The Marcion Trap
December 18, 2010
So here I am, battling villains who insist the name Jehovah has no place in the New Testament, assisted by allies who nobly and quite properly come to my defense, when what should land in my comment inbox but a dissertation about Marcion. Who in the world is he? And what does he have to do with anything?
“In all likely-hood, Marcion actually lived in 40 AD not 140 and was the apostle John Mark, writer of both the gospel of Mark and gospel of John, as well as parts of Matthew and Luke,” says Rey, who offers the comment, “which were originally one gospel but were separated into four under the reign of Commodus because Commodus fancied himself to be a god who sits between the four winds. The first figure in church history to proclaim there are four gospel is Ireneaus, who works in the palace of Commodus, and who argues that there must be four gospels because there are four winds. Very suspicious.”
Very suspicious, indeed. But suspicious, from my point of view, because it has absolutely nothing to do with anything we'd discussed thus far (which often is grounds for my rejecting a comment, but I let it go this time).
Now, anyone familiar with the parent organization behind Jehovah's Witnesses knows that their enthusiasm for the internet is not boundless. In fact, it barely exists at all. One of the reservations they have about cyberspace is how easy it is for a person therein to hide their true identity. You'll think you're talking with your bosom chum, only to find out its really some scoundrel.....why...a wolf in sheep's clothing! I get around this reservation by assuming, up front, that everyone's a liar. That way, if it turns out they're not, it's a pleasant surprise.
But there's no reason not to answer this guy Rey. If you're a blogger, you like to receive comments. And this bit about Marcion, whoever he is, is a comment. Actually, I have only three rules regarding comments, and “agreeing with me” is not one of them. I don't mind a bit when people don't agree with me, but
1.) comments have to be reasonably respectful.
2.) they have to be reasonably “on topic”.....you just can't submit a laundry list of all you don't like about Jehovah's Witnesses, and
3.) they can't link back to a site whose primary or substantial purpose is to tear down JW beliefs.
For instance, one sorehead submitted a comment positively bursting with insults and crudeness, and so I read my rules to him, and asked “are you capable of writing such a comment?” His subsequent answer showed he was not.
Sometimes I'll think of minor corollaries to my three rules along the way.....comments that choke the virus checker, for example.....but in the main, those three rules are it.
So Rey keeps carrying on about this Marcion character, and he seems sort of an oddball, both he and his namesake, pushing theology that you might expect on a Dr Who episode. But am I not a blogger? So, blog already, Tom Sheepandgoats, even if you don't know exactly where this guy is coming from. You don't have to know everything.
Moreover, when you're responding to a comment, you don't necessarily address each point made. Especially when you're talking to a lunatic. It's too taxing for the reader. No. Pick a few points, or sometimes just one. If the fellow has ten additional points, let him submit ten additional comments. Just because he thinks in a muddle doesn't mean you have to. That way, readers can readily skip over whatever they find dull. So I go back and forth with this Rey character. All the time wondering....who is this guy anyway? Is he really a devotee of Marcion, someone I've never heard of? Ah, well....blog away Tom. Just do it. Besides, sometimes good posts emerge from such conversations. You'll know it when you see it.
So we go round and round a bit, and I point out why I think this fellow is a nutjob, when suddenly Rey tips his hand:
“I don't get why a Jehovah's Witness would find Marcionism so offensive. Why wouldn't someone from a cult started in modern America be happy to jump back to a cult that actual has at least a claim to being authentic, I mean **hello** 2nd Century here. Your cult is clearly wrong in that it didn't exist until now. That one is from the early 2nd Century, pre-dating even the New Testament Canon!”
HA! So that's what this is all about! Another cult accusation! Up till now I had never met someone who believed in Marcionism, and now I saw that I still hadn't. It was all about setting me up for a sucker punch! Just like I'd been warned. Rey just doesn't like us. If you don't like someone, they are a sect. If you really don't like them, they are a cult.
Nonetheless, what about his charge? If you “didn't exist until now,” can you really claim to link directly to first century Christianity? Especially when the Catholics will tell you that Peter was the first Pope? (even though Peter was a married man)
You can. There are any number of passages in the Bible that point out 'new and improved teachings' would commence soon after the death of the apostles, and would overrun Jesus actual teachings. The latter would not be fully restored until the final days of this system of things. For example:
1.) Jesus' parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt 13:24-30):
"Another illustration he set before them, saying: “The kingdom of the heavens has become like a man that sowed fine seed in his field. While men were sleeping, his enemy came and oversowed weeds in among the wheat, and left. When the blade sprouted and produced fruit, then the weeds appeared also. So the slaves of the householder came up and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow fine seed in your field? How, then, does it come to have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy, a man, did this.’ They said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go out and collect them?’ He said, ‘No; that by no chance, while collecting the weeds, you uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the harvest season I will tell the reapers, First collect the weeds and bind them in bundles to burn them up, then go to gathering the wheat into my storehouse."
Lest anyone doubt how the verses apply, vs 36 continues:
And his disciples came to him and said: “Explain to us the illustration of the weeds in the field.” In response he said: “The sower of the fine seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; as for the fine seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; but the weeds are the sons of the wicked one, and the enemy that sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things, and the reapers are angels."
Didn't Paul also say the weeds would sprout? (Acts 20:29-30): "I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves."
Those early Christians spoke to the general populace, like Jesus and the apostles did. But that's hard. Over time, more and more people simply didn't want to hear it. Easier to preach to the choir! Teachers taking the lead in the congregation began to specialize, preaching only to their flock, and drawing a salary....something new....for doing so! Those only marginally “keeping on the watch” quickly adjusted to the new plan: pay a preacher and go hear him out once a week. The public ministry was tough. Easier to become “the laity” at a "church," and focus six days a week (in time, all seven) on secular activities. Preachers became like politicians....adept at seeing which way the wind blew, so as to incorporate whatever was popular, and draw in more paying parishioners.
Christians should be “no part of the world?” (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4; John 17:16) Why not become fully part of the world, and thus broaden your base? Oh....and there's going to be an “end of this system of things.....a “harvest?” Can't have that....it's too much of a disruption! Better to tell people to simply “be good” and go to heaven when they die. By the time of the fourth century, when Christianity became the Roman “state religion,” it was barely recognizable.
You can trace the details if you want....in fact, you should....but even intuitively, you know it's true. After all, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Dark Ages, the Holocaust, eager clergy participation on both sides of World Wars I and II, hardly square with what Christ taught. But it's all part of religious leaders pushing to the fore.....telling people whatever they'll most readily consume so as to expand their influence.
Everyone knows it's happened, but not everyone knows the Bible said it would happen. Nearly all the NT writers predicted it:
Jude: "Beloved ones, though I was making every effort to write you about the salvation we hold in common, I found it necessary to write to exhort you to put up a hard fight for the faith that was once for all time delivered to the holy ones. My reason is that certain men have slipped in who have long ago been appointed by the Scriptures to this judgment, ungodly men, turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct and proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ." (vs 3-4)
Peter: "However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively." (2 Peter 2:1-2)
John: “Look out for yourselves, that you do not lose the things we have worked to produce, but that you may obtain a full reward. Everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. He that does remain in this teaching is the one that has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him." (2 John 8-10)
and "I wrote something to the congregation, but Diotrephes, who likes to have the first place among them, does not receive anything from us [the apostle John!] with respect. That is why, if I come, I will call to remembrance his works which he goes on doing, chattering about us with wicked words." (3 John -10)
Paul: “For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, whereas they will be turned aside to false stories." (2 Tim 4:2-3)
And another parable of Jesus. Note a long period of inactivity.....sleep, it's called.....and when the bridegroom finally does arrive, not everyone's ready to receive him. Using language common to many Bible verses, Christ's followers initially prepare to meet the bridegroom [first century] But there is a long delay, during which they fall asleep. When the cry comes "Here is the Bridegroom," towards Christ's reappearance, some are not ready, having long strayed from Christian teaching:
"Then the kingdom of the heavens will become like ten virgins that took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were discreet. For the foolish took their lamps but took no oil with them, whereas the discreet took oil in their receptacles with their lamps. While the bridegroom was delaying, they all nodded and went to sleep. Right in the middle of the night there arose a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Be on your way out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and put their lamps in order. The foolish said to the discreet, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are about to go out.’ The discreet answered with the words, ‘Perhaps there may not be quite enough for us and you. Be on your way, instead, to those who sell it and buy for yourselves.’ While they were going off to buy, the bridegroom arrived, and the virgins that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterwards the rest of the virgins also came, saying, ‘Sir, sir, open to us!’ In answer he said, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you." (Matt 25:1-11)
The prophet Daniel received many visions, which are collected in the book bearing his name. Yet they were not to be understood during his time, or even during the time of Jesus' ministry, but only in the "time of the end." ........... "And as for you, O Daniel, make secret the words and seal up the book, until the time of [the] end. Many will rove about, and the [true] knowledge will become abundant." (Dan 12:4)
So, to quote Rey, is our “cult clearly wrong in that it didn't exist until now?" Frankly, in view of the above Bible verses, the more unbroken your history, the more suspect you are.
Tom Irregardless and Me No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash
Wow. I must have made that comment like a year ago. Its amazing that I even stumbled upon your answer to it today! As to your suggestion that I have a problem with Jehovah's Witnesses, I couldn't care less about that particular cult. It is orthodox Christianity that is the bigger fish to fry. You guys are just a very strange version of it that insists on adding the name Jehovah literally to the New Testament text. They still claim that Lord in the New Testament refers to Jehovah, whether they literally write the name there or not.
My point has nothing specifically to do with JWs but with the fact that Ireneaus is the one who imposed the four gospel canon on us, and it was a political decision. And with the fact that Marcionism is clearly earlier than anything we call Christianity today, whether among JWs or Baptist or Catholics or anyone else. If you want to see where my focus has been the past year, read my http://beosmusings.blogspot.com/ There isn't one word about JWs there. It started off in support of a type of Marcionism but I eventually rejected all Christianity for Deism since Christianity always requires the absurdity that we are damned from birth in one way or another. In 'orthodox' Christianity (which you emulate but change) you are damned by being human since humans inevitably sin and you need to be saved from God by the very God that you need to be saved from. In Marcionism, there are two gods, and Jehovah wants to damn all mankind, so the better God Jesus Chrestos comes and purchases us from him by his death. It makes more sense than the nonsensical ramblings of 'orthodox' Christianity (and JWs too) which requires that the same God who wants to damn nonetheless is the savior (even if you JWs don't make Jesus be Jehovah, you nonetheless make the damner send him to save us, thus making the damner the saver). Marcionism is consistent unlike all the 'orthodox' Christian cults (yes, I just called all Christian denominations cults) and their spinoffs (which are even more cult-like). But is it actually necessary? But is a mythological religion actually necessary at all? That's the question. Marcionism is based on the conviction that the Old Testament describes a real god who actually exists and is as cruel as it says he is. If the OT is not the production of a divine mind, but of societal evolution, then Marcionism becomes an unnecessary belief. It is more consistent than 'orthodox' Christianity, but not necessary. So, I moved on to Deism.
Posted by: rey | December 18, 2010 at 03:08 PM
"So, to quote Rey, is our 'cult clearly wrong in that it didn't exist until now?' Frankly, in view of the above Bible verses, the more unbroken your history, the more suspect you are."
Then, by your standard, the less link you have to the present via some sort of succession of doctrine the more likely you are to be correct: hence Marcion's views are more likely to be correct than yours since hardly anyone in history has questioned the NT and OT God being made the same by the Catholic church. You have a direct link to their decision to proclaim the two gods to be one and the same just as all other Christian cults (like the Baptists and Lutherans) do.
Posted by: rey | December 18, 2010 at 05:06 PM
"Christianity always requires the absurdity that we are damned from birth in one way or another. In 'orthodox' Christianity....you are damned by being human.....In Marcionism... Jehovah wants to damn all mankind....'orthodox' Christianity (and JWs too) which requires that the same God who wants to damn nonetheless is the savior (even if you JWs don't make Jesus be Jehovah, you nonetheless make the damner send him to save us, thus making the damner the saver)."
Damned if I can figure that out. But, in time, I'll try.
Hey, thanks Rey, for responding, and I take your point that you were not specifically targeting JWs. I will look into your site, and may even write more about this Marcion, who is beginning to intrigue me.
I recently stumbled upon another post regarding Marcion, and now that I try to go back, it is removed!! Why should that be? Am I onto a DaVinci Code mystery or something?
Plus, our own JW publications have a few brief items about him.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | December 18, 2010 at 05:08 PM
It's always unfortunate when anyone buys into the meme that the OT God is 'mean'. Reading through the small book of Jonah is enough to show how flawed that idea is when Jonah recognizes that Jehovah is "a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness." (Jonah 4:2)
The instances of 'cruelty' are usually misunderstandings of Jehovah's cardinal attribute of justice or, like with the case of Job, actually originate with Satan and are yet blamed on Jehovah.
Posted by: TJ | December 18, 2010 at 09:52 PM
The best place to start with researching Marcion is Joseph B. Tyson's book called Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle. Its the most modern book on the subject written in English.
Marcion is accused by his later Catholic opponents, most especially Tertullian who writes at least 40 years after Marcion's death, of having mutilated the gospel of Luke for doctrinal purposes. Of course, Marcion's followers claimed that instead the Catholics had added things to the gospel and that they had also made up the title "Luke." Tertullian assumes that Catholic (or canonical as we would call it today) Luke was earlier and thus he wins and Marcion is proven (by a mere assumption) to be a mutilator. Of course the Marcionites assume the opposite, that their version was first and therefore the Catholics are interpolators. This was a big theological battle in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and for a time Marcion's church was much larger than the Catholic church. It even seems the Catholics didn't accept Paul's writings until about 170 and that it was conflict with Marcion (generally thought to have to have lived 80-160) that eventually lead to the Catholics accepting Paul's epistles, howbeit in a different form from Marcion's version of Paul's epistles, which like his version of Luke was shorter, and particularly shorter on Old Testament quotation.
Tyson reviews the evidence with regard to the gospel (not Paul's epistles) and examines whether or not it can be determined whose text was earlier, Marcion's shorter version of Luke that wasn't called Luke, or our canonical Luke. Along with that, the relationship of Luke to Acts comes into play.
Its a rather interesting book, and very short. 131 pages of actual text before the appendices.
Posted by: rey | December 19, 2010 at 03:05 AM
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | December 19, 2010 at 07:37 AM
Thanks for your eloquent summation of how modern-day religion got so far off the track – it's fascinating stuff. I remember having a similar discussion with my brother some time ago who belongs to a pentecostal religion and feels that Jesus' parables are not to be taken so seriously. It's just a shame that more so-called believers don't look more closely at the scriptures to see how they apply to us today.
Of course the same was true in Jesus' day. Many viewed Jesus as simply a good story teller but didn't enquire further to find the actual meaning of his parables and how they applied to them.
Posted by: Dave | December 20, 2010 at 10:12 PM
If anyone doesn't take the parables seriously its because they are deluded into thinking that Paul was a real apostle and they buy into his garbase about being justified by "faith apart from works" and about predestination, both of which are disproven by Jesus' parables.
Posted by: rey | December 21, 2010 at 11:23 PM
Give an example or two to back up what you say.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | December 22, 2010 at 05:56 AM
faith apart from works: Romans 3-4.
predestination: Romans 9.
As to the parables that disprove them, the parable of the Net disproves Romans 9. All of Jesus' teaching in the sermon on the mount disproves the faith apart from works stuff, like "not everyone that says to me lord lord but he that does the will of my Father" and "whoever hears AND DOES these sayings of mine I will liken to a wise man...."
Posted by: rey | December 22, 2010 at 04:35 PM
The writings of Jesus and Paul can be readily reconciled if one keeps in mind that Paul was referring to works of the Mosaic Law. Jews then strove to keep that law, and in time added to it greatly with the Talmud and oral tradition. Being a perfect law, and they being imperfect, however, they were never able to keep it perfectly. Thus, they were never able to "earn" life. Hence, the various sacrifices and "sin" offerings prescribed in the OT.
All this should have set them up for an arrangement in which sins were forgiven. In this way, the Law was meant to be a tutor leading to Christ. One accepts that arrangement "by faith;" works (of the Law) are not sufficient to gain life. That's what Paul wrote about:
"Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor." Gal 3:24-25
There are many churches, as you know, who go no deeper than that. "Accept Jesus," they will say, and it afterwards doesn't matter a bit how you live your life. Jehovah's Witnesses are not among them. Obviously, one ought to do what Jesus said. We strive to live in accordance with that. It's a way of showing appreciation for God's gift of life, offered through his son. You'd look askance at anyone accepting a priceless gift, and doing nothing that shows appreciation for it.
Paul, again: "Working together with him, we also entreat you not to accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose." 2 Cor 6:1
"For [their] lack of faith they [Jews of that day who rejected Christ] were broken off, but you are standing by faith. Quit having lofty ideas, but be in fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you." Rom 11:20-21
So, even among Paul's writings, "once saved, always saved" is not to be found.
You may know that Jehovah's Witnesses are often accused by the aforementioned churches of thinking they are earning salvation by their works.Such is not the case. No JW thinks that. They are doing what Jesus says, no more, thus showing appreciation for his gift, which they could never "earn" on their own.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | December 24, 2010 at 07:49 AM