Course:Carey HIST501/Project 1/Marcionism

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Imagine that you were one of the bishops or heretics being summoned by the Emperor to be present at the great church councils. You want to spend every effort to discover all the heresies flowing around the Church. As preparation for the class, you will collect background information of major heresies/controversies in the early Church include the following

Biographical information of key leader(s) of the heresy/controversy

Map of Sinope

Marcion (ca. 85-160) was the son of the Bishop of Sinope (modern Sinop, Turkey) in Pontus province.[1] He was a ship owner and later excommunicated by his father for seducing a virgin. According to Bart Ehrman (in Lost of Christianities) suggested that his seduction was probably a metaphor for his corruption of the Christian church , the church being the virgin.[2]

Marcion was one of the most successful heretics in the early church. "He was opposed by everyone who was anyone. For nearly a century after his death, he was the arch-heretic, opposed by Polycarp (who called him the firstborn of Satan), Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and Origen. He was one of the few heretics that the Greek and Latin Christians united in condemning."[3]

Time frame when the heresy “flourished”

Marcion travelled to Rome in 142-143 to explore theology. At first, he was in communion with the church of Rome. When the church elders refused to face the important questions he set before them, he caused schism by organizing his followers into a separate community and was finally excommunicated by the church of Rome around 144.[1] After his ex communication, he returned to Asia minor where he spread his teachings and created a strong ecclesiastical organization resembling the church of Rome and made himself the Bishop.

Context that gave birth to the heresy/controversy

According to Mead, “the origin of Marcionism is entirely wrapped in obscurity, and we know nothing of a reliable nature of the lives of either Cerdo or Marcion.”[1] The Church writers at the end of the second century, who are our best authorities, cannot tell the story of the beginning of the movement with any certainty. For all we know, Marcion may have developed his theories long before he came to Rome, and may have based them on information he gleaned and opinions he heard on his long voyages.

What we know is that Marcionism sprung up at the time when many of the Jewish scriptures formed the main canon of the early church. The collection of the new testament had not been completed and Marcion too had an idea of a canon which he felt should strictly be the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Pauline epistles. Marcion views would soon spread rapidly over the whole world with Marcionite churches springing up and organized around Bishops and the rest of the ecclesiastical discipline akin to the Catholic Church.

Central beliefs

Marcionism attempts to set aside the old testament foundation of Christianity, to purify tradition, and to reform Christiandom on the basis of the Pauline gospel.[4] In other words, Marcion wanted a Chrsitinaity not associated. with Judaism. A Christianity that was the New Covenant pure and simple. By setting the Old Testament aside, Marcion made everey effort to also cut out all texts in the New Testament that mirrored his Old Testament and contrary to his dogma. In fact, he created his own New Testament that admitting that only one gospel, a mutilation of St Luke, and ten epistles of Paul, both sources which affirmed Jesus Christ as the saviour sent by God (the Heavenly Father). He accounts or canon avoided anything that explicitly linked Jesus with Judaism such as the parallel birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus in Luke 1-2.

Here are some of Marcion's teachings[5]:

-       Christianity was distinct from Judaism contrary to the existing values held at the time. He tried to separate from Judaism.

-       He rejected the Hebrew Bible

-       He argued for the existence of two Gods, Yahweh of the Old Testament who created the material universe and the Heavenly Father of the New Testament of which Jesus was his living incarnation.

-       Yahweh was as a lesser demiurge[6] who created the earth and whose law was the laws of Moses. Yahweh represented the laws of Justice.

-       Jesus was a living incarnation of a God of compassion and love, called the Heavenly Father. Represented the God of compassion and grace.

-       These two Gods were thus thought of as distinct personalities:

  • Yahweh was petty and cruel, jealous and was God for the Jews and Jesus is compassionate and loves all humanity with mercy and benevolence.
  • Yahweh was the God of the Old Testament, Jesus is the of the New Testament.
  • Yahweh is legalist. After creating humanity, Yahweh grew to hate mankind for its sin. Old Testament God felt justified punished mankind which Heavenly Father showed mercy and far more compassionate when revealed through his son Jesus.

Impact of the heresy/controversy to the Christian Church

Marcion is arguably one of the foremost individuals who shaped the beliefs, structures and collection of scriptural writings of the Church in the second century and beyond. The impact on the Church beliefs and structures was significant that Marcion was the first known heretic in the early church. It was during his time that the church first sanctioned some theology as orthodox while others condemned as heresy. Inadvertently, he helped crystallize many embryonic developments as those opposed to his ideas reacted against him.[7] In response to Marcion's beliefs, the church promulgated a set of common beliefs that should be universal.[8] Thus Marcion was the catalyst for the development of unified, catholic form of Christianity that dominated the political and social life in Europe.

Moreso, Marcion was a reformer seeking a more universal and purer type of faith. He was the first to propose and delineate a cannon. In doing so he established a particular way of looking at religious texts that persist in Christian thought today. After him, Christian begin to divide texts along lines of theological thought and those that promoted heresy. Marcion taught us far more. His undertaking was to engage in a correct estimate of the reliability of the traditions that were current in his day alongside of the Pauline. There can be no doubt that Marcion criticized tradition from a dogmatic stand-point. Consequently, Marcion gives important testimony against the historical reliability of the notion that the common Christianity was really based on the tradition of the twelve Apostles.[9]

Marcionism became a rival to the Catholic Church during his lifetime. Its adherents were strong enough to have the its beliefs dominate for for many centuries spreading the idea that Jesus abolished the Old Testament. The result of this is that anti-Jewish reading of the Bible in the history of the Christian interpretation of scripture continues to be prevalent.

Marcion rejected what could be seen as religious tribalism associated with the Jewish religion and regarded it as a corruption of the Heavenly Father's teaching.

However, Marcion’s theological errors (and there were many) came from one main root: he refused to believe that the God of the Old Testament was the same as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Marcion simply could not believe in a God full of wrath and justice. So he threw away the Old Testament and took for his Bible a truncated version of Luke’s Gospel and selectively edited versions of Paul’s epistles. When the recasting of the scriptures was done, Marcion had the Christianity he wanted: a God of goodness and nothing else; a message of inspiring moral uplift; a Bible that does away with the uncomfortable bits about God’s wrath and hell. So Marcion lives on. The recasting the scriptures for contemporary times - softer, gentler, more focused on the good of Jesus instead of the atoning death for our sins placed on Jesus - is always popular.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Mead, G.R.S (1900; 3rd Edition 1931). Fragments of a Faith Forgotten. London and Benares,. pp. 241–249. Check date values in: |year= (help)CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  2. "Marcion of Sinope".
  3. Kevin, Deyoung (19/10/2021). "Marcion and Getting Unhitched from the Old Testament". Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. Von Harnack, Adolf (1901). History of Dogma. Boston, Little. pp. 266–281.
  5. OrthodoxWiki. "Marcionism".
  6. a demiurgus - a secondary deity, who was god, in a sense, but not the supreme God; he was just, rigidly just, he had his good qualities, but he was not the good god, who was Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  7. Foster, Paul (March 2010). "Marcion: His Life, Works, Beliefs, and Impact". The Expository Times. Volume 121 Issue 6: 269–280 – via Sagepub.
  8. It is maintained by recent scholars that the Apostle's Creed was drawn up in the Roman Church in opposition to Marcionism (cf. F. Kattenbusch, "Das Apost. Symbol.", Leipzig, 1900; A.C. McGiffert, "The Apostle's Creed", New York, 1902).
  9. "Marcionite: Gnostic Sect". Britainica.