Factions in Rome (Part 3) – Marcion

Marcion also was able to develop a following in Rome between 140-150 because of theological toleration.  Marcion (From Sinope in northern Turkey, 110-160) was active in Rome from 140-150.  Hippolytus claims he was a son of the bishop of Sinope, and was at one time ordained as a bishop himself.   By trade, Marcion was a ship-owner, specifically a naukleros.  Under Trajan (d. 117)  there was almost non-stop war, and shipowners were pressed into service of the government.  This was such a problem that by the time of Hadrian (d. 138) most of these demands were reversed and benefits given to shipowners (specifically, freedom from municipal liturgies). Lampe suggests that “under Hadrian, the situation of a shipowner was at its best” (242).

MarcioniteMarcion was therefore a wealthy man, and when he came to Rome he gave the church 200,000 sesterces.  This was the value of a small manor in Rome at the time (Marital 3.52), or a middle sized farm.  The amount needed to buy into the equestrian rank at the time was 400,000.  This was therefore a sizable contribution!

That he was a naukleros helps to explain why he was in Rome with time available to write and debate theology. The naukleros was the owner of the ships, but he did not necessarily need to travel with them, he is not a “sailor” or a “captain,” he is the wealthy company owner.  This also gives him opportunity to travel and spread his theology after he leaves Rome in 150.  This money was returned to him when he was excommunicated, possibly financing the spread of his theology to other areas.

While often styled as a gnostic in secondary literature, Marcion was a biblicist who “barricaded himself with a canon of scripture” (Lampe).  His theology was motivated by defining what scripture was authoritative (Paul, and his version of Luke); he also represents a complete break with Judaism in that he rejected the Hebrew Bible entirely.   He allegorized what scripture he did retain.

There is no spirit of Hellenism in his work at all! He appears to have had no training as a philosopher or as a rhetorician.  Gager has argued that Marcion’s rejection of allegory is an indication of philosophical training, but this misses the point since many philosophers in the second century were allegorizing Plato and Homer.  Marcion’s theology was motivated by the Problem of Evil, but his answer is nothing at all like one might find in the contemporary philosophical schools on the issue.  His arguments indicate that he had no formal philosophical training.

The real problem was how to deal with Marcion.  Obviously what he taught was not “orthodox,” his Bible was not what the rest of the churches used, and his view of God and Jesus was completely out of step with the church and scripture.  But there was no real “central authority” which could act to silence Marcion.  The heresy of Marcion was a factor leading to the development of a monarchic bishop in Rome.

8 thoughts on “Factions in Rome (Part 3) – Marcion

  1. While reading this post, one thing that stuck out was how people didn’t know how to deal with Marcion. Here was this man who was not teaching from a Bible like the rest of the churches, and his view of God was different. I made me think that we find ourselves in that situation many times. I remember when I was coming to Grace, it was hard for me to use an ESV bible, because I cam from a an older church where the KJV was the best most accurate Bible out there. I was not really sure how to go about learning from this Bible that was not what I was used to. I know that being open to what other people used and trying to understand where they were coming from really helped me to be adaptive to my surroundings and the “new” and different things around me!

    • Do you really think the churches had Bibles yet? Its amazing to me how people don’t even realize the idea of a Bible all bound in ONE BOOK is modern. They couldn’t do that in ancient times. The New Testament itself was FOUR VOLUMES. The Old Testament was at least twice as large. Marcion was widely popular because in contrast his whole canon (one short gospel and 10 shortened Pauline epistles) fit in ONE BOOK. So when you get right down to it he WAS the only one with a BIBLE in the sense of a ONE BOOK canon. Everyone else was using an ENCYCLOPEDIA SET.

  2. Marcion seems like a fascinating individual, a Donald Trump like character who has attempted to buy his influence and to an extent succeeded. The church especially in America has always seemed to struggle with giving those with great resources great influence and that has not always been the best thing similar to the case of Marcion. This one man’s disruptive theological views mixed with his influence over those who are easily swayed reminds me of the cult following some televangelists have gained here in America, namely the health and wealth gospel now I weather or not advocates for this perspective are factionalists or Heretics is a call for much more knowledgeable men however I see many parallels.

  3. They should have lynched him before he got all wild and crazy with forming roman monarchic bishop. Easy enough….

    I commend Marcion for fueling his theology on on authoritative scripture, just wish the guy would have realized the authoritativeness that all Scripture has. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Maybe he missed this one…This issue of accepting total biblical authority gives probable explanation to why he had no formal philosophical training. He never was told about the importance of “Sword Training” (AWANA). Lastly money can’t buy you everything, but I guess it can buy you a bushel of corrupt flimsy religious people. Probably was nice if he ever wanted to be anti-imperialistic.

  4. Thanks for featuring Marcion… A fascinating man with some really creative thinking. However, as others have noted, probably not a careful, systematic thinker.

    I think people fail to appreciate the situation in which he was operating, and thus don’t appreciate how he could gain the influence he had among the proto-orthodox (it being important to remember no “canon” had yet been formed, an no “orthodox” theology relating the OT to new revelations, such as Paul’s). No canon yet, apparently, even of the OT, with the many later Jewish (after 5th century BC) works, now both canonical (e.g., Daniel) and “apocryphal”, let alone the still-gathering scattered writings of Paul, the Gospel and other Epistle writers, Paul’s followers (minimally, authoring at least the Pastoral Epistles), etc. As early as 135-140, there was no “standard” by which to judge a rising leader, but rather the internal argumentation processes in any given area, I suppose with a small bit of “coordination” via travel and some letters and treatises (which themselves were far from coordinated or coming from the same perspective)… It was one big, jumbled theological “mixed salad” as it were. Interesting times theologically and in new religious “formations”, to say the least!

    As just one example of the variations, don’t forget the John-the-Baptist followers I mentioned about in a comment on the first Roman Factions Post the other day. So it’s not surprising that Marcion’s audience would be open to ways that could make sense of Paul’s radically new concepts and allegorizing, creatively interpreting the OT. Then the Jews among them (probably quite a few even in Rome, despite being temporarily expelled in the 1st century), had to grapple with reconciling their “received” understanding of God via Torah, Prophets, etc. with what the non-standardized claims were about the (potential) Messiah status of Jesus and just what that meant in terms of the prophesied “end of the age”, the “blessing” of the other nations (Gentiles), etc., etc….

    Not at all surprising that an oversimplified (only from our perspective now, “goofy”) system that basically made an abrupt shift and took Paul’s “revelation” even further than Paul had, would catch on with many, would spread and only very gradually die out a few centuries later.

  5. Marcion was a man of wealth and power, this helped further his influence on many people to whom he taught his views on God and theology. He was preaching his beliefs to everyone he could, but what he was teaching was wrong. This makes me think of many people today who preach to anyone and everyone who can hear them, yet they are teaching the wrong things to people. The worst part is, is that people actually believe and follow these kinds of people, just like how people followed Marcion. In 2 Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to beware of false teachers, he says in 2 Timothy 4:3, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear”. We need to be aware of people who will teach false doctrines and be on our guard by checking the teachings we hear against what the Bible says is true.

  6. I actually just read about Marcion because of my paper on 1 Timothy. It came up in the Pohill reading because he said that Marcion could have been some of the false teachers that Paul mentioned in 1 Timothy. I think that dealing with him was something difficult to do. What Paul did in 1 Timothy is simply just warn the church of the false teachers and told them that anyone that preaches another Gospel other then the one that Jesus Christ spoke about, is a false gospel and should not be listened to. I think that would be the only way to combat this type of teaching is to just warn people of him and his teaching. Marcion had little to no teaching or training in philosophy which can be seen by what he believes and what he stated his beliefs to be.

    • Anthony, Are you sure you got that right about Pohill saying Marcion could have been in mind in I Timothy? I haven’t read Pohill but does he believe (as the great majority of NT scholars DO) that I Tim. (with 2 Tim. and Titus) was written much after Paul’s time by one or more of his followers? If he does, then he wouldn’t say Paul was perhaps referring to Marcion. If he is with the strong scholarly consensus, then the (unknown) author COULD have possibly had Marcion in mind, but still probably not, as indications (I forget what they all are right now) would seem to date I Tim. prior to or around 120 or maybe 130, latest. Marcion wasn’t prominent until around 140 or maybe a bit earlier. In 130 he was probably only 20 yrs. old.

      If Paul is, in fact, direct author of I Tim., he’s way too early for Marcion… last apparent writing around 60 and probably martyred by mid 60s or so, as an “old man” by his own accounting a few years prior.

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