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Marcion of Sinope (ca. 110-160 C.E.) was a Christian theologian who was excommunicated by the early church at Rome as a heretic; Nevertheless, his teachings were influential during the second century, and a few centuries after, thus forming a counter-point to emerging orthodoxy. Marcion played a significant role in the development of textual Christianity by forcing the various churches to debate the nature of the biblical canon and to delineate its contents. His own canon included ten Pauline Epistles, and a modified Gospel of Luke. According to Marcion, Saint Paul was the only apostle who had rightly understood the new message of salvation as delivered by Christ.[1] Marcion is sometimes referred to as a gnostic but this charge is incorrect since his teachings were quite different from Gnosticism.

Marcion was deemed a heretic for his rejection of the whole Hebrew Bible and other Christian books that were eventually incorporated into the canonical New Testament. He declared that Christianity was distinct from, and in opposition to, Judaism. Moreover, he regarded the God of the Hebrew Bible as a lesser demiurge, who had created the earth, but was actually the source of evil. For these reasons his teachings were rejected by the mainstream chuches.


Biographical information about Marcion stems mostly from writings of his detractors. Hippolytus says he was the son of the bishop of Sinope (modern Sinop, Turkey). Rhodon and Tertullian described him as a ship owner. They further state that he was excommunicated by his father for seducing a virgin. However, Bart D. Ehrman's Lost Christianities suggest that his seduction of a virgin was a metaphor for his corruption of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church being the virgin.[2]

Marcion travelled to Rome about 142–143.[3] He arrived in Rome circa 140, soon after Bar Kokhba's revolt. In the next few years, he developed his theological system and attracted a large following. He was a consecrated bishop and was probably an assistant or suffragan of his father at Sinope. When conflicts with the bishops of Rome arose, Marcion began to organize his followers into a separate community. He was excommunicated by the Church of Rome around 144 and had a large donation of 200,000 sesterces returned. Marcion used his personal wealth, (particularly a donation returned to him by the Church of Rome after he was excommunicated), to fund an ecclesiastical organization that he founded.

After his excommunication, he returned to Asia Minor where he continued to spread his message. He created a strong ecclesiastical organization resembling the Church of Rome, and put himself as bishop.


Marcionism is the belief system that originated from the teachings of Marcion around the year 144.[4] Marcion affirmed Jesus Christ as the savior sent by God and Paul as his chief apostle. He declared that Christianity was distinct from, and in opposition to, Judaism. He rejected the entire Hebrew Bible, and declared that the God of the Hebrew Bible was a lesser demiurge, who had created the earth, and whose law, the Mosaic covenant, represented bare natural justice (i.e. "An eye for an eye").

The premise of Marcionism is that many of the teachings of Christ are incompatible with the actions of Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. Tertullian claimed Marcion was the first to separate the New Testament from the Old Testament.[5] Focusing on the Pauline traditions of the Gospel, Marcion felt that all other conceptions of the Gospel were opposed to the truth. He regarded Paul's arguments of law and gospel, wrath and grace, works and faith, flesh and spirit, sin and righteousness and 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, the creator of the world, and a second God of the Gospel who is purely love and mercy and who was revealed by Jesus.[6]

His canon consisted of 11 books: his own version of the Gospel of Luke, and ten of Paul's epistles. All other epistles and gospels of the New Testament were rejected.[7]

Marcion declared that Christianity was distinct from and in opposition to Judaism. He rejected the entire Hebrew Bible, and declared that the God of the Hebrew Bible was a lesser demiurge, who had created the earth, but was (de facto) the source of evil.

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.[8] 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.[9] 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 (but not the Pastoral Epistles or the Epistle to the Hebrews, and, according to the Muratonian canon, included a Marcionite Paul's Epistle to the Alexandrians and an Epistle to the Laodiceans)[10] 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 the writings reflect the apostle Paul and Jesus.

Marcionites hold maltheistic views of the god of the Hebrew Bible (known to some Gnostics as Yaltabaoth), that he was inconsistent, jealous, wrathful and genocidal, and that the material world he created is defective, a place of suffering; the god who made such a world is a bungling or malicious demiurge. In Marcionite belief, Christ is not a Jewish Messiah, but a spiritual entity that was sent by the Monad to reveal the truth about existence, and 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.

Tertullian, along with Epiphanius of Salamis, also charged that Marcion set aside the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, and used the Gospel of Luke alone[11]. Tertullian cited Luke 6:43-45 ("a good tree does not produce bad fruit")[12] 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")[13], in theorizing that Marcion set about to recover the authentic teachings of Jesus. Irenaeus claimed, "[Marcion's] salvation will be the attainment only of those souls which had learned his doctrine; while the body, as having been taken from the earth, is incapable of sharing in salvation."[14] 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.[15]

Because of the rejection of the Old Testament which originates in the Jewish Bible, the Marcionites are believed by some Christians to be anti-Semitic. Indeed, the word Marcionism is sometimes used in modern times to refer to anti-Jewish tendencies in Christian churches, especially when such tendencies are thought to be surviving residues of ancient Marcionism. For example, on its web site, the Tawahedo Church of Ethiopia claims to be the only Christian church that is fully free of Marcionism. On the other hand, Marcion did not claim Christians to be the New Israel of Supersessionism, and did not try to use the Hebrew scriptures to support his views. Marcion himself does not appear to be anti-Semitic, rather he rejected Jewish scriptures as irrelevant.

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 [1]Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved July 15, 2008.), found in several older Latin codices, are now widely believed to have been written by Marcion or one of his followers. Harnack notes [2] Retrieved July 15, 2008.: "We have indeed long known that Marcionite readings found their way into the ecclesiastical text of the Pauline Epistles, but now for seven years we have known that Churches actually accepted the Marcionite prefaces to the Pauline Epistles! De Bruyne has made one of the finest discoveries of later days in proving that those prefaces, which we read first in Codex Fuldensis and then in numbers of later manuscripts, are Marcionite, and that the Churches had not noticed the cloven hoof…" Conversely, several early Latin codices contain Anti-Marcionite prologues to the Gospels.


The church Marcion founded expanded throughout the known world during his lifetime, and was a serious rival to the Roman Catholic church. Its adherents were strong enough in their convictions to have the church retain its expansive power for more than a century. Marcionism survived Roman persecution, Christian controversy, and imperial disapproval for several centuries more.[16] The Roman Polycarp called him "the first born of Satan."[17] His numerous critics also included Ephraim of Syria, Dionysius of Corinth, Theophilus of Antioch, Philip of Gortyna, Hippolytus and Rhodo in Rome, Bardesanes at Edessa, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.

Some ideas of Marcion's reappeared with Manichaean developments among the Bulgarian Bogomils of the tenth century and their Cathar heirs of southern France in the 13th century, especially the view that the creator God of the Hebrew Scriptures is a Demiurge who is in opposition to Christ. In these schools, the material universe was seen as evil, and the Demiurge was viewed as the creator of this evil world, either out of ignorance or by evil design.

Marcionism continued in the East for some centuries later, particularly outside the Byzantine Empire in areas which later would be dominated by Manichaeism. This is no accident: Mani is believed to have been a Mandaean, and Mandaeanism is related to Marcionism in several ways. The Marcionite organization itself is today extinct, although Mandaeanism is not.[18]


  1. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article on Marcion Retrieved July 14, 2008.
  2. Bart D. Ehrman. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. (Oxford University Press, 2005).
  3. Tertullian dates the beginning of Marcion's teachings 115 years after the Crucifixion, which he placed in 26–27 C.E. (Adversus Marcionem, xix).
  4. 115 years and 6 months from the Crucifixion, according to Tertullian's reckoning in Adversus Marcionem, xv
  5. Everett Ferguson, in McDonald and Sanders, (eds.), The Canon Debate. (2002), chapter 18, 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."
  6. Adolf von Harnack. History of Dogma, vol. 1, ch. 5, p. 269 Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved July 14, 2008.
  7. Eusebius' Church History Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved July 14, 2008.
  8. Gnostic Society Library presentation of Marcion's Antithesis. Retrieved July 15, 2008.
  9. Center for Marcionite Research presentation of The Gospel of Marcion. Retrieved July 15, 2008.
  10. G.R.S. Mead, 1931. Gospel of Marcion Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, Retrieved November 1, 2008. (London and Benares, 1900; 3rd Edition, 1931.)
  11. 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 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. (1977. ISBN 0404161839) was the first to propose that Marcion's Gospel may have preceded Luke's Gospel and Acts. ontruth.
  12. Tertullian "Against Marcion" 1.2 Retrieved July 15, 2008.
  13. Tertullian "Against Marcion" 4.11.9 Retrieved July 15, 2008.
  14. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.27.3 Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved July 15, 2008.
  15. Tertullian Adversus Marcionem ("Against Marcion"), translated and edited by Ernest Evans. Retrieved July 15, 2008.
  16. Evans, 1972, ix
  17. Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me?” “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III.3.4.) Retrieved July 14, 2008.
  18. Mandaean Official Retrieved July 14, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Blackman, E.C. Marcion and His Influence. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004. ISBN 1592447317
  • Clabeaux, John James. The Lost Edition of the Letters of Paul: A Reassessment of the Text of Pauline Corpus Attested by Marcion. Catholic Biblical Assn of Amer, 1989. ISBN 0915170205
  • Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0195182491
  • Evans, Ernest. transl. and Tertullian. Adversus Marcionem ("Against Marcion"), translated and edited by Ernest Evans. 1972.
  • Ferguson, Everett. in McDonald and Sanders, eds. The Canon Debate. Hendrickson Publishers, 2002. ISBN 978-1565635173
  • Grant, Robert M., "Marcion and the Critical Method." Peter Richardson & John Collidge Hurd, eds., From Jesus to Paul. (Studies in Honour of Francis Wright Beare.) Waterloo, ON: 1984.
  • Harnack, Adolf von. Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God. Labyrinth Press, 1990. ISBN 0939464160
  • Hoffmann, R. Joseph. Marcion, on the Restitution of Christianity: An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulist Theology in the Second Century. Scholars Press, 1984. ISBN 0891306382
  • Knox, John. Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon. University Microfilms International; Authorized facsim edition, 1977. ISBN 0404161839
  • Mead, G.R.S., Gospel of Marcion Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, Retrieved November 1, 2008. London and Benares, 1900; 3rd Edition, 1931.
  • Tertullian. (Adversus Marcionem). Against Marcion. translated and edited by Canon Ernest Evans, Oxford University Press, 1972.
  • Williams, David Salter, "Reconsidering Marcion's Gospel," Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989): 477-496

External Links

All links retrieved November 5, 2022.


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