Saturday, November 6, 2010

Catching Irenaeus Red Handed Altering the Contents of the Gospel of Mark

Sometimes I wonder what exactly I am doing writing this blog.  Most of the people engaged in Biblical exegesis are - well - 'religious people.'  Some of the people engaged in Biblical exegesis want to prove that it is all bullshit.  I am just a guy who happens to like engaging in contemplation.  That's commonly held to mean that I avoid doing work, that I am lazy or something like that.  But if that were true, why make long posts to a blog every day?

Anyway, I think we are making progress here.  Already we have managed to move away from most of the pack with our understanding that the Marcionite reading of 1 Corinthians chapter 2 and 2 Corinthians chaper 4 necessarily meant that they knew of or used a gospel similar to Secret Mark.  It is amazing to look back and think of all the work that I did - scribbled notes etc. - trying to envision what the Marcionite gospel looked like.  Just realizing that it began with Mark 1.1 except with the reading 'the gospel of Christ' is like coming home on an empty train with an attractive female coworker and hearing that she wants to give you a blowjob (happened to me only once in my life; being a typically uptight Canadian I said no).

In any event it's Friday night, please forgive the informalities.

I know that people don't like to give themselves the freedom to really think about the Marcionite gospel paradigm - but when you look at it from every angle it has to be something related to the Gospel of Mark.  It's not just the 'gospel of Christ' reference and Origen's connection of the 'my gospel' reference in Romans 2.16 with the Gospel of Mark.  It's not the reference in the Philosophumena to some who claim that the Gospel of Mark is the Marcionite gospel.  It's not the fact that the name Marcion and Marcionite have been argued by many to ultimately derive from the name 'Mark.'  Nor is it that many of the 'Marcionite variants' which appear when comparing their text with Luke suddenly disappear when we reference the western readings of Mark. 

It's the fact that the word 'Jesus' is missing in the opening words of their gospel.

You see Irenaeus already references a group in his day which 'preferred' Mark.  They also argued that Jesus and the Christ were two separate individuals.  This argument appears in Book Three of Against Heresies just after Irenaeus introduces the four canonical gospels.  He says:

So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these, each one of them endeavours to establish his own peculiar doctrine. For the Ebionites, who use Matthew's Gospel only, are confuted out of this very same, making false suppositions with regard to the Lord. But Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those which he still retains. Those, again, who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark, if they read it with a love of truth, may have their errors rectified. Those, moreover, who follow Valentinus, making copious use of that according to John, to illustrate their conjunctions, shall be proved to be totally in error by means of this very Gospel, as I have shown in the first book. Since, then, our opponents do bear testimony to us, and make use of these, our proof derived from them is firm and true. [AH 3.11.7]

I cite the whole section from chapter 11 because it is important to emphasize that Irenaeus's arguments really don't make any sense.  I mean, on the one hand he says that the heretics are all 'missing something' because they don't accept the other three true gospels and then at the same time he argues that even their versions of the single gospel documents they cling to are full of misrepresentations and misunderstandings.

Any sane person who reads this argument has to acknowledge that Irenaeus modified the four texts in order to make them 'fit together.'  In order to accept his point of view you have to believe that some sort of Satanic conspiracy was actively at work 'corrupting' the true texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (assuming there were such things) and it should be noted that Irenaeus and his peers did indeed invoke the 'Satanic conspiracy' argument.  The better explanation is that Irenaeus deliberately manufactured useful 'witnesses' from four alleged apostolic witnesses.  I have always had my doubts that there ever were 'Marcionites' or 'Valentinians.'  As Origen notes the name 'Ebionites' was applied by outsiders to a group they deemed to be mentally deficient. 

The point then - as we see from the Philosophumena - is that the original Marcionite claim was that their gospel was the one which began with 'the gospel of Christ' [Mark 1.1]. Luke was a red herring to make it seem 'there was doubt' about whether 'Paul' ever referenced this text.  But notice also that Irenaeus acknowledges those who 'preferred' Mark also separated Jesus and Christ.  There is evidence that the Marcionites took the title to mean that their apostle was the Christ and Jesus came to announce him.  You just have to 'go do the math' as it were - that is, you have to figure out the rational basis to the Marcionite worldview.  More on that later. 

For the moment let us just notice that after emphasizing that the heretics who prefer the Gospel of Mark separate Jesus and Christ, Irenaeus immediately goes on to cite the correct words of Mark 1.1 in the next section

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Esaias the prophet [ibid 3.11.8]

The Marcionite gospel simply said 'the gospel of Christ' and it was used by them to demonstrate that the author - the apostle himself rather than Jesus - was the true messiah. 

It is interesting to note how Irenaeus also goes out of his way to cite the first words and the last words of the 'true' Gospel of Mark (i.e. his canonical version) in the section on Mark which immediately precedes this chapter.  His point is to say in effect - 'Mark was not the Christ he was only a secretary for Peter who witnessed that Jesus was the true messiah.  So we read:

Wherefore also Mark, the interpreter and follower of Peter, does thus commence his Gospel narrative: "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make the paths straight before our God." Plainly does the commencement of the Gospel quote the words of the holy prophets, and point out Him at once, whom they confessed as God and Lord; Him, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [AH 3.10.

This certainly was NOT the Marcionite interpretation of the Gospel.  The reason the name 'Jesus' was not present in the title in their version of the text was because it was written by the guy who really was Christ - viz. Mark.  It is for the same reason I would argue that Irenaeus goes on immediately after these words to define the proper ending to the gospel - i.e. the enthronement where Jesus sits at the right hand of his Father.  The heretical version clearly had the apostle enthroned on the right hand of Jesus the Father. 

And just in case the Catholic revision of the title 'the Gospel of Christ' isn't clear enough for his readers, Irenaeus explains it all again in chapter 14 of the same book.  The chapter is devoted to countering the 'heretical tradition' and its claims that their apostle - rather than Jesus - was the true messiah.   Irenaeus takes up the question of what 'Paul' believed demonstrating it to be exactly the same as Peter's well established position (cf. Mk 8.29) even tackling the Marcionite argument that the Gospel of Mark was Paul's gospel:

Paul, when writing to the Romans, has explained this very point: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, predestinated unto the Gospel of God, which He had promised by His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was made to Him of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was predestinated the Son of God with power through the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ." And again, writing to the Romans about Israel, he says: "Whose are the fathers, and from whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is God over all, blessed for ever." And again, in his Epistle to the Galatians, he says: "But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption;" plainly indicating one God, who did by the prophets make promise of the Son, and one Jesus Christ our Lord, who was of the seed of David according to His birth from Mary; and that Jesus Christ was appointed the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, as being the first begotten in all the creation; the Son of God being made the Son Of man, that through Him we may receive the adoption,--humanity sustaining, and receiving, and embracing the Son of God. Wherefore Mark also says: "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets." Knowing one and the same Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was announced by the prophets, who from the fruit of David's body was Emmanuel, "'the messenger of great counsel of the Father;" through whom God caused the day-spring and the Just One to arise to the house of David, and raised up for him an horn of salvation (Psalm 132.17) "and established a testimony in Jacob." [ibid 3.14.3]

The point of course is that the Marcionites did not believe Jesus was the messiah.  This was reflected in their exegesis of Mark 1.1.  That Irenaeus went out of his way to add the word 'Jesus' when it is not present in the original references in the Apostolikon to the 'gospel of Christ' demonstrate that it was a later addition designed to bring harmony to the two factions within the contemporary Church.

And for those of you who 'aren't sure' that the Marcionites really believed that their apostle was the messiah, just remember - Origen says that they identified him as the Paraclete.  It might be a good idea to learn some Aramaic (or at least look up what the meaning of the word menachem is).   The Acts of Archelaus, the bishop of the Marcionite Christian community in Harran, Osrhoene confirms Origen's report about the Marcionites.  The Marcionites thought Jesus came to herald their apostle, identified by Irenaeus as having the name 'Paul' and by the Marcionites themselves 'Mark' ...

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.