Marcion

by Gjergji Evangjeli

 

While listening to Richard Spencer’s take on Christianity, I noticed a funny coincidence. In his act of arguing for a Christianity separated from its Jewish context, he is borrowing from Marcion. The latter is a second-century Syrian heretic who argued that the Old Testament was revealed by another god distinct from the Father of Jesus. I leave the reader to contemplate the irony of a white supremacist employing the arguments of a Syrian to show that Christianity is not, after all, Jewish. Nonetheless, the dichotomy between the “jealous and capricious Old Testament God” and the “loving and gentle Jesus of the New Testament” is oft repeated in our culture.

 

Marcion argued that since according to Paul—or rather his interpretation of Paul—Christ abolishes the Law of Moses, the god who revealed it must be an inferior deity of the Israelites overthrown by Jesus and His Father, the true superior God of all the world. To this effect, he rejected all of the New Testament except for an edited version of Luke and some of the letters of Paul.

 

He was constrained to this position because the New Testament is filled with references to the Old Testament, specifically identifying Jesus as the Jewish God and applying the titles and qualities of one to the other (see John 12:41 and Isaiah 6:1-6, where in the Septuagint, “robe” is rendered “glory”). Christ Himself says that He has not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Mat. 5:17).

 

Most poignantly, Paul says that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16-17). At that time, the New Testament was not yet written in full or compiled together, therefore, it is possible to make sense of Paul’s words here only by understanding that “Scripture” refers to the Old Testament.

 

Responding to Marcion, St. Irenaeus pulls no punches, decrying him for rejecting the truth which the whole Church holds, that the Gospels are the faithful witness of the Apostles. Thus, he accuses Marcion of being a mutilator of Scripture on account of his editing the Biblical record.

 

This dichotomy between God in the Old and New Testament betrays a shallow reading of both the Old and the New Testament. The lovingkindness of the God of the Old Testament cannot be questioned. He is resisted by humans from the very beginning and yet remains committed to them. He makes a covenant with Abram that his descendants will be like the stars (Gen. 15), but Abram decides to take matters into his own hands and father Ishmael with Hagar (Gen. 16). The people whom God brings out of Egypt grievously disobey the Covenant (Ex. 32) right after they have agreed to uphold it (Ex. 24). They seek to have a king over them, thus rejecting the Kingship of God (1 Sam. 8:7-9). The people of God reject Him at every step, so much so that God adopts the image of the indignant yet faithful husband decrying the transgressions of his unfaithful wife (cf. Hosea 2:2-23). And yet, He says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you” (Isa. 49:15). Despite every betrayal, the Psalmist exclaims, “His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Ps. 136:1).

 

On the other hand, the Jesus of the New Testament adopts language quite similar to the God of the Old Testament, decrying hypocrisy and unfaithfulness and not being shy about announcing punishment on all those who reject Him (Jn. 8:24, Jn. 5:22-23, among others). The message that Christ preaches is not that God no longer punishes, but rather that He has offered us a perfect way to repentance. He has offered His Son to condescend to our human nature and suffer death, so that all who believe in Him might have life (Jn. 3:16). The love of God in the New Testament, therefore, is not a change from the God of the Old Testament, but the final dispensation of the lovingkindness of the same God who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth. If one does not read the Old and the New Testament as the one revelation of the one true God, one rejects both.

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