Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Marcionite Gospel Was Called 'the Gospel of Christ,' Origen Identifies 'the Gospel of Christ' With the Gospel of Mark (and Clement Instructs People to Deny that the Secret Alexandrian Gospel is by Mark)

Let's face it.  Most experts on the New Testament have very little knowledge about Marcion and the Marcionites.  They have at best memorized a couple of 'facts' about them ultimately derived from von Harnack or some such source.  Yet the reality is that it takes a lifetime of familiarity with the subject matter to make any serious pronouncements.   This is time that most scholars can't or won't invest because of the demands of making a living or perhaps more accurately - the psychological need to appear to have expertise on the subject of early Christianity is too strong.

Marcionitism is the great unknown.  Claiming to be an authority on the Marcionites is like claiming expertise on what happens when we die.  Marcionitism is a dead tradition and as the saying goes - no one here got out alive. 

Neverthless we can feel our way in the darkness.  What we must resist above all else is the familiar 'cheat sheet' that inevitably gets pulled out from a misreading of our Patristic sources - i.e. 'the Marcionites had a corrupt version of Luke' and 'the Marcionites used a gospel according to Paul.'   A careful reading of Tertullian and Adamantius (i. 5) torpedoes the second claim often trumpeted by so-called contemporary 'experts.'  The Marcionite gospel was not 'according to Paul' as we read on more than one occassion in Book Four of Against Marcion:

Marcion attaches to his gospel no author's name,—as though he to whom it was no crime to overturn the whole body, might not assume permission to invent a title for it as well. At this point I might have made a stand, arguing that no recognition is due to a work which cannot lift up its head, which makes no show of courage, which gives no promise of credibility by having a fully descriptive title and the requisite indication of the author's name.  But I prefer to join issue on all points, nor am I leaving unmentioned anything that can be taken as being in my favour. For out of those authors whom we possess, Marcion is seen to have chosen Luke as the one to mutilate. Now Luke was not an apostle but an apostolic man, not a master but a disciple, in any case less than his master, and assuredly even more of lesser account as being the follower of a later apostle, Paul, to be sure: so that even if Marcion had introduced his gospel under the name of Paul in person, that one single document would not be adequate for our faith, if destitute of the support of his predecessors. For we should demand the production of that gospel also which Paul found , that to which he gave his assent, that with which shortly afterwards he was anxious that his own should agree: for his intention in going up to Jerusalem to know and to consult the apostles, was lest perchance he had run in vain a—that is, lest perchance he had not believed as they did, or were not preaching the gospel in their manner. [Tertullian Against Marcion 4.2]

Now the lazy will inevitably fall back on the first proposition - i.e. that the Marcionite gospel was 'according to Luke' - merely because the Church Father here reinforces this claim.   Yet this is also certainly wrong.  There certainly were Lucan narratives in the Marcionite gospel but this was not anything resembling our 'gospel according to Luke.'  Luke's prologue was not present nor almost anything of substance until the latter parts of chapter four. 

I have always argued that we should take the Philosophumena's argument that the Marcionite gospel was structured around the gospel of Mark.  The gospel of Mark has no title which ascribes authorship to a human author - viz. 'the gospel of Jesus Christ' (Mark 1.1).  When the Marcionite gospel disagrees with Lucan readings it generally agrees with western texts of Mark.  It also likely had an enthronement ending (where Paul or Mark sat at Jesus's right hand) and most important of all - the name 'Marcion' and 'Marcionite' bear some relationship to the Latin name Marcus. 

Yet I don't want to rehash those old arguments.  We are at present trying to work out the obvious parallels between 1 Corinthians 2.1 - 7 and 2 Corinthians 4.3,4 and Clement's Letter to Theodore.  I want to clear the path for a great deal more research by dispelling common misconceptions about the Marcionite gospel.   Another misconception that is worth noting - that the Marcionite text was called 'the Gospel of the Lord.'  This was invented by Bishop Westcott in the nineteenth century and somehow managed to stick even though there is no ancient support for this title.

There is much more evidence for the idea that the title was 'the Gospel of Christ.'  This is certainly made explicit in the testimony of Adamantinus's Marcionite opponent.  In Tertullian Against Marcion Book Two we get something vaguely similar - "Marcion has presumed to erase from the gospel, this testimony of Christ ..." [AM 2.17]  The title seems to be referenced in Book Four's retelling of the Marcionite interpretation of Galatians chapter 2:

But Marcion has got hold of Paul's epistle to the Galatians, in which he rebukes even the apostles themselves for not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, and accuses also certain false apostles of perverting the gospel of Christ: and on this ground Marcion strives hard to overthrow the credit of those gospels which are the apostles' own and are published under their names, or even the names of apostolic men, with the intention no doubt of conferring on his own gospel the repute which he takes away from those others. [AH 4.4]

The parallel report in Adamantius's Dialogue of much the same argument strongly suggests that the reference in Galatians represented the proper title of the Marcionite text:

Neither are there four evangelists, for the Apostle says (Gal.1:7) : “which is not another (according to my gospel , Gk), but there are some that trouble you and would divert (you) unto a different gospel of Christ.” [Dial. 1.1]

One may strongly suspect that the proper title of the Marcionite gospel was 'the gospel of Christ' and that as such it should be taken as a variant of Mark 1.1.

Here are some other possible allusions in Tertullian to the idea that the Marcionite gospel was ascribed 'to Christ':

[Moses and Elijah were] certainly far removed from the glory of that Christ who was intending to cut [them] off from his own gospel [AH 4.22]

he writes, I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into grace, unto another gospel—another in manner of life, not in religion, another in rule of conduct, not in divinity: because the gospel of Christ must needs be calling them away from the law, towards grace, not away from the Creator towards another god. [AH 5.2]

If this fulfilling of the law comes from the law itself, I am now at a loss who may be the God of the law. Perhaps it is Marcion's god.  But if the gospel of Christ is fulfilled by this commandment, but what is Christ's is not the Creator's, what are we still contending about? [AH 5.14]

A number of scholars actually support the identification of the original title of the text as 'the Gospel of Christ' including Adolph von Harnack, William Smith, Stephen Barton, Eduard Reuss just to name a few.

It is Origen who makes the final connection for us, linking the Apostle's 'Gospel of Christ' with the Gospel of Mark noting in his Commentary on Romans 1.3.5:

Other passages of Scripture speak of the gospel of Christ, as the evangelist Mark writes, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet."

In short I am not the first to connect this text identified as 'the Gospel of Christ' (which Origen later in the same passage says 'Paul rightly calls it his own gospel') with the Gospel of Mark.  The witness of Origen is worth more than that of von Harnack or any of the others who have theorized on the Marcionite gospel.

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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