Marcion of Sinope

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Marcion of Sinope
Apostle John and Marcion of Sinope, from JPM LIbrary MS 748, 11th c.jpg
Apostle John (left) and Marcion of Sinope (right), from Morgan Library MS 748, 11th century
Born AD 85
Sinope, Roman Empire
(modern-day Sinop, Turkey)
Died AD 160
Anatolia, Roman Empire (modern-day Turkey)
Notable work Gospel of Marcion
Theological work
Era Patristic age
Tradition or movement Marcionism
Main interests Dualism, Nontrinitarianism

Marcion of Sinope (/ˈmɑːrkiən, -siən/; Ancient Greek: Μαρκίων[1][Note 1] Σινώπης; c. 85 – c. 160) was an early Christian theologian[2] in early Christianity.[2][3] Marcion preached that God had sent Jesus Christ, who was an entirely new, alien god, distinct from the "vengeful" God (Demiurge) who had created the world.[2][3][4] He considered himself a follower of Paul the Apostle, whom he believed to have been the only true apostle of Jesus Christ; his doctrine is called Marcionism.[2][3][5] Marcion published the earliest record of a canon of New Testament books.[2][6]

Early Church Fathers such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian denounced Marcion as a heretic, and he was excommunicated by the church of Rome around 144.[7] He published his own canon of Christian sacred scriptures,[2][8][9] which contained ten Pauline epistles (the Pastoral epistles were not included) and the Gospel of Marcion which historically is claimed to be an edited version of the Gospel of Luke.[2][10] Several modern scholars have theorized that Marcion's Gospel was the oldest, although this has received strong criticism as it seems to rest on special pleading.

This made Marcionism a catalyst in the process of the development of the New Testament canon by forcing the proto-orthodox Church to respond to his canon.[2][11]


Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Epiphanius records in his Panarion that Marcion was born the son of a bishop in Pontus (modern-day Turkey), likely Philologus of Sinope.[12] Rhodo and Tertullian, young men in Marcion's old age, described him as a "mariner" and a "ship-master" respectively. Some time in the late 130s, Marcion traveled to Rome, joined the Roman church, and made a large donation of 200,000 sesterces to the congregation there.[7][13] Conflicts with the church of Rome arose and he was eventually excommunicated in 144, his donation being returned to him.[14] After his excommunication, he returned to Asia Minor, where he continued to lead his many church congregations and teach the Gospel of Marcion.

According to Christian sources, Marcion's teacher was the Simonian Cerdo. Irenaeus writes that "a certain Cerdo, originating from the Simonians, came to Rome under Hyginus [...] and taught that the one who was proclaimed as God by the Law and the Prophets is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Against Heresies, 1, 27, 1). Also, according to them, Marcion and the Gnostic Valentinus were companions in Rome.[15]

In 394, Epiphanius claimed that after beginnings as an ascetic, Marcion seduced a virgin and was accordingly excommunicated by his father, prompting him to leave his home town.[16] Some scholars have taken this "seduction of a virgin" as a metaphor for Marcion's corruption of the Christian Church, with the Church portrayed as the undefiled virgin,[17] and that Marcion apparently has become "the victim of the historicisation of such a metaphor, even though it contradicts the otherwise firm tradition of his strict sexual probity".[18]:102 Doubtful is Tertullian's claim in The Prescription Against Heretics (written c. 200) that Marcion professed repentance, and agreed to the conditions granted to him — that he should receive reconciliation if he restored to the Church those whom he had led astray — but that he was prevented from doing so by his death.[19]

Marcionite Church

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The Marcionite church expanded greatly within Marcion's lifetime, becoming a major rival to the emerging Catholic church. After his death, it retained its following and survived Christian controversy and imperial disapproval for several centuries.[20] Several theologians have viewed him as a proto-protestant.[21]


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Study of the Hebrew scriptures, along with received writings circulating in the nascent Church, led Marcion to conclude that many of the teachings of Jesus were incompatible with the actions of Yahweh, characterized as the belligerent god of the Hebrew Bible. Marcion responded by developing a ditheistic system of belief around the year 144.[Note 2] This notion of two gods—a higher transcendent one and a lower world-creator and ruler—allowed Marcion to reconcile his perceived contradictions between Christian Old Covenant theology and the Gospel message proclaimed by the New Testament.

In contrast to other leaders of the nascent Christian Church, however, Marcion declared that Christianity was in complete discontinuity with Judaism and entirely opposed to the scriptures of Judaism. Marcion did not claim that these were false. Instead, he asserted that they were entirely true, but were to be read in an absolutely literalistic manner, one which led him to develop an understanding that Yahweh was not the same God spoken of by Jesus. For example, Marcion argued that the Genesis account of Yahweh walking through the Garden of Eden asking where Adam was, proved that Yahweh inhabited a physical body and was without universal knowledge, attributes wholly incompatible with the Heavenly Father professed by Jesus.

According to Marcion, the god of the Old Testament, whom he called the Demiurge, the creator of the material universe, is a jealous tribal deity of the Jews, whose law represents legalistic reciprocal justice and who punishes mankind for its sins through suffering and death. In contrast, the God that Jesus professed is an altogether different being, a universal God of compassion and love who looks upon humanity with benevolence and mercy. Marcion also produced a book titled Antitheses, which is no longer extant,[22] contrasting the Demiurge of the Old Testament with the Heavenly Father of the New Testament.

Marcion held Jesus to be the son of the Heavenly Father but understood the incarnation in a docetic manner, i.e. that Jesus' body was only an imitation of a material body, and consequently denied Jesus' physical and bodily birth, death, and resurrection.

Marcion was the first to codify a Christian canon. His canon consisted of only eleven books, grouped into two sections: the Evangelikon, a shorter version of the Gospel of Luke, and the Apostolikon, a selection of ten epistles of Paul the Apostle, which were also slightly shorter than the canonical text. Early Christians such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Epiphanius claimed that Marcion's editions of Luke and the Pauline epistles were intentionally edited by Marcion to match his theological views, and many modern scholars agree.[23] However, some scholars argue that Marcion's texts were not substantially edited by him, and may in some respects represent an earlier version of these texts than the canonical versions.[4][24][25][26] Like the Gospel of Mark, the gospel used by Marcion did not contain elements relating to Jesus' birth and childhood. Interestingly, it did contain some Jewish elements, and material that challenged Marcion's ditheism—a fact that was exploited by early Christians in their polemics against Marcion.[27]

The centrality of the Pauline epistles in Marcion's canon reflects the fact that Marcion considered Paul to be the correct interpreter and transmitter of Jesus' teachings, in contrast to the Twelve Disciples and the early Jerusalem church.[5] In Marcion’s view, the other apostles were under the auspices of the Demiurge.[22]


Marcion is sometimes described as a Gnostic philosopher. In some essential respects, Marcion proposed ideas which aligned well with Gnostic thought. Like the Gnostics, he believed that Jesus was essentially a divine spirit who appeared to human beings in human form, but did not actually take on a fleshly human body.[5]

However, Marcionism conceptualizes God in a way which cannot be reconciled with broader Gnostic thought. For Gnostics, some human beings are born with a small piece of God's soul lodged within their spirit (akin to the notion of a Divine Spark).[28] God is thus intimately connected to and part of his creation. Salvation lies in turning away from the physical world (which Gnostics regard as an illusion) and embracing the godlike qualities within oneself. Marcion, by contrast, held that the Heavenly Father (the father of Jesus Christ) was an utterly alien God; he had no part in making the world, nor any connection with it.[28] According to Bart Ehrman: "Marcion himself should not be thought of as a Gnostic; he held that there were only two gods, not many; he did not think of this world as a cosmic disaster, but as the creation of the Old Testament God; and he did not think divine sparks resided in human bodies that could be set free by understanding the true 'gnosis.' Moreover, his docetic view does not appear to have been the typical view of Gnostics."[29]

See also



  1. First Apology of Justin Martyr, XXVI.5
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  4. 4.0 4.1 BeDuhn 2015, p. 165.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Knox 1942, p. 7.
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  7. 7.0 7.1 Harnack 1921, p. 17.
  8. Bruce 1988, p. 134.
  9. Knox 1942, p. 19.
  10. BeDuhn 2015, p. 166.
  11. Knox 1942, p. 3.
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  13. Knox 1942, p. 5.
  14. Harnack 1921, p. 18.
  15. Bernard Green, Christianity in Ancient Rome: The First Three Centuries
  16. Refutation of All Heresies, XLII, ii.
  17. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities Conf. Beyschlag, Karlmann. "Herkunft und Eigenart der Papiasfragmente." Pages 268–80 in Studia Patristica 4: Papers Presented to the 3rd International Conference on Patristic Studies at Christ Church, Oxford, 21–26 September 1959. Edited by Frank L. Cross. TU 79. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1961, p. 276
  18. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  19. The Prescription Against Heretics 30:3.
  20. Evans 1972 p. ix
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  22. 22.0 22.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  23. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  24. Klinghardt 2008, p. 6-10.
  25. Knox 1942, p. 164ff.
  26. Hoffman 1984.
  27. Klinghardt 2008, p. 7.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Harnack 1900, pp. vol. I,  267–313; vol. II,  1–19.
  29. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.


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  • Blackman, E.C. Marcion and His Influence [1948] 2004. ISBN 978-1-59244-731-2.
  • Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Canon of Scripture. InterVarsity Press. ISBN 978-0-8308-1258-5.
  • Clabeaux, John James. The Lost Edition of the Letters of Paul: A Reassessment of the Text of Pauline Corpus Attested by Marcion (Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series No. 21) 1989 ISBN 0-915170-20-5.
  • Dahl, Nils Alstrup. "The Origin of the Earliest Prologues to the Pauline Letters", Semeia 12 (1978), pp. 233–277.
  • Epiphanius of Salamis. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book 1 (Sects 1-46) Frank Williams translator, 1987. ISBN 90-04-07926-2.
  • Evans, Ernest (comments and translation): Tertullian, Against Marcion (Oxford University Press, 1972). E-text of Adversus Marcionem and Evan's introduction "Marcion : His Doctrine and Influence"
  • Grant, Robert M. Marcion and the Critical Method Peter Richardson & John Collidge Hurd, eds., From Jesus to Paul. Studies in Honour of Francis Wright Beare. Waterloo, ON, 1984. pp. 207–215.
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  • Hoffman, R. Joseph. Marcion, on the Restitution of Christianity: An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulist Theology in the Second Century (1984) ISBN 0-89130-638-2.
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  • Livingstone, E. A. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.), pp. 1033–34, 1997 ISBN 0-19-211655-X.
  • Francis Legge, Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity, From 330 B.C. to 330 A.D. (1914), reprinted in two volumes bound as one, University Books New York, 1964. LCCN 64-24125.
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  • Moll, Sebastian, The Arch-Heretic Marcion, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 250, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2010 (Spanish translation: Marción. El primer hereje, Biblioteca de Estudios Bíblicos 145, Ediciones Sígueme, Salamanca 2014)
  • Riparelli, Enrico, Il volto del Cristo dualista. Da Marcione ai catari, Peter Lang, Bern 2008, 368 pp. ISBN 978-3-03911-490-0.
  • Sproul, R.C., How Then Shall We Worship?. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4347-0424-5 p. 16.
  • Williams, David Salter. "Reconsidering Marcion's Gospel", Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989), pp. 477–96
  • Wilson, R. S. Marcion: A Study of a Second-Century Heretic (London: Clarke) 1933.

Further reading

External links

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