Friday, March 04, 2005

Marcion's canon: Bible #1

Isn't it amazing that the guy credited with creating the first Bible was considered a heretic and expelled by the early Christian Church of Rome?

The first effort to assemble a New Testament canon was undertaken by Marcion (150 CE) of Sinope, Pontus (in Asia Minor). Marcion was the son of Philologus, who was the Christian bishop of Sinope.

Marcion's canon consisted of the Gospel of Luke and 10 epistles by the apostle Paul. Marcion referred to these works as "The Gospel" and "The Apostle". The Gospel was an edited version of Luke. The Apostle, also edited, was composed of Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians combined, Romans, 1 and 2 Thessalonians combined, Laodiceans (Ephesians), Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon.

In essence, Marcion's canon was the first Bible. Marcion did not include the Old Testament in his canon. He rejected all the books of the Old Testament. He believed that the God of the Old Testament was different from the God of whom Jesus spoke. He wanted to de-emphasize Christianity's Jewish roots, which is one of the reasons he severely edited the Gospel of Luke and Paul's epistles. Marcion eliminated as many positive references to Judaism or the Old Testament as possible.

For example, Marcion eliminated the first and second chapters of Luke because they were too Jewish. He took out Luke 4:1-3, which is the temptation narrative that refers to Deuteronomy three times. He removed Luke 4:16-30, which has Jesus claiming (while teaching in a synagogue) that his ministry was a fulfillment of the Old Testament. He eliminated Luke 5:39 ("the old is good") and Luke 8:19, which refers to Jesus' family.

Marcion took similar liberties with the letters of Paul. Anything that he believed to be inconsistent with his view of authentic Pauline teaching was taken out. From Galations 3:6-9, Marcion removed the mention of Abraham as an example of faith. From Galatians 3:15-25, he took out the connection between the law and the gospels. Marcion eliminated Romans 1:19-21:1, 3:21-4:25, most of Romans 9-11, and everything after Romans 14:23.

In addition to his rejection of the Old Testament and the God of the Old Testament, Marcion espoused a different view from the Christian Church of Rome regarding the identify of Jesus and his relationship to God. He adopted the gnostic idea of "Demiurge" (the evil God of the Jews versus the good God who sent Jesus as savior and redeemer). He thought that Jesus was not human, only appeared to be human. He did not believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the second coming, or judgment by Christ. He rejected the idea of a Judgment, as prophesized in the Old Testament.

Marcion believed that Jesus was sent by God to teach love and mercy for all and to liberate people from the bondage of the Jewish God, not from the bonds of sinful nature.

Marcion was expelled from the Christian Church of Rome in 144 CE. He went on to establish his own churches in Rome, Carthage, Nicomedia, Smyrna, Phyrygia, Gartyna, Antioch, and Syria. His counterpart,Valentinus, also broke away from Christian Church of Rome and founded a gnostic (from the Greek gnosis meaning "knowledge" and gnostikos meaning "good at knowing") school.

As a result of the stir caused by Marcion, the Christian Church of Rome began a formal process of defining what should be included in the canon.

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