Freethought Archives > Walter R. Cassels > Supernatural Religion 

PART TWO

CHAPTER 7.

MARCION

WE must now turn to the great Heresiarch of the second century, Marcion, and consider the evidence regarding our Gospels which may be derived from what we know of him. The importance, and at the same time the difficulty, of arriving at a just conclusion from the materials within our reach have rendered Marcion's Gospel the object of very elaborate criticism, and the discussion of its actual character has continued with fluctuating results for nearly a century.

Marcion was born at Sinope, in Pontus, of which place his father was Bishop, [344:1] and although it is said that he aspired to the first place in the Church of Rome, [344:2] the Presbyters refused him communion on account of his peculiar views of Christianity. We shall presently more fully refer to his opinions, but here it will be sufficient to say that he objected to what he considered the debasement of true Christianity by Jewish elements, and he upheld the teaching of Paul alone, in opposition to that of all the other Apostles, whom he accused of mixing up matters of the law with the Gospel of Christ, and falsifying Christianity, [344:3] as Paul himself had protested. [344:4] He came to Rome about AD 139-142, and continued teaching for some twenty years. His high personal character and elevated views produced a powerful effect upon his time, and, although during his own lifetime and long afterwards vehemently and with every opprobrious epithet denounced by ecclesiastical writers, his opinions were so widely adopted that, in the time of Epiphanius, his followers were to be found throughout the whole world. [344:5]

Marcion is said to have recognised as his sources of Christian doctrine, besides tradition, a single Gospel and ten Epistles of Paul, which in his collection stood in the following order: Epistle to Galatians, Corinthians (2), Romans, Thessalonians (2), Ephesians (which he had with the superscription "to the Laodiceans"), [345:1] Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. [345:2] None of the other books which now form part of the canonical New Testament were either mentioned or recognised by Marcion. This is the oldest collection of Apostolic writings of which there is any trace, but there was at that time no other "Holy Scripture" than the Old Testament, and no New Testament Canon had yet been imagined. Marcion neither claimed canonical authority for these writings, nor did he associate with them any idea of divine inspiration. We have already seen the animosity expressed by contemporaries of Marcion against the Apostle Paul.

Before proceeding to a closer examination of Marcion's Gospel and the general evidence bearing upon it, it may be well here briefly to refer to the system of the Heresiarch, whose high personal character exerted so powerful an influence upon his own time, and whose views continued to prevail widely for a couple of centuries after his death. It was the misfortune of Marcion to live in an age when Christianity had passed out of the pure morality of its infancy, when, untroubled by complicated questions of dogma, simple faith and pious enthusiasm had been the one great bond of Christian brotherhood, into a phase of ecclesiastical development in which religion was fast degenerating into theology, and complicated doctrines were rapidly assuming that rampant attitude which led to so much bitterness, persecution, and schism. In later times Marcion might have been honoured as a reformer; in his own he was denounced as a heretic. Austere and ascetic in his opinions, he aimed at superhuman purity; and although his clerical adversaries might scoff at his impracticable doctrines regarding marriage and the subjugation of the flesh, they have had their parallels amongst those whom the Church has since most delighted to honour, and at least the whole tendency of his system was markedly towards the side of virtue. [345:3] It would, of course, be foreign to our purpose to enter upon any detailed statement of its principles, and we must confine ourselves to such particulars only as are necessary to an understanding of the question before us.

As we have already frequently had occasion to mention, there were two broad parties in the primitive Church, and the very existence of Christianity was in one sense endangered by the national exclusiveness of the people amongst whom it originated. The one party considered Christianity a mere continuation of the Law, and dwarfed it into an Israelitish institution, a narrow sect of Judaism; the other represented the glad tidings as the introduction of a new system applicable to all, and supplanting the Mosaic dispensation of the Law by a universal dispensation of grace. These two parties were popularly represented in the early Church by the two Apostles Peter and Paul, and their antagonism is faintly revealed in the Epistle to the Galatians. Marcion, a gentile Christian, appreciating the true character of the new religion and its elevated spirituality, and profoundly impressed by the comparatively degraded and anthropomorphic features of Judaism, drew a very sharp line of demarcation between them, and represented Christianity as an entirely new and separate system, abrogating the old and having absolutely no connection with it. Jesus was not to him the Messiah of the Jews, the son of David come permanently to establish the Law and the Prophets, but a divine being sent to reveal to man a wholly new spiritual religion, and a hitherto unknown God of goodness and grace. The Creator (Dêmiourgos), the God of the Old Testament, was different from the God of Grace who had sent Jesus to reveal the Truth, to bring reconciliation and salvation to all, and to abrogate the Jewish God of the World and of the Law, who was opposed to the God and Father of Jesus Christ as Matter is to Spirit, impurity to purity. Christianity was in distinct antagonism to Judaism; the spiritual God of heaven, whose goodness and love were for the Universe, to the God of the World, whose chosen and peculiar people were the Jews; the Gospel of Grace to the dispensation of the Old Testament. Christianity, therefore, must be kept pure from the Judaistic elements humanly thrust into it, which were so essentially opposed to its whole spirit.

Marcion wrote a work called "Antitheses" (Antitheseis), in which he contrasted the old system with the new, the God of the one with the God of the other, the Law with the Gospel, and in this he maintained opinions which anticipated many held in our own time. Tertullian attacks this work in the first three books of his treatise against Marcion, and he enters upon the discussion of its details with true theological vigour: "Now, then, ye hounds, yelping at the God of truth, whom the Apostle casts out, [346:1] to all your questions! These are the bones of contention which ye gnaw!" [346:2] The poverty of the "Great African's" arguments keeps pace with his abuse. Marcion objected: If the God of the Old Testament be good, prescient of the future, and able to avert evil, why did he allow man, made in his own image, to be deceived by the devil, and to fall from obedience of the Law into sin and death?  [347:1] How came the devil, the origin of lying and deceit, to be made at all? [347:2] After the Fall, God became a judge both severe and cruel: woman is at once condemned to bring forth in sorrow and to serve her husband, changed from a help into a slave; the earth is cursed which before was blessed, and man is doomed to labour and to death. [347:3] The law was one of retaliation and not of justice -- lex talionis -- eye for eye, tooth for tooth, stripe for stripe. [347:4] And it was not consistent, for, in contravention of the Decalogue, God is made to instigate the Israelites to spoil the Egyptians, and fraudulently rob them of their gold and silver; [347:5] to incite them to work on the Sabbath by ordering them to carry the ark for eight days round Jericho; [347:6] to break the second commandment by making and setting up the brazen serpent and the golden cherubim. [347:7] Then God is inconstant, electing men, as Saul and Solomon, whom he subsequently rejects; [347:8] repenting that he had Set up Saul, and that he had doomed the Ninevites, [347:9] and so on. God calls out: Adam, where art thou? inquires whether he had eaten the forbidden fruit, asks of Cain where his brother was, as if he had not yet heard the blood of Abel crying from the ground, and did not already know all these things.  [347:10] Anticipating the results of modern criticism, Marcion denies the applicability to Jesus of the so-called Messianic prophecies. The Emmanuel of Isaiah (7:14, cf. 8:4) is not Christ; [347:11] the "Virgin," his mother, is simply a "young woman" according to Jewish phraseology; [347:12] and the sufferings of the Servant of God (Isaiah 52:13, 53:9) are not predictions of the death of Jesus. [347:13] There is a complete severance between the Law and the Gospel; and the God of the latter is the antithesis of the God of the former. [347:14] "The one was perfect, pure, beneficent, passionless; the other, though not unjust by nature, infected by matter - subject to all the passions of man -- cruel, changeable; the New Testament, especially as remodelled by Marcion, [347:15] was holy, wise, amiable; the Old Testament, the Law, barbarous, inhuman, contradictory, and detestable." [348:1] Marcion ardently maintained the doctrine of the impurity of matter, and he carried it to its logical conclusion, both in speculation and practice. He, therefore, asserting the incredibility of an incarnate God, denied the corporeal reality of the flesh of Christ. His body was a mere semblance and not of human substance; he was not born of a human mother; and the divine nature was not degraded by contact with the flesh.  [348:2] Marcion finds in Paul the purest promulgator of the truth as he understands it, and, emboldened by the Epistle to the Galatians, in which that Apostle rebukes even Apostles for "not walking uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel," he accuses the other Apostles of having depraved the pure form of the Gospel doctrines delivered to them by Jesus, [348:3] "mixing up matters of the Law with the words of the Saviour." [348:4]

Tertullian reproaches Marcion with having written the work in which he details the contrasts between Judaism and Christianity, of which we have given the briefest sketch, as an introduction and encouragement to belief in his Gospel, which he ironically calls "the Gospel according to the Antitheses"; [348:5] and the charge which the Fathers bring against Marcion is that he laid violent hands on the canonical Gospel of Luke, and manipulated it to suit his own views. "For certainly the whole object at which he laboured in drawing up the 'Antitheses,'" says Tertullian, "amounts to this: that he may prove a disagreement between the Old and New Testament, so that his own Christ may be separated from the Creator, as of another God, as alien from the Law and the Prophets. For this purpose it is certain that he has erased whatever was contrary to his own opinion and in harmony with the Creator, as if interpolated by his partisans, but has retained everything consistent with his own opinion." [348:6] The whole hypothesis that Marcion's Gospel is a mutilated version of our third Synoptic, in fact, rests upon this accusation.

The principal interest, in connection with the collection of Marcion, centres in his single Gospel, the nature, origin, and identity of which have long been actively and minutely discussed by learned men of all shades of opinion with very varying results. The work itself is unfortunately no longer extant, and our only knowledge of it is derived from the bitter and very inaccurate opponents of Marcion. It seems to have borne much the same analogy to our third canonical Gospel as existed between the Gospel according to the Hebrews and our first Synoptic. The Fathers, whose uncritical and, in such matters, prejudiced character led them to denounce every variation from their actual texts as a mere falsification, and without argument to assume the exclusive authenticity and originality of our Gospels, which towards the beginning of the third century had acquired wide circulation in the Church, vehemently stigmatised Marcion as an audacious adulterator of the Gospel, and affirmed his evangelical work to be merely a mutilated and falsified version of the "Gospel according to Luke." [349:1]

This view continued to prevail, almost without question or examination, till towards the end of the eighteenth century, when Biblical criticism began to exhibit the earnestness and activity which have ever since characterised it. Semler first abandoned the prevalent tradition, and, after analysing the evidence, he concluded that Marcion's Gospel and Luke's were different versions of an earlier work, [349:2] and that the so-called heretical Gospel was one of the numerous Gospels from amongst which the Canonical had been selected by the Church. [349:3] Griesbach about the same time also rejected the ruling opinion, and denied the close relationship usually asserted to exist between the two Gospels. [349:4] Löffler [349:5] and Carrodi [349:6] strongly supported Semler's conclusion, that Marcion was no mere falsifier of Luke's Gospel, and J E C Schmidt [349:7] went still further, and asserted that Marcion's Gospel was the genuine Luke, and our actual Gospel a later version of it with alterations and additions. Eichhorn, [349:8] after a fuller and more exhaustive examination, adopted similar views; he repudiated the statements of Tertullian regarding Marcion's Gospel as utterly untrustworthy, asserting that he had not that work itself before him at all, and he maintained that Marcion's Gospel was the more original text and one of the sources of Luke. [349:9] Bolten, Bertholdt, [349:10] Schleiermacher, [350:1] and D. Schulz [350:2] likewise maintained that Marcion's Gospel was by no means a mutilated version of Luke, but, on the contrary, an independent original Gospel. A similar conclusion was arrived at by Gieseler; [350:3] but later, after Hahn's criticism, he abandoned it, and adopted the opinion that Marcion's Gospel was constructed out of Luke. [350:4]

On the other hand, the traditional view was maintained by Storr, [350:5] Arneth, [350:6] Hug, [350:7] Neander, [350:8] and Gratz, [350:9] although with little originality of investigation or argument; and Paulus [350:10] sought to reconcile both views by admitting that Marcion had before him the Gospel of Luke, but denying that he mutilated it, arguing that Tertullian did not base his arguments on the actual Gospel of Marcion, but upon his work, the Antithesis. Hahn, [350:11] however, undertook a more exhaustive examination of the problem, attempting to reconstruct the text of Marcion's Gospel [350:12] from the statements of Tertullian and Epiphanius, and he came to the conclusion that the work was a mere version, with omissions and alterations made by the Heresiarch, in the interest of his system, of the third canonical Gospel. Olshausen [350:13] arrived at the same result, and, with more or less of modification but no detailed argument, similar opinions were expressed by Credner, [350:14] De Wette, [350:15] and others.

Not satisfied, however, with the method and results of Hahn and Olshausen, whose examination, although more minute than any previously undertaken, still left much to be desired, Ritschl [350:16] made a further thorough investigation of the character of Marcion's Gospel, and decided that it was in no case a mutilated version of Luke, but, on the contrary, an original and independent work, from which the canonical Gospel was produced by the introduction of anti-Marcionitish passages and readings. Baur [351:1] strongly enunciated similar views, and maintained that the whole error lay in the mistake of the Fathers, who had, with characteristic assumption, asserted the earlier and shorter Gospel of Marcion to be an abbreviation of the later canonical Gospel, instead of recognising the latter as a mere extension of the former. Schwegler [351:2] had already, in a remarkable criticism of Marcion's Gospel, declared it to be an independent and original work, and in no sense a mutilated Luke, but, on the contrary, probably the source of that Gospel. Köstlin, [351:3] while stating that the theory that Marcion's Gospel was an earlier work and the basis of that ascribed to Luke was not very probable, affirmed that much of the Marcionitish text was more original than the canonical, and that both Gospels must be considered versions of the same original, although Luke's was the later and more corrupt.

These results, however, did not satisfy Volkmar, [351:4] who entered afresh upon a searching examination of the whole subject, and concluded that whilst, on the one hand, the Gospel of Marcion was not a mere falsified and mutilated form of the canonical Gospel, neither was it, on the other, an earlier work, and still less the original Gospel of Luke, but merely a Gnostic compilation from what, so far as we are concerned, may be called the oldest codex of Luke's Gospel, which itself is nothing more than a similar Pauline edition of the original Gospel. Volkmar's analysis, together with the arguments of Hilgenfeld, succeeded in convincing Ritschl, [351:5] who withdrew from his previous opinions, and, with those critics, merely maintained some of Marcion's readings to be more original than those of Luke, [351:6] and generally defended Marcion from the aspersions of the Fathers on the ground that his procedure with regard to Luke's Gospel was precisely that of the canonical Evangelists to each other; [351:7] Luke himself being clearly dependent both on Mark and Matthew. [351:8] Baur was likewise induced by Volkmar's and Hilgenfeld's arguments to modify his views; [351:9] but, although for the first time he admitted that Marcion had altered the original of his Gospel frequently for dogmatic reasons, he still maintained that there was an older form of the Gospel without the earlier chapters, from which both Marcion and Luke directly constructed their Gospels -- both of them stood in the same line in regard to the original; both altered it; the one abbreviated, the other extended it. [352:1] Encouraged by this success, but not yet satisfied, Volkmar immediately undertook a further and more exhaustive examination of the text of Marcion in the hope of finally settling the discussion; and he again, but with greater emphasis, confirmed his previous results. [352:2] In the meantime, Hilgenfeld [352:3] had seriously attacked the problem, and, like Hahn and Volkmar, had sought to reconstruct the text of Marcion, and, whilst admitting many more original and genuine readings in the text of Marcion, he had also decided that his Gospel was dependent on Luke, although he further concluded that the text of Luke had subsequently gone through another, though slight, manipulation before it assumed its present form. These conclusions he again fully confirmed after a renewed investigation of the subject. [352:4]

This brief sketch of the controversy which has so long occupied the attention of critics will, at least, show the uncertainty of the data upon which any decision is to be based. We have not attempted to give more than the barest outlines, but it will appear as we go on that most of those who decide against the general independence of Marcion's Gospel at the same time admit his partial originality and the superiority of some of his readings over those of the third Synoptic, and justify his treatment of Luke as a procedure common to the Evangelists, and warranted not only by their example, but by the fact that no Gospels had in his time emerged from the position of private documents in limited circulation.

Marcion's Gospel not being any longer extant, it is important to establish clearly the nature of our knowledge regarding it and the exact value of the data from which various attempts have been made to reconstruct the text. It is manifest that the evidential force of any deductions from a reconstructed text is almost wholly dependent on the accuracy and sufficiency of the materials from which that text is derived.

The principal sources of our information regarding Marcion's Gospel are the works of his most bitter denouncers, Tertullian and Epiphanius, who, it must be borne in mind, wrote long after his time -- the work of Tertullian against Marcion having been composed about AD 208, [352:5] and that of Epiphanius a century later. We may likewise merely mention here the "Dialogus de recta in deum fide," commonly attributed to Origen, although it cannot have been composed earlier than the middle of the fourth century. The first three sections are directed against the Marcionites, but only deal with the late forms of their doctrines. As Volkmar admits that the author clearly had only a general acquaintance with the Antitheses and principal proof passages of the Marcionites, but, although he certainly possessed the Epistles, had not the Gospel of Marcion itself, [353:1] we need not now more particularly consider it.

We are, therefore, dependent upon the "dogmatic and partly blind and unjust adversaries" [353:2] of Marcion for our only knowledge of the text they stigmatise; and, when the character of polemical discussion in the early centuries of our era is considered, it is certain that great caution must be exercised, and not too much weight attached to the statement of opponents who regarded a heretic with abhorrence and attacked him with an acrimony which carried them far beyond the limits of fairness and truth. Their religious controversy bristles with misstatements, and is turbid with pious abuse. Tertullian was a master of this style, and the vehement vituperation with which he opens [353:3] and often interlards his work against "the impious and sacrilegious Marcion" offers anything but a guarantee of fair and legitimate criticism. Epiphanius was, if possible, still more passionate and exaggerated in his representations against him. Undue importance must not, therefore, be attributed to their statements. [353:4]

Not only should there be caution exercised in receiving the representations of one side in a religious discussion, but more particularly is such caution necessary in the case of Tertullian, whose trustworthiness is very far from being above suspicion, and whose inaccuracy is often apparent. "Son christianisme," says Reuss, "est ardent, sincere, profondément ancré dans son âme. L'on voit qu'il en vit. Mais ce christianisme est âpre, insolent, brutal, ferrailleur. Il est sans onction et sans charité, quelquefois même sans loyauté, dès qu'il se trouve en face d'une opposition quelconque. C'est un soldat qui ne sait que se battre et qui oublie, tout en se battant, qu'il faut aussi respecter son ennemi. Dialecticien subtil et rusé, il excelle à ridiculiser ses adversaires. L'injure, le sarcasme, un langage qui rappelle parfois en vérité le genre de Rabelais, une effronterie d'affirmation dans les moments de faiblesse qui frise et atteint même la mauvaise foi, voilà ses armes. Je sais ce qu'il faut en cela mettre sur le compte de l'époque … Si, au second siècle, tous les partis, sauf quelques gnostiques, sont intolérants, Tertullian l'est plus que tout le monde." [354:1]

The charge of mutilating and interpolating the Gospel of Luke is first brought against Marcion by Irenaeus, [354:2] and it is repeated with still greater vehemence and fulness by Tertullian [354:3] and Epiphanius; [354:4] but the mere assertion by Fathers at the end of the second and in the third centuries, that a Gospel different from their own was one of the canonical Gospels falsified and mutilated, can have no weight in itself in the inquiry as to the real nature of that work. Their arbitrary assumption of exclusive originality and priority for the four Gospels of the Church led them, without any attempt at argument, to treat every other evangelical work as an offshoot or falsification of these. The arguments by which Tertullian endeavours to establish that the Gospels of Luke and the other canonical Evangelists were more ancient than that of Marcion  [354:5] show that he had no idea of historical or critical evidence. We are, however, driven back upon such actual data regarding the text and contents of Marcion's Gospel as are given by the Fathers, as the only basis, in the absence of the Gospel itself, upon which any hypothesis as to its real character can be built. The question therefore is: Are these data sufficiently ample and trustworthy for a decisive judgment from internal evidence -- if, indeed, internal evidence in such a case can be decisive at all.

All that we know, then, of Marcion's Gospel is simply what Tertullian and Epiphanius have stated with regard to it. It is undeniable and, indeed, is universally admitted, that their object in dealing with it at all was entirely dogmatic, and not in the least degree critical. The spirit of that age was so essentially uncritical that not even the canonical text could waken it into activity. Tertullian very clearly states what his object was in attacking Marcion's Gospel. After asserting that the whole aim of the Heresiarch was to prove a disagreement between the Old Testament and the New, and that, for this purpose, he had erased from the Gospel all that was contrary to his opinion, and retained all that he had considered favourable, Tertullian proceeds to examine the passages retained, [355:1] with the view of proving that the heretic has shown the same "blindness of heresy," both in that which he has erased and in that which he has retained, inasmuch as the passages which Marcion has allowed to remain are as opposed to his system as those which he has omitted. He conducts the controversy in a free and discursive manner, and, whilst he appears to go through Marcion's Gospel with some regularity, it will be apparent, as we proceed, that mere conjecture has to play a large part in any attempt to reconstruct, from his data, the actual text of Marcion. Epiphanius explains his aim with equal clearness. He had made a number of extracts from the so-called Gospel of Marcion, which seemed to him to refute the heretic, and, after giving a detailed and numbered list of these passages, which he calls Scholia, he takes them consecutively, and to each adds his "Refutation." His intention is to show how wickedly and disgracefully Marcion has mutilated and falsified the Gospel, and how fruitlessly he has done so, inasmuch as he has stupidly, or by oversight, allowed much to remain in his Gospel by which he may be completely refuted. [355:2]

As it is impossible within our limits fully to illustrate the procedure of the Fathers with regard to Marcion's Gospel, and the nature and value of the materials they supply, we shall, as far as possible, quote the declarations of critics, and more especially of Volkmar and Hilgenfeld, who, in the true and enlightened spirit of criticism, impartially state the character of the data available for the understanding of the text. As these two critics have, by their able and learned investigations, done more than any others to educe and render possible a decision of the problem, their own estimate of the materials upon which a judgment has to be formed is of double value.

With regard to Tertullian, Volkmar explains that his desire is totally to annihilate the most dangerous heretic of his time -- first (Books 1 to 3), to overthrow Marcion's system in general as expounded in his Antithesis, and then (Book 4) to show that even the Gospel of Marcion only contains Catholic doctrine (he concludes, Christus Jesus in Evangelio tuo meus est, c. 43); and therefore he examines the Gospel only so far as may serve to establish his own view and refute that of Marcion. "To show," Volkmar continues, "wherein this Gospel was falsified or mutilated i.e., varied from his own -- on the contrary, is in no way his design, for he perceives that Marcion could retort the reproach of interpolation, and in his time proof from internal grounds was hardly possible, so that only exceptionally, where a variation seems to him remarkable, does he specially mention it." [356:1] On the other hand, Volkmar remarks that Tertullian's Latin rendering of the text of Marcion which lay before him - which, although certainly free and having chiefly the substance in view, is still in weightier passages verbally, accurate -- directly indicates important variations in that text. He goes on to argue that the silence of Tertullian may be weighty testimony for the fact that passages which exist in Luke, but which he does not mention, were missing in Marcion's Gospel, though he does so with considerable reservation. "But his silence alone," he says, "can only under certain conditions represent with diplomatic certainty an omission in Marcion. It is indeed probable that he would not lightly have passed over a passage in the Gospel of Marcion which might in any way be contradictory to its system, if one altogether similar had not preceded it, all the more as he frequently drags in by force such proof passages from Marcion's text, and often plainly, but with a certain sophistry, tries to refute his adversary out of the words of his own Gospel. But it remains always possible that in his eagerness he has overlooked much; and, besides, he believes that by his replies to particular passages he has already sufficiently dealt with many others of a similar kind; indeed, avowedly, he will not willingly repeat himself. A certain conclusion, therefore, can only be deduced from the silence of Tertullian when special circumstances enter." [356:2] Volkmar, however, deduces with certainty from the statements of Tertullian that, whilst he wrote, he had not before him the Gospel of Luke, but intentionally laid it aside, and merely referred to the Marcionitish text, and further that, like all the Fathers of the third century, he preferred the Gospel. according to Matthew to the other Synoptics, and was well acquainted with it alone, so that in speaking of the Gospel generally he only has in his memory the sense, and the sense alone, of Luke except in so far as it agrees, or seems to agree, with Matthew. [356:3]

With regard to the manner in which Tertullian performed the work he had undertaken, Hilgenfeld remarks: "As Tertullian, in going through the Marcionitish Gospel, has only the object of refutation in view, he very rarely states explicitly what is missing from it; and as, on the one hand, we can only venture to conclude from the silence of Tertullian that a passage is wanting, when it is altogether inexplicable that he should not have made use of it for the purpose of refutation; so, on the other, we must also know how Marcion used and interpreted the Gospel, and should never lose sight of Tertullian's refutation and defence." [357:1]

Hahn substantially expresses the same opinions. He says: "Inasmuch as Tertullian goes through the Marcionitish text with the view of refuting the heretic out of that which he accepts, and not of critically pointing out all variations, falsifications, and passages rejected, he frequently quotes the falsified or altered Marcionitish text without expressly mentioning the variations [357:2] … Yet he cannot refrain -- although this was not his object -- occasionally, from noticing amongst other things any falsifications and omissions which, when he perhaps examined the text of Luke or had a lively recollection of it, struck and too grievously offended him." [357:3]

Volkmar's opinion of the procedure of Epiphanius is still more unfavourable. Contrasting it with that of Tertullian, he characterises it as "more superficial," and he considers that its only merit is its presenting an independent view of Marcion's Gospel. Further than this, however, he says "How far we can build upon his statements, whether as regards their completeness or their trustworthiness, is not yet made altogether clear." [357:4] Volkmar goes on to show how thoroughly Epiphanius intended to do his work, and yet that, although from what he himself leads us to expect, we might hope to find a complete statement of Marcion's sins, the Father himself disappoints such an expectation by his own admission of incompleteness. He complains generally of his free and misleading method of quotation, such, for instance, as his alteration of the text without explanation; alteration of the same passage on different occasions in more than one way; abbreviations, and omissions of parts of quotations; the sudden breaking off of passages just commenced with the indefinite kai ta hexês or kai to loipon, without any indication how much this may include. [357:5]

Volkmar, indeed, explains that Epiphanius is only thoroughly trustworthy where, and so far as, he wishes to state in his Scholia an omission or variation in Marcion's text from his own canonical Gospel, in which case he minutely registers the smallest point; but this is to be clearly distinguished from any charge of falsification brought against Marcion in his Refutations; for only while drawing up his Scholia had he the Marcionitish Gospel before him and compared it with Luke; but in the case of the Refutations, on the contrary, which he wrote later, he did not again compare the Gospel of Luke. "It is, however, altogether different," continues Volkmar, "as regards the statements of Epiphanius concerning the part of the Gospel of Luke which is preserved in Marcion. Whilst he desires to be strictly literal in the account of the variations, and also with two exceptions is so, he so generally adheres only to the purport of the passages retained by Marcion that altogether literal quotations are quite exceptional; throughout, however, where passages of greater extent are referred to, these are not merely abbreviated, but also are quoted very freely, and nowhere can we reckon that the passage in Marcion ran verbally as Epiphanius quotes it." [358:1] And to this we may add a remark made further on: "We cannot in general rely upon the accuracy of his statements in regard to that which Marcion had in common with Luke." [358:2] On the other hand, Volkmar had previously said: "Absolute completeness in regard to that which Marcion's Gospel did not contain is not to be reckoned upon in his Scholia. He has certainly not intended to pass over anything, but in the eagerness which so easily renders men superficial and blind much has escaped him." [358:3]

Hahn bears similar testimony to the incompleteness of Epiphanius. "It was not his purpose," he says, "fully to notice all falsifications, variations, and omissions, although he does mark most of them, but merely to extract from the Gospel of Marcion, as well as from his collection of Epistles, what seemed to him well suited for refutation." [358:4] But he immediately adds: "When he quotes the passage from Marcion's text, however, in which such falsifications occur, he generally -- but not always -- notes them more or less precisely, and he had himself laid it down as a subsidiary object of his work to pay attention to such falsifications." [358:5] A little further on he says: "In the quotations of the remaining passages which Epiphanius did not find different from the Gospel of Luke, and where he, therefore, says nothing of falsification or omission, he is often very free, neither adhering strictly to the particular words, nor to their arrangement; but his favourite practice is to give their substance and sense for the purpose of refuting his opponent. He presupposes the words as known from the Gospel of Luke." [358:6]

It must be stated, however, that both Volkmar [358:7] and Hilgenfeld [358:8] consider that the representations of Tertullian and Epiphanius supplement each other, and enable the contents of Marcion's Gospel to be ascertained with tolerable certainty. Yet a few pages earlier Volkmar had pointed out that "The ground for a certain fixture of the text of the Marcionitish Gospel seems completely taken away by the fact that Tertullian and Epiphanius, in their statements regarding its state, not merely repeatedly seem to, but in part actually do, directly contradict each other." [359:1] Hahn endeavours to explain some of these contradictions by imagining that later Marcionites had altered the text of their Gospel, and that Epiphanius had the one form and Tertullian another; [359:2] but such a doubt only renders the whole of the statements regarding the work more uncertain and insecure. That it is not without some reason, however, appears from the charge which Tertullian brings against the disciples of Marcion: "For they daily alter it (their Gospel) as they are daily refuted by us." [359:3] In fact, we have no assurance whatever that the work upon which Tertullian and Epiphanius base their charge against Marcion of falsification and mutilation of Luke was Marcion's original Gospel, and we certainly have no historical evidence on the point.

The question even arises whether Tertullian and Epiphanius had Marcion's Gospel in any shape before them when they wrote, or merely his work the Antitheses. In commencing his onslaught on Marcion's Gospel, Tertullian says: "Marcion seems (videtur) to have selected Luke to mutilate it." [359:4] This is the first serious introduction of his "mutilation hypothesis," which he thenceforward presses with so much assurance; but the expression is very uncertain for so decided a controversialist, if he had been able to speak more positively. We have seen that it is admitted that Epiphanius wrote without again comparing the Gospel of Marcion with Luke, and it is also conceded that Tertullian, at least, had not the canonical Gospel, but in professing to quote Luke evidently does so from memory, and approximates his text to Matthew, with which Gospel, like most of the Fathers, he was better acquainted. This may be illustrated by the fact that both Tertullian and Epiphanius reproach Marcion with erasing passages from the Gospel of Luke which never were in Luke at all. In one place Tertullian says: "Marcion, you must also remove this from the Gospel: "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,' [359:5] and 'It is not meet to take the children's bread and give it to dogs,' [359:6] in order, be it known, that Christ may not seem to be an Israelite. [360:1] The "Great African" thus taunts his opponent, evidently under the impression that the two passages were in Luke, immediately after he had accused Marcion of having actually expunged from that Gospel, "as an interpolation,"  [360:2] the saying that Christ had not come to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them, [360:3] which likewise never formed part of it. He repeats a similar charge on several other occasions. [360:4] Epiphanius commits the same mistake of reproaching Marcion with omitting from Luke what is only found in Matthew. [360:5] We have, in fact, no certain guarantee of the accuracy or trustworthiness of their statements.

We have said enough, we trust, to show that the sources for the reconstruction of a text of Marcion's Gospel are most unsatisfactory, and no one who attentively studies the analysis of Hahn, Ritschl, Volkmar, Hilgenfeld, and others, who have examined and systematised the data of the Fathers, can fail to be struck by the uncertainty which prevails throughout, the almost continuous vagueness and consequent opening, nay, necessity, for conjecture, and the absence of really sure indications. The Fathers had no intention of showing what Marcion's text actually was, and, their object being solely dogmatic and not critical, their statements are very insufficient for the purpose. The materials have had to be ingeniously collected and sifted from polemical writings whose authors, so far from professing to furnish them, were only bent upon seeking in Marcion's Gospel such points as could legitimately, or by sophistical skill, be used against him. Passing observations, general remarks, as well as direct statements, have too often been the only indications guiding the patient explorers, and in the absence of certain information the silence of the angry Fathers has been made the basis for important conclusions. It is evident that not only is such a procedure necessarily uncertain and insecure, but that it rests upon assumptions with regard to the intelligence, care, and accuracy of Tertullian and Epiphanius, which are not sufficiently justified by that part of their treatment of Marcion's text which we can examine and appreciate. And when all these doubtful landmarks have failed, too many passages have been left to the mere judgment of critics, as to whether they were too opposed to Marcion's system to have been retained by him, or too favourable to have been omitted. The reconstructed texts, as might be expected, differ from each other, and one Editor finds the results of his predecessors incomplete or unsatisfactory, although naturally, at each successive attempt, the materials previously collected and adopted have contributed to an apparently more complete result. After complaining of the incompleteness and uncertainty of the statements of Tertullian and Epiphanius, Ritschl affirms that they furnish so little solid material on which to base a hypothesis that rather by means of a hypothesis must we determine the remains of the Gospel from Tertullian. [361:1] Hilgenfeld quotes this with approval, and adds that at least Ritschl's opinion is so far right that all the facts of the case can no longer be settled from external data, and that the general view regarding the Gospel only can decide many points. [361:2] This means, of course, that hypothesis is to supply that which is wanting in the Fathers. Volkmar, in the introduction to his last comprehensive work on Marcion's Gospel, says: "And, in fact, it is no wonder that critics have for so long, and substantially to so little effect, fought over the protean question, for there has been so much uncertainty as to the very basis (Fundament) itself -- the precise text of the remarkable document -- that Baur has found full ground for rejecting, as unfounded, the supposition on which that finally-attained decision (his previous one) rested." [361:3] Critics of all shades of opinion are forced to admit the incompleteness of the materials for any certain reconstruction of Marcion's text, and consequently for an absolute settlement of the question from internal evidence, although the labours of Volkmar and Hilgenfeld have materially increased our knowledge of the contents of his Gospel.

In the earlier editions of this work, [361:4] we contended that the theory that Marcion's Gospel was a mutilated form of our third Synoptic had not been established, and that more probably it was an earlier work, from which our Gospel might have been elaborated. Since the sixth edition of this work was completed, however, a very able examination of Marcion's Gospel has been made by Dr. Sanday, [361:5] which has convinced us that our earlier hypothesis is untenable; that the portions of our third Synoptic excluded from Marcion's Gospel were really written by the same pen which composed the mass of the work, and, consequently, that our third Synoptic existed in his time, and was substantially in the hands of Marcion. This conviction is mainly the result of the linguistic analysis, sufficiently indicated by Dr. Sanday and, since, exhaustively carried out for ourselves. We still consider the argument based upon the dogmatic views of Marcion, which has hitherto been almost exclusively relied on, quite inconclusive by itself; but the linguistic test, applied practically for the first time in this controversy by Dr. Sanday, must, we think, prove irresistible to all who are familiar with the comparatively limited vocabulary of New Testament writers. Throughout the omitted sections peculiarities of language and expression abound which clearly distinguish the general composer of the third Gospel, and it is, consequently, not possible reasonably to maintain that these sections are additions subsequently made by a different hand, which seems to be the only legitimate course open to those who would deny that Marcion's Gospel originally contained them.

Here, then, we find evidence of the existence of our third Synoptic about the year 140, and it may of course be inferred that it must have been composed at least some time before that date. [362:1] It is important, however, to estimate aright the facts actually before us and the deductions which may be drawn from them. The testimony of Marcion does not throw any light upon the authorship or origin of the Gospel of which he made use. Its superscription was simply "The Gospel," or "The Gospel of the Lord" (to euangelion, or euangelion tou Kuriou), [362:2] and no author's name was attached to it. The Heresiarch did not pretend to have written it himself, nor did he ascribe it to any other person. Tertullian, in fact, reproaches him with its anonymity. "And here already I might make a stand," he says at the very opening of his attack on Marcion's Gospel, "contending that a work should not be recognised which does not hold its front erect … which does not give a pledge of its trustworthiness by the fulness of its title, and the due declaration of its author." [362:3] Not only did Marcion himself not in any way connect the name of Luke with his Gospel, but his followers repudiated the idea that Luke was its author. [362:4] In admitting the substantial identity of Marcion's Gospel and our third Synoptic, therefore, no advance is made towards establishing the authorship of Luke. The Gospel remains anonymous still. On the other hand, we ascertain the important fact that, so far from its having any authoritative or infallible character at that time, Marcion regarded our Synoptic as a work perverted by Jewish influences, and requiring to be freely expurgated in the interests of truth. Amended by very considerable omissions and alterations, Marcion certainly held it in high respect as a record of the teaching of Jesus, but beyond this circumstance, and the mere fact of its existence in his day, we learn nothing from the evidence of Marcion. It can scarcely be maintained that this does much to authenticate the third Synoptic as a record of miracles and a witness for the reality of Divine Revelation.

There is no evidence whatever that Marcion had any knowledge of the other canonical Gospels in any form. None of his writings are extant, and no direct assertion is made even by the Fathers that he knew them, although from their dogmatic point of view they assume that these Gospels existed from the very first, and therefore insinuate that, as he only recognised one Gospel, he rejected the rest. [363:1] When Irenaeus says: "He persuaded his disciples that he himself was more veracious than were the Apostles who handed down the Gospel, though he delivered to them not the Gospel, but part of the Gospel," [363:2] it is quite clear that he speaks of the Gospel -- the good tidings, Christianity -- and not of specific written Gospels. In another passage which is referred to by Apologists, Irenaeus says of the Marcionites that they have asserted "That even the Apostles proclaimed the Gospel still under the influence of Jewish sentiments; but that they themselves are more sound and more judicious than the Apostles. Wherefore also Marcion and his followers have had recourse to mutilating the Scriptures, not recognising some books at all, but curtailing the Gospel according to Luke and the Epistles of Paul; these, they say, are alone authentic which they themselves have abbreviated." [363:3] These remarks chiefly refer to the followers of Marcion, and as we have shown, when treating of Valentinus, Irenaeus is expressly writing against members of heretical sects living in his own day, and not of the founders of those sects. [364:1] The Marcionites of the time of Irenaeus no doubt deliberately rejected the Gospels, but it does not by any means follow that Marcion himself knew anything of them. As yet we have not met with any evidence even of their existence.

The evidence of Tertullian is not a whit more valuable. In the passage usually cited he says: "But Marcion, lighting upon the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, in which he reproaches even Apostles for not walking uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, as well as accuses certain false Apostles of perverting the Gospel of Christ, tries with all his might to destroy the status of those Gospels which are put forth as genuine and under the name of Apostles, or at least of contemporaries of the Apostles, in order, be it known, to confer upon his own the credit which he takes from them." [364:2] Now here again it is clear that Tertullian is simply applying, by inference, Marcion's views with regard to the preaching of the Gospel by the two parties in the Church, represented by the Apostle Paul and the "pillar" Apostles whose leaning to Jewish doctrines he condemned, to the written Gospels recognised in his day, though not in Marcion's. "It is uncertain," says even Dr. Westcott, "whether Tertullian in the passage quoted speaks from a knowledge of what Marcion may have written on the subject, or simply from his own point of sight." [364:3] Any doubt is, however, removed on examining the context, for Tertullian proceeds to argue that if Paul censured Peter, John, and James, it was for changing their company from respect of persons; and similarly, "if false apostles crept in," they betrayed their character by insisting on Jewish observances. "So that it was not on account of their preaching, but of their conversation, that they were pointed out by Paul"; [364:4] and he goes on to argue that if Marcion thus accuses Apostles of having depraved the Gospel by their dissimulation, he accuses Christ in accusing those whom Christ selected. [364:5] It is palpable, therefore, that Marcion, in whatever he may have written, referred to the preaching of the Gospel, or Christianity, by Apostles who retained their Jewish prejudices in favour of circumcision and legal observances, and not to written Gospels. Tertullian merely assumes, with his usual audacity, that the Church had the four Gospels from the very first, and therefore that Marcion, who had only one Gospel, knew the others and deliberately rejected them.
 


< Previous Section      Contents      Home      Top of Page      Next section >
HTML © 2002 -