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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Spirit of Marcion Remains Abroad (Part 1)

"Watch out for false prophets, they come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit." (Matthew 7:15-18)

Our Lord Jesus renders a caution to all who are his. From the inception of the Church his words have required constant consideration and application.

I am reminded of this in reading the June 2010 edition of "Eternity" a paper put out from sources within the Episcopalian Diocese of Sydney. On page 8 an opinion is offered by Rev Michael Jensen on the question "Can we get rid of the Old Testament God?" Rev Michael Jensen is son of Archbishop Peter Jensen and was one of the "young bucks" who railed with venom (although Rev Jensen has since claimed his words were misunderstood) on Biblical Creationists who argued their case on a "Your Sydney Anglicans" online forum in 2006 on the subject "Peace with Evolution".

In his "Eternity" article, Rev Jensen quotes from 1 Samuel 15:2-3 where God is recorded as having ordered the complete destruction of the Amalekites - men, women, children and animals - and then Rev Jensen raises the subject of Marcion and the struggle the early Church had in dealing with a breakaway group who would not have the God of the New Testament identified with such a God of the Old Testament.

Briefly, Marcion lived in the 2nd Century AD and was considered by some historians to be the son of the bishop of Sinope (now Sinop in modern day Turkey). Marcion rejected the Old Testament and almost all of the New Testament, including the accounts of the incarnation and the resurrection, basing his teachings on ten of the Epistles of St. Paul and on an altered version of the Gospel of Luke. His tenets included a belief in the eternity of matter, which was later developed by the Greek teacher Hermogenes, and a dualistic interpretation of God, whereby God is divided into the just God of Law, who was the Creator of the Old Testament, and the good God, the infinitely superior deity revealed by Jesus Christ. As such, Marcion was denounced as a heretic. Nevertheless, in adherents, Marcionism flourished and was second only to the established church until about the 4th Century AD whereupon it commenced fading away over the course of several centuries.

Rev Jensen rightly dismisses attempts such as Marcion's to separate the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament. It is, however, with some irony that I read the line of argument employed by Rev Jensen. I cite extracts of his argument herewith:

"What kind of a God is this? Is it possible that the God of Jesus Christ could speak of himself as the author and engineer of evil? Do we read here of the deity authorizing —even commanding—genocide, whose horrors we know only too well? Is he somehow murderous? Could he really have his creation's best interests at heart to be responsible for such chaos and impurity? Does he have a dark heart, a demonic side?

Consider how this contrasts (apparently) with the gospel of love and faith and freedom preached by Jesus and Paul—the words of healing and forgiveness. Can we really accept these as being from the same God


"Marcion's project was essentially two pronged. On the one hand, he challenged the integrity of the source of our knowledge about God, the Bible. While there had been some attempts to collect a list of the agreed and approved books of the Christian Scriptures prior to Marcion's appearance, Marcion was now offering an alternative and established list of writings, held together in his mind by a common theme. Marcion and his followers could, they claimed, point to a common body of teaching in written form. Here, he said, was an end to disagreement about the extent of Scripture. Here was an end to Christian embarrassment about the sheer Jewishness of the Old Testament with its seemingly irascible and cantankerous God.

On the other hand, Marcion had a particular vision about the nature of the Christian faith itself. What he had picked up on was the radical nature of Paul's critique of our natural religious assumptions. He could see the sheer newness that is offered in a faith of the resurrection and the Spirit, which is an end to dead legalism. This was the genius of Christianity, Marcion had decided, and he went about cutting out pieces of Scripture that didn't fit, to such an extent that he was left with not much. It's a strategy that many writers of our own time still try


"Theologians like the great Irenaeus of Lyon (d. 202 AD) now appealed explicitly to the dramatic narrative of the whole Bible to show how Jesus as the second Adam fits in to [sic] the promises and patterns given in the Old Testament. They realized that Jesus was not revealing a new God but the same creating and law-giving God. Whatever Christian theology did from that point on, it had to do with the creator and law-giver as identical with the God revealed in Jesus. Marcion had (it turned out on a closer reading of the Bible) drawn a false contrast between the God of Israel and Jesus Christ.

So, the church chose the harder way: it decided that even if having the whole Bible meant coping with and addressing some apparent tensions, it would have to do this if it were to be a faithful and obedient church and true to its nature—true to its Lord. Though it had to—and still has to—manage some tricky parts of Scripture, it had far more to lose by going with Marcion than it stood to gain

All I have cited from Rev Jensen will cause the hairs on the back of Biblical Creationists to bristle because, while dismissing the heretical views of Marcion, Rev Jensen does not elsewhere apply the argument to Theistic Evolutionists. Instead, he accommodates their Marcionlike mishandling of the Creation account in Genesis 1.

Theistic Evolutionists arrive at their odious doctrinal position by walking a similar path to Marcion and later centuries' advocates of Higher Criticism and Liberal Theology.

Hans W. Frei in his essay "The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative - A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics" published by Yale University Press in 1974 nails the latter day shift in theology. To requote Frei in his introduction, "Western Christian reading of the Bible in the days before the rise of historical criticism in the eighteenth century was usually strongly realistic, i.e. at once the literal and historical, and not only doctrinal or edifying. The words and sentences meant what they said, and because they did so they accurately described real events and real truths that were rightly put only in those terms and no others. Other ways of reading portions of the Bible, for example, in a spiritual or allegorical sense, were permissible, but they must not offend against a literal reading of those parts which seemed most obviously to demand it. Most eminent among them were all those stories which together went into the making of a single storied or historical sequence."

It was not to remain that way. Many contributers to biblical scholarship and many complex threads brought about a great shift in how the Bible was to be read and understood. Dr Conyers Middleton, an English commentator with sceptical leanings, thought that it didn't matter whether Genesis 1-3 were allegory or fact, since its meaning was the same in either case - "that this world had a beginning and creation from God; and that its principal inhabitant man, was originally formed to a state of happiness and perfection which he lost and forfeited, by following his own lusts and passions, in opposition to the will of his Creator."(ibid)

Middleton went on to explain his preference for an allegorical reading of Genesis 1-3, "I am the more readily induced to espouse this sense of it , from a persuasion, that it is not only the most probable and rational, but the most useful also to the defence of our religion, by clearing it of those difficulties, which are apt to shock and make us stumble as it were, at the very threshold."(ibid)

Through the efforts of Johannes Cocceius, professor of theology in the University of Leyden, the two things - literal or narrative reading and historical reference - were beginning to come apart as the concept of 'Salvation history' was advocated. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, 'higher criticism' felt the crucial texts for the hermeneutical question in theology were the supposedly revelatory salvific narratives. Each narrative had to be examined in its own historical context and its own right. Gone was dogmatic unity and authority of the Canon. By this time, the story of Jesus Christ was apparently considered historical but not the Mosaic creation account. However, the story of Jesus Christ was not to remain immune.

Frei observed with the emergence of religious apologetics at this time, the loss of narrative reading. To quote him again, "It is no exaggeration to say that all across the theological spectrum the great reversal had taken place; interpretation was the matter of fitting the biblical story into another world with another story rather than incorporating that world into the biblical story. No one with any sort of theology or religious reflection at all wanted to go counter to the 'real' applicative meaning of biblical texts, once it had been determined what it was, even if one did not believe them on their own authority. Hence the right-wing and mediating theologians agreed that the New Testament made the affirmation about Jesus being the Saviour literally, and that it was to be understood that way (though this agreement did not always cover either the miracles he was reported to have performed or those with which he was purportedly associated, especially the virgin birth; nor as we have noted, did it cover literal acceptance of such Old Testament accounts as the six-day creation or the fall, in the book of Genesis). And those on the left of course denied that one has to or can take this affirmation literally."(ibid)

I'll leave Frei there but allow me a moment to direct readers to the landscape of church scene. What do you see? As one media commentator observed recently "Liberals did not remain in the Church." They do still remain to some degree in the church (notice the distinction between Church and church) but whether they are Christian is dubious. Roman Catholicism was quick to adopt liberal views on Scripture and the fruit of it, in my experience, is that Roman Catholicism is a prolific breeder of atheists. Many atheists with whom I have communicated tell me they were once Roman Catholic and they are today promoters and influences for atheism. The Uniting Church of Australia (ex Presbyterian, Methodist and Congegational) is in serious decline following adoption of liberal theology.

The Episcopalian Church in Australia is divided into high and low church. The high church is characterised by empty pews and abandoned buildings. The low (evangelical) church is characterised by a false health indicator of influx of evangelical escapees from the Uniting Church and genuine health indicator of disappointments in outreach endeavours.

Such a poor state of health resembles the life of ancient Israel when it failed to heed the word of God recorded by Moses and spoken by the prophets.

More can be said but this blog is long enough. I have therefore separated it into two parts. Part 2 will be posted in a few days and will address points raised by Rev Jensen, the nature of God and the present need of the Church.

Sam Drucker


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"Such a poor state of health resembles the life of ancient Israel when it failed to heed the word of God recorded by Moses and spoken by the prophets."

Because obviously following Moses (which results in comitting genocide and killing your family members if they try to leave Judaism per Deuteronomy 13 and murdering every religious teacher who opposes the Torah in any way, again per Deuteronomy 13) obviously leads to such a great state of health. (sarcasm)

You need to read my blog post "The Torah is an anti-Semitic book."

sam drucker said...

Israel had earlier declared they would leave all else behind and follow the Lord God and his commandments for living in right relationship. They were to be a special people set aside to the Lord God.

They accepted this relationship as best for them. To be in right relationship with God brought blessing for he is the author of life of all that is. To be outside of relationship with God is to be outside of life and for someone to arise who would lead the people out of relationship with God was a serious offence for the damage it did to lives.

That may seem hard for people in our society to accept. Thankfully, God in the Perosn of Jesus Christ satisfied all the requirements of the law of God. Those who commit acts against God have a mercy of laying their offences on Jesus Christ, seek forgiveness through him and receive him as Creator, Lord and Saviour. They receive forgiveness and are adopted as 'sons' of God and receive all the blessing which flow from such a relationship.

To ignore or deny Jesus Christ ignore and deny God, the author and sustainer of life. They will be shut off from life sooner or later.

I have been among the worst of offenders and am mighty grateful to receive forgiveness and relationship with God whose love is greater than I could ever imagine.

I wish that Beowulf2k8 could also have what I have.

Sam Drucker

Anonymous said...

Israel's relationship with Yahweh caused them to become a tool of genocide and to be hated forever more. Yahweh screwed them over. That's why later in their history they kept defecting to Baal worship. Who can blame them? When your god doesn't really love you but only wants to use you to murder off the Moabites, Ammorites, etc. then you might as well ditch him.

Anonymous said...

But sadly as Paul says, the god of this world has blinded you by veiling the gospel with the veil of Moses, the Old Testament. (2nd Cor. 3:13-4:4) Yes, the creator of this world has blinded you so that the glorious light of the gospel of Jesus Chrestos cannot shine to you. Because you are blinded by the creator of this world, you do not know "the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' [when he sent Chrestos into the world] who has shone in OUR hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of [the better] God through the face of Jesus Chrestos." (2 Cor. 4:6)

sam drucker said...

Beowulf2k8 has not or chooses not to grasp what I have said about mankind being cut off from the author of life and all that flows from that.

Perhaps Beowulf2k8 will answer this question before I take it further. Beowulf2k8, do you believe mankind, ie humanity, is just matter and has no spirit?

In the second comment posting, Beowulf2k8 said:

"But sadly as Paul says, the god of this world has blinded you by veiling the gospel with the veil of Moses, the Old Testament. (2nd Cor. 3:13-4:4) Yes, the creator of this world has blinded you so that the glorious light of the gospel of Jesus Chrestos cannot shine to you."

Beowulf2k8 has a little trouble understanding the Bible. Apostle Paul mentions the veil worn by Moses as an illustration of a similar type of covering which prevented the Jews, post Incarnate God, seeing the truth of the new covenant revealed in Jesus Christ.

As to "the creator of this world has blinded you" please look again at the version of the Bible you have in your possession. At 2 Cor 4:4 it should have a lower case "g" for the word "god" which means Paul and the Bible translators want us to understand that the being spoken of here is not the Creator but a false god (perhaps Satan) who has captured the minds of those of whom Paul is speaking about from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ.

Sam Drucker

John said...

I'm a bit confused Beowulf.

On whose basis are you saying that it's immoral to kill, say, the Amalekites?

John said...

Cherry-picking by Beowulf. Not exactly what one could call an academically-rigorous project.

Beowulf conveniently “overlooks” the following passages that explain why God took such a hardline on these bastards. These guys actually started the fighting.

Amalekites: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary.” (Deut 25:17-18)

Amorites: “The Israel sent messages to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, “Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into fields or vineyards; we will not drink water from wells; but we will go by the king’s Highway until we passed through your territory.” But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and he came to Jahaz and fought against Israel.” (Numbers 21:21-23)

Ammonites: “Moreover the people of Ammon crossed over the Jordan to fight against Judah to fight against Judah also, against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim.” (Judges 10:9)

neil moore said...

Atheists good without God? They don't act like it.


Anonymous said...

"Beowulf2k8, do you believe mankind, ie humanity, is just matter and has no spirit?" (sam drucker)

Did I say that?

"As to 'the creator of this world has blinded you' please look again at the version of the Bible you have in your possession. At 2 Cor 4:4 it should have a lower case 'g' for the word 'god'"

Because the creator is a lower god.

"which means Paul and the Bible translators want us to understand that the being spoken of here is not the Creator but a false god (perhaps Satan) who has captured the minds of those of whom Paul is speaking about"

THe only possible meaning of "god of this world" is the creator of the world. If the phrase refers to Satan then it means Satan is the creator. Compare 2 Sam 24:1 and 1 Chr 21:1 which attribute the same action one to Yahweh and the other to Satan. But who are the people that this "god of this world" is seeking to blind? The Jews in context mostly. If the Jews are Yahweh's special people it makes sense that he would blind them to keep them from defecting to the worship of Jesus Chrestos. But in a monotheistic scenario, what sense does it make for the god of 'orthodoxy' to allow his own special people to be blinded? What intolerable cruelty.

"Beowulf conveniently “overlooks” the following passages that explain why God took such a hardline on these bastards. These guys actually started the fighting." (John)

Because some Amalekites supposedly attacked Israel at some point that gives them the right to wipe out all of them? The whole nation? Commit genocide? My God! John, are you Hitler reincarnate? Or are you just Himmler?

"Atheists good without God?" (neil moore)

We need God the Father, the good God, the better God, not Yahweh the god of this world and god of genocide. Yahweh gives moral principles only to contradict them. "Thou shalt not kill"->"Go kill all the Canaanites; show them no mercy." By this he proves himself to be a devil and not the true God.

sam drucker said...

Beowulf2k8 asks:

Did I say that?

No, I am asking a simple question to help me understand something about you.

Because the creator is a lower god.

personal opinion without substantiation.

THe only possible meaning of "god of this world" is the creator of the world.

You sit quite isolated from 2,000 years of theology and scholarship weightier than your own. The rest of your argument on this point is a 'straw man' of your own making.

Because some Amalekites supposedly attacked Israel

Beowulf2k8 mishandles some passages of Scripture and accepts them as fact to make an argument but when a passage is cited back to refute him Scripture suddenly becomes "supposedly" This is not an edifying argument from Beowulf2k8 but just an argument driven by personal feeling. BTW, where does Scripture mention " some Amalekites"?

Sam Drucker

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

You misquote Scripture at will Beowulf and you ignore a good half of the points I made in reply. I asked you on what basis you say that it is wrong to kill the Amalekites.

In any case, your attempt to tar the Israelites' action with a Hitler brush is really silly. What you're really saying is that the only moral action the Israelites should have taken is to allow these other tribes to MURDER the Israelites' own children, old people and sick and lame. What a morally noble chap you are! If anyone should be labelled Hitler-like it's you, mate.

BTW, Exodus 17:13 clearly states that Joshua defeated Amalek and HIS PEOPLE, not 'some' as you wishfully believe.

Stephan Huller said...

I am just scouring the web looking to enlighten idiotic conversations about Marcion. I have uncovered that the great Protestant New Testament scholar Adolf Hilgenfeld argued that Marcion was a form of the name Mark:

If you look at the post that follows I show that there are no examples of people named 'Marcion' before Marcion the heretic. The point is that this has to be an artificially created 'heretical boogeyman' created by someone in Rome in the third century.

Just thought I'd pass it along.

neil moore said...

Stephan, why do you say "great" when referring to Adolf Hilgenfeld?

Could you just fill me in a little here - who else has used that superlative when speaking of Adolf Hilgenfeld?