What Is “Marcionism?” My Response to a Ludicrous Accusation
It has recently come to my attention that some critics are accusing me of “Marcionism.” A few commenters here have thrown that wild accusation at me—based on my questioning the literal interpretation of some Old Testament “texts of terror.”
Anyone who throws that accusation at me is either ignorant of what I have said or ignorant of the meaning of Marcionism or both.
By all credible accounts, Marcion, the second century Christian heretic after whom the heresy Marcionism is named, did two things that define his heresy. First, he proposed a Christian canon of Scriptures that excluded all of the Hebrew scriptures (our Old Testament) and many of the apostles’ writings. His truncated canon included only portions of what we now call the New Testament that he considered purely gentile and not Hebrew. Second, he denied that the Hebrew God, Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, was the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, he argued that the god (as he would put it) of the Hebrews was a demiurge, a demented or evil demi-deity.
“Marcionism” is by all credible accounts 1) a denial of the inspired status of the Old Testament, and 2) a denial of belief in the true deity of the Yahweh of the Hebrew religion. However, in popular usage, the term has come to be applied to any denial of the Old Testament as not equally inspired with the New Testament. In other words, the “German Christians” of the 1930s were Marcionites (whether they knew it or not) insofar as they rejected the Old Testament as inspired.
The issue here, that I have raised for consideration and discussion, has never been whether the Old Testament or any portion of it is inspired. The issue is and has always and only been hermeneutics—how best to interpret portions of the Old Testament. Christians have always disagreed about that—going back to the early church fathers themselves (not including Marcion who was not a church father). Origen and Tertullian both wrote against Marcion, but neither interpreted the whole Old Testament literally. Especially Origen interpreted much of it allegorically (as did the unknown Apostolic Father who wrote the “Epistle of Barnabus”).
Would the critics who accuse me of “Marcionism” apply that epithet to all the church fathers who interpreted portions of the Hebrew scriptures allegorically? I doubt it. In fact, in my opinion, insofar as they are knowledgeable about church history and theology at all, that accusation aimed at me not only misses the mark but is sheer demagoguery.
I have never advocated expelling any part of the Old Testament from the Christian canon. Nor have I denied the inspiration of any portions of the Old Testament. And I will say it again: Nobody takes every part of the Old Testament literally.
In fact, in my view, taking the Old Testament texts of terror literally contributes to the problem of implicit, practical Marcionism. Why did Marcion deny the inspiration of the Hebrew Scriptures? Well, there were almost certainly several reasons, but one was the Old Testament texts of terror taken literally.
In my opinion, for whatever it’s worth, the only worthwhile reason even to respond to such a ludicrous accusation is the “teachable moment”—for those open to facts.