This post is a companion to the Heretics podcast found on the Podcast tab at the top of this page; and a continuation in our series of looks at the ancient heresies of the church and a refutation of them using good theology and hermeneutics.
Maybe the most aggravating heretic in church history is our focus today; Marcion. I say aggravating, because his is a heresy that is: not overly complex, relatively easy to refute, yet still a part of our world today. If you can wrap your brain around how that happens, you are doing better than I am.
Marcion lived from the 80’s to the 160’s and was from the region of Pontus which is the Black Sea region of modern day Turkey. If you pay attention, you will notice a lot of things happen and people are from the area of modern Turkey when we are dealing with the first two centuries of Church history. Marcion arrives in Rome in the 130’s and makes a sizeable donation to the church there. He is given a hearing and after conflicts arose over doctrine and teaching he is excommunicated by 144, with his donation returned before returning home.
He had a background influence of the Simonians (from Simon Magus of Acts 8) which was an early Gnostic sect with syncretistic beliefs. He was also influenced by early Docetism which we will cover in a later write-up. Marcion is credited with one of the first official canons (rules) of the church in regards to Scripture. It included an edited Gospel of Luke, with the references to Jesus Jewishness eliminated; and an amended collection of Paul most notable rejecting the Pastoral Epistles.
This amended canon stems from the generating idea that Scripture (as we would understand it—66 books), was the product of ditheism, the belief that Scripture was the product of two differing Gods. This dichotomistic system contained differing deities by testament: Yahweh of the Old Testament, mean and wrathful; and the Jesus (spawned from a higher God than Yahweh) of the New Testament, full of grace and mercy and love.
You should be able to see right off the bat, why this should be easy to deal with. Marcion is a heretic (and was condemned as such), because of his simplistic rejection of basic Christian doctrine. For starters, to reject the unity of revelation is to undermine the entirety of Scripture. His ditheistic system splits the Testaments, and creates a history of God’s people without completion which is the Old Testament, while simultaneously producing a redemption of God’s people with no beginning which is the New Testament. Without the unity of Scripture, there can be no meaningfully Christian (read Biblical) doctrine. Where does this sin that Jesus is rescuing us from originate? Why am I subject to the judgment against sin in the first place? Why is there some weird obsession with God’s Law? What is this Law? None of these questions, or any of the many others that could, should, and would be asked, could be answered without a thorough understanding of the Old Testament and God’s work therein.
Also troubling is Marcion’s acceptance of fringe, and downright heretical, theological systems. The syncretism of the Simonians, which is a merging of Christianity with other nonbiblical (read false) religions gives rise to the easy acceptance of Docetism and their dualistic rejection of the physical in hope of the spiritual (more on them a later time). This underlying desecration of the physical world and body forces its believers into the fundamental rejection of core Christian doctrines such as: the Virgin birth, the physical death of Jesus by crucifixion, and the bodily resurrection of Christ.
This is why the ancient church roundly and quickly (by ancient standards) condemned Marcion and his teaching. Justin Martyr’s First Apology (155 – 157) condemns the teaching of Marcion in chapter 58. So also does Irenaeus in Against Heresies (180) (Book 1 chapter 27); as he outlines and condemns the teaching of both Marcion and the men who “inspired” him. Tertullian (155 – 24), likewise condemns Marcion.
If you’ll notice, all of these men write after, and in most cases well after, the refutation, condemnation, and excommunication of Marcion in 144. This is why this heresy is so aggravating: it will not go away—ever—at all—not even a little bit.
Even today, numerous Evangelical Christians, such as: Red Letter believers, antinomians, anti-semitic churches, etc., have championed the idea of a minimized Old Testament and highlighted a lack of understanding of the Law/grace distinction. This rejection is a following in the footsteps of Marcion in not understanding the totality of Scripture; instead opting for a truncated faith and gospel while the true depth of Christianity is sacrificed upon the altar of mere Christianity.
For starters, always attempt to deal with the biggest, most foundational problem a heresy creates. We want to train ourselves to get to the meat of a problem and attack, not the man or even the message; but rather the foundation of the philosophy/worldview that is being presented. We want to do this with modern Atheists, agnostics, deists, and heretics of every stripe; and we should train ourselves for that battle, by doing with the ancient heresies of the Christian church.
In the case of Marcionism; the foundation problem, as it is with most early heresies, is the identity of Jesus as God. If you know anything we have looked at before; you know our three biggie verses for dealing with the identity of Jesus. John 1:1 – 3, catalogues the eternal existence of the Word and later in chapter 1 identifies that Word as coming in the flesh as Jesus. Colossians 1:15 – 18, lays out the unity of God the Father and the Son as the man Jesus is labeled as the Creator (Genesis 1:1), and the Sustainer of all things (Job 33:4). Hebrews 1:1 – 3 likewise displays the Son as the Heir of all things, as He is the holder of dominion ala Daniel 7, who also demonstrates the glory of God and is the One sustains all things.
Beyond just these verses is the testimony of the Gospel of John. Specifically chapter 10, where Jesus makes claim to the people of God as His people before the crowd attempts to stone Him. Why in the world did they attempt such an action? They sought His death, not because they misunderstood His unclear teaching, but rather because they realized and understood exactly what He was claiming: equality and sameness with God. To the Jewish ear, obsessed with the exclusivity of Yahweh, this is high blasphemy and deserving of death. To the believing ear, thankful for the delivering of God through Christ in accordance with the plan of Yahweh, this is the greatest comfort and joy.
Next however, we must deal with the unity of Scripture. Always remember the formula for defending this: 66 books, over 40 writers, 1600 years of composition, 3 languages, 3 continents; 1 timeless and consistent story. That alone should be enough to warrant a connection of the Old and New Testaments; but as they say in the infomercial: wait, there’s more.
Jesus connects His ministry and teaching to the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17 – 19), by specifically affirming the Law of God; and later in the chapter, using the Law as a springboard to show the reality of sin within His hearers. Jesus continually pointed His listeners to the reality that He was the fulfillment of the writings of the Tanakh (our Old Testament); and that He was the One to whom we should look (John 5:39). We also have the consistency of judgment by God. In the Old Testament through: Israel, Babylon, Persia, etc.; God was the righteous judge. Similarly in the New Testament, judgment is pointed to and administered by Christ (Matthew 24 & Luke 17), and fully realized in the final return of the Son (Revelation 19 – 20).
We also have the litany of Old Testament references by the authors of the New Testament; just read a New Testament book, you will find constant allusion to and quoting of the Old Testament; go ahead, read the New Testament: I DARE YOU. We also have the connection of Scripture writing as a dual Testament phenomenon as described in the New Testament (2 Pete 1:20 – 21), and we have a further recognition that the writings of the contemporary Apostles were inspired by God in just the same manner and for the same purpose as the prophets of old (2 Peter 3:14 – 16).
Our final defense is the standard. When we discuss the Canon of Scripture, we are discussing the listing of which books are authoritative; the ones who prove the rule. And that rule is defined by Christ, and handed down by His chosen teachers: the Apostles; hence the reason every New Testament book is from an Apostle or one of their companions/compilers. I think it is ironic that most modern, unbelieving scholars wrongly credit Marcion with inventing the idea of a Canon of Scripture which is a rule of faith; when Marcion himself rejected the very rule in the first place. Instead we have a consistent history: the Apostles rightly and faithfully did what Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19 – 20), leading Marcion to have a standard (Canon) from which to cut and edit as he saw fit. That last bit leads us to our final correction—for Marcion and for us.
The wisdom literature is clear; do not trust you (Proverbs 3:5 – 7). You cannot be trusted because: you reject God (Psalm 14:1 – 3), have wandered away from Him and His truth (Isaiah 53:6), and the works of your hand are no good (Isaiah 64:4); therefore you need to turn to something that is both not you; and objectively true and right and good. Welcome to the standard for your life that is God; supplied to us in His Word (2 Timothy 3:16 – 17). Christ, the One who has given Himself for our sins, is the final revealer of God (Hebrews 1:2); and that revelation is secured for us in Scripture, and capable of bearing the brunt of our focus and need.