Marcion’s New Teaching, Ecclesial Crisis and the Majority Church’s Resolution: Lessons for Today

The paper discusses Marcion of Sinope’s new teaching, the resulting ecclesial identity crisis, and the Majority Church’s resolution. It then explores lessons to be learned from the ensuing broken relationship between Scripture and theology for late-modern theology teaching. Between AD 137 and 144, Marcion presented a new theology for the Christian communities in Rome – containing teaching that the Roman presbytery eventually could not endorse. Marcion’s influence, however, was substantial both then and subsequently. After his expulsion from the Roman church, he became the founder of an influential parallel church structure. In the decades that followed, it even became difficult to tell the Marcionite congregations apart from those of the Majority Church. Yet, the differences in teaching were significant. In three respects Marcion deviated from standard Christian beliefs: He radically broke with the church’s Jewish past by downgrading the Creator God to a reduced divine status and dispensed with the Jewish Scriptures; he further relegated many Jewish features from his diminished New Testament (Luke + ten Pauline epistles); in addition, he eradicated the doctrine of incarnation from the Christian credo, promoting a docetic Christology. The Majority Church addressed the crisis that emerged from this split by means of renewed emphasis on the church’s Rule of Faith and its relationship with the Jewish Scriptures and the emerging New Testament. The first part of the paper discusses Marcion’s novel teaching, the ensuing crisis for church and theology, and the Majority Church’s response. The second part takes its point of departure in this early hermeneutical crisis and explores the multifaceted broken relationship between Scripture and theology also in modern and late-modern biblical and systematic theology. Three questions are attended to in light of the historic Marcionite crisis:
• How may the disciplines of biblical and systematic theology uphold a doctrine of creation in the contemporary educational climate?
• “What does one do about an academic discipline, ‘New Testament studies,’ that has almost done away with its own object of study?” (Robert W. Jenson); and
• Are there any present-day or future educational avenues for fruitful interaction between Scripture and theology?

3 thoughts on “Marcion’s New Teaching, Ecclesial Crisis and the Majority Church’s Resolution: Lessons for Today”

  1. Marcion
    The paper does not make clear why this recitation of history is relevant to the contemporary situation. Since there are few true Marcionites today, how is the current situation parallel to the situation of Marcion?

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