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Marcion: Since You Didnít Define the Scriptures, I Will
All Christians look to the Old and New Testaments as source books of knowledge about God and Jesus. Yet the idea of a "New" Testament was not initially obvious to early church leaders; it took over 100 years for the early Christians to realize they needed a Scripture to call their own. It took a heretic teaching false beliefs to propel church leaders to establish what would become the New Testament.
That heretic, named Marcion (died app. 160), formulated his own Scripture by picking and choosing (and slicing and dicing) some of the future New Testament books. While none of Marcionís writings exist, much of his thought and some of his background can be derived from other writings of the time.
Marcion grew up the son of a Bishop, yet was excommunicated from his church because of immorality. He became a wealthy ship owner and eventually moved to Rome in app. 140. He joined a church and, over the next several years, developed his unique theology.
His system began by rejecting the God of the Old Testament. Marcion believed that this God was a God of Law and not of love. That explained why God commanded such actions as telling Israelites to kill all the men, women, children, and livestock in certain battles (I Samuel 15:3).
Marcion said that the God of love, found in the New Testament, was revealed by Jesus. Even more, Jesus came to overthrow the God of Law (the OT God). This point of view caused Marcion to not only reject the Old Testament as Scripture, but it led him to believe that, of all the Apostles, only Paul had correctly understood Jesus. Why Paul? Because Paul spoke out more forcefully than the other apostles against the Law of the Old Testament. The result? Marcion created a Scripture which only included ten letters of Paul and a Marcion-edited version of the Gospel of Luke.
Why only ten letters of Paul when the New Testament contains thirteen letters of Paul? Good question. The three not found in the Marcion New Testament are I & II Timothy and Titus, commonly known as the Pastoral Epistles. No one knows for certain why these were not included: either Marcion did not know of them, or he rejected them. And the Marcion-edited version of the Gospel of Luke? Luke traveled with Paul and so wrote from Paulís perspective. So Marcion worked his way through Luke, taking out any connection to the Old Testament God and the Law.
Marcion was excommunicated in 144, this time from all Christian churches, but eventually his message reached a large part of the Roman Empire. One story has Marcion meeting the great Christian leader Polycarp in Rome in 154. Marcion asked Polycarp if he knew who he was and Polycarp replied, "You are the firstborn of Satan." Marcionís message was so compelling that Marcion churches can be located as late as the end of the Third Century, over 100 years later. Eventually they ceased to exist as correct Christian teaching dominated.
The early church leaders decided to establish the correct New Testament in part by dealing with this heretic and to reduce future heresies by stating which books would be accepted by all the churches. This allowed the early church leaders to reject any corrupt copies, such as Marionís chopped-up version of Luke, as well as made-up versions, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas.
©2004 Mark Nickens
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