Markus Vinzent's Blog

Friday, 9 December 2011

Forgiveness of sins in Baptism - irrespective of repentance

Marcion’s theology of the ‘Church’, the foundation for his understanding of baptism, can be found in his readings of Eph. 5:22-32 and Gal. 4:26; he saw the antithesis between the Creator’s Synagogue and the God of Love’s ‘holy Church’. Tertullian reports about Marcion’s interpretation of Galatians:
Two revelations, as I see they have translated it – the one from Mount Sinai referring to the synagogue of the Jews, which according to the law gendereth to bondage: the
other gendering above all principality, power, and domination, and every name that is named not only in this world but also in that which is to come: for she is our mother, that holy church, in whom we have expressed our faith: and consequently he adds, So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
There is a strict antithesis between bondage and freedom, between the old revelation from the Mount Sinai referring to the synagogue, and the new one which stands ‘above all principality, power, and domination’ and is delivered to the ‘holy Church’. The Church is ‘our mother’, also the bride and therefore the replacement of matrimony and family which, according to Marcion, were the old ‘type and figure of the mystery’, but now set forth ‘by him to whom also the mystery belonged’, namely the unknown God. This God of Love did away with any bondage when he revealed himself in Christ to his free and holy Church.[2] Tertullian’s quote teaches us that Marcion also knew of an ‘expression of faith’ into this ‘holy Church’, and in a further note, Tertullian points out that, also he is not sure about the details, baptism is connected with a ‘confession of the Name’.[3]
According to Marcion’s theology, confirmed by this quote by Tertullian in which he tries to drive Marcion’s thinking ad absurdum, the remission of sins happens as a free gift from the loving God, not bound to repentance, but expressed by an engagement into a new life. Tertullian mentions that Marcion has read his message in Colossians 1:13f.: ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’.[4] Hence, for Marcion, remission of sins is connected with baptism, as otherwise Tertullian could not use it in his counter-argument, but baptism is unrelated to repentance and, in consequence, to judgement. The loosing of the bonds of death is a separation from a life’s submission to the Creator and his law. Baptism is a new, a spiritual birth, in contrast to the corporeal birth, in which the soul receives the Holy Spirit. How Marcion envisaged this remission of sin to take place, is illustrated in the story of ‘Jesus Healing a Withered Hand’ (par. Luke 6:1-11), the same that we already introduced above on fasting.
Here, however, with regards to the forgiveness of sin we approach the core of this story, as can be seen in the version that is attested for Marcion’s Gospel:[5]
1:23 Just then some men <carried> a paralyzed man <on a stretcher. They were trying to bring him in and place him before Jesus. 1:24 When Jesus saw their faith he said:
‘Friend,> your sins are forgiven.’
1:25 <Then the experts in the Law and the Pharisees began to say to themselves:>
‘Who is this man <who is uttering blasphemies?>
Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
1:26 <When Jesus perceived their hostile thoughts, he said to them:
‘Why are you raising objections within yourselves? 1:27 Which is easier, to say,> ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or <to say,> ‘Stand up and take the mat’? 1:28 <‘But so that> you may know <that> the Son of Man has authority <on earth> to forgive sins’, <he said to the paralyzed man:
‘I tell you,> stand up, take your mat, <and go’,
and he went home’, glorifying God. 1:29 Then astonishment seized them all, and they were filled with> fear, <saying:
We have seen> incredible things <today.’
The pericope starts with Jesus teaching and people gathering for seeing him to be healed. Pharisees and teachers of Law are around too who are also teaching. A paralyzed man is being brought who is not only going to be healed by Jesus, but also taken as an example to state another case: that the ‘Son of Man’ is forgiving sins. The scene ends almost stereotypically or at least, as one would expected: The healed glorifies God, the rest freezes in astonishment, fear and the unbeliefer’s statement: ‘We have seen incredible things today’.
The ‘Son of Man’ who can forgive sins, is the hot topic of this story, and, as the counter argument reveals, it remained Marcion’s view that this title worked against its Old Testament figure of Daniel and human insights. It should not be taken allegorically, and, therefore, was not it in harmony with any of the Jewish or non-Pauline writings. Interestingly, the entire question of ‘forgiveness of sins’ and whether or not it involves judgement and repentance (so Tertullian’s view), or unconditional love (so Marcion’s), is a debate which, as Tim Carter has recently shown in his King’s Patristic Seminar, takes place around the mid second century, starting with Marcion. The Epistula Apostolorum, an anti-Marcionite half-Marcionite text, as I have elsewhere shown,[6] has preserved us a summary of beliefs which is shorter and misses out elements which this work elsewhere endorses, but in the given form represents a strongly Marcionite character:
They are a picture of our faith concerning the great Christianity and that is
1)       In the Father, the ruler of the entire world, and
2)       In Jesus Christ our Saviour, and
3)       In the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, and
4)       In the holy Church, and
5)       In the forgiveness of sins.
While we have seen that the belief in the ‘holy Church’ was part of Marcion’s creedal statement, EpAp 5 makes it likely that it also encompassed the belief ‘in the forgiveness of sins’. And what the Ethiopian version of EpAp 42 reports could have been written by Marcion himself: ‘Truly, truly I say to you, you will be called fathers, for you, full of love and compassion, have revealed to them what [is] heaven [… for] by my hand they will receive the baptism of life and forgiveness of sin … and they shall have forgiveness of sins and eternal life and a share of the kingdom.’ Although Hermas knows of the link between baptism and forgiveness of sins, he struggles with the question of people who sin again after they had received the forgiveness of sins in baptism.[7] But contrary to Marcion, Hermas maintains that forgiveness of sins is based on repentance. Astonishingly, Luke only knows of this link between forgiveness of sins and repentance in those sections which have no parallel in Marcion’s Gospel (Luke 1:76-7; 3:3; 24:47; see also Acts 2:38: ‘Repent and by baptized’; 5:31-2), but it is missing in such core places as the account of the last supper where Matth. 26:28 states: This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’, but Luke 22:20 and Marcion’s Gospel have the Pauline formula (1Cor. 11:25: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’): ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’. If, as most NT scholars assume (following Irenaeus and Tertullian), Luke has been written prior to Marcion’s Gospel, than it is very difficult to explain why the link between repentance and forgiveness of sins has such a central place in those sections which have no parallel in Marcion (i.e., the beginning and end of Luke) but not in the passages which are also present in the latter’s Gospel. But if one inverts the chronological order, it becomes perfectly clear. While Luke preserved most of Marcion’s Gospeltext, the non-Marcionite link between baptism and repentance only appear in those sections which were added to Marcion’s Gospel. Be this, as one may judge, it seems a reasonable hypothesis to assume that Marcion’s baptismal statement included both, the ‘holy Church’ (Gal. 4:26) and the ‘forgiveness of sins’ (Col. 1:13f.).
Marcion’s baptism left significant traces in Church history. It entailed a radical forgiveness of sins (without any form of repentance), but also asked for strict ascetic demands (sexual renouncement, virginity) and was apparently often delayed to late in life. Not all elements were retained by the Roman Church and especially his ascetic emphasis reduced, but we learn from a quote by bishop Stephen of Rome (cited by Cyprian) that even in mid third century Rome the sacramental bonds between the different communities (that of Stephens and those of Marcionites and others) were not broken, ‘since those who are specially heretics do not baptize those who come to them from one another, but only receive them to communion.’[8] As Cyprian’s Epistle 74 further details, the reception must have been a mutual one and Stephen must especially have thought of Marcionite communities in his city. The bond of sacramental unity that is unimaginable for Cyprian was obviously still reality at Rome, a sacramental and liturgical acceptance because of much common grounds and despite some significant differences in theologies and rites.

[1] Tert., Adv. Marc. V 4.
[2] See Tert., Adv. Marc. V 18; see also Adolf von Harnack, Marcion: Das Evangelium vom fremden Gott (Leipzig, 1923. 21924 = Darmstadt, 1960), 143.
[3] Tert., Adv. Marc. I 24.
[4] See Tert., Adv. Marc. V 19.
[5] The vers numberings are taken from my forthcoming edition and commentary of Marcion’s Gospel. Brackets indicate where text is unattested for, but probably part of this Gospel, underlined if these parts are at least hinted at in Tertullian or other sources. The re-construction of this text is to a large extent hypothetical and looks like some re-stored fragments of one or more papyri. In a certain sense, the re-construction work was even more difficult in this case than working on a papyri, as the papyri sometimes give the scholar at least a defined framework, fixed lines, or a text with known lacunae, the number of missing characters asf. Unfortunately, all of this is not given in the present case. And still, we had not working entirely in the dark. Tertullian, although being a fierce opponent of Marcion and his Gospel, is so engaged and entangled with the text that in his opening paragraphs of Book IV, chapter 10 he summarizes our pericope of Marcion’s Gospel, so that we know that the story of the paralyzed followed the healing of the leper, and he also gives a few quotes of Marcion’s text. Mostly, however, we have to deduce further fragments from Tertullian’s broader counter-arguments. This makes the task extraordinarily difficult. Any conclusions which we draw below is, therefore, either restricted to the few verbal quotes that he gives, or, as we will indicate, are subject to the uncertainty of what we tried to reconstruct. One help was the seeming variants that are preserved in Codex Bezae (D), as these not only strenghthen the narrative, but also underline the theological message. The guiding elements for the reconstruction, was, of course, Tertullian’s witness, aided by the overall necessity for a coherent narrative. Verses, which Tertullian does not attest, are included, if they are necessary for the story line.
[6] M. Vinzent, Christ’s Resurrection (2011), 128-35.
[7] Hermas, Mand. IV 3,1-3.
[8] Stephen in Cyprian, Ep. 73,4.


  1. I've lost track of the number of times that a Baptist or evangelical has told me that Acts 2:38 was mistranslated; that the "for" in that passage of God's Holy Word should be removed and replaced with "because of".

    It doesn't matter to them that every English translation of the Bible translates this word in Acts 2:38 as "for" or "into" and never "because of", because these Christians know in their hearts that God would never, ever say that baptism has anything to do with the forgiveness of sins.

    Below is an excellent article by Lutheran pastor, Matt Richards on this subject:

  2. "Eis": Why has EVERY Bible translator gotten this little Greek word wrong?

    One of the principle reasons that Baptists and evangelicals refuse to believe that Baptism is God's act of saving sinners and forgiving sins is based on the translation in the Bible of one, little, Greek word: "eis"

    Baptists and evangelicals believe that this Greek word has two principle English translations, and that the context of the Bible passage determines which meaning should be translated into English as the true Word of God. Here are these two English translation options:

    1. for, unto
    2. because of

    Now, as we will see shortly, these two English translations can give the translated sentence in question a completely different meaning...depending on which translation you choose.

    Let's look at Acts 2:38 translating "eis" using each English option:

    Repent and be baptized...for the forgiveness of sins.
    Repent and be baptized...because of the forgiveness of sins.

    HUGE difference in meaning, isn't there?

    So how many English translations of the Holy Bible translate Acts 2:38 using "because of"?

    Answer: not a single one!

    Find out why not: