Marcion of Sinope

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Apostle John (left) and Marcion of Sinope (right), from Morgan Library MS 748, 11th century

Marcion of Sinope (Greek: Μαρκίων[1] Σινώπης), (c. 85 – c. 160) was a bishop in early Christianity.[2] His theology rejected the deity described in the Jewish Scriptures and in distinction affirmed the Father of Christ to be the true God. He was denounced by the Church Fathers and he chose to separate himself from the proto-orthodox church. He is often considered to have held a pivotal role in the development of the New Testament canon.


Hippolytus records that Marcion was the son of the bishop of Sinope, in Pontus. His near-contemporaries Rhodo and Tertullian described him as a wealthy ship owner,[3] and he is said to have made a donation of 200,000 sesterces to the church. Marcion probably was consecrated a bishop, likely an assistant or suffragan of his father at Sinope.[3]

Conflicts with the bishops of Rome arose and he was eventually excommunicated by the Church of Rome, his donation being returned to him. After his excommunication, he returned to Asia Minor where he continued to lead his many church congregations and teach the Christian gospel in its Marcionite version.

In 394, Epiphanius claimed that after beginnings as an ascetic, Marcion seduced a virgin and was accordingly excommunicated by his father, prompting him to leave his home town.[4] This account has been doubted by many scholars, who consider it "malicious gossip". More recently, Bart D. Ehrman suggests that this "seduction of a virgin" was a metaphor for his corruption of the Christian Church, with the Church portrayed as the undefiled virgin.[5]

Tertullian claims in The Prescription Against Heretics (written ca. 200) that Marcion professed repentance, and agreed to the conditions granted to him—that he should receive reconciliation if he restored to the church those whom he had led astray; he was prevented, however, by death.[6]


Study of the Jewish Scriptures, along with received writings circulating in the nascent Church, led Marcion to conclude that many of the teachings of Jesus were incompatible with the actions of the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh. Marcion responded by developing a dualist system of belief around the year 144.[7] This dual-god notion allowed Marcion to reconcile contradictions between Old Covenant theology and the Gospel message proclaimed by Jesus.

Marcion affirmed Jesus to be the saviour sent by the Heavenly Father, and Paul as his chief apostle. In contrast to the nascent Christian church, Marcion declared that Christianity was in complete discontinuity with Judaism and entirely opposed to the Old Testament message. Marcion did not claim that the Jewish Scriptures were false. Instead, Marcion asserted that they were to be read in an absolutely literal manner, thereby developing an understanding that YHWH was not the same god spoken of by Jesus. For example, Marcion argued that the Genesis account of YHWH walking through the Garden of Eden asking where Adam was proved YHWH inhabited a physical body and was without universal knowledge (omniscience), attributes wholly incompatible with the Heavenly Father professed by Jesus.

According to Marcion, the god of the Old Testament, whom he called the Demiurge, the creator of the material universe, is a jealous tribal deity of the Jews, whose law represents legalistic reciprocal justice and who punishes mankind for its sins through suffering and death. Contrastingly, the god that Jesus professed is an altogether different being, a universal god of compassion and love who looks upon humanity with benevolence and mercy. Marcion also produced his Antitheses contrasting the Demiurge of the Old Testament with the Heavenly Father of the New Testament.

Marcion held Jesus to be the son of the Heavenly Father but understood the incarnation in a docetic manner, i.e. that Jesus' body was only an imitation of a material body, and consequently denied Jesus' physical and bodily birth, death, and resurrection (e.g., he accepted Luke's Gospel yet eliminated portions such as the birth narrative) and thereby denied the historic Christian Gospel (1 Cor 15:3-4).

Marcion proposed his unique New Testament canon. His canon consisted of only eleven books grouped into two sections: the Evangelikon, being an edited version of the Gospel of Luke,[8] and the Apostolikon, a selection of ten epistles of Paul the Apostle, whom Marcion considered the correct interpreter and transmitter of Jesus' teachings. From this selection of New Testament books he eliminated elements relating to Jesus' birth, childhood, Judaism, and material challenging Marcion's dualism.

Marcion and Gnosticism[edit]

Marcion is sometimes described as a Gnostic philosopher. In some essential respects, Marcion proposed ideas which would have aligned well with Gnostic thought. Like the Gnostics, he argued that Jesus was essentially a divine spirit appearing to men in the shape of a human form, and not someone in a true physical body.[9]

However, Marcionism conceptualizes God in a way which cannot be reconciled with broader Gnostic thought. For Gnostics, every human being is born with a small piece of God's soul lodged within his/her spirit (akin to the notion of a 'Divine Spark').[9] God is thus intimately connected to and part of His creation.[9] Salvation lies in turning away from the physical world (which Gnostics regard as an illusion) and embracing the God-like qualities within yourself.[9] Marcion, by contrast, held that the Heavenly Father (the father of Jesus Christ) was an utterly alien god; he had no part in making the world, nor any connection with it..[9]


In 144, Marcion became one of the first declared heresiarchs for his deviations from the orthodox viewpoints of the apostolic church. The suppression of the Marcionist form of Christianity is thus viewed[10] as a catalyst for the development of the New Testament canon, the establishment of a centralised church law, and the structuring of the Church.

The church that Marcion founded had expanded greatly within his lifetime, and was a rival to the orthodox Christian church. Its adherents were strong enough in their convictions that the Marcionite church retained its following for more than a century. It survived Christian controversy, and imperial disapproval, for several centuries more.[11]

Marcion proposed and delineated a canon (a list of officially sanctioned religious works). This prompted the orthodox, apostolic church to form an official canon of books that had been recognized as divinely inspired and authoritative. Christians began to divide texts into those that aligned with the "measuring stick" (Greek kanōn literally means "measuring stick") of being an apostolic, authoritative, Christian writing (the works of New Testament as we know them today), those that were to be rejected as heretical or pseudonymous, and those that were able to be accepted but not to be seen as canon or read in public gatherings (e.g., The Shepherd of Hermas). Therefore, Marcion played a role in finalising the structure and contents of the collection of works now called the New Testament.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Tertullian, "Adversus Marcionem" book 1.
  3. ^ a b Catholic Encyclopedia, "Marcionites" (1911).
  4. ^ Haeresies, XLII, ii.
  5. ^ Bart D. Ehrman,Lost Christianities
  6. ^ The Prescription Against Heretics 30:3.
  7. ^ 115 years and 6 months from the Crucifixion, according to Tertullian's reckoning in Adversus Marcionem, xv.
  8. ^ Joseph B. Tyson (Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle) contradicts the mainstream view of Marcion's gospel being based on Luke, opining instead that canonical Luke may be a response to Marcion's gospel.
  9. ^ a b c d e Adolph Harnack, Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God (1924).[page needed]
  10. ^ "The Canon of Scripture" by F.F. Bruce 1988, page 151
  11. ^ Evans 1972 p. ix


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