Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Marcionites Had a Gospel of Mark in the Place of Our Canonical Gospel of John

This is why we read books, right?  We want someone smarter than us and with a greater familiarity with the subject matter to help us see things we wouldn't otherwise have noticed.  I happened to be reading von Harnack's Fremden Gott and stumbled upon a section where he suggests that the Irenaean passage "John, however, does himself put this matter beyond all controversy on our part, when he says, "He was in this world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own [things], and His own [people] received Him not." But according to Marcion, and those like him, neither was the world made by Him; nor did He come to His own things, but to those of another" (Adv. haer. 3.11.2) may indicate Marcion's opposition to the Fourth Gospel (p. 251).

Why is this so important to our theory about the Marcionite use of 'Secret Mark'?  Well, it is only because the writings of Irenaeus are so boring that it is difficult often to see the bigger picture.  I must have read Against Marcion Book 3 Chapter 11 a hundred times.  We all know that it is the place where Irenaeus introduces the fourfold gospel concept (i.e. the foundational understanding of our New Testament that 'the gospel' is spread over four texts).  Yet it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the 'four in one' argument actually develops immediately from his arguments in favor of the fourth gospel - i.e. according to John.

Irenaeus ends up making three arguments at once in this chapter.  Irenaeus begins with a denial that the Gospel of John had anything to do with Cerinthus (AH 3.11.1).  John is curiously understood to have written his gospel to eradicate the heresy associated with Cerinthus and the Nicolatians before him.  Irenaeus then proceeds to go through almost a line by line explanation of what the Evangelist 'really meant' in his prologue starting with John 1.1 which is explained as follows - "'All things,' he says, 'were made by Him;' therefore in 'all things' this creation of ours is [included], for we cannot concede to these men that [the words] 'all things' are spoken in reference to those within their Pleroma. For if their Pleroma do indeed contain these, this creation, as being such, is not outside, as I have demonstrated in the preceding book." [AH 3.11.1]

It would almost be second nature for us to assume that Irenaeus is referencing the Valentinian sect.  However Schaff points out that the reality is that he has another sect specifically in mind - 'those of Mark' i.e. the Marcosians which are specifically referenced in the citation made in AH 3.11.1.  Schaff takes this is an allusion to AH 2.1.1 which reads:

I further explained, with all diligence, the doctrine as well as practice of Mark the magician, since he, too, belongs to these persons; and I carefully noticed the passages which they garble from the Scriptures, with the view of adapting them to their own fictions. Moreover, I minutely narrated the manner in which, by means of numbers, and by the twenty-four letters of the alphabet, they boldly endeavour to establish truth. I have also related how they think and teach that creation at large was formed after the image of their invisible Pleroma.

It is important to keep in mind that Irenaeus never names the followers of Mark anywhere in this chapter.  As we are about to discover they are surely referenced as the 'other' type of Marcionites which finally explains why Epiphanius and Gregory Nazianzus naturally lump the Marcionites and Marcosians together. 

So it is that when we move on to the next section we realize that von Harnack only got part of the argument correct.  The Marcionites are not simply opposed to the contents of the Gospel of John but rather they accepted the prologue and many other narratives that are found in our canonical John (John 14:16 according to Origen).  They made the case that the Catholic Gospel of John was a corrupt version of a text that they knew in its original form - i.e. their pro-evangelium which we will later discover is identified as having Mark as its author. 

So we read in AH 3.11.2 Irenaeus declare that:

John, however, does himself put this matter beyond all controversy on our part, when he says, "He was in this world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own [things], and His own [people] received Him not." [John 1.10,11]  But according to Marcion, and those like him, neither was the world made by Him; nor did He come to His own things, but to those of another.

The argument which follows also only makes sense if Irenaeus is thought to be directed against "Marcion and those like him" too:

That wine which was produced by God in a vineyard, and which was first consumed, was good.  None [John 2.4] of those who drank of it found fault with it; and the Lord partook of it also. But that wine was better which the Word made from water, on the moment, and simply for the use of those who had been called to the marriage. For although the Lord had the power to supply wine to those feasting, independently of any created substance, and to fill with food those who were hungry, He did not adopt this course; but, taking the loaves which the earth had produced, and giving thanks  and on the other occasion making water wine, He satisfied those who were reclining [at table], and gave drink to those who had been invited to the marriage; showing that the God who made the earth, and commanded it to bring forth fruit, who established the waters, and brought forth the fountains, was He who in these last times bestowed upon mankind, by His Son, the blessing of food and the favour of drink: the Incomprehensible [acting thus] by means of the comprehensible, and the Invisible by the visible; since there is none beyond Him, but He exists in the bosom of the Father. [AH 3.11.5]

The argument that the Marcionites shouldn't belittle the Creator if they partake of his bounty is as old as the anti-Marcionite literary genre.  It just seems very strange to us to hear someone use the Gospel of John to attack the Marcionites.  Nevertheless, as we have already demonstrated, what scholars have failed to see is that the Marcionites actually had a pro-evangelium in the name of Mark which must have contained what we would call 'Johannine material.' 

Irenaeus continues to use the Gospel of John against the Marcionites and their 'preferred' gospel of Mark in the next section of chapter 11:

For "no man," he says, "hath seen God at any time," unless "the only-begotten Son of God, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared [Him]." For He, the Son who is in His bosom, declares to all the Father who is invisible. Wherefore they know Him to whom the Son reveals Him; and again, the Father, by means of the Son, gives knowledge of His Son to those who love Him. [AH 3.11.6]

Clearly John 1.18 is here being used to emphasize the orthodox interpretation of 'him to whom the Son reveals Him' is a reference to “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son reveals Him" a saying which Irenaeus acknowledges appears in contemporary copies of Mark (AH 4.2.1).  Irenaeus also goes on to use Nathaniel's recognition of Jesus as 'the King of Israel' to defend Peter from accusation by Marcionites that his interpretation of Jesus as the messiah was 'condemned' by the Lord himself. [AH 3.11.6]

It is only with a recognition of a consistent understanding of two Marcionite communities with two gospels - one a shortened public text and a 'fuller' evangelium attributed to Mark - both of whom rejected the Catholic gospel of John does the next two references to 'Marcion and others' make any sense.  In AH 3.11.7 as we have already noted we have the statement:

But Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains. Those (qui autem) 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. [AH 3.11.7]

For Marcion, rejecting the entire Gospel, yea rather, cutting himself off from the Gospel, boasts that he has part in the [blessings of] the Gospel. Others (alli) truly, in order that they might set frustrate the gift of the spirit which in recent times has been poured out upon humankind by the good pleasure of the father, do not admit that aspect [of the fourfold gospel] which is according to the gospel of John [AH 3.11.9]

The point we are trying to reinforce here is that we can confirm that the 'others' here are certainly 'other Marcionites' according to Irenaeus.  They are Marcionites who used a Gospel of Mark in the place of the Gospel of John in the Catholic tradition (i.e. as the 'last word' on the gospel truth, as its 'more spiritual gospel').  This and only this interpretation explains the words of the Philosophumena - "when, therefore, Marcion or some one of his hounds barks against the Demiurge, and adduces reasons from a comparison of what is good and bad, we ought to say to them, that neither Paul the apostle nor Mark, he of the maimed finger, announced such (tenets). For none of these (doctrines) has been written in the Gospel according to Mark." (Phil. 7.18)

More to follow ...

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