What is Marcionism?

Question
What is Marcionism?
Answer
Marcion of Sinope (c. 85-160 AD), a second century heretic, is the originator of Marcionism. He taught that the god of the Old Testament (whom he referred to as a Demiurge [an evil god], a term adopted by the Gnostics) was not the true God. Rather he believed that the true God was Jesus Christ. Marcion's error was fought against by some of the early church fathers such as; Justin Martyr (AD 100-165), Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 130-200), Tertullian (c. 155 - c. 240 AD), and Hippolytus (AD 170-235). He was excommunicated from the Roman church (c. 144 AD), but continued to plant churches in many other places.

A major premise of Marcionism was that many of the teachings of the New Testament Christ were incompatible with the actions of the God of the Old Testament. The Marcionites believed that Christ was not actually the Jewish Messiah. Rather they taught that he was a good God that was sent by the Monad; in some Gnostic systems the Supreme Being, the One, or the Absolute. Again similar to Gnosticism, Jesus was suppose to reveal the truth about existence and therefore allow humanity to escape the trap of the Demiurge (the craftsman or creator of the evil material realm) or "the god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4). Concerning Christ, Marcion also believed in a form of Docetism; that Jesus was not truly a man but only appeared to be. See "What is Docetism" below.

Marcion's belief in the evil god of the Old Testament led to his belief that the Old Testament Scriptures were not authoritative for Christians. He also rejected 27 New Testament books. Marcion's canon, or should we say lack thereof, accelerated the process of more firmly fixing the canon of Scripture. So, because of Marcion the church was forced to examine their own presuppositions concerning Scripture and to state more clearly what it already believed. Ultimately, the canon was established as being 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New. However, it is important to note that the church did not establish the canon of the Bible; but merely ratified what God had already providentially established. The Bible established the church, not the other way around.

Despite all the heresies in the early church (among them, Adoptionism, Albigenses, Apollinarianism, Arianism, Docetism, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Kenosis, Marcionism, Modalism, Monarchianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, Patripassionism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Socinianism, Subordinationism, and Tritheism, etc.) the Word of God still abides (1 Pet 1:23). Amidst all these assaults against God and his church by numerous false religions, the church has grown stronger, not weaker. In many ways, the church should be thankful for the gift of opposition!

Related Topics:

Could Jesus Sin?
Christological Heresies?
What is Adoptionism?
What is Albigenses?
What is Apollinarianism?
What is Arianism?
What is Docetism?
What is Ebionism?
What is Kenosis?
What is Modalism?
What is Monarchianism?
What is Monarchianism?
What is Monophysitism?
What is Nestorianism?
What is Patripassionism?
What is Pelagianism?
What is Semi-Pelagianism?
What is Socinianism?
What is Subordinationism?
What is Tritheism?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).