Markus Vinzent's Blog

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Marcion and Paul's Letters

Being asked from a reader of this blog, I sent the following response:
The question of the nature of Paul's letter needs a thorough examination. The last attempt to do this was Schmid's book ( Schmid, Ulrich, Marcion und sein Apostolos (Berlin a.o., 1995), but it was done entirely on the other assumption that Marcion was a big redactor, hence the model how he went about the Gospel was also used for that of his use of Paul's letters.

Now, I think, we can see from Tertullian that Marcion was indeed handling the Gospel very differently from Paul's letters and that he did neither forge the letters, nor wrote them in the name of Paul, but that he, indeed, collected those and, only occasionally as Schmid shows, corrects and deviates from the text as we have them today. Yet, it is clear, having done some research on these texts (far from being substantial enough to form a final opinion with regards to most details of the letters), that the letters were different to some extent from what we have today and were, indeed, post Marcion redacted in an anti-Marcionite way. Take the example of Romans. Romans, in Marcion's collection, ended with chapter 14. He did not shorten it, but it was later broadened. Similarly, the opening of 1Corinthians 15 did not display the reference that Paul has taken his information from others, and such references were not cut out by Marcion, but introduced to make Paul depending from the Apostles. Without having done a full examination (which is a huge job and needs to be done in the future), I think, we can build on Schmid's work, but need to revise the assumptions, and, therefore, will also come to very different results,


  1. Compare the expansion of Syriac Ignatius to the short Greek text and then the long text (plus the wholesale manufacture of spurious epistles in Ignatius's name). This was going on all the time by the orthodox. The expansion of the Syriac to the short Greek just happens to add typically long endings (like Romans Paul). Notice also Megethius's rejection of the companions of Paul (the name dropping that typically appears in our edition of the Pauline letters. There were patterns of forgery that occur both within and without the Pauline canon.

  2. It seems to me that the idea that Marcion's Pauline epistles in general were all that different from the Catholic version is a snow job. Tertullian's purpose is of course not to give us accurate information on Marcion's epistles but to save face for the Catholic Church. He gives us all this pointless minuatae on the differences between Marcion and the Catholic text on every epistle EXCEPT the most important one, Romans. This is clearly on purpose. The whole point of anti-Marcionite polemic is to gt rid of the shorter version of Romans that did not contain all the misuses and twistings of the Old Testament. Tertullian will not give us any information but only summarily dismis Romans "what huge excisions Marcion made from this epistle we need not get into." Undoubtedly all the passages that plague the church today and fuel disagreements on soteriology, namely basically all of Romans 3-9 were missing. But Tertullian dares not tell us so explicitly; instead he focuses on the other epistles as a sort of fake out. His whole treatise is written to keep us from realizing how the Catholic church interpolated Romans with all this nonsensical interpretation of the Old Testament to bring in justification by faith alone, original sin, and predestination.

  3. Joshua sent me an email to which I responded with the blog above, now he replied again via email:

    Thanks for the response! I've been having a field day reading through your other posts, and must say, i'm very impressed!

    Throughout all the research you've done ... would you sum Paul up as believing that Yahweh was the true God and father of Jesus? Or like Marcion, that Jesus was sent from a completely different God? I understand that the current letters we have point to the former, but I have to believe that Marcion would have had nothing to do with those letters, unless they pointed to the latter.

    Do you have a reconstruction of "The Gospel of Marcion" ... or the Marcionite version of Paul's letters?

  4. And Joshua sent an additional email:
    To further elaborate on my last email ... what i'm getting at is that IF the original letters of Paul were the letters in Marcions collection, AND they taught a very Marcionite version of Christianity (different God), THEN we could start to see that Christianity did not start as a branch of Judaism, that only departed sometime in the second century ... but rather, a Christianity that from it's very beginning (when Paul had his revelation, and began preaching), was it's own separate religion, with no ties to Judaism and the OT.

    BTW, didn't Paul preach primarily in the east, in the same areas where Marcion is said to have come from? This sets up the possibility that the Church in which Marcion was a member of in Sinope, was a Church established by Paul himself, or one of his close companions (which would explain why Marcion had access to the originals of his letters, and his Gospel message) ... perhaps i'm getting ahead of myself?

    Interested on your thought of this if/then scenario.



  5. "Tertullian will not give us any information"

    The real question is why are Tertullian and Epiphanius so similar in terms of their treatment of the Marcionite gospel. The first possibility is that the reason why they take an interest in the same sections of text is because these were very few deviations from the Catholic text. The other possibility is that they went back to the same source. I favor the second possibility but Schmid and most everyone else favors the first. Of course I don't get paid to be right so I can afford the luxury of being more honest and admitting 'we don't know enough to say anything definitive about the Marcionites, their canon or anything else. I also like being non-committal about everything. It just seems to me at least to be more honest.