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Marcionism is an Early Christian dualist belief system that originates in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome around the year 144.[1] Marcion believed Jesus Christ was the savior sent by God and Paul of Tarsus was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and Yahweh. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament. This belief was in some ways similar to Gnostic Christian theology, notably both are dualistic.

Marcionism, similar to Gnosticism, depicted the Hebrew God of the Old Testament as a tyrant or demiurge, see also God as the Devil. Marcion was labeled as gnostic by Eusebius.[2] Marcion's canon consisted of eleven books: A gospel consisting of ten chapters from the Gospel of Luke: edited by Marcion (out of the original 24), and ten of Paul's epistles. All other epistles and gospels of the New Testament were rejected.[3] Paul's epistles enjoy a prominent position in the Marcionite canon, since Paul is credited with correctly transmitting the universality of Jesus' message. Other authors' epistles were rejected since they seemed to suggest that Jesus had simply come to found a new sect within broader Judaism. Religious tribalism of this sort seemed to echo Yahwehism, and was thus regarded as a corruption of the Heavenly Father's teaching.

Marcionism was denounced by its opponents as heresy, and written against, notably by Tertullian, in a five-book treatise Adversus Marcionem, written about 208. However, the strictures against Marcionism predate the authority, claimed by the First Council of Nicaea in 325, to declare what is heretical against the Church. Marcion's writings are lost, though they were widely read and numerous manuscripts must have existed. Even so, many scholars (including Henry Wace) claim it is possible to reconstruct and deduce a large part of ancient Marcionism through what later critics, especially Tertullian, said concerning Marcion.



According to Tertullian and other writers of the mainstream Church, the movement known as Marcionism began with the teachings and excommunication of Marcion from the Church of Rome around 144. Marcion was reportedly a wealthy shipowner, the son of a bishop of Sinope of Pontus, Asia Minor. He arrived in Rome circa 140, soon after Bar Kokhba's revolt. That revolution, along with other Jewish-Roman wars (the Great Jewish Revolt and the Kitos War), provides some of the historical context of the founding of Marcionism. Marcion was excommunicated from the Roman Church because he was threatening to make schisms in the church.[4]

Marcion used his personal wealth, (particularly a donation returned to him by the Church of Rome after he was excommunicated), to fund an ecclesiastical organization. Marcionism continued in the West for 300 years, although Marcionistic ideas persisted much longer.[5]

The organization continued in the East for some centuries later, particularly outside the Byzantine Empire in areas which later would be dominated by Manichaeism.


Marcion declared that Christianity was distinct from and in opposition to Judaism, see also Anti-Judaism. He rejected the entire Hebrew Bible, and declared that the God of the Hebrew Bible was a lesser demiurge, who had created the earth, but was (de facto) the source of evil.

The premise of Marcionism is that many of the teachings of Christ are incompatible with the actions of Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. Focusing on the Pauline traditions of the Gospel, Marcion felt that all other conceptions of the Gospel, and especially any association with the Old Testament religion, was opposed to, and a backsliding from, the truth. He further regarded the arguments of Paul regarding law and gospel, wrath and grace, works and faith, flesh and spirit, sin and righteousness, death and life, as the essence of religious truth. He ascribed these aspects and characteristics as two principles, the righteous and wrathful god of the Old Testament, who is at the same time identical with the creator of the world, and a second God of the Gospel, quite unknown before Christ, who is only love and mercy.[6]

Marcionites held maltheistic views of the god of the Hebrew Bible (known to some Gnostics as Yaltabaoth), that he was inconsistent, jealous, wrathful and genocidal, and that the material world he created was defective, a place of suffering; the god who made such a world is a bungling or malicious demiurge.

In the god of the [Old Testament] he saw a being whose character was stern justice, and therefore anger, contentiousness and unmercifulness. The law which rules nature and man appeared to him to accord with the characteristics of this god and the kind of law revealed by him, and therefore it seemed credible to him that this god is the creator and lord of the world (κοσμοκράτωρ[English transliteration: kosmokrator/cosmocrator]). As the law which governs the world is inflexible and yet, on the other hand, full of contradictions, just and again brutal, and as the law of the Old Testament exhibits the same features, so the god of creation was to Marcion a being who united in himself the whole gradations of attributes from justice to malevolence, from obstinacy to inconsistency."[7]

In Marcionite belief, Christ was not a Jewish Messiah, but a spiritual entity that was sent by the Monad to reveal the truth about existence, and thus allowing humanity to escape the earthly trap of the demiurge. Marcion called God, the Stranger God, or the Alien God, in some translations, as this deity had not had any previous interactions with the world, and was wholly unknown. See also the Unknown God of Hellenism.

In various popular sources, Marcion 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). In 1911 Henry Wace stated:

A modern divine would turn away from the dreams of Valentinianism in silent contempt; but he could not refuse to discuss the question raised by Marcion, whether there is such opposition between different parts of what he regards as the word of God, that all cannot come from the same author.

A primary difference between Marcionites and Gnostics was that the Gnostics based their theology on secret wisdom (as, for example, Valentinius who claimed to receive the secret wisdom from Theudas who received it direct from Paul) of which they claimed to be in possession, whereas Marcion based his theology on the contents of the Letters of Paul and the recorded sayings of Jesus — in other words, an argument from scripture, with Marcion defining what was and was not scripture. Also, the Christology of the Marcionites is thought to have been primarily Docetic, denying the human nature of Christ. This may have been due to the unwillingness of Marcionites to believe that Jesus was the son of both God the Father and the demiurge. Classical Gnosticism, by contrast, held that Jesus was the son of both, even having a natural human father; that he was both the Messiah of Judaism and the world Savior. Scholars of Early Christianity disagree on whether to classify Marcion as a Gnostic: Adolf Von Harnack does not classify Marcion as a Gnostic[8], whereas G. R. S. Mead does. Von Harnack argued that Marcion was not a Gnostic in the strict sense because Marcion rejected elaborate creation myths, and did not claim to have special revelation or secret knowledge. Mead claimed Marcionism makes certain points of contact with Gnosticism in its view that the creator of the material world is not the true deity, rejection of materialism and affirmation of a transcedent, purely good spiritual realm in opposition to the evil physical realm, the belief Jesus was sent by the "True" God to save humanity, the central role of Jesus in revealing the requirements of salvation, the belief Paul had a special place in the transmission of this "wisdom", and its docetism. According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article on Marcion:

It was no mere school for the learned, disclosed no mysteries for the privileged, but sought to lay the foundation of the Christian community on the pure gospel, the authentic institutes of Christ. The pure gospel, however, Marcion found to be everywhere more or less corrupted and mutilated in the Christian circles of his time. His undertaking thus resolved itself into a reformation of Christendom. This reformation was to deliver Christendom from false Jewish doctrines by restoring the Pauline conception of the gospel, Paul being, according to Marcion, the only apostle who had rightly understood the new message of salvation as delivered by Christ. In Marcion's own view, therefore, the founding of his church—to which he was first driven by opposition—amounts to a reformation of Christendom through a return to the gospel of Christ and to Paul; nothing was to be accepted beyond that. This of itself shows that it is a mistake to reckon Marcion among the Gnostics. A dualist he certainly was, but he was not a Gnostic.

Marcionism shows the influence of Hellenistic philosophy on Christianity, and presents a moral critique of the Old Testament from the standpoint of Platonism. According to Harnack, the sect may have led other Christians to introduce a formal statement of beliefs into their liturgy (see Creed) and to formulate a canon of authoritative Scripture of their own, thus eventually producing the current canon of the New Testament.

As for the main question, however, whether he knew of, or assumes the existence of, a written New Testament of the Church in any sense whatever, in this case an affirmatory answer is most improbable, because if this were so he would have been compelled to make a direct attack upon the New Testament of the Church, and if such an attack had been made we should have heard of it from Tertullian. Marcion, on the contrary, treats the Catholic Church as one that 'follows the Testament of the Creator-God,' and directs the full force of his attack against this Testament and against the falsification of the Gospel and of the Pauline Epistles. His polemic would necessarily have been much less simple if he had been opposed to a Church which, by possessing a New Testament side by side with the Old Testament, had ipso facto placed the latter under the shelter of the former. In fact Marcion’s position towards the Catholic Church is intelligible, in the full force of its simplicity, only under the supposition that the Church had not yet in her hand any 'litera scripta Novi Testamenti.'[9]

Marcion is believed to have imposed a severe morality on his followers, some of whom suffered in the persecutions. In particular, he refused to re-admit those who recanted their faith under Roman persecution, see also Lapsi (Christian). Others of his followers, such as Apelles, created their own sects with variant teachings.

Marcionite canon

Tertullian claimed Marcion was the first to separate the New Testament from the Old Testament.[10] Marcion is said to have gathered scriptures from Jewish tradition, and juxtaposed these against the sayings and teachings of Jesus in a work entitled the Antithesis.[11] Besides the Antithesis, the Testament of the Marcionites was also composed of a Gospel of Christ which was Marcion's version of Luke, and that the Marcionites attributed to Paul, that was different in a number of ways from the version that is now regarded as canonical.[12] It seems to have lacked all prophecies of Christ's coming, as well as the Infancy account, the baptism, and the verses were more terse in general. It also included ten of the Pauline Epistles (but not the Pastoral Epistles or the Epistle to the Hebrews, and, according to the Muratonian canon, included a Marcionite Paul's epistle to the Alexandrians and an epistle to the Laodiceans)[13] In bringing together these texts, Marcion redacted what is perhaps the first New Testament canon on record, which he called the Gospel and the Apostolikon, which reflects his belief the writings reflect the apostle Paul and Jesus.

The Prologues to the Pauline Epistles (which are not a part of the text, but short introductory sentences as one might find in modern study Bibles [3]), found in several older Latin codices, are now widely believed to have been written by Marcion or one of his followers. Harnack notes [4]:

We have indeed long known that Marcionite readings found their way into the ecclesiastical text of the Pauline Epistles, but now for seven years we have known that Churches actually accepted the Marcionite prefaces to the Pauline Epistles! De Bruyne has made one of the finest discoveries of later days in proving that those prefaces, which we read first in Codex Fuldensis and then in numbers of later manuscripts, are Marcionite, and that the Churches had not noticed the cloven hoof.

Conversely, several early Latin codices contain Anti-Marcionite prologues to the Gospels.

Reaction to Marcion by early Christians

According to a remark by Origen (Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew 15.3), Marcion "prohibited allegorical interpretations of the scripture". Tertullian disputed this in his treatise against Marcion, as did Henry Wace:

The story proceeds to say that he asked the Roman presbyters to explain the texts, "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit," and "No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment," texts from which he himself deduced that works in which evil is to be found could not proceed from the good God, and that the Christian dispensation could have nothing in common with the Jewish. Rejecting the explanation offered him by the presbyters, he broke off the interview with a threat to make a schism in their church.[14]

Tertullian, along with Epiphanius of Salamis, also charged that Marcion set aside the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, and used Luke alone.[15] Tertullian cited Luke 6:43-45 (a good tree does not produce bad fruit)[16] and Luke 5:36-38 (nobody tears a piece from a new garment to patch an old garment or puts new wine in old wineskins),[17] in theorizing that Marcion set about to recover the authentic teachings of Jesus. Irenaeus claimed,

[Marcion's] salvation will be the attainment only of those souls which had learned his doctrine; while the body, as having been taken from the earth, is incapable of sharing in salvation.[18]

Tertullian also attacked this view in De Carne Christi.

Hippolytus reported that Marcion's phantasmal (and Docetist) Christ was "revealed as a man, though not a man", and did not really die on the cross.[19] However, Ernest Evans, in editing this work, observes:

This may not have been Marcion's own belief. It was certainly that of Hermogenes (cf. Tertullian, Adversus Hermogenem) and probably other gnostics and Marcionites, who held that the intractability of this matter explains the world's many imperfections.

Recent scholarship

In Lost Christianities, Bart Ehrman contrasts the Marcionites with the Ebionites as polar ends of a spectrum with regard to the Old Testament.[20] Ehrman acknowledges many of Marcion's ideas are very close to what is known today as "Gnosticism", especially its rejection of the Jewish God, the Old Testament, and the material world, and his elevation of Paul as the primary apostle. In the PBS documentary, From Jesus to Christ, narrated by Elaine Pagels, Ehrman, Karen King, and other secular New Testament scholars, Marcion's role in the formation of the New Testament canon is discussed as pivotal, and the first to explicitly state it. There were early Christian groups, such as the Ebionites, that did not accept Paul as part of their canon.

Robert M. Price, a New Testament scholar at Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, considers the Pauline canon problem[21]: how, when, and who collected Paul's epistles to the various churches as a single collection of epistles. The evidence that the early church fathers, such as Clement, knew of the Pauline epistles is unclear. Price investigates several historical scenarios and comes to the conclusion and identifies Marcion as the first person known in recorded history to collect Paul's writings to various churches together as a canon, the Pauline epistles. Robert Price summarizes,

But the first collector of the Pauline Epistles had been Marcion. No one else we know of would be a good candidate, certainly not the essentially fictive Luke, Timothy, and Onesimus. And Marcion, as Burkitt and Bauer show, fills the bill perfectly.[22]

If this is correct, then Marcion's role in the formation and development of Christianity is pivotal.

Marcionism in Modern history

Historic Marcionism, and the church Marcion himself established, appeared to die out around the fifth century, although similarities between Marcionism and Paulicianism, a later heresy in the same geographical area, indicate that Marcionist ideas may have survived and even contributed to heresies in Bulgaria and France. Whether or not that is the case, Marcion's influence and criticism of the Old Testament are discussed to this very day. Marcionism is discussed in recent textbooks on early Christianity, such as Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman. Marcion claimed to find problems in the Old Testament; problems which many modern thinkers cite today (see Criticism of the Bible and Biblical law in Christianity), especially its alleged approval of atrocities and genocide.

Many atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists agree with Marcion's examples of Bible atrocities, and cite the same passages of the Old Testament to discredit Christianity and Judaism.[23] Most Christians agree with Marcion that the Old Testament's alleged approval of genocide and murder are inappropriate models to follow today. Some Christian scholars, such as Gleason Archer and Norman Geisler, have dedicated much of their time to the attempt to resolve these perceived difficulties, while others have argued that just punishments (divine or human), even capital punishments, are not genocide or murder because murder and genocide are unjustified by definition (see Christian Reconstructionism).

On the other hand, because of the rejection of the Old Testament which originates in the Jewish Bible, the Marcionites have been believed by some Christians to be anti-Jewish. Indeed, the word Marcionism has sometimes been used in modern times to refer to anti-Jewish tendencies in Christian churches, especially when such tendencies have been thought to be surviving residues of ancient Marcionism.

For some, the alleged problems of the Old Testament, and the appeal of Jesus are such that they identify themselves as modern day Marcionites, and follow his solution in keeping the New Testament as sacred scripture, and rejecting the Old Testament canon and practices. A term sometimes used for these groups is "New Testament Only Christians". Carroll R. Bierbower is a pastor of a church he says is Marcionite in theology and practice.[24] The Cathar movement, historically and in modern times, reject the Old Testament for the reasons Marcion enunciated. It remains unclear whether the 11th century Cathar movement is in continuation of earlier Gnostic and Marcion streams, or represents an independent re-invention. John Lindell, a former Methodist and Unitarian Universalist pastor, advocates Christian deism, which does not include the Old Testament as part of its theology.[25]

See also


  1. ^ (115 years and 6 months from the Crucifixion, according to Tertullian's reckoning in Adversus Marcionem, xv)
  2. ^ "Marcion was the most earnest, the most practical, and the most dangerous among the Gnostics, full of energy and zeal for reforming, but restless rough and eccentric. He has a remote connection with modern questions of biblical criticism and the canon. He anticipated a rationalistic opposition to the Old Testament and to the Pastoral Epistles, but in a very arbitrary and unscrupulous way. He could see only superficial differences in the Bible, not the deeper harmony. He rejected the heathen mythology of the other Gnostics, and adhered to Christianity as the only true religion; he was less speculative, and gave a higher place to faith. But he was utterly destitute of historical sense, and put Christianity into a radical conflict with all previous revelations of God; as if God had neglected the world for thousands of years until he suddenly appeared in Christ. He represents an extreme anti-Jewish and pseudo-Pauline tendency, and a magical supranaturalism, which, in fanatical zeal for a pure primitive Christianity, nullifies all history, and turns the gospel into an abrupt, unnatural, phantomlike appearance. Marcion was the son of a bishop of Sinope in Pontus, and gave in his first fervor his property to the church, but was excommunicated by his own father, probably on account of his heretical opinions and contempt of authority..86 He betook himself, about the middle of the second century, to Rome (140–155), which originated none of the Gnostic systems, but attracted them all. There he joined the Syrian Gnostic, Cerdo." History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325. Marcion and his School by PHILIP SCHAFF [1]
  3. ^ Eusebius' Church History
  4. ^ Mead 1931, pp.241-249
  5. ^ Berdyaev Online Library
  6. ^ Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma, vol. 1, ch. 5, p. 269
  7. ^ Harnack, idem., p.271
  8. ^ Article on Adolf Von Harnack
  9. ^ Harnack, Origin of the New Testament, appendix 6, pp. 222-23
  10. ^ McDonald & Sanders, editors, The Canon Debate, 2002, chapter 18 by Everett Ferguson, page 310, quoting Tertullian's De praescriptione haereticorum 30: "Since Marcion separated the New Testament from the Old, he is necessarily subsequent to that which he separated, inasmuch as it was only in his power to separate what was previously united. Having been united previous to its separation, the fact of its subsequent separation proves the subsequence also of the man who effected the separation." Page 308, note 61 adds: "[Wolfram] Kinzig suggests that it was Marcion who usually called his Bible testamentum [Latin for testament]."
  11. ^ Gnostic Society Library presentation of Marcion's Antithesis
  12. ^ Center for Marcionite Research presentation of The Gospel of Marcion
  13. ^ Mead 1931.
  14. ^ Wace's article on Marcion
  15. ^ From the perspectives of Tertullian and Epiphanius (when the four gospels had largely canonical status, perhaps in reaction to the challenge created by Marcion), it appeared that Marcion rejected the non-Lukan gospels, however, in Marcion's time, it may be that the only gospel he was familiar with from Pontus was the gospel that would later be called Luke. It is also possible that Marcion's gospel was actually modified by his critics to became the gospel we know today as Luke, rather than the story from his critics that he changed a canonical gospel to get his version. For example, compare Luke 5:39 to 5:36-38, did Marcion delete 5:39 from his Gospel or was it added later to counteract a Marcionist interpretation of 5:36-38? One must keep in mind that we only know of Marcion through his critics and they considered him a major threat to the form of Christianity that they knew. John Knox (the modern writer, not to be confused with John Knox the Protestant Reformer) in Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon (ISBN 0-404-16183-9) was the first to propose that Marcion's Gospel may have preceded Luke's Gospel and Acts.[2]
  16. ^ Tertullian "Against Marcion" 1.2
  17. ^ Tertullian "Against Marcion" 4.11.9
  18. ^ Against Heresies, 1.27.3
  19. ^ Tertullian Adversus Marcionem ("Against Marcion"), translated and edited by Ernest Evans
  20. ^ Interview with Bart Ehrman about Lost Christianities
  21. ^ The Evolution of the Pauline Canon by Robert Price
  22. ^ Price
  23. ^ Biblical Atrocities, compiled by Donald Morgan
  24. ^ The Antithesis, by Dr. Carroll R. Bierbower.
  25. ^ The Human Jesus and Christian Deism


  • Baker, David L., Two Testaments, One Bible (second edn; Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1991): pp. 35, 48-52.
  • Legge, Francis, 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. LC Catalog 64-24125.

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Heretical sect founded in A.D. 144 at Rome by Marcion and continuing in the West for 300 years, but in the East some centuries longer, especially outside the Byzantine Empire. They rejected the writings of the Old Testament and taught that Christ was not the Son of the God of the Jews, but the Son of the good God, who was different from the God of the Ancient Covenant. They anticipated the more consistent dualism of Manichaeism and were finally absorbed by it. As they arose in the very infancy of Christianity and adopted from the beginning a strong ecclesiastical organization, parallel to that of the Catholic Church, they were perhaps the most dangerous foe Christianity has ever known.



Marcion was son of the Bishop of Sinope in Pontus, born c. A.D. 110, evidently from wealthy parents. He is described as nautes, nauclerus, a ship owner, by Rhodon and Tertullian, who wrote about a generation after his death. Epiphanius (Haeres., XLII, ii) relates that Marcion in his youth professed to lead a life of chastity and asceticism, but, in spite of his professions, fell into sin with a young maiden. In consequence his father, the bishop, cast him out of the Church. He besought his father for reconciliation, I.e. to be admitted to ecclesiastical penance, but the bishop stood firm in his refusal. Not being able to bear with the laughter and contempt of his fellow townsmen, he secretly left Sinope and traveled to Rome. The story of Marcion's sin is rejected by many modern scholars (e.g. G. Krüger) as a piece of malicious gossip of which they say Epiphanius was fond; others see in the young maiden but a metaphor for the Church, the then young bride of Christ, whom Marcion violated by his heresy, though he made great professions of bodily chastity and austerity. No accusations of impurity are brought against Marcion by earlier Church writers, and Marcion's austerity seems acknowledged as a fact. Irenaeus states that Marcion flourished under Pope Anecitus (c. 155-166) [invaluit sub Aniceto]. Though this period may mark Marcion's greatest success in Rome, it is certain that he arrived there earlier, I. c. A.D. 140 after the death of Hyginus, who died that year and apparently before the accession of Pius I. Epiphanius says that Marcion sought admittance into the Roman Church but was refused. The reason given was that they could not admit one who had been expelled by his own bishop without previous communication with that authority. The story has likewise been pointed out as extremely unlikely, implying, as it does, that the great Roman Church professed itself incompetent to override the decision of a local bishop in Pontus. It must be borne in mind, however, that Marcion arrived at Rome sede vacante, "after the death of Hyginus", and that such an answer sounds natural enough on the lips of presbyters as yet without a bishop.

Moreover, it is obvious that Marcion was already a consecrated bishop. A layman could not have disputed on Scripture with the presbyters as he did, nor have threatened shortly after his arrival: "I will divide your Church and cause within her a division, which will last forever", as Marcion is said to have done; a layman could not have founded a vast and worldwide institution, of which the main characteristic was that it was episcopalian; a layman would not have been proudly referred to for centuries by his disciples as their first bishop, a claim not disputed by any of their adversaries, though many and extensive works were written against them; a layman would not have been permanently cast out of the Church without hope of reconciliation by his own father, notwithstanding his entreaties, for a sin of fornication, nor thereafter have become an object of laughter to his heathen fellow townsmen, if we accept the story of Epiphanius. A layman would not have been disappointed that he was not made bishop shortly after his arrival in a city whose see was vacant, as Marcion is said to have been on his arrival at Rome after the death of Hyginus.

This story has been held up as the height of absurdity and so it would be, if we ignored the facts that Marcion was a bishop, and that according to Tertullian (De Praeser., xxx) he made the Roman community the gift of two hundred thousand sesterces soon after his arrival. this extraordinary gift of 1400 pounds (7000 dollars), a huge sum for those days, may be ascribed to the first fervour of faith, but is at least as naturally, ascribed to a lively hope. The money was returned to him after his breach with the Church. This again is more natural if it was made with a tacit condition, than if it was absolute and the outcome of pure charity. Lastly, the report that Marcion on his arrival at Rome had to hand in or to renew a confession of faith (Tert., "De Praeser.," xxx,; "Adv. Mar.", I, xx; "de carne Christi", ii) fits in naturally with the supposition of his being a bishop, but would be, as G. Krüger points out, unheard of in the case of a layman.

We can take it for granted then, that Marcion was a bishop, probably an assistant or suffrigan of his father at Sinope. Having fallen out with his father he travels to Rome, where, being a seafarer or shipowner and a great traveler, he already may have been known and where his wealth obtains him influence and position. If Tertullian supposes him to have been admitted to the Roman Church and Epiphanius says that he was refused admittance, the two statements can easily be reconciled if we understand the former of mere membership or communion, the latter of the acceptance of his claims. His episcopal dignity has received mention at least in two early writers, who speak of him as having "from bishop become an apostate" (Optatus of Mileve, IV, v), and of his followers as being surnamed after a bishop instead of being called Christians after Christ (Adamantius, "Dial.", I, ed. Sande Bakhuysen). Marcion is said to have asked the Roman presbyters the explanation of Matt., ix, 16, 17, which he evidently wished to understand as expressing the incompatibility of the New Testament with the Old, but which they interpreted in an orthodox sense. His final breach with the Roman Church occurred in the autumn of 144, for the Marcionites counted 115 years and 6 months from the time of Christ to the beginning of their sect. Tertullian roughly speaks of a hundred years and more. Marcion seems to have made common cause with Cerdo (q.v.), the Syrian Gnostic, who was at the time in Rome; that his doctrine was actually derived from that Gnostic seems unlikely. Irenaeus relates (Adv. Haeres., III, iii) that St. Polycarp, meeting Marcion in Rome was asked by him: Dost thou recognize us? and gave answer: I recognize thee as the first born of Satan. This meeting must have happened in 154, by which time Marcion had displayed a great and successful activity, for St. Justin Martyr in his first Apology (written about 150), describes Marcion's heresy as spread everywhere. These half a dozen years seem to many too short a time for such prodigious success and they believe that Marcion was active in Asia Minor long before he came to Rome. Clement of Alexandria (Strom., VII, vii, 106) calls him the older contemporary of Basilides and Valentinus, but if so, he must have been a middle-aged man when he came to Rome, and as previous propaganda in the East is not impossible. That the Chronicle of Edessa places the beginning of Marcionism in 138, strongly favors this view. Tertullian relates in 207 (the date of his Adv. Marc., IV, iv) that Marcion professed penitence and accepted as condition of his readmittance into the Church that he should bring back to the fold those whom he had led astray, but death prevented his carrying this out. The precise date of his death is not known.


We must distinguish between the doctrine of Marcion himself and that of his followers. Marcion was no Gnostic dreamer. He wanted a Christianity untrammeled and undefiled by association with Judaism. Christianity was the New Covenant pure and simple. Abstract questions on the origin of evil or on the essence of the Godhead interested him little, but the Old Testament was a scandal to the faithful and a stumbling-block to the refined and intellectual gentiles by its crudity and cruelty, and the Old Testament had to be set aside. The two great obstacles in his way he removed by drastic measures. He had to account for the existence of the Old Testament and he accounted for it by postulating a secondary deity, a demiurgus, who was god, in a sense, but not the supreme God; he was just, rigidly just, he had his good qualities, but he was not the good god, who was Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The metaphysical relation between these two gods troubled Marcion little; of divine emanation, aeons, syzygies, eternally opposed principles of good and evil, he knows nothing. He may be almost a Manichee in practice, but in theory he has not reached absolute consistency as Mani did a hundred years later. Marcion had secondly to account for those passages in the New Testament which countenanced the Old. He resolutely cut out all texts that were contrary to his dogma; in fact, he created his own New Testament admitting but one gospel, a mutilation of St. Luke, and an Apostolicon containing ten epistles of St. Paul. The mantle of St. Paul had fallen on the shoulders of Marcion in his struggle with the Judaisers. The Catholics of his day were nothing but the Judaisers of the previous century. The pure Pauline Gospel had become corrupted and Marcion, not obscurely, hinted that even the pillar Apostles, Peter, James, and John had betrayed their trust. He loves to speak of "false apostles", and lets his hearers infer who they were. Once the Old Testament has been completely got rid of, Marcion has no further desire for change. He makes his purely New Testament Church as like the Catholic Church as possible, consistent with his deep seated Puritanism. The first description of Marcion's doctrine dates from St. Justin: "With the help of the devil Marcion has in every country contributed to blasphemy and the refusal to acknowledge the Creator of all the world as God". He recognizes another god, who, because he is essentially greater (than the World maker or Demiurge) has done greater deeds than he (hos onta meizona ta meizona para touton pepikeni) The supreme God is hagathos, just and righteous. The good God is all love, the inferior god gives way to fierce anger. Though less than the good god, yet the just god, as world creator, has his independent sphere of activity. They are not opposed as Ormusz and Ahriman, though the good God interferes in favour of men, for he alone is all-wise and all-powerful and loves mercy more than punishment. All men are indeed created by the Demiurge, but by special choice he elected the Jewish people as his own and thus became the god of the Jews.

His theological outlook is limited to the Bible, his struggle with the Catholic Church seems a battle with texts and nothing more. The Old Testament is true enough, Moses and the Prophets are messengers of the Demiurge, the Jewish Messias is sure to come and found a millennial kingdom for the Jews on earth, but the Jewish messias has nothing whatever to do with the Christ of God. The Invisible, Indescribable, Good God (aoratos akatanomastos agathos theos), formerly unknown to the creator as well as to his creatures, has revealed Himself in Christ. How far Marcion admitted a Trinity of persons in the supreme Godhead is not known; Christ is indeed the Son of God, but he is also simply "God" without further qualification; in fact, Marcion's gospel began with the words; "In the fifteenth year of the Emperor Tiberius God descended in Capharnaum and taught on the Sabbaths". However daring and capricious this manipulation of the Gospel text, it is at least a splendid testimony that, in Christian circles of the first half of the second century the Divinity of Christ was a central dogma. To Marcion however Christ was God Manifest not God Incarnate. His Christology is that of the Docetae (q.v.) rejecting the inspired history of the Infancy, in fact, any childhood of Christ at all; Marcion's Savior is a "Deus ex machina" of which Tertullian mockingly says: "Suddenly a Son, suddenly Sent, suddenly Christ!" Marcion admitted no prophecy of the Coming of Christ whatever; the Jewish prophets foretold a Jewish Messias only, and this Messias had not yet appeared. Marcion used the story of the three angels, who ate, walked, and conversed with Abraham and yet had no real human body, as an illustration of the life of Christ (Adv. Marc., III, ix). Tertullian says (ibid.) that when Apelles and seceders from Marcion began to believe that Christ had a real body indeed, not by birth but rather collected from the elements, Marcion would prefer to accept even a putative birth rather than a real body. Whether this is Tertullian's mockery or a real change in Marcion's sentiments we do not know. To Marcion matter and flesh are not indeed essentially evil, but are contemptible things, a mere production of the Demiurge, and it was inconceivable that God should really have made them His own. Christ's life on earth was a continual contrast to the conduct of the Demiurge. Some of the contrasts are cleverly staged: the Demiurge sent bears to devour children for puerile merriment (Kings)-- Christ bade children come to Him and He fondled and blessed them; the Demiurge in his law declared lepers unclean and banished them -- but Christ touched and healed them. Christ's putative passion and death was the work of the Demiurge, who, in revenge for Christ's abolition of the Jewish law delivered Him up to hell. But even in hell Christ overcame the Demiurge by preaching to the spirits in Limbo, and by His Resurrection He founded the true Kingdom of the Good God. Epiphanius (Haer., xlii, 4) says that Marcionites believed that in Limbo Christ brought salvation to Cain, Core, Dathan and Abiron, Esau, and the Gentiles, but left in damnation all Old Testament saints. This may have been held by some Marcionites in the fourth century, but it was not the teaching of Marcion himself, who had no Antinomian tendencies. Marcion denied the resurrection of the body, "for flesh and blood shall not inherit the Kingdom of God", and denied the second coming of Christ to judge the living and the dead, for the good God, being all goodness, does not punish those who reject Him; He simply leaves them to the Demiurge, who will cast them into everlasting fire.

With regard to discipline, the main point of difference consists in his rejection of marriage, i.e. he baptized only those who were not living in matrimony: virgins, widows, celibates, and eunuchs (Tert., "Adv. Marc.", I, xxix); all others remained catechumens. On the other hand the absence of division between catechumens and baptized persons, in Marcionite worship, shocked orthodox Christians, but it was emphatically defended by Marcion's appeal to Gal., vi, 6. According to Tertullian (Adv. Marc., I, xiv) he used water in baptism, anointed his faithful with oil and gave milk and honey to the catechumens and in so far retained the orthodox practices, although, says Tertullian, all these things are "beggarly elements of the Creator." Marcionites must have been excessive fasters to provoke the ridicule of Tertullian in his Montanist days. Epiphanius says they fasted on Saturday out of a spirit of opposition to the Jewish God, who made the Sabbath a day of rejoicing. This however may have been merely a western custom adopted by them.


It was the fate of Marcionism to drift away almost immediately from its founder's ideas towards mere Gnosticism. Marcion's creator or Jewish god was too inconsistent and illogical a conception, he was inferior to the good God yet he was independent; he was just and yet not good; his writings were true and yet to be discarded; he had created all men and done them no evil, yet they had not to worship and serve him. Marcion's followers sought to be more logical, they postulated three principles: good, just, and wicked, opposing the first two to the last; or one principle only, the just god being a mere creation of the good God. The first opinion was maintained by Syneros and Lucanus or Lucianus. Of the first we know nothing beyond the mention of him in Rhodon; of the second we possess more information, and Epiphanius has devoted a whole chapter to his refutation.. Both Origen and Epiphanius, however, seem to know of Lucanus' sect only by hearsay; it was therefore probably extinct toward the end of the third century. Tertullian (De Resur., Carn., ii) says that he outdid even Marcion in denying the resurrection, not only of the body, but also of the soul, only admitting the resurrection of some tertium quid (pneuma as opposed to psyche?). Tertullian says that he had Lucanus' teaching in view when writing his "De Anima". It is possible that Lucanus taught transmigration of souls; according to Epiphanius some Marcionites of his day maintained it. Though Lucanus' particular sect may soon have died out, the doctrine comprised in the three principles was long maintained by Marcionites. In St. Hippolytus' time (c. 225) it was held by an Assyrian called Prepon, who wrote in defense of it a work called "Bardesanes the Armenian" (Hipp., "Adv. Haer.", VII, xxxi). Adamantius in his "Dialogue" (see below) introduces a probable fictitious Marcionite doctrine of three principles, and Epiphanius evidently puts it forward as the prominent Marcionite doctrine of his day (374). The doctrine of the One Principle only, of which the Jewish god is a creature, was maintained by the notorious Apelles, who, though once a disciple of Marcion himself, became more of a Gnostic than of a Marcionist. He was accompanied by a girl called Philumena, a sort of clairvoyante who dabbled in magic, and who claimed frequent visions of Christ and St. Paul, appearing under the form of a boy. Tertullian calls this Philumena a prostitute, and accuses Apelles of unchastity, but Rhodon, who had known Apelles personally, refers to him as "venerable in behavior and age". Tertullian often attacks him in writings ("De Praeser.," lxvii; "Adv. Marc.," III, g. 11, IV, 17) and even wrote a work against him: "Adversus Apelleiacos", which is unfortunately lost, though once known to St. Hippolytus and St. Augustine. Some fragments of Apelles have been collected by A. Harnack (first in "Texte u. Unters.", VI, 3, 1890, and then ibid., XX, or new ser., V, 3, 1900), who wrote, "De Apelles Gnosi Monarchica" (Leipzig, 1874), though Apelles emphatically repudiated Marcion's two gods and acknowledged "One good God, one Beginning, and one Power beyond all description" (akatanomastos).

This "Holy and Good God above", according to him, took no notice of things below, but made another god who made the world. Nor is this creator-god the only emanation of the Supreme God; there is a fire-angel or fire-god ("Igneus Praeses mali" according to Tertullian, "De Carne", viii) who tampered with the souls of men; there is a Jewish god, a law-god, who presumably wrote the Old Testament, which Apelles held to be a lying production. Possibly, however, the fire-god and the law-god were but manifestations of the creator-god. Apelles wrote an extensive work called Syllogismoi to prove the untrustworthiness of the Old Testament, of which Origen quotes a characteristic fragment (In Gen., II, ii). Apelles' Antidocetism has been referred to above. Of other followers of Marcion the names only are known. The Marcionites differed from the Gnostic Christians in that they thought it unlawful to deny their religion in times of persecution, nobly vying with the Catholics in shedding their blood for the name of Christ. Marcionite martyrs are not infrequently referred to in Eusebius' "Church History" (IV, xv, xlvi; V, xvi, xxi; VII, xii). Their number and influence seem always to have been less in the West than in the East, and in the West they soon died out. Epiphanius, however, testifies that in the East in A.D. 374 they had deceived " a vast number of men" and were found, "not only in Rome and Italy but in Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, Syria, Cyprus and the Thebaid and even in Persia". And Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus in the Province of the Euphrates from 423 to 458, in his letter to Domno, the Patriarch of Antioch, refers with just pride to having converted one thousand Marcionites in his scattered diocese. Not far from Theodoret's diocese, near Damascus, and inscription was found of a Marcionite church, showing that in A.D. 318-319 Marcionites possessed freedom of worship (Le Boss and Waddington, "Inscr. Grec.", Paris, 1870). Constantine (Eusebius, "Vita", III, lxiv) forbade all public and private worship of Marcionism. Th ough the Paulicians are always designated by their adversaries as Manichaeans, and though their adoption of Manichaean principles seems undeniable, yet, according to Petrus Siculus, who lived amongst Paulicians (868-869) in Tibrike and is therefore a trustworthy witness, their founder, Constantine the Armenian, on receiving Marcion's Gospel and Apostolicon from a deacon in Syria, handed it to his followers, who at first at least kept it as their Bible and repudiated all writings of Mani. The refutation of Marcionism by the Armenian Archpriest Eznic in the fifth century shows the Marcionites to have been still numerous in Armenia at that time (Eznik, "Refutation of the Sects", IV, Ger. tr., J. M. Schmid, Vienna, 1900). Ermoni maintains that Eznik's description of Marcion's doctrine still represents the ancient form thereof, but this is not acknowledged by other scholars ("Marcion dans la littérat. Arménienne" in "Revue de l'Or. Chrét.", I)


Marcion's name appears prominently in the discussion of two important questions, that of the Apostle's Creed, and that of the Canon of the New Testament. It is maintained by recent scholars that the Apostle's Creed was drawn up in the Roman Church in opposition to Marcionism (cf. F. Kattenbusch, "Das Apost. Symbol.", Leipzig, 1900; A.C. McGiffert, "The Apostle's Creed", New York, 1902). Passing over this point, Marcion's attitude toward the New Testament must be further explained. His cardinal doctrine was the opposition of the Old Testament to the New, and this doctrine he had amply illustrated in his great (lost) work, Antithesis, or "Contrasts". In order, however, to make the contrast perfect he had to omit much of the New Testament writings and to manipulate the rest. He took one Gospel out of the four, and accepted only ten Epistles of St. Paul. Marcion's Gospel was based on our canonical St. Luke with omission of the first two chapters. The text has been as far as possible restored by Th. Zahn, "Geschichte d. N.T. Kanons", II, 456-494, from all available sources especially Epiphanius, who made a collection of 78 passages. Marcion's changes mainly consist in omissions where he modifies the text. The modifications are slight thus: "I give Thee thanks, Father, God of heaven and earth," is changed to "I give thanks, Father, Lord of heaven". "O foolish and hard of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken", is changed into, "O foolish and hard of heart to believe in all that I have told you." Sometimes slight additions are made: "We found this one subverting our nation" (the accusation of the Jews before Pilate) receives the addition: "and destroying the law and the prophets." A similar process was followed with the Epistle of St. Paul. By the omission of a single preposition Marcion had coined a text in favor of his doctrine out of Ephes., iii, 10: "the mystery which from the beginning of the world has been hidden from the God who created all things" (omitting en before theo). However cleverly the changes were made, Catholics continued to press Marcion even with the texts which he retained in his New Testament, hence the continual need of further modifications. The Epistles of St. Paul which he received were, first of all, Galatians, which he considered the charter of Marcionism, then Corinthians I and II, Romans I and II, Thessalonians, Ephesians (which, however, he knew under the name of Laodicians), Collosians, Phillipians and Philemon. The Pastoral epistles, the Catholic Epistles, Hebrews, and the Apocalypse, as well as Acts, were excluded. Recently De Bruyne ("Revue Benedictine", 1907, 1-16) has made out a good case for the supposition that the short prefaces to the Pauline epistles, which were once attributed to Pelagius and others, are taken out of as Marcionite Bible and augmented with Catholic headings for the missing epistles.


(1) St. Justin the Martyr (150) refers to the Marcionites in his first Apology; he also wrote a special treatise against them. This, however, mentioned by Ireneaus as Syntagma pros Markiona, is lost. Irenaeus (Haer., IV, vi, 2) quotes short passages of Justin containing the sentence: "I would not have believed the Lord Himself if He had announced any other than the Creator"; also, V, 26, 2.

(2) Irenaeus (c. 176) intended to write a special work in refutation of Marcion, but never carried out his purpose (Haer., I, 27, 4; III, 12, 13); he refers to Marcion, however, again and again in his great work against Heresies especially III, 4, 2; III, 27, 2; IV, 38, 2 sq.; III, 11, 7, 25, 3.

(3) Rhodon (180-192) wrote a treatise against Marcion, dedicated to Callistion. It is no longer extant, but is referred to by Eusebius (H. E. V, 13) who gives some extracts.

(4) Tertullian, the main source of our information, wrote his "Adversus Marcionem" (five books) in 207, and makes reference to Marcion in several of his works: "De Praescriptione", "De Carne Christi", "De Resurrectione Carnis", and "De Anima". His work against Apelles is lost.

(5) Pseudo-Tertullian, (possibly Commodian. See H. Waitz, "Ps. Tert. Gedicht ad M.", Darmstadt, 1901) wrote a lengthy poem against Marcion in doggerel hexameters, which is now valuable. Pseudo-Tertullian's (possibly Victorinus of Pettau) short treatise against all heresies (c. A.D. 240) is also extant.

(6) Adamantius -- whether this is a real personage or only a nom de plume is uncertain. His dialogue "De Recta in Deum Fide", has often been ascribed to Origen, but it is beyond doubt that he is not the author. The work was probably composed about A.D. 300. It was originally written in Greek and translated by Rufinus. It is a refutation of Marcionism and Valentinianism. The first half is directed against Marcionism, which is defended by Megethius (who maintains three principles) and Marcus (who defends two). (Berlin ed. of the Fathers by Sande Bakhuysen, Leipzig, 1901).

(7) St. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 220) speaks of Marcion in his "Refutation of All Heresies", book VII, ch. 17-26; and X, 15)

(8) St. Epiphanius wrote his work against heresies in 374, and is the second main source of information in his Ch. xlii-xliv). He is invaluable for the reconstruction of Marcion's Bible text, as he gives 78 and 40 passages from Marcion's New Testament where it differs form ours and adds a short refutation in each instance.

(9) St. Ephraem (373) maintains in many of his writings a polemic against Marcion, as in his "Commentary on the Diatesseron" (J.R. Harris, "Fragments of Com. on Diates.", London, 1895) and in his "Metrical Sermons" (Roman ed., Vol II, 437-560, and Overbeek's Ephraem etc., Opera Selecta).

(10) Eznik, an Armenian Archpriest, or possibly Bishop of Bagrawand (478) wrote a "Refutation of the Sects", of which Book IV is a refutation of Marcion. Translated into German, J.M. Schmid, Vienna, 1900.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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Marcionism is an type of Christianity which started around 144[1]. It was started by Marcion of Sinope in Rome. Marcionn believed in Jesus Christ, but did not accept the bible or Yahweh. He was a dualist, and believed that the god who wrote the Old Testament was different than the god who wrote the New Testament.

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  1. (According to Tertullian in Adversus Marcionnem, it started 115 years and 6 months after the Crucifixion of Jesus)

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