Beware the Specter of Marcion!

The other day I was at a meeting. It was church gathering (not my congregation). One of the participants mentioned the book of Daniel and then proceeded to talk about the "old god" and the "young god." What this person was doing was distinguishing between the Jewish God and the Christian God. The old God, is, of course, a wrathful god, while the young god, the God of Jesus and the New Testament, is a God of Love. I did respond fairly forcefully, as this is a pet peeve of mine. As a historian, as a pastor, and as one engaged in interfaith work, I am always on the watch for these kinds of misrepresentations of our common faith tradition.

Now, most Christians probably don't know the name Marcion, but he seems to continue making his presence known even though he lived and died in the Second Century. Marcion was a leader in the church in Rome in the Second Century. He seems to have been informed by a form of Gnosticism, because he contrasted referred to the God revealed in the Old Testament as the demiurge. That is, this god was a lesser deity who created the earth. On the other hand, Jesus revealed a different God, a God of love. In developing his message, which was proving influential, he developed a canon of texts that reflected his message. He omitted, of course, the Old Testament because it was the bible of the Jews who followed the demiurge. Among the books that would come to form the New Testament, he omitted anything that looked Jewish. His canon included most of Paul's letters and a truncated version of the Gospel of Luke. Fortunately, the early church rejected Marcion's views, declaring them to be heretical. His efforts at creating a canon led others in the church to do the same, creating a much broader list that embraced those texts Marcion deemed too Jewish.

Consider this from Irenaeus, writing late in the Second Century, regarding Marcion's message:

After him came Marcion of Pontus, who developed his teaching, shamelessly blaspheming the God whom the Law and the Prophets proclaimed, describing him as the author of evils, desirous of wars, changing his opinions, and [at different times] contrary to himself. But Jesus [was] from the Father who is above the God that formed the world, and came into Judea in the time of Pontius Pilate, who was procurator of Tiberius Caesar; manifest in human form to those who were in Judea, he abolished the Prophets and the Law, and all the works of that God who made the world, whom he calls the World Ruler.  In addition to this he mutilated the Gospel According to Luke, removing everything about the birth of the Lord, and much of the teaching of the words of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as clearly confessing the creator of this universe as his Father. He persuaded his disciples that he was more veracious than the apostles who handed down the gospel, giving them not a gospel but a mere fragment of a gospel. He also similarly cut up the Epistles of Paul, removing whatever the apostle said clearly about the God who made the world, that he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and whatever the apostle teaches by referring to the prophetic writings that predict the coming of the Lord. [Richardson, Cyril. Early Christian Fathers . Kindle Edition.] 

Ireneaus has more to say about Marcion, but hopefully, you can see the problem.

I decided to post this because Marcionism continues to be a problem in the church. Every time we contrast the wrathful God of the Old Testament with the loving God of the New Testament, we espouse Marcionism. When we do this we misrepresent both Judaism and Christianity. Our Old Testament is the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh. If you ask my Jewish friends if they worship or serve a wrathful god they will tell you they do not. Additionally, when we do this we misrepresent Jesus, who was not a "Christian" but a Jew. The writers of the New Testament, with the possible exception of Luke, were Jews. Is wrath present in the Tanakh? The answer is yes. Is there wrath discussed in the New Testament? Again the answer is yes. So, if we're Christians, then let's be careful with how we represent Judaism and the Old Testament (Tanakh). 

Oh, and beware of the specter of Marcion! 


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