There was a man who lived in the second century (he was born approximately 100 years after the birth of Y’shua of Nazareth) who started a religious movement based almost entirely on the letters of Shaúl (Paul). This movement (or perhaps we should rather call it a particular understanding of Scriptures) was condemned by the official church but it still had a huge impact upon the church of that day, an impact with a ripple effect that can clearly be seen and felt up to our own time. The movement came to be known as Marcionism and was named after a certain Marcion, the son of the bishop of Sinope, in the Northern regions of modern-day Turkey. Marcion and his father did not see eye to eye in religious matters and Marcion was not prepared to keep his ideas to himself. He shared some of his doctrines to the members of his father’s church and soon there was a rumor going around in the congregation about someone who had “seduced a virgin”. The cryptic rumor was not too difficult to understand: The “virgin” was the church and someone (Marcion) was seducing the church by spreading false teachings and creating havoc in the church. Marcion later went to Rome where he would have a much bigger audience and where his attractive and increasingly popular ideas won over the hearts of thousands of believers in Messiah.
What did Marcion teach that was so different from the core message of Scriptures? In Marcion’s understanding the “law of the Jews” (as he referred to the Torah) stood in direct opposition to the “gospel of Christ”. The gospel is the good news of deliverance; it involves love, mercy, favour, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, and life. The Law, however, is the bad news that only demonstrates our need for the gospel: it involves harsh commandments, guilt, judgment, enmity, punishment, and death. The big question was: How could the same Elohim be responsible for both? How could (the One Marcion described as) the wrathful, ruthless Elohim of the Jews be the same loving, merciful Elohim of Y’shua of Nazareth? Marcion came up with a most surprising answer: The One who gave the Torah to the Jews and the One who sent his Son for the salvation of the world, is not the same Elohim or Mighty One. There must, in fact, be two (very different) mighty ones – the Mighty One of the Jews and the Mighty One whom Y’shua referred to as “my Father” and sometimes “my Elohim”. The Mighty One of the Jews created this world and everything in it. He was also the lawgiver who punished those who would not keep his laws. The Mighty One of Y’shua did not create the world. He was not a lawgiver, nor a punisher of people, but He was far superior to the Mighty One of the Jews. He was the one who came into this world to save people from the vengeful Elohim of the Jews. Marcion used Y’shua’s parable of the impossibility of pouring new wine into old wineskins to serve his own anti-torah agenda: While Y’shua was in fact referring to the “freshness” of his message of salvation and the “oldness” of human traditions (like fasting on specific days – something that was never required by Torah), Marcion gave a slight twist to this parable by saying it was impossible to fit something as “new” as the Gospel of Y’shua into something as “old” as the framework of the “law of the Jews”.
In order to maintain his particular view of Y’shua and the Jews, Marcion had to introduce a number of “new” doctrines and beliefs that quite literally boils down to a “cutting and pasting” of Scriptures: (1) Marcion did not believe that the prophesies of the Old Testament about a future Messiah were pointing towards Y’shua – these prophesies were about a Jewish Messiah and for Marcion, Y’shua was not a Jewish Messiah; (2) In Marcion’s view Y’shua was a divine being – he appeared to be human but He was not an ordinary man in a true, physical body; (3) Marcion had a low opinion of Y’shua’s disciples – to him they did not fully understand Y’shua’s message of salvation because they remained followers of the “Jewish God” and that is why Y’shua had to appear afresh to Shaúl (Paul) and reveal to him the truth of the gospel. This is also the reason, according to Marcion, why Shaúl had his differences with disciples like Kefa (Peter) and Yaakov (James) – they simply did not understand the true gospel the way he did; (4) For Marcion there were only 11 truly acceptable (or canonical) books of Scriptures – the so-called Gospel of Marcion (essentially based on the Gospel of Luke), the Letter to the Laodiceans (possibly the same as Paul’s letter to the Ephesians) and 9 other letters of Shaul – no Old Testament (for obvious reasons); no Gospel of Matthew (because of the “Jewishness” of this gospel); no Book of Acts (because it describes the Elohim of Y’shua as the Elohim of Avraham, Acts 3:13, and as the One who created the heaven and the earth and the sea, Acts 4:24 and as the One who still required people to follow Torah, Acts 15); no Letter to the Hebrews (too Jewish); no Letter of James or Yaakov (too much emphasis on law and works) and no Revelation (too closely connected to the Old Testament prophesies). And, returning to the books that Marcion DID IN FACT accept as canon, where these books contain quotes or prophesies from the Old Testament, or references to Old Testament figures or to the Elohim of the Old Testament or to the Creator as Someone who cares and loves and protects, we may be certain, says Marcion, that some later scribe who did not understand Y’shua’s message, had inserted these verses into the original text.
Marcion had a huge following in the early church – for as long as 400 years after his death, and even longer. In our own time, many believers still act like secret followers of Marcion. They have a very low view of the Old Testament and would often say something like “the God of the Old Testament is so much different from the God of the New Testament.” A great number of believers today hardly ever read the Old Testament, and those who find texts in the Old Testament that seem to contradict their own system of belief, will often brush it aside by saying: “Times have changed”, or “It was only meant for the Jews” or “It is no longer valid”. How many times have one of us heard someone say: “God is not a God of judgement, but a God of love”? How many times have one of us been in a Christian meeting where more than 90% of the talking and the singing and the praying was about “Jesus” and less than 10% was about the Creator or about the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or about the One who had sent his Son, as a fulfilment of the prophesies?
Some of us may have seen (or may possess) copies of the so-called red-letter Bibles, in which only the direct words of Y’shua are highlighted and appear in a distinctive red colour, throughout the New Testament. This practice was started just more than a 100 years ago in the Roman Catholic church and these bright red texts were called the “Dominical words”, meaning “The words of the Lord”, creating the impression that the words of Y’shua were more needed for salvation and comfort and direction in life, than the words of Yahweh Himself. Before printing this Bible, the editor of the proposed red-letter Bible spoke to his reverent minister and spiritual mentor, asking him if he thought it was a good idea to put the words of Y’shua in red letters, upon which the reverent answered: “It could do no harm and it most certainly could do much good.” Personally, I am not so sure about this. Not only did it rekindle the error of Marcion, it also gave a stamp of approval – straight from the Bible! – of the false idea that Y’shua was saying something different and something more important than what Yahweh had been saying all along.
The same Paul that Marcion so dearly embraced wrote to his spiritual son, Timothy, that all Scripture is breathed or inspired by Elohim and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). Marcion could not embrace this truth and perhaps this was the main reason why he included 9 of Paul’s letters in his Bible, but EXCLUDED Paul’s letters to Timothy! The term “scriptures” that Shaúl (Paul) used here, of course (at that early stage), did not include a single book or letter of what we know today as the New Testament – it was referring ONLY to the books that all first century believers in Y’shua regarded as their “Scriptures”, the books contained in what we know today as the Old Testament. And what is more, to claim that Shaúl had superior insight into the gospel compared to the earlier disciples who spent three and a half years with Y’shua, is a very negative reflection on Y’shua’s ability to teach or to make proper disciples. Such a view is suggesting that the time Y’shua had spent with his (Jewish) disciples and others close him, was little more than window-dressing and a waste of time (because Y’shua was not a real human being; He was not really interested in Jews and every single one of his close followers failed to understand the proper meaning of his message and afterwards Y’shua had to choose someone else – Paul – and do it all over again!)
Marcion, in fact, tried to remove the “righteousness” aspect from Yahweh’s character and put all the emphasis on his “goodness”. But righteousness and goodness are flip sides of the same coin. You cannot have righteousness without goodness (Proverbs 21:21 “He who pursues righteousness and goodness will find life”; Ps 36:10 “Continue Your goodness to those who know You, and Your righteousness to the upright in heart”). In the same way, you cannot have goodness without righteousness (Jer 9:24 “Let him who boasts, boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am Yahweh, doing kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth; for in these I delight, says Yahweh”). There is so much about Yahweh’s goodness in the so-called Old Testament and so much about his righteousness in the New Testament that it is unfair, and in fact impossible, to try to separate the two or to suggest that one should pursue the one, without the other. Let us beware of the spirit of Marcion today, and the tendency to read and to share and to quote only those parts of Scripture that we like, and to keep on looking for excuses why it is okay to ignore those parts that we don’t!