If ever a Christian has moral issues with how God is sometimes portrayed in the Old Testament, theological gatekeepers will fling the term “Marcionism” or “Marcionite” to dismiss such questioning as heresy. Knowingly or unknowingly, it is used as a strawman argument to villainize someone who notices discrepancies in the Bible. Accusers are often fundamentalists or inerrantists, but in any case, they wish to defend Scripture from their point of view.
Is Rival Nations a Marcionite? Does Rival Nations support Marcionism? What does Rival Nations think about Marcion of Sinope?
The Marcion Problem
Marcion of Sinope was a man who lived from AD 80-160 in the Roman empire. He is responsible for the first New Testament canon to ever exist. While not considered an early Church father himself, he is likely ultimately responsible for spurring on the creation of the Apostles’ Creed and the Catholic canon of Scripture. Marcion read the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) and was appalled by how sometimes God was portrayed as a violent, vindictive, spiteful, genocidal god. He wondered how this god could be compatible with the always loving, caring, compassionate, merciful, and graceful god he saw in Jesus Christ. Many, many, many Christians and non-Christians notice the same thing. Many Christians seek to understand and explain the solution to this problem. That is what Marcion of Sinope did—he just went a little too far. Okay, he went a lot too far.
It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to see that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament often look very different. If you’ve read the Bible, you’ve seen this. Marcion saw this. But Marcion became Christianity’s first heretic for how he reconciled this problem. Marcion decided that the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh, and the God of the New Testament, Jesus’s Father, weren’t even the same god. He figured that Yahweh was responsible for creation, but that he wasn’t Christ’s father but instead he was a demon. Because of this, Marcion threw out the entire Old Testament, rejecting it as Scripture. He created his own canon of scripture that only included ten Pauline epistles and his modified version of Luke.
Marcion didn’t stop there. He also had some pretty heretical views on Jesus. Marcion believed that Jesus never had a physical body or that he was ever born at all. He rejected the belief in Jesus returning, of a coming judgment, and the bodily resurrection of humankind. All of Marcion’s beliefs are outside of Christian orthodoxy and are rejected by Rival Nations.
Literarily Instead of Literally
The term “Marcionite” is often used to describe people who find solutions to the discrepancy of God’s violent nature in the Old Testament and God’s nonviolent nature in the New Testament. Most often, the slander isn’t even made against people who actually believe what Marcion believed; rather, it is just used as a strawman to dismiss the argument. But many Christians struggle with what Marcion struggled with, and better solutions have been found.
Several early Church fathers, including Origen and Tertullian1, wrote against Marcion’s beliefs. They took issue with Marcion for the root of his issues: taking the Old Testament too literally. These early Church fathers didn’t interpret the whole Old Testament literally, and interpreted much of it allegorically, especially when related to the record of violent acts.
The early Church fathers agreed with Marcion that Jesus shows us the exact representation of God and that in comparison, no one has ever seen God (Hebrews 1:1-3, John 1:18). That, by itself, is completely orthodox and central to Christianity. But Origen believed it was sinful for Marcion to interpret the Old Testament’s violent stories as literal, the root cause of him throwing out the Hebrew Scriptures. Origen remarks about Marcion’s downfall, “Holy Scripture is not understood by [Marcion] according to its spiritual, but according to its literal meaning.”2 Would strict literalists who fling around the accusation of “Marcionism” apply that insult to all the church fathers who interpreted portions of the Hebrew scriptures allegorically? Unlikely.
Reading Through the Cross
Interpreting the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus and the Cross is what makes Christianity different than Judaism. Interpreting the Old Testament differently than a modern Jewish Rabbinic scholar doesn’t make one a Marcionite. Christians start all their theology and interpretive hermeneutics at the Cross and go from there, not the other way around. This is why Paul says that he resolves to know nothing except Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Interpreting the Hebrew Bible in the light of Christ is Christianity.
Throwing away the Hebrew Bible is Marcionism.”
Christians don’t throw out the Old Testament just because its authors sometimes misunderstood God. All of the Old Testament is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16 NRSV), and it records the journey of God’s people as they struggle and strive to understand him. But we know today that all of the authors of the Hebrew scriptures lacked what the authors of the New Testament had—Jesus Christ. To say that Jesus changed nothing about how the Old Testament should be interpreted is to ignore a major reason why God came in the flesh. Jesus caused Paul to rethink everything he had ever thought about the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus should cause us to rethink everything about the Old Testament and view everything we read through the lens of the Cross.
Unlike Marcion, Rival Nations believes that Yahweh and the Father are the same person. Unlike Marcion, Rival Nations believes that Yahweh is Christ’s father. Unlike Marcion, Rival Nations believes that the Old Testament is inspired by God. Unlike Marcion, Rival Nations believes that the Hebrew scriptures are part of the Biblical canon. Unlike Marcion, Rival Nations believes that Jesus came in bodily form and will resurrect the dead in bodily form one day. Unlike Marcion, Rival Nations believes that the Old Testament should be interpreted through Christ crucified.
More About the Christocentric Cruciform Hermeneutic
- As well as the unknown Apostolic Father who wrote the “Epistle of Barnabus”
- Origen, “De Principiis,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 357.