The Church Under Marcion’s Shadow, An Investigation Into his Prologues

       Marcion was born in 100 AD  in Sinope in Asia Minor.  He was raised in the apostolic faith and his father was a leader in the church.  Marcion devoted himself to studying scripture and later came to the conclusion that only Paul saw the message of Jesus with purity.  “Marcion came to Rome about A.D. 140, and there founded a sect which persisted for many years.  His distinctive doctrine was that the Old Testament was inferior to the New and had been rendered obsolete by Christ.  Marcion stressed the contrast between the two testaments so far as to say that the god revealed in the one was quite a different being from the God revealed in the other.  The righteous God, the Creator, Israel’s Jehovah, revealed in the Old Testament was different and inferior deity to the good God revealed by Jesus under the name ‘Father’ this, Marcion thought, was rendered sufficiently obvious by the fact that it was the worshippers of the righteous God of the Old Testament who sent the Revealer of the good God to His death.  Marcion, therefore, repudiated the authority of the Old Testament, and defined the Christian canon as consisting of one Gospel and a collection of ten Pauline epistles.  Paul, to Marcion’s way of thinking, was the only real apostle of Christ, who had remained true to His mind and revelation.” (1)  His theology was a blend of Gnosticism and Christianity.

Marcion was convinced that all the early apostles, including Peter, got the message of Jesus all wrong and only Paul had retained the true gospel.  To Marcion, the false apostles of the New Testament were actually Peter, John, James, and Apollos.  The one true apostle, Paul, had to follow after them and correct their teaching.  (Marcion’s basis for this was primarily the book of Galatians)  Marcion set out to develop his own “canon” of scripture that supported his views.  He rejected all the gospels and apostolic writing except for Luke and the writing of Paul.   In regards to Luke, Marcion edited out all references that support the Old Testament.  In July of 144,the church out rightly rejected Marcion but he continued to have influence for a number of years.  That influence is still within the church today and it is the theology that the Old Testament “has been done away with.”  This is evident in the Marcionite prologues to the epistles that the church retained from ancient origin.

     A prologue is a short summary (a type of twitter if you will) statement that Marcion placed at the beginnings of each of his books.  It gives a short synopsis of what the book was about.  For example, Marcion’s prologue to the epistle to the Romans reads, “The Romans are in the regions of Italy. They had been reached by false apostles and under the name of our Lord Jesus Christ they were led away into the law and the prophets. The apostle calls them back to the true evangelical faith, writing to them from Corinth.”  The anti-old testament theology is, of course, evident in this prologue.  These prologues exist in a number of copies of the Latin Vulgate, including the codex Fuldenesis of 546 AD.  “The codex Fuldensis, now in the Landesbibliothek of Fulda was written between AD 541 and 546 at Capua by order of Victor, the bishop of that see, and was corrected by him personally.” (2)  Please take note that the bishops of the see himself, Victor, edited the copy of this Vulgate.  This means that Victor included the prologues as part of his theology.  This demonstrates that the anti-nominal viewpoint was already deeply entrenched in the church by this time frame.  However, there is further evidence that points to an original that is deeper.  Notice that in the prologue to the Romans, the writer has to tell his readers that “The Romans are in the regions of Italy” certainly, as Adolf von Harnack points out, no western theologian would’ve written this.  Hence, the original was probably in the Greek language.
The church just adopted them into their canon.  Bruce Metzger writes, “Later the Catholic Church took over these Prologues practically unaltered.” (3) They have an ancient root that has continued throughout the centuries.  Again Metzger, “For centuries they have been a regular part of the Latin New Testament, and were taken over in pre-Reformation vernacular versions of the Bible.” (4)  Hence, the Marcionite theology that the Old Testament has been “done away with” successfully infiltrated the Catholic church and the subsequent churches/denominations that have been established since the Reformation.  Now, it is just so old that no one recognizes it as a heresy.  It has become the norm.

     Ironically, it was a Benedictine scholar named Donatien De Bruyne that discovered the origin of these prologues.  His work won almost immediate acceptance by the scholars of his day.  The one question that remains unanswered is “why?”  Why would the Catholic Church adopt the prologues of a notorious heretic as Marcion?  As far as I know, nobody knows.  Any suggestions, at this point, would be merely conjecture and I will refrain from that.  Suffice it to say, that the theology that the Old Testament has been done away with has a definite root in the writings of an early church heretic.

   Here are the remainders of the Prologues:

Prologue to the epistle to the Romans:

The Romans are in the regions of Italy. They had been reached by false apostles and under the name of our Lord Jesus Christ they were led away into the law and the prophets. The apostle calls them back to the true evangelical faith, writing to them from Corinth.

Prologue to the epistle to the Galatians:

The Galatians are Greeks. They at first accepted the word of truth from the apostle, but after his departure they were tempted by false apostles to be converted to the law and circumcision. The apostle calls them back to the faith of truth, writing to them from Ephesus.

Prologue to the epistle to Titus:

He warns and instructs Titus concerning the constitution of the presbytery and concerning spiritual conversation and heretics to be avoided who believe in the Jewish scriptures.

 

Endnotes

  1. 1.       Bruce, F.F. “The Books and The Parchments”, Revel Books, Old Tappan New Jersey, 1963, page 79.
  2. 2.      Metzger, Bruce, Ehrman, Bart, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2005, page 108.
  3. 3.      Metzger, Bruce, Flack, Elmer, and others, The Text, Canon, and Principal Versions of the Bible, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1956, page 24.
  4. 4.      Metzger, Bruce, The Canon of the New Testament, Claredon Press, Oxford, 1987, page 96.
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