Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Toward the Normative (= Wrong) View of the Marcionite 'Antitheses'

In his analysis of the Antitheses, Tertullian concludes: 'Marcion's Antitheses, or contradictory propositions ... aim at committing the gospel to a variance with the law, in order that from the diversity of the two documents (utriusque instrumenti) which contain them, they may contend for a diversity of gods also' (Adv. Marc. I, 19.4). In addition to the two books (instrumenta) of the Old and New Testaments, Tertullian in this connection refers to a third writing (instrumentum) of the highest documentary rank, namely Marcion's own Antitheses. Tertullian apparently regarded it as the sovereign book, or means (summo instrumento), for the Marcionite teaching. While among the Marcionites this work is held in high regard, it is selected by Tertullian as the main focus in his attack on Marcion: 'Proof out of [the Antitheses] is enough for me' (Ex his mihi probatio sufficit). E. C. Blackman similarly maintains that the Antitheses served as something much more than an introduction to Marcion's system of belief: '[I]t was an exposition of Marcion's whole system – his systematic as well as his biblical theology – the summum instrumentum for the Marcionite Church.

A striking detail, it may seem, is that Marcion did not make any prophetic or other claims. Instead, he wrote the Antitheses, which is now only fragmentarily known, as a form of hermeneutical manual to his Gospel. Several times Tertullian gives summaries of the Antitheses, on which he seems to build his outline in the Fourth and Fifth Books of Adversus Marcionem:

To encourage a belief of this Gospel he has actually devised for it a sort of dower, in a work composed of contrary statements set in opposition, thence entitled Antitheses, and compiled with a view to such a severance of the law from the gospel as should divide the Deity into two, nay, diverse, gods — one for each instrument, or Testament, as it is more usual to call it (Adv. Marc. IV.1)

For it is certain that the whole aim at which he has strenuously laboured even in the drawing up of his Antitheses, centres at this, that he may establish a diversity between the Old and the New Testaments, so that his own Christ may separate from the Creator, as belonging to this rival god, and as alien from the law and the prophets. (Adv. Marc. IV, 6) [Tomas Bokedal, The Formation and Significance of the Christian Biblical Canon p. 178 - 179]

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