What Is Marcionism?

Marcionism is a form of gnosticism promoted during the second century by Marcion of Sinope. It is polytheistic and dualistic asserting that the God of the Old Testament is an evil demiurge while the God of the New Testament is good. Marcion rejected the Old Testament Scriptures and only accepted an edited version of Luke and the writings of Paul stripped of their references to the Old Testament. He was also a docetist who denied the full humanity of Christ.

Marcion’s beliefs concerning the Old and New Testaments are most clearly set forth in his Antithesis where he argues that the two testaments contain irreconcilable depictions of God and therefore they must be two distinct deities who are in conflict with each another. He argued on the basis of Isaiah 45:7 that the God of the Old Testament is evil: “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” The word translated as “calamity” here is the Hebrew word ra which means that which is evil or bad. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, which Marcion read, translates it as kakos which also means evil. Marcion concluded:

“This god is the author of evil – there must be another God, after the analogy of the good tree producing its good fruit. In Christ is found a different disposition, one of a simple and pure benevolence – which differs from the Creator. In Christ a new God is revealed.”

But Marcion’s mistake here is misunderstanding how the term ra is being used by Isaiah. Isaiah defines it in contrast to shalom which means peace or well-being since they are set in antithesis to each other. The opposite of well-being is calamity or disaster and that is why modern translations translate ra as calamity rather than evil. The point is not that God is the author of evil, but that he is ultimately the author of the calamity in the world which is evil because it falls short of God’s original design for creation (Lam 3:37-39; Amos 3:6). God is sovereign over the evil in the world without being evil himself because he uses secondary causes to accomplish his will whose desire is for evil while his is always for good (Gen 50:20; Isa 10:5-7; Acts 4:27-28; Eph 1:11). In one sense, Marcion’s theology flows from a rejection of the sovereignty of God as displayed in the Old Testament.

Not only did he believe in two distinct gods, he also believed that there were two different Christs. He argues that the Christ revealed in the Old Testament is not the same as the one revealed in his edited version of Luke:

“It is the Christ of the Other, Supreme God Who was driven to the cross by the hostile powers and authorities of the Creator. The suffering of the cross was not predicted of the Creator’s Christ; moreover, it should not be believed that the Creator would expose his son to that kind of death on which he himself had pronounced a curse. ‘Cursed’ says he, ‘is everyone who hangeth on a tree’ (Deuteronomy 21:3, Galatians 3:13).”

While Marcionism is damnable heresy, we can be tempted to think in Marcionite categories and fail to see the interconnectedness of the Old and New Testaments. When we relegate the Old Testament Scriptures to a secondary status in our teaching and preaching, we are failing to treat all of Scripture as God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16). It is primarily in the Old Testament where the attributes of God are set forth. To neglect the Old Testament is to neglect the study of who God is. And the essence of eternal life is knowing God through Christ (John 17:3). When Christians speak poorly of the Old Testament and its laws from an antinomian perspective, they are unwittingly drifting toward Marcionism by creating a canon within the canon where the New Testament is seen as superior to the Old when it comes to ethics and morals. But the same God who gave us the laws of the Old Testament also gives us the commands of the New. Since the moral law is a reflection of God’s righteousness, it is not subject to change because God does not change.

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