19 December, 2007
In the early second century, on the southern shore of the Black Sea, Marcion was born. An early christian he formed a large following for his brand of christianity and was denounced as a heretic by many of the early christian writers whose works we still have. From his home in Sinope he traveled to Rome and gave a great donation to the formative christian church there [possibly an origin of the story of Simon Magus trying to buy the power of the apostles?], and started his great work. A work of literature to rival the Hebrew Bible.
Marcion had a different view of christianity than the one that would eventually dominate the Roman Empire. He was familiar with the Hebrew Bible and came to believe that the god of the old testament, Yahweh, was an evil creature, and that worshiping this god would lead to ruin. But there was an escape, that by following the Saviour, Jesus, who was the son of the ultimate god of Good, people could receive love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and eternal life. He taught that Jesus was a fully divine creature who had only seemed human. That the laws of Moses were a burden to be cast off (and certainly not adopted if you weren’t already a Jew), and that Jesus had paid in his blood for other people’s sins, to save them from eternal damnation at the hands of Yahweh.
All of this he wrote [edited existing material?] in the first ‘canon’ of new testament writings. Consisting of ten of the letters attributed to Paul, and having one Gospel, it was the first time that the writings of the growing christian community has been put into a form that was seen to be somewhat official. His Gospel is said to be a cut down version of Luke, and it is possible (though there is not a huge deal of evidence for this) that this cut down version was Mark. Certainly Mark has the Twelve disciples looking rather foolish which would fit in with Marcion’s view that the Jews had missed the point of Jesus. That he wasn’t the Messiah of the Jews, descendant of David who would restore the throne and temple in Jerusalem. Rather he was a saviour for all of mankind. [See the Pre-Nicene New Testament by Robert M. Price for one reconstruction of Marcion’s gospel.]
But Marcion’s viewpoint, though extremely popular, was not the one that eventually came to be orthodox. Sometime after his writings were circulated, a new canon was put out, consisting of four gospels, and a few more letters. This canon was probably published by Polycarp of Smyrna, and was substantially similar to the canonical bible books that exist in most New Testaments today. Marcion may have been deemed a heretic, but the spread of his ideas by use of a canon of books was one that was used by his enemies and led to the bible we know today.