32: Marcion

Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.

1st John 2:22

The study of Church History inevitably involves the examination of heresies infecting the fellowship of Christ’s body. While the emergence of false teachers, inevitably was painful and difficult there was a positive aspect to their work, illustrating that in providence God permitted them to act and think as they did. In reacting to the heresies of the age the Church was compelled to think through her faith and understand why she believed as she did. This was particularly relevant where the emergence of Marcion was concerned, who by the middle of the Second Century had led the most significant challenge to Christ’s body to date.

Born in Sinope, Pontus, towards the end of the 1st Century, in a Christian family, he eventually made his way to Rome where he was accepted into the Church. The oversight gradually became aware of his rather unorthodox opinions, which resulted in his excommunication and the return of a very large gift that he had donated. His teaching spread, however, long after his death. With Marcionite congregations promoting his doctrines after two hundred years, he ranks as one of the most successful early heretics, to rise up from within the Church.

His two major errors pertained to the canon of Scripture and the person of Christ. Where the Scriptures are concerned he rejected the entire Old Testament and only accepted the Epistles of Paul and a fragment of Luke as the Word of God. He therefore became the first person to produce a canon of Scripture, albeit a high mutilated one. On the person of Christ he denied that He was God manifest in the flesh. He claimed that Jesus merely took on a representation of human flesh, but was not truly man. As a consequence he denied the death and resurrection and by extension all of the great gospel truths that flow there from. Despite an antinomian position his followers lived by a strict moral code, practising asceticism to the extent where they embraced celibacy. It is believed that this was a major contributory factor leading to the demise of the movement.

His position on the Scriptures was the core reason why he led his followers into such a spiritual wilderness:

“Any error may be founded on parts of Scripture; the truth alone is based on the whole. Marcion’s errors were the inevitable result of his accepting only what pleased him and rejecting the rest”

E.H. Broadbent, The Pilgrim Church

Polycarp echoed the uncompromising verdict of Christendom upon Marcion’s innovations when denouncing him face to face as “the first born of Satan”. There is no doubt that his system was a development of the old Gnostic theology that John had warned so vigorously against in his first Epistle.

Marcion’s heresy persuaded Christian leaders of the importance of ensuring that the canon of Scripture is preserved. While the Church informally and without question had from the 1st Century accepted the Old and New Testaments and the apostolic writings as inspired there arose a need for more formal definitions. In every case heresy caused the Church to think their faith through; it still remains necessary for us to think through our faith, to search the Scriptures and be protected from error.

‘Go search the Scriptures‘, saith our Lord,
‘They testify of me’;
‘Tis truth’s great eternal record,
From every error free.

John Kent

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