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Marcion - 'The First-born of Satan'

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Marcion (c85-c.160) was a notorious heretic in the second century. He was described by Polycarp as ‘the first-born of Satan’. Marcion was the son of the bishop of Sinope, in Pontus, on the southern shore of the Black Sea. He made a fortune as a ship-master, arriving in Rome around 140, where he gave a large amount of money to the church. He became a keen student of theology, particularly interested in ethics and exegesis of the Scriptures.

According to Irenaeus, Marcion's teacher was Cerdo, who was a follower of Simon Magus, "a certain Cerdo, originating from the Simonians, came to Rome under Hyginus ... and taught that the one who was proclaimed as God by the Law and the Prophets is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Against Heresies, 1, 27, 1).

In his understanding, the key to all mysteries was to be found in Paul’s antithesis between grace and works. He said that there are two Gods - the evil inferior God of the Old Testament, which he called the Demiurge, and the superior good God of the New Testament. The Demiurge created the physical world and was only the God of the Jews, whose law emphasised justice and punishment for sins through suffering and death. By contrast, the God of the New Testament was the Heavenly Father, a universal god of compassion and love, who regards human beings with benevolence and mercy.

According to his distinction and antithesis between love and justice, Jesus came, not as the Jewish Messiah, but as the agent of the good God, whose mission was to destroy the work of the Demiurge. Jesus was merely a manifestation of the true God, without any actual birth of death. This is a similar teaching to the Docetists, who denied that Jesus had a physical body, but only appeared to have one. The way to attain the spirituality of Jesus was to free the body from all desires of the flesh through strict asceticism, including the rejection of marriage.

He wrote a book called ‘Anthitheses’ which is now lost, in order to expose the incompatibility between the Law and the Gospel and between the Demiurge of the Old Testament and the Heavenly Father of the New Testament, bringing a complete discontinuity between Judaism and Christianity.

Marcion’s teaching had similarities to the Gnostics, so he is often classified as a Gnostic. Many of his ideas were a good fit with Gnostic thought, especially in his teaching that Jesus was a divine spirit, who only appeared to have human form. However, he did not teach the Gnostic understanding of the levels of emanations between the god and the evil material world. He made less emphasis on knowledge, and more on faith in Jesus.

Unlike the Gnostics, Marcion made a deliberate effort to propagate his teaching within the church to attract Christians. This led to a breach with the Roman church in 144, who excommunicated him and returned the money he had previously donated. The Marcionites then organised themselves into a separate group, which rapidly spread throughout the Roman Empire.

He maintained the sacraments, but with modifications. Married people were excluded from Baptism, and water was used instead of wine for the Eucharist. Marcion had a far more limited canon of Scripture. As would be expected, he rejected the Old Testament entirely. In the New Testament, he only accepted the Gospel of Luke (without the birth narratives), which he called the Evangelikon, and ten of Paul’s letters (without the Pastoral Epistles), which he called the Apostolikon. According to several of the church fathers, Marcion edited Paul’s letters so they would fit his theology. He considered that Paul was the only correct interpreter of the teachings of Jesus, in contrast to the other apostles, and the early church. Tertullian called his approach to the Scriptures, ‘Criticising with a penknife’.

At this time, the church had not yet officially defined the canon of Scripture, but Marcion’s teaching stimulated the church to begin the process of defining its own canon.

Marcion’s most significant disciple was Apelles, who wrote a book called ‘Syllogisms’. He developed and strengthened Marcion’s teaching. Being a strict monotheist, he considered the Old Testament God or Demiurge is nothing greater than an angel. Later in his life he increasingly doubted his strictly rational approach and became more mystical.

Marcion was condemned as a heretic in the writings of many of the church fathers, including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Epiphanius.

Marcion had a strictly literal approach to the interpretation of the Old Testament, in contrast to the allegorical approach used by many of the church fathers. His antithesis between love and justice continues to have resonance today in popular thinking that it is not possible for a God of love to bring justice.

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

New Testament History

Articles which give additional information about the history and culture of the first century, giving helpful background knowledge for the Gospels and Paul's travels.

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey.

More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Early Church Fathers

These are a series of pages giving biographical information about some of the more significant early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian, as well as some important groups and events in the first centuries of the church.

Artifacts in the British Museum relevant to Biblical studies

These are a series of pages describing artifacts in each gallery of the British Museum, which have a connection with the Bible.

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Historical documents

These are a series of pages containing historical documents which give helpful information for Biblical studies. These include Hittite suzerainty treaties with a similar structure to the Book of Deuteronomy, different lists of the New Testament books and quotations from Josephus and other ancient writers.

Life Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.