The First New Testament

The First New Testament August 4, 2014

Jason BeDuhn’s book, The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon, offers both a reconstruction of the text of Marcion’s Gospel and Apostolikon (a collection of letters of Paul which corresponds to those judged authentic by modern scholars), and a discussion of the relevant scholarly matters and their implications.

Scholars of the New Testament should not miss the discussion of the relevance of Marcion’s version of Luke to the Synoptic problem. Marcion’s version, BeDuhn argues, was not truncated by Marcion for ideological reasons, as various church fathers claimed, since “for every single motive cited for why a passage was omitted, one can find a passage of equivalent content that was not” (p.83). Marcion’s version is thus better viewed as an independent variant of Luke’s Gospel, deriving from the same precursor (pp.86-92). BeDuhn also notes that many of the minor agreements between Matthew and Luke are absent from Marcion’s Gospel, as are the very small number of narrative episodes they share in the Q material. And so, rather than treating those as counter-evidence to the Q hypothesis, they should be explained as scribal harmonizations between Matthew and Luke (pp.93-95).

From the perspective of my own current work on the Mandaean Book of John, I am particularly interested in the possibility that Luke 1:1-2:52 might have been subsequently added to a proto-Lukan Gospel. The Mandaean Book of John has its own stories about Zechariah and Elizabeth, which look like independent but distantly related accounts when compared to the infancy stories in Luke. It isn’t clear how these puzzle pieces fit together, and the possibility that a second hand was involved in crafting the Lukan version doesn’t make the matter either simpler or more difficult to figure out – it just adds to the range of possibilities.

Of interest to all researchers, I turned to my library’s databases to try to get hold of an article mentioned in a footnote in the book, F. C. Conybeare’s “Ein Zeugnis Ephräms über das Fehlen von c. 1 und 2 im Texte des Lucas” published in ZNW 3 (1902) 192-197. Databases were unhelpful, and an initial glance online led me to DeGruyter’s website asking a hefty fee for access. But it soon became clear that the issue of Zeitschrift Fur Die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft was on Google Books for free. Sometimes it makes sense to start with Google and the freely-accessible web, and then turn to databases and specialized searches subsequently as necessary.

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  • redpill99

    Marcion’s version is thus better viewed as an independent variant of Luke’s Gospel, deriving from the same precursor (pp.86-92).^

    then what about Luke-Acts? did this same precursor author also write acts?

    • That’s a great question, and there has been significant debate about that, even apart from the possibility that the prologue – which makes a strong connection between the two volumes – might be a later addition.

      • redpill99

        other than the prologue is there any reason to think luke-acts is the work of a single author?

        • Even apart from the prologues, the two volumes share a lot of commonalities of emphasis and theology, and a lot of deliberate parallells between the way Jesus is depicted in Luke and the way his followers are in Acts. So yes, there are a number of points which can be made in favor of common authorship.

          • redpill99

            did the author of Luke-Acts know Paul personally?

          • We can only infer whether he did or not from the text, and scholars have disagreed on that subject. There are aspects which at the very least suggest that he didn’t write with Paul around to provide input, but even those who know someone can get things wrong or distort their depiction of them.

          • Andrew Dowling

            The significant theological and rhetorical differences between the Paul of the Epistles and that of Paul in Acts (which makes complete sense if one sees Acts as refuting Marcionite theology ie making Paul ‘more’ faithful to Jewish law/custom and ultimately subservient to the Apostles) are a huge red flag.

          • I’m not persuaded. The same features are also present in Luke’s Gospel, including in the form in which it was known to Marcion. And the question of how to bring Jewish and Gentile Christians together predates Marcion, while Acts offers nothing that is clearly and/or explicitly aimed at the idea that the creator god is an inferior demiurge and not the God who sent Jesus.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “while Acts offers nothing that is clearly and/or explicitly aimed at the
            idea that the creator god is an inferior demiurge and not the God who
            sent Jesus.”

            Look at Stephen’s speech and Paul’s in Acts . . they hardly mention Jesus . . they all focus on the fact that the God of Christianity is the (creator) God of Judaism, and ultimately that Christianity is the rightful heir to that tradition. Affirmations of the Hebrew God come up again and again . .ultimately pointing to the relationship between that God and Jesus generically “fulfilling the Scriptures.”

          • OK, but we find such things in Paul’s letters, too, and so unless one wants to try to suggest that everything in the New Testament writings reflect Marcionism, then I am more inclined to think that nothing does.

    • Andrew Dowling

      I find it more and more plausible that there was a proto-Luke (written sometime in the late 70s-80s), used and edited by Marcion in the early 2nd century, and that what we now know as canonical Luke and Acts had the same author/redactor shortly after Marcion’s version began being used.

      Looking at the textual evidence it seems apparent to me that Luke as we have it has whole sections that were not apart of the original Gospel, including the birth narratives.

  • Gary

    Ehrman wrote about additions to Luke by proto-orthodox authors (redactors?). I assume this is additional support for the addition of the infancy texts in Luke 1 + 2.
    I think this was from Lost Christianities, but not sure:
    Luke 22:43-44 And there appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.

    Bruce M. Metzger (2005): “These verses are absent from some of the oldest and best witnesses, including the majority of the Alexandrian manuscripts. It is striking to note that the earliest witnesses attesting the verses are three Church fathers – Justin, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus – each of whom uses the verses in order to counter Christological views that maintained that Jesus was not a full human who experienced the full range of human sufferings. It may well be that the verses were added to the text for just this reason, in opposition to those who held to a docetic Christology”.

    According to Bart D. Ehrman (1993) these two verses disrupt the literary structure of the scene (the chiasmus), they are not found in the early and valuable manuscripts, and they are the only place in Luke where Jesus is seen to be in agony. Ehrman concludes that they were inserted in order to counter doceticism, the belief that Jesus, as divine, only seemed to suffer. While probably not original to the text, these verses reflect first-century tradition.

  • redpill99

    my solution to marcionite/synoptic problem,

    Mark, then expanded Mark+Q, which Matthew Luke and Marcion used

  • redpill99

    I still think Marcion might be right about Jesus. Jesus may have been raised a Jew, but his understanding of deity is as far removed from the Torah and the OT as a deist is to Christianity. Calling Jesus a Jew would be like calling Voltaire Thomas Paine Jefferson Christians. I dont think the God of Jesus is the God of the OT anymore than Deism’s deity is the deity of Christianity, even though many deists were raised as Christians. As evidence Marcion’s antithesis.

    • I think this reflects a monolithic view of Judaism (and Christianity), rather than the evidence we have for the incredible diversity in Judaism. I think it also ignores the extent to which Jesus treated the Torah as connected with the God whom he worships.

  • *Bump*
    I finished reading this book yesterday, and I have just completed writing my own amateur-ish review of it on my blog. But I am DYING to know what you think about the relation between Marcion’s Apostolikon and the catholic version of Paul’s letters. Has it shaken your trust its textual fundation? I cannot find any good critical reviews on the book. Share some of your reflections 😀

    • Thanks for the comment, and the blog post. To be honest, I’m not yet sure what to make of the proposals in the book in relation to textual criticism. I’m looking forward to future explorations of the possibilities, but when dealing with quotes and hypothetical reconstructions, it would take very significant and persuasive arguments to change the state of scholarship based on the textual evidence we have.