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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The Kingdom Rulers Require Water and Spirit

“Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)

There are two requirements that Jesus has set before us.  They are being “born of water” and being “born of the Spirit.”  The latter (being born of the Spirit) we have already covered in the two post entitled, “The Kingdom” and “The Kingdom and the Spirit Man.”  The reader is encouraged to read these two before continuing here.  In this post, we will focus on the water portion of the verse and the role that Jesus played in opening this door for us.

Generally, there are two standard arguments for the meaning of being “born of water.”  The first is water baptism by immersion and the second is the actual physical birth.  In essence, being birthed on the earth as a human being created in the image of God.  (Again, See “The Kingdom and the Spirit man” for details).  When both arguments are considered, we will find that the answer lies in both positions.

Water baptism is a symbolic/prophetic act in the physical realm that expresses a spiritual reality.  FF Bruce summarizes, “Christian baptism even more emphatically symbolizes the new beginning for every one who by faith-union with Christ shares His death and burial in a spiritual sense and rises with Him to newness of life.” (1)  Baptism is an outward physical manifestation of a spiritual reality.  Thus, in order for one to demonstrate to the world his being “born of the spirit” one would declare it through water baptism.  Contextually, Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus, in the third chapter of John, and He uses language that would have been familiar to Nicodemus.  “Converts to Judaism were said to become ‘as newborn children’ when they were baptized to remove Gentile impurity.  ‘Born of water’ thus clarifies for Nicodemus that  ‘born from above’ means conversion, not a second physical birth.” (2)   Nicodemus became confused that he needed to be converted because, in his mind, he was already converted. (see also the Kingdom post).  Hence, it seems relevant that “born of water” in this context can be-speak of water baptism as it is the only expression in the physical realm of the spiritual reality of the Christian entering the Kingdom.  David Stern explains further the position on water baptism, “Immersion in water is connected with ritual cleansing of the body….while the Holy Spirit gives power for turning from sin and living a holy life; both bespeak of aspects of purification.  This is why being born of water does not mean ordinary human birth; moreover, since everyone is born of water in that sense, it would be silly for Yeshua to make a condition out of it with the word ‘unless.’” (3)

Agreed, the interpretation of water baptism is most applicable for this verse. However, there is the argument of being “born of water” as being born a human that may have a deeper spiritual reality than Mr. Stern’s will allow.  To reiterate, water baptism is a physical act of a spiritual reality.  It is what we do in the physical realm to demonstrate being “born of the Spirit” in the spiritual realm.  If this is the only application then Jesus is being extremely redundant.  To paraphrase, Jesus would be saying that “unless one performs the physical act of the spiritual reality and is born-again which is the aforementioned spiritual reality, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  It would appear to be a redundant statement.  Perhaps the physical birth itself has some application here as well.

To understand this we must look at what man was created to be and to do in the beginning.  “Then God said, Let us make man in our image and according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, overall the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) Man was created to have authority over all the earth.  The bible says that “The heavens, even the heavens, are the Lord’s; but the earth He has given to the sons of men.” (Psalm 115:16)  God designed that dominion over the earth is in the hands of men.  Hence, it takes a human to become the image bearing representative of God on earth, to usher in the Kingdom of God.  God has limited Himself to utilize His Creation in order to have dominion on the earth.  The spiritual Kingdom of Heaven cannot invade the physical  realm of earth without the utilization of God’s representative on earth.  This is why it is necessary to be a person, a human being, born of water, to enter the kingdom.  One must first be a human before one can demonstrate heavenly power on earth.  It is a prerequisite that one must be a person in order to enter the kingdom by the blood of Jesus.

God, because of His character, will not revoke the authority that he gave to men.  God must redeem and use men to display and destroy the works of the devil because He doesn’t take back what he has given.  Therefore, God had to become a man sot that a man could save that which was lost.  Adam gave away the authority over the earth to the devil at the fall of humankind.  A man had to come and retrieve that which was given away.  Hence, it was essential that Jesus be “born of water” to qualify in the physical realm to be the image-bearer and representative of God.  Hence, the requirements are exactly the same for the Christian.  Jesus called Himself, “The Son of Man” which identified Him more with His Humanity than with His Divinity.  He came as a man, anointed by the Holy Spirit, go get back what man had lost.  This could only be accomplished by a man, a human being.  Charles Capps concludes, “Jesus came by the legal entry, through birth.  He had all the authority of a man.  He lived as a man and was anointed with the Holy Ghost.  He went before us and destroyed the devil’s works.  He went to the cross, gave up His life, and became the supreme sacrifice…The fleshy birth is the legal entry into the earth.  But because Jesus is the Head of the Church and the firstborn from the dead, He became the door, or legal entry, into the Kingdom of God.  There is no other way.  You can’t get there by the church door.  You can’t get there by being baptized.  You can’t get there by paying your tithes or by being good.  You must be born again, and Jesus is the door of that new birth.  Just as physical birth is the legal entry into earth, the spiritual birth though Jesus Christ is the only legal way into heaven.” (4)

Hence, when we, as Christians, exercise our God-given authority as His Image bearers, and our rights as “citizens of heaven” having been born again, then the Kingdom of God comes to earth through us.  Indeed, one must be born of water and Spirit to enter the Kingdom of God.
Endnotes

1.  Bruce, F.F.  The Gospel and Epistles of John, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1983, page 84.

2.  Keener, Craig, The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1993, page270.

3.  Stern, David, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament publications, Clarksville, MA, 1992, page 267.

4.  Capps, Charles, Your Spiritual Authority, Harrison House, Tulsa, OK, 1994, page 147-148.