The heresy of Marcionism was an early Christian dualistic belief system that originated with the teachings of Marcion of Sinope in Rome around the year 144 (According to Tertullian and other writers of early proto-orthodox Christianity, the movement known as Marcionism began with the teachings and excommunication of Marcion around 144). Marcion was an early Christian theologian who preached that the benevolent God of the Gospel who sent Jesus Christ into the world as the savior was the true Supreme Being, different and opposed to the malevolent Demiurge or creator god, identified with the Hebrew God of the Old Testament. The premise of Marcionism is that many of the teachings of Christ are incompatible with the inconsistent, jealous, wrathful and genocidal actions of the God of the Old Testament. It was also believed that because the material world he created seemed to be defective and a place of suffering; then the God who made such a world must therefore be either a bungling or malicious demiurge. This was in stark contrast to the merciful God of the Gospels. Marcionites also denied the human nature of Christ as his material body would have been the creation of the Old Testament demiurge. Irenaeus of Lyons, in his work Adversus Haereses, claims that Polycarp of Smyrna had an encounter with Marcion:
And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me?” “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.”
Marcion considered himself a follower of Paul the Apostle, whom he believed to have been the only true apostle of Jesus Christ. This was a primary difference between Marcionites and Gnostics in that the Gnostics based their theology on secret wisdom (for example, Valentinius claimed to receive secret wisdom from Theudas who received it direct from Paul), whereas Marcion based his theology on the contents of the Letters of Paul and the recorded sayings of Jesus; in other words, he argued from scripture, with Marcion himself defining what was and was not scripture. Because Marcion considered himself a disciple of Paul, he regarded Paul’s letters to be of higher importance than the four Gospels. Marcion was the first to put forth the idea of a New Testament canon (Greek κανών kanōn, meaning “rule” or “measuring stick”); i.e. a list of writings considered to be sacred scripture. Tertullian, in his work Prescription against Heretics, claims that Marcion was the first to propose such a thing;
“Since Marcion separated the New Testament from the Old, he is necessarily subsequent to that which he separated, inasmuch as it was only in his power to separate what was previously united. Having been united previous to its separation, the fact of its subsequent separation proves the subsequence also of the man who effected the separation.” (Tertullian’s De praescriptione haereticorum Chapter 30).
Marcion’s canon included ten of the Pauline epistles, in the following order: Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Laodiceans, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians. Marcion’s canon did not include the Pastoral epistles (1st & 2nd Timothy and Titus) or the Epistle to the Hebrews. It also contained the Gospel of Marcion, which was Marcion’s version of Luke, and that the Marcionites attributed to Paul, that was different in a number of ways from the version that is now regarded as canonical and lacked any passages that connected Jesus with the Old Testament such as prophecies or infancy narratives. No manuscript of Marcion’s Gospel survives, but scholars such as Adolf von Harnack and Dieter T. Roth have been able to largely reconstruct the text from quotations in the anti-Marcionite treatises of orthodox Christian apologists such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Epiphanius. Tertullian stated that Marcion edited Luke to fit his own theology and further bolster the errors of Marcionism. He wrote that Marcion;
“expunged [from the Gospel of Luke] all the things that oppose his view… but retained those things that accord with his opinion”. (Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem 4.6.2)
In bringing together these texts, Marcion redacted what is perhaps the first New Testament canon on record, which he called the Gospel and the Apostolikon, which reflects his belief in the writings of Jesus and the apostle Paul respectively. Although his canon was rejected, Marcion forced other Christians to begin considering which texts were canonical and why. Marcion’s list as well as his theology were rejected as heretical by the early church and the man himself was excommunicated by the church in Rome.
Ehrman, Bart D. (2005) . “At Polar Ends of the Spectrum: Early Christian Ebionites and Marcionites”. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 95–112
Dunn, James D. G. (2016). “”The Apostle of the Heretics”: Paul, Valentinus, and Marcion”. In Porter, Stanley E.; Yoon, David (eds.). Paul and Gnosis. Pauline Studies. Vol. 9
McDonald & Sanders, editors, The Canon Debate, 2002, chapter 18 by Everett Ferguson, page 310
The Marcionite New Testament Canon:
(c. 4th century)