an Early Christian dualist belief system that originated in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome around the year 144.[1]

Marcion believed Jesus was the savior sent by God, and Paul the Apostle was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament.

Marcionism, similar to Gnosticism, depicted the God of the Old Testament as a tyrant or demiurge (see also God as the Devil). He anticipated a rationalistic opposition to the Old Testament and to the Pastoral Epistles. He rejected the heathen mythology of Gnostics, and adhered to Christianity as the only true religion; he was less speculative, and gave a higher place to faith. He represents "anti Old Testament" and pseudo-Pauline tendency. Marcion was the son of a bishop of Sinope in Pontus, and gave in his first fervor his property to the church, but was excommunicated by his own father. He betook himself, about the middle of the second century, to Rome (140–155), which originated none of the Gnostic systems, but attracted them all. There he joined the Syrian Gnostic, Cerdo."[2] while other scholars have rejected that categorization. Marcion's canon consisted of eleven books: a gospel consisting of ten sections drawn from the Gospel of Luke; and ten Pauline epistles.

Marcion's canon rejected the entire Old Testament, along with all other epistles and gospels of the 27 book New Testament canon[3] Paul's epistles enjoy a prominent position in the Marcionite canon, since Paul is credited with correctly transmitting the gracious universality of Jesus' message in opposition to the harsh dictates of the "just god".

Marcionism was denounced by its opponents as heresy, and written against, notably by Tertullian in a five-book treatise Adversus Marcionem, written about 208. Marcion's writings are lost, though they were widely read and numerous manuscripts must have existed. Even so, many scholars (including Henry Wace) claim it is possible to reconstruct and deduce a large part of ancient Marcionism through what later critics, especially Tertullian, said concerning Marcion.


According to Tertullian and other writers of early proto-orthodox Christianity, the movement known as Marcionism began with the teachings and excommunication of Marcion around 144. Marcion was reportedly a wealthy shipowner, the son of a bishop of Sinope of Pontus, Asia Minor. He arrived in Rome c. 140, soon after Bar Kokhba's revolt. The organization continued in the East for some centuries later, particularly outside the Byzantine Empire in areas which later would be dominated by Manichaeism.

Schism within Marcionism

By the reign of emperor Commodus (180–192), Marcionism was divided into various opinions with various leaders; among whom was Apelles, whom Rhodo describes as: "...priding himself on his manner of life and his age, acknowledges one principle, but says that the prophecies are from an opposing principle, being led to this view by the responses of a maiden by name Philumene, who was possessed by a demon".

But others, among whom were Potitus and Basilicus, held to two principles, as did Marcion himself. Others consider that there are not only two, but three natures. Of these, Syneros was the leader and chief.[4]


The premise of Marcionism is that many of the teachings of Christ are incompatible with the actions of the God of the Old Testament. Focusing on the Pauline traditions of the Gospel, Marcion felt that all other conceptions of the Gospel, and especially any association with the Old Testament religion, was opposed to, and a backsliding from, the truth. He further regarded the arguments of Paul regarding law and gospel, wrath and grace, works and faith, flesh and spirit, sin and righteousness, death and life, as the essence of religious truth. He ascribed these aspects and characteristics as two principles, the righteous and wrathful God of the Old Testament, who is at the same time identical with the creator of the world, and a second God of the Gospel who is only love and mercy.[5]

Marcionites held that the God of the Hebrew Bible was inconsistent, jealous, wrathful and genocidal, and that the material world he created was defective, a place of suffering; the God who made such a world is a bungling or malicious demiurge.

In Marcionite belief, Christ was not a Jewish Messiah, but a spiritual entity that was sent by the [Monad] to reveal the truth about existence, thus allowing humanity to escape the earthly trap of the demiurge. Marcion called God, the Stranger God, or the Alien God, in some translations, as this deity had not had any previous interactions with the world, and was wholly unknown. See also the Unknown God of Hellenism and the Areopagus sermon.

In various popular sources, Marcion is often reckoned among the Gnostics, but as the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.) puts it, "it is clear that he would have had little sympathy with their mythological speculations" (p. 1034). In 1911 Henry Wace stated:

A primary difference between Marcionites and Gnostics was that the Gnostics based their theology on secret wisdom (as, for example, Valentinius who claimed to receive the secret wisdom from Theudas who received it direct from Paul) of which they claimed to be in possession, whereas Marcion based his theology on the contents of the Letters of Paul and the recorded sayings of Jesus in other words, an argument from scripture, with Marcion defining what was and was not scripture. Also, the Christology of the Marcionites is thought to have been primarily Docetic, denying the human nature of Christ. This may have been due to the unwillingness of Marcionites to believe that Jesus was the son of both God the Father and the demiurge. Scholars of Early Christianity disagree on whether to classify Marcion as a Gnostic: Adolf Von Harnack does not classify Marcion as a Gnostic,[7] whereas G. R. S. Mead does.[8] Von Harnack argued that Marcion was not a Gnostic in the strict sense because Marcion rejected elaborate creation myths, and did not claim to have special revelation or secret knowledge. Mead claimed Marcionism makes certain points of contact with Gnosticism in its view that the creator of the material world is not the true deity, rejection of materialism and affirmation of a transcendent, purely good spiritual realm in opposition to the evil physical realm, the belief Jesus was sent by the "True" God to save humanity, the central role of Jesus in revealing the requirements of salvation, the belief Paul had a special place in the transmission of this "wisdom", and its docetism. According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article on Marcion:[9]

Marcionism shows the influence of Hellenistic philosophy on Christianity, and presents a moral critique of the Old Testament from the standpoint of Platonism. According to Harnack, the sect may have led other Christians to introduce a formal statement of beliefs into their liturgy (see Creed) and to formulate a canon of authoritative Scripture of their own, thus eventually producing the current canon of the New Testament.

Marcion is believed to have imposed a severe morality on his followers, some of whom suffered in the persecutions. In particular, he refused to re-admit those who recanted their faith under Roman persecution; see also Lapsi (Christian).

Marcionite canon

Tertullian claimed Marcion was the first to separate the New Testament from the Old Testament.[11] Marcion is said to have gathered scriptures from Jewish tradition, and juxtaposed these against the sayings and teachings of Jesus in a work entitled the Antithesis.[12] Besides the Antithesis, the Testament of the Marcionites was also composed of a Gospel of Christ which was Marcion's version of Luke, and that the Marcionites attributed to Paul, that was different in a number of ways from the version that is now regarded as canonical.[13] It seems to have lacked all prophecies of Christ's coming, as well as the Infancy account, the baptism, and the verses were more terse in general. It also included ten of the Pauline epistles, in the following order: Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Laodiceans, Colossians, Philippians, Philemon.[14]

Marcion's Apostolikon did not include the Pastoral epistles or the Epistle to the Hebrews. According to the Muratorian canon, it included a Marcionite pseudo-Paul's epistle to the Alexandrians and an epistle to the Laodiceans.[15] The contents of this Marcionite Epistle to the Laodiceans are unknown. Some scholars equate it with the Epistle to the Ephesians, because the latter originally did not contain the words 'in Ephesus', and because it is the only non-pastoral Pauline epistle missing from the Marcionite canon, suggesting Laodiceans was simply Ephesians under another name.[16] The Epistle to the Alexandrians is not known from any other source; Marcion himself appears to have never mentioned it.

In bringing together these texts, Marcion redacted what is perhaps the first New Testament canon on record, which he called the Gospel and the Apostolikon, which reflects his belief in the writings of Jesus and the apostle Paul respectively.

The Prologues to the Pauline Epistles (which are not a part of the text, but short introductory sentences as one might find in modern study Bibles[17]), found in several older Latin codices, are now widely believed to have been written by Marcion or one of his followers. Harnack makes the following claim:[18]

Conversely, several early Latin codices contain Anti-Marcionite prologues to the Gospels.


Marcionite canon
(c. 130–140)
Modern canon
(c. 4th century)
Evangelikon Gospels
Apostolikon Pauline epistles
(nonexistent)(none)Catholic epistles
1. Contents unknown; some scholars equate it with Ephesians.

Reaction to Marcion by early Christians

According to a remark by Origen (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew 15.3), Marcion "prohibited allegorical interpretations of the scripture". Tertullian disputed this in his treatise against Marcion, as did Henry Wace:

Tertullian, along with Epiphanius of Salamis, also charged that Marcion set aside the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, and used Luke alone.[20] Tertullian cited Luke 6:43-45 (a good tree does not produce bad fruit)[21] and Luke 5:36-38 (nobody tears a piece from a new garment to patch an old garment or puts new wine in old wineskins),[22] in theorizing that Marcion set about to recover the authentic teachings of Jesus. Irenaeus claimed,

Tertullian also attacked this view in De Carne Christi.

Hippolytus reported that Marcion's phantasmal (and Docetist) Christ was "revealed as a man, though not a man", and did not really die on the cross.[24] However, Ernest Evans, in editing this work, observes:

Islamic accounts

The Arabic name for Marcionism, marḳiyūniyya, is attested to by several historical sources of the Islamic Golden Age which appear to reveal that a meagre, though not non-existent, Marcionite community continued to exist in lands of the medieval Near East into the tenth-century. For example, the Christian writer Thomas of Margā states that, at the end of the eighth-century, the Metropolitan of Gēlān and Daylam, S̲h̲uwḥālīs̲h̲ōʿ, travelled into the remote parts of his see, preaching "among the pagans, Marcionites and Manichaeans."[25] In a similar way, the tenth-century Muslim bibliographer Ibn al-Nadīm goes so far as to claim that the Marcionites are "numerous in Ḵh̲urāsān" and that there "they practice openly, like the Manichaeans."[26] Although information about the Khorasanite Marcionites is not related in any other historical source, Ibn al-Nadīm nevertheless also quotes a "reliable informant" (t̲h̲iḳa), "whom he says had seen Marcionite books and who reported that their script resembled that of the Manichaeans."[27][28]

Those medieval Muslim writers who specialized in the study of foreign religions often presented Marcionite theology accurately. For example, al-Masudi (d. 956) states that the Marcionites taught "two principles, good and evil, and justice is a third (principle) between the two,"[29] which, according to de Blois, are clear references to the Marcionite belief in "the good god, evil matter, and the just god."[28] In the majority of cases, the Islamic references to Marcionism are really references to what has been termed "Neo-Marcionism," a sub-branch of the sect that seems to have lived in Khorasan in the tenth-century.[28] The classical Muslim thinkers rejected all types of Marcionite theology as deviations from the truth, and some thinkers, such as Ibn al-Malāḥimī (d. c. 1050) wrote polemics against them as others did against Nicene Christianity.[28] This did not, however, prevent many of the same thinkers from studying the Marcionites from an anthropological or sociological point of view, as is evident from Ibn al-Malāḥimī's extended reference to the customs of the Marcionites.[28]

Recent scholarship

In Lost Christianities, Bart Ehrman contrasts the Marcionites with the Ebionites as polar ends of a spectrum with regard to the Old Testament.[30] Ehrman acknowledges many of Marcion's ideas are very close to what is known today as "Gnosticism", especially its rejection of the Jewish God, the Old Testament, and the material world, and his elevation of Paul as the primary apostle. There were early Christian groups, such as the Ebionites, that did not accept Paul as part of their canon.

Robert M. Price, a New Testament scholar at Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, considers the Pauline canon problem:[31] how, when, and who collected Paul's epistles to the various churches as a single collection of epistles. The evidence that the early church fathers, such as Clement, knew of the Pauline epistles is unclear. Price investigates several historical scenarios and comes to the conclusion and identifies Marcion as the first person known in recorded history to collect Paul's writings to various churches together as a canon, the Pauline epistles. Robert Price summarizes,

If this is correct, then Marcion's role in the formation and development of Christianity is pivotal.

In modern history

Historic Marcionism, and the church Marcion himself established, appeared to die out around the 5th century, although similarities between Marcionism and Paulicianism, a later heresy in the same geographical area, indicate that Marcionist ideas may have survived and even contributed to heresies derived from Paulicians in Bulgaria (Bogomilism) and France (Catharism). Whether or not that is the case, Marcion's influence and criticism of the Old Testament are discussed to this very day. Marcionism is discussed in recent textbooks on early Christianity, such as Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman. Marcion claimed to find problems in the Old Testament; problems which many modern thinkers cite today (see Criticism of the Bible and Biblical law in Christianity), especially its implicit approval of atrocities and genocide.

Some atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists agree with Marcion's interpretation of Bible atrocities, and cite the same passages of the Old Testament to discredit Christianity and Judaism. Some Christian scholars, such as Gleason Archer and Norman Geisler, have attempted to resolve these perceived difficulties, while others have argued that just punishments (divine or human), even capital punishments, are not genocide or murder because murder and genocide are unjustified by definition (see Christian Reconstructionism).

On the other hand, because of the rejection of the Old Testament which originates in the Jewish Bible, the Marcionites have been believed by some Christians to be anti-Jewish. The terms "Marcionism" and "neo-Marcionism" has sometimes been used in modern times to refer to anti-Jewish tendencies in Christian churches, especially when such tendencies have been thought to be surviving residues of ancient Marcionism.

During the Nazi period some aspects of Marcion's ideas were appropriated by a "group of fanatically Nazi Protestants"[33] called the Deutsche Christen (German Christians). The Deutsche Christen advocated a complete rejection of the Old Testament and everything Jewish in Christianity, which they termed "Positive Christianity". These ideas fell out of favor after Germany's defeat in World War II. (See also Nazism and religion)

For some, the postulated problems of the Old Testament, and the appeal of Jesus are such that they identify themselves as modern day Marcionites, and follow his solution in keeping the New Testament as sacred scripture, and rejecting the Old Testament canon and practices. A term sometimes used for these groups is "New Testament Christians". Carroll R. Bierbower is a pastor of a church he says is Marcionite in theology and practice.[34] The Cathar movement, historically and in modern times, reject the Old Testament for the reasons Marcion enunciated. It remains unclear whether the 11th century Cathar movement is a continuation of earlier Gnostic and Marcion streams, or represents an independent re-invention. John Lindell, a former Methodist and Unitarian Universalist pastor, advocates Christian deism, which does not include the Old Testament as part of its theology.[35]

See also


  1. (115 years and 6 months from the Crucifixion, according to Tertullian's reckoning in Adversus Marcionem, xv)
  2. History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325. Marcion and his School by PHILIP SCHAFF
  3. "Eusebius' Church History". 2005-06-01. Retrieved 2013-01-25.
  4. Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, Book v. Chapter xiii.
  5. Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma, vol. 1, ch. 5, p. 269
  6. Harnack, idem., p.271
  7. Article on Adolf Von Harnack
  8. G. R. S. Mead, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: Some Short Sketches among the Gnostics of the First Two Centuries (London, 1906), p. 246.
  9. "MARCION - Online Information article about MARCION". Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  10. Harnack, Origin of the New Testament, appendix 6, pp. 222-23
  11. McDonald & Sanders, editors, The Canon Debate, 2002, chapter 18 by Everett Ferguson, page 310, quoting Tertullian's De praescriptione haereticorum 30: "Since Marcion separated the New Testament from the Old, he is necessarily subsequent to that which he separated, inasmuch as it was only in his power to separate what was previously united. Having been united previous to its separation, the fact of its subsequent separation proves the subsequence also of the man who effected the separation." Page 308, note 61 adds: "[Wolfram] Kinzig suggests that it was Marcion who usually called his Bible testamentum [Latin for testament]."
  12. Gnostic Society Library presentation of Marcion's Antithesis
  13. Marcionite Research Library presentation of The Gospel of Marcion
  14. Harris, R. Laird (2008). Inspiration and Canonicity of the Scriptures. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 222. ISBN 9781556358876. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  15. Mead 1931.
  16. Adrian Cozad. "Book Seven of the Apostolicon: The Epistle of the Apostle Paul To the Laodiceans" (PDF). Marcionite Research Library. Melissa Cutler. Retrieved 6 July 2018.
  17. "Origin of the New Testament - Christian Classics Ethereal Library". 2005-07-22. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  18. "Origin of the New Testament - Christian Classics Ethereal Library". 2005-07-22. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  19. "Wace's article on Marcion". 2006-02-02. Retrieved 2013-01-25.
  20. From the perspectives of Tertullian and Epiphanius (when the four gospels had largely canonical status, perhaps in reaction to the challenge created by Marcion), it appeared that Marcion rejected the non-Lukan gospels, however, in Marcion's time, it may be that the only gospel he was familiar with from Pontus was the gospel that would later be called Luke. It is also possible that Marcion's gospel was actually modified by his critics to become the gospel we know today as Luke, rather than the story from his critics that he changed a canonical gospel to get his version. For example, compare Luke 5:39 to 5:36-38, did Marcion delete 5:39 from his Gospel or was it added later to counteract a Marcionist interpretation of 5:36-38? One must keep in mind that we only know of Marcion through his critics and they considered him a major threat to the form of Christianity that they knew. John Knox (the modern writer, not to be confused with John Knox the Protestant Reformer) in Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon (ISBN 0-404-16183-9) proposed that Marcion's Gospel may have preceded Luke's Gospel and Acts."Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
  21. Ernest Evans (2001-12-08). "Tertullian "Against Marcion" 1.2". Retrieved 2013-01-25.
  22. Tertullian (2002-06-22). ""Against Marcion" 4.11.9". Translated by Ernest Evans. Retrieved 2013-01-25.
  23. Against Heresies, 1.27.3
  24. Tertullian Adversus Marcionem ("Against Marcion"), translated and edited by Ernest Evans
  25. Thomas of Margā, Book of Governors, Syriac text, ed. Budge, London 1893, p. 261
  26. Fihrist , ed. Tad̲j̲addud, p. 402
  27. Fihrist , ed. Tad̲j̲addud, p. 19
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 de Blois, F.C., “Marḳiyūniyya”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs.
  29. al-Masʿūdī, Tanbīh, 127
  30. Interview by Deborah Caldwell (2011-02-17). "Interview with Bart Ehrman about Lost Christianities". Retrieved 2013-01-25.
  31. "''The Evolution of the Pauline Canon'' by Robert Price". Retrieved 2013-01-25.
  32. Price, Robert (2012). The Amazing Colossal Apostle. Signature Books. ISBN 978-1-56085-216-2.
  33. Barnes, Kenneth C. (1991). Nazism, Liberalism, & Christianity: Protestant social thought in Germany & Great Britain, 1925-1937. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1729-1.
  34. The Antithesis, by Dr. Carroll R. Bierbower.
  35. "The Human Jesus and Christian Deism". 2001-09-11. Retrieved 2013-01-25.

Further reading

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