Markus Vinzent's Blog

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Making of the New Testament in the light of a new study on Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity

Here my lecture given in the King's Patristic Seminar, London in January:

Already in 1988, our French NT-colleague François Bovon has written two tasks into the do list of Patristic and New Testament scholars for the 21st century: ‘First, a scientific integration of several disciplines’ and second, ‘to move exegetes towards a more critical self-examination – an increased awareness of their own prejudices’.
Regarding the cross-disciplinary task, Bovon notes: ‘Specialization’ has revealed ‘its limitations. The history of the canon must be combined with the history of the reception of canonical writings, for the canon is at the same time the consequence and the cause of the existence of the gospels. As the dividing line between Urchristentum and ancient Christianity becomes more and more artificial, New Testament scholarship and the discipline of patristics must join hands’. With regards to ‘the second task for exegesis’, ‘to move exegetes towards a more critical self-examination’, Bovon believes that ‘exegetes must impose upon themselves … a respect for the historical contingencies of the canonical texts’.[1]
            It is encouraging to see that Bovon’s monitum has been picked up by colleagues in both fields. So, for example, we saw the creation of a new international journal with Mohr Siebeck in 2010 on ‘Early Christianity’. In their ‘Editorial Manifesto’ our New Testament colleagues Joerg Frey from Zurich, Clare K. Rothschild, Chicago, Jens Schroeter, Berlin and Francis Watson, Durham pick up some of Bovon’s key words: ‘As the first decade of the 21st century draws to a close, it is a good time to think again about New Testament studies as a scholarly discipline. … The new journal is concerned with early Christianity as a historical phenomenon. Uncontroversial though that may sound, its editors share a quite specific understanding of this broad field of research. … We aim to overcome certain limitations which – in our view – have hindered the development of the discipline. … (First) One such limitation has to do with the concept of the “New Testament” itself. … Those who draw our attention to the significance of noncanonical texts are right to do so … The ascription of canonical status (has to be seen) as an event occurring within the field of early Christian literature as a whole. (Second) “early Christianity” is taken to cover not only the first Christian century but also the second. Until recently, it has been widely assumed that the early second century marks the dividing-line between two academic fields (New Testament studies and patristics). …Some New Testament scholars have seen the second century as a period of decline. … Even where no such bias is apparent, the second century is in practice widely regarded as marginal to the core concerns of New Testament scholarship. Yet this self-limitation makes no sense’.[2]
When I wrote my forthcoming Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity and the Making of the New Testament (2011), the second part of the title (i.e. the Making of the New Testament) was not a target of my research and only developed very late as a result of what I gained from the chosen perspective of looking at Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity. I first worked on the basis of the old divide between New Testament and Patristic scholarship and intended to avoid getting involved into what I perceived to be a question reserved for and dealt with by my colleagues from the New Testament field. And indeed, the main thesis of my forthcoming Resurrection monograph is not dependent on the insights I gained into the potential making of the New Testament, but those latter ideas shed additional light on Christ’s Resurrection. Both topics mutually enlightened each other. Hence, I share my hypothetical views with the reader as I do with you – although the test of my views on the origin of the New Testament need to be substantiated in a new monograph which I began as a follow up of the Resurrection monograph. Let me give you this bridging outline today.
Let me introduce you first in a rough sketch how I see the state of the art of New Testament and Patristic scholarship with regards to the Resurrection of Christ – which is indeed based on the old model of the divide of New Testament and Patristics.
We normally look at the development of early Christian beliefs along the following simplistically condensed chronology:
Jesus’ death was a major challenge for his followers, but because of the Resurrection of Christ, experienced in various ways at different times, in different locations, by different people for an unknown period, beginning with the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion – his previously anxious disciples were infused with spirit and confidence and, under the Great Commission, attributed to the resurrected Jesus, encouraged by the Pentecost experience, they ‘began their missionary activity and spread Christianity to cities throughout the Hellenistic world and even beyond the Roman Empire’ (Wikipedia).
The first of our Christian authors is Paul who, as we know, wrote several letters in the late 40th to the late 50th, as shown, for example, in the chronologies of Finegan or Conzelmann/Lindemann. Then, it seems, in the 60th Mark has taken over the traditio with the innovation of a first Gospel, soon followed by Matthew and Luke in the 70th, and by Luke’s Acts in the 80th, some non- and pseudo-Pauline letters and eventually John around 100. Hence, what we have got is a file of first century writings covering more or less the decades after Jesus’ death and Resurrection. The first century was followed by, what Pope Benedict XVI calls the second generation of Christian authors, namely the so-called Apostolic Fathers, a name given in the 17th century[3] to orthodox authors beginning with Clement of Rome down to Irenaeus of Lyon towards the end of the second century.
When we start with this almost uninterrupted list of early Christian witnesses of the first century, followed by church authors of the second, we find that our picture of the development of early Christian belief in Christ’s Resurrection is absolutely confirmed, as expounded in detail recently by the present Bishop of Durham, Nicholas Thomas Wright in his over 700 pages monograph The Resurrection of the Son of God (London, 2003): Paul’s core message is Christ’s Resurrection. His Resurrection message of our salvation is reflected in the Easter-Stories of the Gospels, and re-surfaces in the Apostolic Fathers from 1Clement, to Ignatius, Polycarp of Smyrna up to Irenaeus, the catholic author who binds together the bunch of canonical flowers. All what these witnesses of first rank and the supporting second century ones have to say falls into place. Paul with the canonical Gospels and the mentioned Fathers, and also all canonical letters and especially Acts – Wright only exempts Hebrews, the least Pauline letter according to him – confirm, what Paul had stated in 1Cor. 15: ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins. Furthermore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. For if only in this life we have hope in Christ, we should be pitied more than anyone’.[4] Or as the eminent A.D. Nock repeated in 1928: The Resurrection of Christ is ‘the basis of the faith of the Christian community’,[5] a faith that is ‘unparalleled in the religions of antiquity’, according to Geza Vermes in his book on Christ’s Resurrection of 2008, Vermes who spoke this week here at Kings.[6]
Having read Paul and all other witnesses, and I could easily add hundreds of commentaries on Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, Acts, John and the Apostolic Fathers, why would one question what appears to be such a convincing and coherent picture that, after Jesus’ death on the cross, it was his Resurrection that triggered the new movement and Pentecost that made Christianity into what it has become, the new missionary ‘assembly of God’? Hundreds of years of a host of New Testament scholars, scholars of Patristics and systematic theology have seen it this way.[7]
Was it, because, as Roger Pearse, the committed blogger on Tertullian, recently suggested, because I have been seduced by aliens, or, more friendly, have given up serious scholarship and indulge in revisionism that I decided to radically question our cemented view?
Let me begin with a sober and critical self-examination and an increased awareness of prejudices, as Bovon has asked for, with regards to the phenomenon of this core belief in the Resurrection of Christ. It all began – as so often in scholarship – by chance and without intention, simply because I stumbled about a few oddities which attracted my attention and which led to the discovery of even more of these unexplicable problems, for which I did not have an answer and questions over questions that I pursued for the past almost 20 years.
When back in 1993, I responded to a call for papers of a conference in Rome on La Narrativa Cristiana Antica (‘The Early Christian Narrative’), I was in the midst of writing my Habilitation on Apolinarius of Laodicea, a theologian of the fourth century to whom the Resurrection is the marker of Christian belief. So, I thought, I pick an easy topic for the Rome conference and write a straightforward piece of research on the Resurrection narratives in early Christianity.[8] But I was mistaken. Soon the small conference contribution turned into a counter-paper to my own assumptions and those of the overall conference. It carried the title: ‘History does not always tell stories’. I discovered that only a small number of narrative attempts had been made in early Christian literature of the first two centuries, and that theological reflection about Christ’s Resurrection was limited, or to be more precise, exclusively limited to those writings which also showed some acquaintances with Paul’s letters.
Moreover, I could not understand why I had on my desk hundreds of pages of bibliographies on Christ’s Resurrection by New Testament scholars, but when it came to Patristic scholarship, I was looking in vain for a single monograph. In 1979, the certainly not progressive protestant scholar of Patristics and Liturgy, Reinhart Staats, observed in his substantial article on ‘The Resurrection of Christ’, published in the respected German Theologische Realenzyklopädie,[9] that Christ’s Resurrection attracted attention neither from many early Christian authors, artists, craftsmen nor from scholars of Patristics. Especially with his remark on Patristics scholarship, Staats had a pre-cursor in the French scholar of Patristics and Liturgy, Adalbert Hamman, who just three years earlier had published two articles on Christ’s Resurrection in early Christianity and drew attention to the incongruence between New Testament and Patristic studies. Hamman wrote in 1976: ‘While there is an abundant exegetical literature on the question of the Resurrection [in New Testament scholarship], early Christian studies are practically inexistent’ or, in short, show a ‘virgin territory’.[10] If the Resurrection – historically and/or theologically – was the basis of the beginnings of the Jesus movement, why have scholars of Patristics so rarely reflected on this self-evident truth? To take one example, Aloys Grillmeier, in his magisterial work on Jesus Christ in Christian Belief, a multi-volume encyclopaedia on how early Christians of the first five centuries reflected about Jesus Christ, discusses the relation between the historical Jesus and the Lord alive in his Church, in prayers, liturgy, creeds and controversies. The index to the first volume that covers the period up to the year 451 AD, notes only five references to the Resurrection: The Gospel of Peter (2nd c.), Eusebius of Caesarea (4th c.), and three texts of the fifth century.[11] Amongst the many Latin terms in the index, resurrectio is missing, and the Greek word ἀνάστασις (‘Resurrection’) refers only to the apostle Paul and to the fourth century Alexandrian presbyter (and ‘heresiarch’) Arius.[12] Or let me take another example, The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies (2008). On 1020 pages with chapters on ‘Interpretation of Scripture’, ‘Doctrine of God’, ‘Christ and Christologies’, ‘Doctrine of Creation’, ‘Early Christian Ethics’ and other topics by most eminent scholars, there is not a single reference to Christ’s Resurrection.[13]
Of course, we find more evidence in early Christian literature than discussed in previous studies. A rich kerygmatic and liturgical literature flows, especially from the late fourth century onwards. But it is still true what Staats noted in 1979: ‘To date there is no comprehensive survey available of the belief in Christ’s Resurrection in the early church’.[14]
I got hooked. How and why can Patristic scholars be so blind, not to recognize the centrality of this topic for the early church? While in later writings of the patristic period the Resurrection and the post-Resurrection appearances of the Risen Christ are present, sometimes even core, they are absent in earlier places where one might have expected to find them. Most curiously, Christ’s Resurrection was not introduced or referred to even in some tracts that deal with the resurrection of the dead.
I pondered whether, what has not been written about could still have been of utmost importance, kept secret or been so broadly accepted that there was no need to mention it. We know that Christian authors of the first centuries rarely intended to present a full or coherent picture of their belief, as it was a belief in the making.[15] Gaps, therefore, seemed natural, whether or not intended. However, using assumptions such as these to explain an entire lack of evidence for the Resurrection of Christ outside the Pauline world and that of our Gospels seemed to me equally problematic, especially if the Resurrection was compared with other elements of Christian belief. So the question arose in my mind: What mattered to Christians, what was important to them, when they thought about salvation, eternal life, and when they celebrated their own future resurrection?
I came to find more oddities, but also traces for answers, a complex and most revolutionary ones:
Paul who, as no serious scholar will dispute, wrote letters in the 40th and 50th and, therefore, was still known by name, referred to, even literally quoted and also sometimes criticized in our early Christian canonical and non-canonical literature of the first two centuries. However, as scholars have noted, his theological popularity after his death had faded. Even writings like 1Clement written at Rome who’s author, a presbyter, knows of Paul and quotes him, can hardly be called a Pauline writing. Although his theology is not fully grasped, Paul himself and his written works were still remembered, and even directly referred to, albeit we cannot claim that he was an author who dominated Christian literature at that time. The first theologian who picked up or put together a collection of Paul’s letters and studied Paul’s theology to make it his own theological basis was Marcion of Sinope who taught in Rome from around 140 AD.
In contrast to what we know about Paul’s presence in the literature of the first two centuries, we are confronted with a different scenario of the later canonical Gospels.
As recent scholarship on the reception of these Gospels and of Acts up to Irenaeus (ca. 177/180 AD) has confirmed these texts and their narratives (the miracles, for example) with their authors, were never quoted, acknowledged or referred to by any author prior to Marcion; in the one instance in Papias of Hierapolis, where the names of Mark and Matthew do appear, we do not read a quote of their respective texts, and still after Marcion, in Justin, for example, who clearly knows so-called Gospels, uses only sayings of the Lord, but not the Gospels’ narratives.[16] When Justin comes to explain Jesus’ passion, he mixes Jesus’ sayings with Old Testament quotes to construct narrative interjections himself. Only in his ‘intellectual response to Marcion’ does Irenaeus in the late second century, who had links to Rome and knew Justin, begin to quote the four Gospels, Acts and Pauline letters in the last third of the second century.[17] How can we explain this other discrepancy that the Synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke are literally linked, but have left no trace outside their own Gospel writer’s circle. Whoever of them copied the other, scholars still disagree, but they assume that the ones who copied, had a manuscript of the other’s work at their desks. How can it be if these desks were located in cities as far away as Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Asia Minor that such copies had travelled to be studied without being noticed and acknowledged by others than the Gospel authors themselves? The earlier scholars assume that these Gospels have been written, the more difficult an answer will be. The famous New Testament scholar Kurt Aland, as he reports himself, could not sleep some nights because of this ‘nightmarish’ phenomenon that the Gospels were not read until shortly before the mid second century.[18] Even if we assumed that these writings were composed in between the mid 60th and the 80th of the first century with Acts and John being added soon after – the question arises: in which drawer had they been kept, and in which sealed box did they travel to hit their counter-author oversea’s?
But to come back to Christ’s Resurrection. The oddities do not end here. Why do we read in early Christian literature which shows no or little acquaintance with Paul – and as we now know – they do show no acquaintance with Gospels anyway, so why do we read in this literature no word about Christ’s Resurrection? Even in texts where we would suppose to read about it. Let me give you a few examples:
In our earliest Paschal homilies we learn a lot about the creation of the world, about Exodus, about sacrifice and death – nothing about Christ’s Resurrection. What may surprise us, is only a reflexion of how all early Christians that we know of, without any exception, have interpreted Pascha, our Easter as the celebration of Jesus’ death. Origen, in the third century, complaints about the multitude of linguistically illiterate bishops and colleagues, who all derived Pascha from paschein = i.e. Greek suffering, and interpreted, as the Epistle of the Apostles does, and without exception everybody else held, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Melito asf. that Easter was the day where Jesus’ death was commemorized.
Or take our earliest Christian catechism, the Didache. We learn about the two ways, about baptism, salvation, the Lord’s prayer, the eucharist, about prophets, church hierarchy asf. – but what the new beginners in Christianity are not taught is Christ’s Resurrection.
Or even a writing like the work On the resurrection. Whoever composed the tract that goes under the name of Athenagoras, its author tries to convince his readers of the future resurrection of our body and explicitly draws on Paul’s 1Cor. 15, but unlike Paul who points to Christ’s Resurrection as the undeniable proof for the bodily resurrection, this text is silent about Christ’s Resurrection and goes on for paragraphs drawing on all sorts of philosophical arguments. No word about Christ’s Resurrection.
I could continue, but don’t want to bore you and cut it short. What did I discover on my journey through the evidence of the first two and a half centuries:
1)      Before Marcion had picked up Paul’s letters, Paul was rarely read and barely theologically recognized.
2)      In contrast, Marcion based his theology on Paul and his belief in Christ’s Resurrection. Why: Christ’s Resurrection highlighted Christ’s heavenly and angelic nature, and second, it manifested Paul’s authority as the sole Resurrection witness who understood and embraced Christ.
3)      When Christians who were acquainted with Paul, mention Christ’s Resurrection, they don’t engage theologically with it. Instead, salvation is centred around God’s incarnation, Jesus’ death on the cross and his salvific paschal sacrifice.
4)      Paul’s limited role can be explained against the Jewish background of early Christianity. Reading the first decades of early Christianity means reading Jewish history – Jewish in the sense not of a Rabbinic Judaism which only developed after the fall of Jerusalem around 70 and after Bar Kochba in 132/6 AD, while the first century shows several influential groupings of Jews, the Sadduccees with their links to the Hasmonaeans and the Roman government, the Pharisees, the Essenes asf. The Sadducees were the most powerful ones as they had the link to the governing people and directed the Temple cult. And it seems that precisely amongst them we have to assume a number of followers of Jesus. Looking into texts like the Didache and others, we notice that Christians in their liturgy and calendar do not follow the calendar of the Pharisees or Rabbis, but that of the Sadducees and the Temple. If Christians were thoroughly pharisaeic (or later Rabbinic), it would be difficult to explain why they did not follow their calendar calculations. The Sadducees, however, much like the Qumran-people, who followed the same calendar as the Sadducees and the Christians, did not believe in a resurrection after death. Similarly, Samaritans – and presumably Jesus had also followers amongst the Samaritans, did not believe in a resurrection. How should Christians from these backgrounds believe in Christ’s Resurrection?
5)      How do we have to place these Gospels who nobody quotes, except the Gospel authors themselves? My view is that with Marcion’s re-discovery of Paul’s letters, Jewish-Christian history changes. Christianity becomes modelled as the anti-type and antithesis of Rabbinic Judaism, in selected ways formed after it, but sharpened, stretched and polished in the chosen typical Rabbinic features: The emphasis on Scripture, ethical rigorism, the belief in the resurrection and the authority of the learned scholar and exegete. Tertullian calls Marcion an ‘evangelizator’, or, as Evans rightly translates, a ‘gospel-maker’. Let us read what Tertullian has to say about Marcion:
If that Gospel which among us is ascribed to Luke ... is the same that Marcion by his Antitheses accuses of having been falsified by the upholders of Judaism with a view to its being so combined in one body with the Law and the Prophets that they might also pretend that Christ had that origin, evidently he could only have brought accusation against something he had found there already.[19]
Tertullian admits that Marcion accused ‘upholders of Judaism’ as having falsified his Gospel to make it fit to be combined with what Marcion regarded as Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets. Marcion had neither ‘found’ nor abbreviated it. Tertullian, however, inverts Marcion’s accusation of falsification and rhetorically retorts that he was passing ‘censure on things’ that existed already, while Marcion assumed that the falsification took place after he had made the Gospel. Hence, when Tertullian concludes that Marcion should admit that Luke was prior than his Gospel, the contrary was held by Marcion. Marcion, indeed believed that Paul provided him with the true Gospel, the Apostle’s and which was enlightened through the sayings and narratives of Jesus. Marcion’s ‘own gospel’, as Tertullian says, had no other name attached to it, while Marcion complained that the Judaizers had given this Gospel the name of Luke and ‘falsified it in respect of its title’ to make it ‘belong to the Apostles’ in the plural.[20] Rightly, Tertullian calls Marcion the one who ‘has put together’ the Gospel, ‘a new thing of his own’.[21]
Tertullian’s report reveals that only in response to Marcion’s Gospel others had forged a judaized version of it. Tertullian, following Irenaeus, however, turned Marcion’s argument upside down and claimed not that Marcion’s opponents had ‘judaized’, but that Marcion had ‘circumcised’ Scripture.[22] From this battle of words where even the terminology indicates the historically original sequence, we can conclude that the following line of events had occurred:
1) Marcion produced a Gospel of sayings and narratives (without birth story and Ascension), presumably based on documents and oral traditions available in Rome that fit and supported Paul’s letters. The Gospel narrative, and especially the Resurrection scenery served Marcion to paint the picture of a Christ, misunderstood by his closest earthly fellows in this world of the demiurge while only Paul was chosen to receive and grasp the message of the Risen Christ. The resurrection scenery between the Apostles and their encounters with the Risen displayed only this ignorance and stubbornness of Jesus’ earthly followers against Paul’s wisdom.
2) Marcion published his Gospel, or rather the Apostle’s Gospel as a stand alone New Testament without the Old Testament.
3) As one would expect in competing classrooms in a city, Marcion’s venture, first, was not rejected, but soon replicated by other teachers who contributed, altered, broadened or nuanced both the letters and the Gospel according to their respective needs and interests. A discussion arose with regard to the precise nature of what Christian literature entailed. In response to Marcion, relying on him and on each other’s texts and knowledge others re-worked Marcion’s text, produced Mark (like Marcion’s Gospel without birth story and Ascension), Matthew (with a birth story), Luke (close to Marcion’s text, but re-ordered, with a different birth story, Ascension, then Acts), all with references to the added Old Testament. The Resurrection scenarios were retained, but they were given a different twist. These texts, now, deal, and as one still can see, struggle with Marcion’s Easter-narrative to avoid Marcion’s proofs for the Apostle’s incompetency. According to Matthew 28, it was not the Apostle’s, but the women’s job to recognize the Risen and relate the message: ‘Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. … (and later) So they left the tomb quickly, with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples’. And Luke writes in 24:10-1: ‘Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. 24:11 But these words seemed like pure nonsense to them, and they did not believe them’. Instead of criticizing the Apostles as in Marcion, in Luke the women get the blame for talking nonsense so that the Apostles could not believe.
Let me add some supportive (partly negative) evidence for my hypothesis:
1) Those narrative lines which are present in Marcion’s Gospel, namely Jesus’ life from adolescence to death, are those that are most closely followed by other Gospels and in which these Gospels show the least differences, whereas those parts which are not provided by Marcion, vary considerably in other Gospels (for example the birth stories and the Ascension), as do the Resurrection scenerios,[23] which were central for Marcion, but highly contentious.
2) None of the early authors who wrote against Marcion accuse him of falsifying or even using a previously existing Gospel. Polycarp knows of a teacher, probably Marcion, who tortuously interprets the sayings of the Lord, but he does not accuse him of textual excisions.[24] Neither Justin nor Rhodon ever mention this topos. The first to make such a claim is Irenaeus, about 30 to 40 years after Marcion. He, however, links Paul and Luke, basis his view of Paul predominantly on Acts[25] which he claims is written by Luke, benchmarks Marcion’s text against a four Gospel set of Luke, Mark, Matthew and John and the recognition of the Jewish scriptures, writings which all have been preserved by the Christian community of Rome.[26] Irenaeus even constructs the continuous list of bishops of this Roman community from Linus down to Euleutheros showing that this community was heavily Pauline oriented as its first bishops are those mentioned in ‘Pauline’ literature: Linus (2Tim. 4:21), Anacletus/Anencletus (seems to be a fictition based on Tit. 1:7), Clemens (Phil. 4:3).[27] He reports that Marcion himself was ‘proud in having part in the Gospel’,[28] but blames him as being ‘the only one who has dared openly to circumcise’ the Gospel and Paul’s letters and to have cut off the Law and the Prophets.[29] If Marcion was the only one who did so ‘openly’, then either Irenaeus reckons with others who had not published their own version of these texts, or his accusation is a reflexion of Marcion as the first to go public with his New Testament.
3) Authors prior to Marcion do not refer to any Gospel ‘as a sequence of events or a “story”. Nowhere are fixed credal formulations called “Gospel”’.[30]
4) All authors who during the first decades after Marcion, mostly in direct response to him, discuss the Gospel(s), are reluctant and sceptical in using both the narratives of these texts[31] and the term ‘Gospel’,[32] but almost all of them now engage in the discussion of Christ’s Resurrection. Marcion’s scriptural principle has finally been accepted, but only on the basis of balancing and correcting the theology of Paul and his Gospel in a broader re-setting, adding Acts and other writings and publishing the widened set in combination with the Old Testament. If the later canonical Gospels had already existed in Christian communities prior to Marcion and carried some authority, the disinclined and unenthusiastic early responses, particularly to ‘Gospels’, after Marcion would be difficult to explain.
Marcion’s novelty in publishing his Apostle’s fired up frenetic re-actions. His fresh principle of an authoritative Christian collection of writings was hesitantly, though in principle positively, received.[33] His antithetical positioning of Old and New Testament made some teachers sceptical of the Jewish scriptures, while others emphasized that these were also revelations of the Christian God. But many gave up relying on oral traditions, while at the same time Christian prophetism grew stronger. Perhaps because Marcion himself had accepted the very Rabbinic fashion of his days and focused on contemporary writings rather than, as the Sadducees would have wanted, referring the revelation exclusively to the Torah, he had little difficulty in establishing firmly his idea of a written Christian corpus. Of course, Marcion had gone a significant step further than anybody else before him – he branded the Old Testament a proof text of the creator and this world, not of wisdom and truth, and he regarded all attempts of non-Pauline writings as products of Jews or judaizing brothers.[34]
From the time that Marcion had published his Apostle’s, this together with the embedded Resurrection narrative became a topic of debate. In abandoning an anti-Pauline Jewish-Christianity,[35] ‘at one stroke with Marcion and only with Marcion’, ‘Christian writings’ were brought to the fore in a community where previously ‘still absolutely no “New Testament” existed which might have been placed alongside the “Old Testament”’.[36] Although Paul had advocated that ‘Christ is the end of the Law’, prior to Marcion neither Paul nor other authors saw ‘any demand’ for scriptures to rival the Jewish Bible.[37]
The reaction to Marcion was varied and at first un-coordinated, presumably beginning with colleagues of contemporary schools at Rome. Only with Irenaeus and Tertullian did scholars begin to develop a more systematic anti-Marcionite response, and not before Origen became the field divided into orthodoxy and heretics.
What I draw from all of this:
A prior ‘fall’[38] or rather a decline in interest triggered the rise of the Risen Christ. Although a strong belief in Paul, as Vermes suggests, the Resurrection was of even lesser importance to most early Christians than it was to the Gospel writers. Because of the close link between Paul and the Resurrection, the waning of Paul’s and his sudden come-back towards the middle of the second century steered Christian thinking about the Resurrection of Christ.[39] Christians ‘did not adopt, probably no longer understood, the radicalism of Paul’.[40] Over a hundred years later, we can sense the ‘somewhat defensive manner’ with which Irenaeus handles Paul. Paul, together with his belief in the Resurrection, had been re-discovered only a few decades earlier by an outstanding Christian teacher at Rome, Marcion of Sinope. Without Marcion, I conclude, the Resurrection of Christ had not made it into the Creed of Christianity.



[1] F. Bovon, ‘The Synoptic Gospels’ (1988), 35-6.
[2] ‘An Editorial Manifesto’: Early Christianity 1 (2010), 1f.
[4] 1Cor. 15:17-9.
[5] A.D. Nock, ‘Resurrection’ (1928), 47.
[6] G. Vermes, The Resurrection (2008), 5.
[7] See, for example, E. Schillebeeckx, Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (New York, 1963).
[8] M. Vinzent, ‘History’ (1995).
[9] R. Staats, ‘Auferstehung II/2’ (1979).
[10] A. Hamman, ‘Résurrection’ (1975), 292f.; T. Nicklas, A. Merkt, and J. Verheyden (eds), Auferstanden (2010).
[11] A. Grillmeier, Jesus der Christus im Glauben der Kirche. I. Von der Apostolischen Zeit bis zum Konzil von Chalcedon (451) (Freiburg i. Br., 21979), 7. 44. 58-9 (on NT writings), 154 (on the Gospel of Peter), 317 (on Eusebius), 353 (on Asterius, the homilist), 570 (on Aponius), 615 (on Theodor of Mopsuestia).
[12] Ibid. 81 (on Paul), 376 (on Arius).
[13] Susan Ashbrook Harvey and David G. Hunter (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies (Oxford, 2008).
[14] R. Staats, ‘Auferstehung der Toten’ (1979), 468.
[15] See the critical remarks in A. Lindemann, Paulus (1999), 295.
[16] See W. Schneemelcher, ‘Paulus’ (1964), 3-4; L. Abramowski, ‘Erinnerungen’ (1983).
[17] C. Mount, Christianity (2002), 15; B. Aland, ‘Rezeption’ (1989).
[18] K. Aland, ‘Bemerkungen’ (1979), 29.
[19] Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 5.
[20] Clearly spelled out later in Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 4-5.
[21] Tert., Adv. Marc. IV 5,4.
[22] Irenaeus, Adv. haer. III 11,7.
[23] See J. Hartenstein, ‘Geschichten’ (2010); G. Vermes, The Resurrection (2008), 106: speaks of ‘confused and often contradictory data contained in the Gospels and in chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles’ with regards to ‘the uncertainties’ concerning ‘the sequence of the events, the identity of the informants and witnesses, the number and location of the apparitions of Jesus, the presentation of prophecies relating to the resurrection and finally the date of Jesus’ purported departure from earth’.
[24] See PolPhil. 7:1; see below.
[25] There are exceptions where Irenaeus follows Paul’s own view, so with regards to Gal. 2:1-10, but only to turn the interpretation against Marcion (according to Irenaeus, Adv. haer. III 13,3 Paul accepts the Twelve), on this and other cases see R. Noormann, Irenäus (1994), 42-7. Ibid. 5170 Noormann sees Acts as ‘the source’ for Irenaeus.
[26] To Irenaeus, Adv. haer. I 1,23-4 Luke becomes the Gospel that Paul preached and, after his death, his companion Luke wrote down.
[27] See O. Zwierlein, Petrus (2010), 157-8 It seems that Irenaeus who created the Peter/Paul-myth of Rome did so, to accommodate Marcion, but also to counter-balance him.
[28] Iren., Adv. haer. III 11,9: partem gloriatur se habere Evangelii; this was such a contentious claim that a number of editors (as early as Erasmus) altered Irenaeus’ text.
[29] See Iren., Adv. haer. I 27,4 (see also ibid. I 27,2; III 11-2).
[30] H. Koester, ‘Kerygma-Gospel’ (1986), 366, especially with regard to the deutero-Pauline Epistles and Acts, but also to Ignatius – something that we can broaden, as shown above.
[31] The presbyter, a disciple of apostles (in the plural!) who writes ‘syntheses’ against Marcion’s Antitheses only uses Paul’s letters and sayings of the Lord (see Matth. 7:1-2; 10:24; 18:8-9; 20:16; 22:14; 25:41; Luke 18:7-8), see Iren., Adv. haer. IV 27,4-32,1; A. Harnack, ‘Presbyter-Prediger’ (1907).
[32] Even Luke does not use the term ‘Gospel’ for his text, and in Acts (15:7; 20:24) the term is not ‘clearly defined’, so H. Koester, ‘Kerygma-Gospel’ (1986), 367. Different are Mark and Matthew, but still, Koester concludes, ‘there is no indication whatsoever by any of the authors of the New Testament Gospels that εὐαγγέλιον would be an appropriate title for the literature they produced’ (ibid. 370). As we can see from the parallel story in Luke 18:18-25; Matth. 19:16-24; Mark 10:17-25, where Mark speaks of Jesus’ ‘gospel’, Matth. replaces the term ‘gospel’ by ‘my name’ and Luke by ‘the kingdom of God’ – the term ‘gospel’ was clearly contentious.
[33] ‘Justin adopts Marcion’s concept of a written gospel and distances himself from the oral tradition’, H. Koester, ‘Kerygma-Gospel’ (1986), 380.
[34] See H. v. Campenhausen, ‘Das Alte Testament’ (1963), 170; Marcion uses the Old Testament to counter its allegorical reading and application by Christians who wanted to find Christ’s coming announced in it, as can be seen from the discussion of Is. 7:14; 8:4 in Tert., Adv. Marc. III 12,1. I would not deduce from here that Marcion ‘evidently believed in the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures and accepted Isaiah and the other prophets as trustworthy predictors of the future’, so J.B. Tyson, Marcion (2006), 33; similarly S. Moll, The Arch-Heretic (2010).
[35] Its existence can easily be seen from literary and archaeological evidence; see, for example, F. Stanley Jones, ‘Pseudo-Celementines’ (2005) (lit.).
[36] H. v. Campenhausen, Formation (1972), 148.63 (engl. trans. slightly altered).
[37] A. v. Harnack, Origin (1925), 14.
[38] See K. Aland, ‘Bemerkungen’ (1979), 46.
[39] A. Harnack, Marcion (1923. 21924 = 1960), 12; A. Lindemann, Paulus (1999), 280; J. Carleton Paget, ‘Paul’ (1996); A E. Barnett, Paul (1941), 186.
[40] C.K. Barrett, ‘Controversies’ (1974), 235.
[41] S. Moll, The Arch-heretic (2010), 111.
[42] Tert., Adv. Marc. I 19,4: contrariae oppositions


  1. this post bears some strong arguments and justifiable inquiries... I think I will print a copy to study it carefully after submitting my thesis because I cannot overlook its decisive conclusions.

  2. Dear colleague, thanks so much - as you will see, the pre-findings that I am happy to share with readers here on my blog are parts of a larger project which will result in 6 volumes on 'Marcion's Gospel: A Synoptic Commentary'. The first, introductory one is close to completion and will be on 'The Dating of the Gospels'.
    Yours Markus