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.

What Is Gnosticism?

Gnosticism is a syncretistic cult which attempts to combine the beliefs of Greek religion and philosophy with Christianity. The term is derived from the Greek word gnosis which means knowledge. The gnostics taught that salvation comes through believing in secret knowledge which only they had access to rather than faith in Christ and repentance from sin. As a syncretistic cult, it is parasitic of Christianity and borrows from it much of its teaching while twisting the key doctrines of the Christian faith. There are many misconceptions about gnosticism which is understandable given that there are many different forms of gnosticism in existence. The gnostics produced many alternative gospels and writings which claimed that they had the true teachings of Jesus. The Gospel of Thomas is the most well-known gnostic writing which completely perverts the Christian message.

The gnostics believed that all things were created ex deo (out of God) as opposed to the Christian belief of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). The world that now exists was created by a demiurge who is the lowest aeon on the chain of gradation of divine beings. That means gnosticism is polytheistic believing in many gods as opposed to Christian monotheism. The aeons of gnosticism flow out of or emanate from the being of higher aeons who in turn come from even higher aeons leading back to an original divine being who is too pure to interact with the material world which is viewed as intrinsically evil.

The best comprehensive definition of gnosticism that I have found is by Stephan A. Hoeller in his article on the subject:

“The Gnostics posited an original spiritual unity that came to be split into a plurality. As a result of the precosmic division the universe was created. This was done by a leader possessing inferior spiritual powers and who often resembled the Old Testament Jehovah. A female emanation of God was involved in the cosmic creation (albeit in a much more positive role than the leader). In the cosmos, space and time have a malevolent character and may be personified as demonic beings separating man from God. For man, the universe is a vast prison. He is enslaved both by the physical laws of nature and by such moral laws as the Mosaic code. Mankind may be personified as Adam, who lies in the deep sleep of ignorance, his powers of spiritual self awareness stupefied by materiality. Within each natural man is an ‘inner man,’ a fallen spark of the divine substance. Since this exists in each man, we have the possibility of awakening from our stupefaction. What effects the awakening is not obedience, faith, or good works, but knowledge. Before the awakening, men undergo troubled dreams. Man does not attain the knowledge that awakens him from these dreams by cognition but through revelatory experience, and this knowledge is not information but a modification of the sensate being. The awakening (i.e., the salvation) of any individual is a cosmic event. Since the effort is to restore the wholeness and unity of the Godhead, active rebellion against the moral law of the Old Testament is enjoined upon every man.”

This rebellion against the moral law of God is the essence of Satanism. Gnosticism in many ways is the forerunner of the new age movement and there are many parallels between gnosticism and eastern religions. In these religions, our primary problem is not sin or rebellion against God, but a lack of knowledge. Through this knowledge, they believe we can become our own saviors. The heretic Marcion advocated a form of this gnosticism by teaching that the God of the Old Testament is evil while the God of the New Testament is good. As a result, he rejected the Old Testament and its teachings together with the four Gospels except an edited version of Luke.

The worldview of gnosticism and the beliefs of Christianity are diametrically opposed to each other. This is apparent to anyone who reads the writings of gnosticism for himself. An example of this is seen in the gnostic Gospel of Judas which claims that Jesus requested that Judas betray him. In one of the more interesting lines from the document, Judas says to Jesus:

“I know who you are and where you have come from. You are from the immortal realm of Barbelo. And I am not worthy to utter the name of the one who has sent you.”

Barbelo in some forms of gnosticism is the first emanation from God and highest of the aeons. The unique terminology of these gnostic forgeries betrays their pagan origin and demonstrates that their authors were not Jewish monotheists living in the first century as the authors of the New Testament were, but polytheistic Gentiles living in the second century.

Joseph Smith’s Confusion About Elijah and Elias

Joseph Smith is the founding prophet of Mormonism who claimed to receive new revelation from God in the form of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read:

“After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed. After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (110:12-14).

Smith is visited by two different individuals in this encounter: Elias followed by Elijah. It was only after the first vision had closed that Elijah appeared before them. Elias and Elijah are presented as two different prophets each with a distinct name throughout the Doctrine and Covenants (27:6-9; 138:45-47). The identification of Elijah is easy. He is the Old Testament prophet who was “taken to heaven without tasting death” in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). But who is Elias? Where in the Old Testament does it ever talk about him? Mormons respond by saying that Elias is an unnamed prophet of the Old Testament who was a contemporary of Abraham or another Old Testament prophet under a different name.

To see where the name Elias actually comes from, all we have to do is open a King James Bible. The New Testament translation of the King James only uses the name Elias to refer to Elijah because it is a transliteration of the Greek word for Elijah which is ēlias. On the other hand, the Old Testament translation of the King James only uses Elijah to refer to him. The difference between the two is because each testament was done by a different translation committee and they did not thoroughly check with each other before publishing. But Smith thought that Elijah and Elias were actually two different prophets instead of grasping that Elias is simply the King James’ way of referring to Elijah in the New Testament!

So, which is more likely? Is it more likely that Elias is a different prophet from Elijah who is never mentioned in the Old Testament or that Joseph Smith was confused about the translation inconsistencies of the King James Bible? The King James Bible identifies Elias as Elijah rather than being a distinct prophet from him (Matt 17:10-13; Rom 11:2-4; Jas 5:17). That Smith thought Elijah and Elias were two different prophets is a sad illustration that proves he is not a true prophet of God and biblically illiterate. Only a man who is ignorant of Scripture could possibly believe that there are billions of gods out there and that we can become a god one day (Isa 43:10).