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Marcion of Sinope

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Marcion of Sinope (ca. 110-160), was a 2nd century Christian teacher, one of the first to be denounced by catholic Christians as a heretic, who advocated an ascetic Christianity with partallels in gnosticism. He founded "a church which within half a generation expanded throughout the known world, vigorous enough to be in almost every place a serious rival to the catholic church, and with strong enough convictions to retain its expansive power for more than a century, and to survive heathen persecution, Christian controversy, and imperial disapproval for several centuries more" (Evans 1972 p. ix). Some ideas of Marcion's reappeared among the Bogomils and the Cathars of southern France in the 13th century.



What we know of Marcion comes mostly through his detractors, who are in substantial agreement. The first mention of Marcion was in Justin Martyr's Apologia (I 26), written mid-century, which finds Marcion yet alive and his followers dispersed among many nations. The hostile confrontation of Marcion in Adversus haereses of Polycarp's pupil Irenaeus was expanded in a more detailed and more furious polemic written by Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem [1] Marcion was a native of Sinope (modern Sinop, Turkey), in Pontus, Asia Minor. He was a wealthy shipowner. According to St Hippolytus, he was the son of a bishop who excommunicated him on grounds of immorality. He eventually found his way to Rome (ca. 140) and became a major financial supporter of the Church there.

In the next few years after his arrival in Rome, he worked out his theological system, based on his interpretation of the message of Jesus, and attracted a following. When conflicts with the bishops of Rome arose, Marcion began to organize his followers into a separate community. He was excommunicated by the Church at Rome in 144, who returned his previous donation of of 200,000 sesterces. From then on, he apparently used Rome as a base of operations, devoting his gift for organization and considerable wealth to the propagation of his teachings and the establishment of compact communities throughout the Roman Empire, making converts of every age, rank and background.

Tertullian and St Irenæus of Lyons tell us that Marcion attempted to use his money to influence the Church to endorse his teaching; they refused. He also came face to face at Rome with Polycarp, who had known the apostle John personally—Polycarp called him 'the first born of Satan.' His numerous critics throughout the official Church include the aforementioned, along with St Ephraim of Syria, Dionysius of Corinth , Theophilus of Antioch, Philip of Gortyna , St Hippolytus and Rhodo in Rome, Bardesanes at Edessa, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Such a battery of opponents suggests a very real and widespread teaching running counter to the mainstream. Nevertheless, "not even Tertullian can find any strictures to pass on the morals of Marcion or his adherents" (Evans 1972 p. xiv).


Marcion's teaching, known as Marcionism, was that Jesus revealed to the world a hitherto unknown god, who was different from the god of the Hebrew Bible. According to Marcion, the god of the Hebrew Bible was inconstant, jealous, wrathful, and legalistic. The material world he created was defective, a place of suffering; the god who made such a world was the bungling or malicious demiurge. Jesus was not the Messiah promised by Judaism; that Messiah was to be a conqueror and a political leader. Rather, Jesus was sent by a god greater than the Creator. His role was to reveal the transcendent god of light and pure mind, different in character from the creator god of the Hebrew Bible. Jesus's god was free from passion and wrath, wholly benevolent; and Jesus was sent to lead believers out of subjection to the limited, wrathful creator god of the Old Testament. Marcion's phantasmal Christ was "revealed as a man, though not a man", Hippolytus reported, and did not really die on the cross. Marcion taught "that salvation is of souls only, those souls which have learned his doctrine: the body, derived from the earth, cannot possibly partake of salvation (Irenaeus, I.xxv.1), a view also attacked by Tertullian in De Carne Christi. Marcion apparently produced an early version of the Harrowing of Hell, in which the souls of Cain and others embraced the Christ, while Abraham and other patriarchs held back and were not saved.

Like many other gnostics, Marcion produced his own bible. He rejected the Old Testament altogether, except as history. He also rejected three of the four gospels. The fourth, the Gospel of Luke, which Marcion called simply the 'Gospel', he edited to remove what he considered to be interpolations in support of the creator god of the Old Testament, whom he considered merely the god of justice, rather than the greater god of goodness. He rejected the Acts of the Apostles, and used only ten of the epistles of St Paul of Tarsus. (He omitted the Epistle to the Hebrews and the pastoral epistles addressed to Timothy and Titus.) Along with these he produced his own text, the Antitheses, showing the opposition between the Old Testament and the New; this was the text that Tertullian refuted.

Marcion's version of the Gospel of Luke can be substantially reconstructed from the citations made from it by Tertullian in Adversus Marcionem book 4; in book 5 of the same work Tertullian went through his collection of epistles to refute Marcio's choices.

It has been said that Marcion produced the first Christian canon, or list of the books of the Bible that he considered authoritative; however it is unclear in what way he did anything different from other Christian groups.

Marcion's position is not identical to, but is closely related to, the various beliefs together called Gnosticism. In various sources, he is often reckoned among the Gnostics, but as the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.) puts it, "it is clear that he would have had little sympathy with their mythological speculations" (p. 1034). Like the Gnostics, his Christology was Docetic, denying the human nature of Christ.

His non-orthodox thinking shows the influence of Hellenistic philosophy on Christianity, and presents a moral critique of the Hebrew Bible from the standpoint of Platonist ethics. His editing of the Gospel and Epistles may have led Christians to introduce a formal statement of beliefs into liturgy (see Creed) and to formulate a canon of authoritative Scripture of their own, and so eventually to produce the current canon of the New Testament (Harnack).

His writings have all been lost, but it is possible to reconstruct and deduce a large part of what he taught based on what other writers said concerning him, especially Tertullian. He was also known to have imposed a severe morality on his followers, some of whom suffered in the persecutions. Others of his followers, such as Apelles, created their own sects with variant teaching.

External links


  • [Tertullian] [ Ernest Evans, translator, 1972. Tertullian Against Marcion(Oxford University Press). E-text of Adversus Marcionem and Evan's introduction "Marcion : His Doctrine and Influence"
  • The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.), pp. 1033-34
  • Harnack, Adolf von 1961. History of Dogma (Neil Buchanan, translating Harnack's Dogmengeschichte 1900), vol I, pp 267 – 313, vol II, pp 1 – 19
  • Refutation of the Sects : A Retelling of Yeznik Koghbatsi's Apology, translated by Thomas Samuelian (Armenian Church Classics). Paperback: 68 pages. Publisher: St Vartan Pr (October 1, 1986). ISBN: 0934728135. An English translation of the refutation of the Armenian Yeznik (or "Eznik"), who lived from 387-450 CE. Book IV is his "Refutation of the Heretic Marcion", which contains the later marcionite myth of creation. Contents: Book I - The Nature of God; Book II -Refutation of Zurvanism (an offshoot of Zoroastrianism); Book III - Refutation of the Greek Philosophers.

Last updated: 05-16-2005 14:08:39