Marcion . . . Early Christian Heretic

Marcion of Sinope (ca 85-160) was a prominent heretic in early Christianity.  He believed that many of the teachings of Christ are incompatible with the actions of the Old Testament (OT) God, a view shared by many 21st-century Christians and agnostics.  According to Elaine Pagel (1989):

A Christian from Asia Minor, Marcion was struck by what he saw as the contrast between the creator-God of the Old Testament, who demands justice and punishes every violation of his law, and the Father whom Jesus proclaims–the New Testament God of forgiveness and love.  Why, he asked, would a God who is “almighty”–all-powerful–create a world that includes suffering, pain, disease–even mosquitos and scorpions?  Marcion concluded that these were two separate Gods.

So he separated the God of the New Testament (OT) from the God of OT.

While I find Marcion’s duality theology bizarre, I find his rejection of the OT refreshing.  (I like many parts of the OT as literature, particularly the Book of Ecclesiastes, but have serious problems with it as literal history and using it for moral instruction.)  I also like Marcion’s emphasis on Paul and the universality of Christianity.  He defined Christianity as a new religion, not as a Jewish sect.  But if there is an anti-Jewish component, then I find that unacceptable.

Marcion compiled the first-know version of the NT.  His bible took extreme measures to exclude references to the OT.  Marcion’s canon consisted of only eleven books, an abridged version of the Gospel of Luke and 10 letters of the apostle Paul.  All books were purged of elements relating to Jesus’s childhood and baptism, and material challenging Marcion’s core beliefs.

An attactive feature of Marcionism was its inclusion of women.  According to Pagel, even though Marcion retained a masculine image of God, he included women in positions of leadership.   “The heretic Marcion scandalized his orthodox comtemporaries by appointing women on an equal basis with men as priests and bishops.”

Marcion was eventually excommunicated from the orthodox Church, but his religion survived well into the 6th century AD.  Aspects of Marcionism can be found in two medieval heretical groups–the Bogomils and the Cathars.  And today Marcion’s ideas live on in some of the NT-only Christian groups.

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