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Marcion: inventor of the New Testament

Marcion with John on Dr John Dunn. Apostle John and Marcion of Sinope, from JPM LIbrary MS 748, 11th c.

Marcion: inventor of the New Testament

Marcion holds a lasting legacy for Christians as the inventor of the New Testament, which was a text used by the mid-2nd-century. Marcion not only put together the very first Christian canon of scriptures, he gave Christianity very idea of doing so. Marcionites did not believe the god of Jesus had anything to do at all with the god of the Jews. Marcion took time to compare and contrast the teachings of the God incarnate Jesus with the violent texts of the Jewish scriptures to reinforce his point. How could he do this? Marcion had something the Nazoreans had not: a canon of Christian scriptures that he called The New Testament.

What did Marcion's version of the New Testament look like? It had two parts:the Evangelion (from which a bowdlerised version of the Gospel of Luke was much later derived), and the Apostolikon, a collection of Paul's letters. Marcion is our first witness to six of the ten letters now considered to be authentic by modern biblical scholars. Biblical scholars came to the conclusion that only some letters attributed to Paul are authentic (most exclude 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, for example). The evidence from Marcion supports this finding. The inclusion of Paul's letters in the New Testament was by no means certain. Rather, Marcion's choice to include the letters succeeded in pushing other communities to do the same thing when they came up with competing canons of scripture, although it took his competitors two hundred years to establish the canon now found in Bibles today.

Marcion’s brand of Christianity was so successful that there was no going back to any Christianity that did not have its own New Testament. So what did the “Nazoreans” do? They Judaised Marcion’s New Testament, modifying the existing text and adding text to re-connect Christianity to the Jewish tribal deity that is the God of the Old Testament. With the support of the Roman Empire, it was the Judaised version of Christianity that won out, ultimately to become the orthodoxy at Nicaea.

© John Dunn.

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