DOCTRINE OF MARCION RESPECTING THE OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS
Among the many indications of the rapidity with which men’s
minds are departing from the Truth, there are few more ominous than the extensive
diffusion in this country of a system of doctrine that teaches, that all the
Old Testament Saints (although purchased unto God by the precious blood of
Jesus) are to be excluded for ever from the Church, and from the Church’s glory
- that stigmatizes as Jewish, and as not designed for the Church, those very
instructions which the Lord Himself, in His parting words to His disciples,
expressly commanded to be taught to us* - that teaches that the Apostolate of
Paul is of a higher order than that of the Twelve, and that his Gospel was
different from theirs - that denies that the fulfilment of the Law by Jesus was
essential to the salvation of the Church - that (instead of teaching, according
to Scripture, that the Father hath “reconciled us in
the body of Christ’s flesh through death”) speaks of our
being “justified in a risen Christ” - that
confines to the Jews (as being alone formally placed under the Law) the text
that speaks of Christ “being made a curse for us”
(Gal. 3: 13), and imagines that the Church
owes its salvation not to such a redemption, but to union with the Person of
the Son. These, and like things, are now being extensively taught and
received. Recently I heard one of the sustainers of this system affirm
that there are “two Gospels; two ways, and two ends of
salvation”. He might have added, two Christs (for his system
required it) - a Christ for the salvation of the Church (or what they suppose
to be the Church) and a Christ for the salvation of the saints of
[* See two last verses of Matthew.]
Few, probably, are aware of the origin of these and like doctrines. Their origin is evidently Gnostic. Marcion, a Gnostic of the second century, appears to have been the first who taught his disciples to reject as not properly Christian, everything that he was pleased to stigmatize as Jewish. Modern German neology, which has ransacked antiquity in order to become eclectic of falsehood, has disinterred and remoulded many a Gnostic heresy, and so they have been introduced into this country; although in England Marcionism has not as yet been fostered so much by neologians as by others.
The connexion between Marcionism and Germanism has thus been
remarked on by
“What Marcion is said to have done
literally, that Schleiermacher does virtually in his system: for (i.e.
instead of) ‘I am not come to destroy the Law and the
Prophets’, he reads the converse.
dread of everything Jewish, the general characteristic of Gnosticism, has been
carried to its extreme in modern times by Bauer of Tubingen, who has
misspent no ordinary learning and ability in the attempt to show that the
history of early Christianity is that of a struggle out of a Judaized
atmosphere into a purer element; and that when the Christian religion shall
have been entirely freed from the Jewish prejudice which narrowed the mind of
our Lord (! ! !) and His immediate followers,
its work will be accomplished, and the law of love universal. The
Judaeophobia, as one may call it, has been exemplified among ourselves of late
in a ‘History of the Hebrew Monarchy’.” -
Marcion carried his rejection of everything Jewish so far that he excluded Abraham and the Old Testament Saints not only from the Church, but from salvation. “False,” says Irenaeus, “is Marcion, and so are his followers, who exclude from the inheritance Abraham, to whom the Spirit hath borne testimony by many others as well as by Paul, saying, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness’. So also the Lord bore testimony to him ... saying, ‘When ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of heaven, but you yourselves cast out’. This, therefore, is manifest, that they who disallow Abraham’s salvation and frame the idea of another God besides Him who made the promise to Abraham, are themselves aliens from the kingdom of God, and are excluded from the inheritance of incorruption, seeing that they set at naught and blaspheme God, who introduceth through Jesus Christ Abraham to the kingdom of heaven as well as his seed, that is, the Church, upon which is conferred the adoption and the inheritance promised to Abraham.” - Irenaeus. Lib. 4., cap. 18.
Marcion not only rejected the Law and the Prophets, but even in the New Testament he refused to receive any of the Epistles except those of Paul, not including the Hebrews, and he rejected all the Gospels except that of Luke, which, however, as well as the Pauline Epistles, he mutilated, and received only in part.
The Marcionite “aversion,” says Lardner, “to the Old Testament was so great, that on this account they mutilated many passages in the New in those books which they admitted, rejecting all that related to the Law and to the Prophets, or which were quoted thence as plainly foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ, or which spoke of His Father as the Creator of the world.” - Lardner, History of Heretics. Chap. 10., § 33.
As regards the Marcionite notion that “Paul alone knew the truth, and that to him the mystery was manifested by revelation”, Irenaeus writes as follows. “With regard to those (the Marcionites) who allege that Paul alone knew the truth, and that to him the mystery was manifiested by revelation, let Paul himself convict them when he says, that one and the same God wrought in Peter for the Apostolate of the circumcision, and in himself for the Gentiles. Peter, therefore, was an Apostle of that very God, whose was also Paul: and Him whom Peter preached as God among those of the circumcision, and likewise the Son of God, did Paul (declare) also among the Gentiles. For our Lord never came to save Paul alone, nor is God so limited in means, that He should have but one Apostle who knew the dispensation of His Son. ... Again, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, when Paul had recounted all those who had seen God after the resurrection, he says, in continuation, ‘But whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed’, acknowledging as one and the same, the preaching of those who saw God after the resurrection from the dead.” - Irenaeus. Book 3, chap. 13.
It would be impossible within the limits of the present paper to detail all the omissions and alterations which Marcion made in the Gospel of Luke, which he professed to receive, and in the Epistles of Paul. They may be found at length in Epiphanius and Irenaeus, or in Lardner. I will content myself with a few examples.
In Luke 13: 28, instead of reading, “When ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out”, Marcion reads it, “When ye shall see all the just in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves rejected”, &c. In Gal. 3 Marcion omitted the sixth, seventh, and eighth verses, in order to get rid of the mention of Abraham, and of the Gospel as having been preached to him; on which account he ought also to have omitted part of the ninth verse, - “with faithful Abraham, and according to Tertullian’s manner of stating the argument against him, this was the case.” - Lardner, § 43.*
[* Tertullian’s words are: “When he also adds, ‘for ye are all the children of faith,’ it becomes clear that what the heretic’s (Marcion’s) industry erased was the mention of Abraham’s name, for by faith the Apostle declares us to be ‘children of Abraham’; and after mentioning him he expressly calls us ‘children of faith also’ ... and of whose faith, if not Abraham’s? ‘To Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy Seed, which is Christ.’ Fie on Marcion’s sponge! But indeed it is superfluous to dwell on what he has erased, when he may be more effectually confuted from what he has retained.” - Tertullian against Marcion, Book 5, § 4.]
He also omitted, according to Rufinus, the two last chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, ending the Epistle with the 23rd verse of the fourteenth chapter. We can well understand his reason for this. Not only is the fifteenth chapter full of quotations from the Jewish Prophets respecting the call of the Gentiles into participation of Jewish blessings (as for example, “Rejoice ye Gentiles with his people”), but in the sixteenth chapter the Apostle declares that he used the prophetic writings, i.e. the writings of the Old Testament, in making known the Gospel which he was sent to preach. This was the very thing that Marcion denied.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians, amongst other alterations, he erased, in the 20th verse of the second chapter, the word “prophets” (“built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets”) for Marcion saw that all his system must fall if he admitted that the two lines of foundation laid respectively by the Apostles and Prophets were knit into the unity of the same building by both resting on the same chief one corner-stone, Jesus.
These examples may suffice. The fact that Marcion saw the necessity of erasing these and like words, was a sufficient acknowledgment of their conclusiveness if permitted to stand. Which shall we say is the greater sin, to cancel the words of Scripture, or to destroy by false exposition their plain unmistakable meaning?
The Marcionites also adopted the heresy of the Docetae, and taught that Christ had the appearance of a human body, but not the reality - that He appeared to have flesh, but really had not, so that His sufferings were apparent merely.* They made no distinction between “flesh” in a physical, and “flesh” in a moral sense; and believed that everything material must partake of evil.
[* “Nothing,” says Tertullian,
“substantial can be allowed to be effected by an
unsubstantial thing - nothing full by a vacuity. If the habit were putative,
the action was putative; if the workers were imaginary, the works were
imaginary. On this principle, too, the sufferings of Christ will be found
not to warrant faith in Him. For He suffered nothing who did not truly
suffer.” - Tertullian
Some of the followers of Marcion, however, believed Christ to have real flesh, though they would not admit that He was born. This seems to have been the notion of Apelles.]
It must not be supposed, however, that Marcion, in rejecting the Old Testament, rejected it as untrue. He evidently believed its truth, but contended that the God and the Christ of the Old Testament were different from the God and the Christ of the New. Else he could not have avowed his belief in a Jewish Christ to come. “Marcion,” says Lardner, “acknowledged Jesus to be Christ, but not the Christ foretold by the Jewish Prophets. He could not deny that a Christ or Messiah was there spoken of, but he said a Person different from our Lord Jesus Christ was there meant. He allowed, as Tertullian expresses it, that the Prophets of the Creator had promised a Saviour to the Jewish nation, who should deliver them out of the hands of their enemies, and restore them to freedom. But he pretended that this Deliverer was not the Son of God; and that the oracles of the Old Testament did not agree to Jesus Christ. So that ‘this man’, as Tertullian observes, ‘who was so adverse to Judaism, did himself Judaize in the most shameful manner’. ‘Marcion,’ says that writer, ‘is for two Christs - one who appeared in the time of Tiberius for the salvation of all nations, and another the restorer of the Jewish state, who is yet to come’.”*
[* The later developments of Marcion’s system were probably
adopted by him from Cerdo, whom he met at
“The doctrine of two Christs is also asserted by the Marcionite in the dialogue ascribed to Origen. In a work also said to be written by Athanasius, we are informed that Marcion supposed that as Jesus came from the good God, so there was to be another from the just God, because each of them was to be the father of a Christ peculiar to Himself; the good God of one, the just God of another.” - Lardner, 2. 21. He drew a distinction between true moral perfection, which, according to him, “consists in love and goodness, whose essence is only to communicate itself, only to bless, to make happy, to redeem; and mere justice, which metes out everything by desert, rewards and punishes, requites good with good, and evil with evil, which gives birth to mere outward discipline, but can communicate no power of moral enthusiasm - this (says Neander) was Marcion’s great practical and fundamental idea which formed the nucleus of his whole theory. But between love and a justice that revealed itself in punishment he found no means of reconciliation” - Neander, Vol. 2, p. 140. Hence, believing matter and flesh to be essentially connected with evil, he taught that the God and the Christ of the Old Testament and of the Jews, were distinct from the God and Christ of the New Testament revealed to the Church, which comes as a kind of parenthesis between the ancient Jewish period, and the future Jewish period when the Christ of the Jews will appear and effect their deliverance.
“The point of practical importance with Marcion,” says Neander, “was to assert the absolute newness of the creation by Christianity; to sever every link of connection between it and the world as it had subsisted before.” “While he gave an exclusive prominence to the love of God, the revelation of which in the gospel had penetrated his whole soul (! !) he allowed all the other divine attributes to retire out of view. Seeking only to insist upon that which belonged peculiarly to Christianity, but rending it from its connection with the groundwork of the Old Testament, he determined to know nothing at all of a retribution grounded on the holiness of God.” Neander, Vol. 2, p. 140.
[* That is, he excluded such acting in righteousness from the God and Christ of the Church, but not from the God and Christ of the Jews, as will be seen from the remarks below.]
“It seems” (I still quote from Neander) “although it is a point which cannot be determined with certainty,* that Marcion taught that the Messianic predictions of the Old Testament would still be actually accomplished in behalf of the believers in the Demiurge. (Marcion’s name for the God of the Jews.) The Messiah promised by the Demiurge would yet appear and bring to a rigid judgment those who had not been freed from his power by faith in the higher Christ, and awakening those who had died righteous according to the Old Testament, would unite them all in a millennial reign of earthly felicity. The eternal heavenly kingdom to which the Christians belonged would then form the direct antithesis to this perishable earthly kingdom. The souls of Christians would lay aside their gross bodies as the bird rises out of the egg. ... The God of love (i.e. the God of the Church) does not punish; those, however, who refuse to accept the proffered fellowship with Him will fall under the power of the Demiurge (the God of the Jews) and His avenging justice. Whoever, on the other hand, enters into fellowship with the Father through faith in the Son of God, becomes partaker, even on earth, of a divine life superior to the power of the Demiurge and of Matter. For him there is no longer any judgment. Delivered from the power of the Demiurge, he is under the special protection of the God of love. ... From the whole context of Marcion’s ideas resulted the antithesis between those who remained subject to the Demiurge’s government, and those who, released from his power, become objects of the providential care of the Supreme God, whom He trains for His kingdom, with whom all things shall work together for good.” ** - Neander, Vol. 2, p. 147.
[* The words of Tertullian clearly show that Marcion expected a Christ yet to come to the Jews. Tertullian’s words are, “when to these are added their Christs, the one which appeared in the time of Tiberius (whom they believed to have had the appearance of flesh only) and the other which is promised by the Creator or God of the Jews.” - Tertullian, Book I, chap. XV.
** The distinction drawn by Marcion between the condition of the Church and those whom he imagines to be placed in a subordinate condition of blessing under the God of the Jews, is very marked. It would seem, however, that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the rest of the Old Testament saints, were excluded by Marcion even from this subordinate blessing. His statement as to them is most revolting. I will not transcribe it. It may be seen in Epiphanius, Lib. 1, § 42, and still more fully in Irenaeus, Lib. 1, chap. XXVII.]
The history of Marcion affords a memorable example of the
manner in which men, while pursuing a phantom of imagined spirituality, can be
drawn into a place of direct antagonism to God and to His Word. There can
be little question that Marcion was sincere. He was zealous, energetic,
and self-denying even to austerity. Ephraem Syrus says that
Marcion “acquired, by his asceticism, a deceptive shew
of sanctity”. In his early days he is said to have given his money
to the Church. (Pecuniam in primo calore fidei ecclesiae contulit.)
To his mind matter was synonymous with evil; and flesh, in its
physical sense, identical with sin. Absorption into something immaterial
was, in his estimate, essential to salvation. The assumption of real
flesh by the Son of God and the resurrection of the body, he denied.
But the Scripture stood in his way; it contradicted his thoughts, and therefore
the greater part of Scripture he avowedly rejected. He would have
been more consistent and more honest, if he had rejected the whole.* For
he acknowledged not either the God, or the Christ, or the redemption, of which
the Scriptures speak. The Scripture speaks only of the God of Israel and
of the Christ of Israel, and of a redemption wrought out in the midst of
[* It is better for the interests of Truth that its
adversaries should reject Scripture rather than that they should
professedly own it, and then undermine it by sophistical subtilties of
It is said that Marcion, towards the end of his life,
repented of his heretical course, and sought to counteract its effects.
But it was too late. In a world like this, a natural, an appointed
buoyancy belongs to the thistle’s seed; it floats upon the breeze, and the
air’s ready current soon diffuses it over the surface of the wide earth.
“Thistles shall it bring forth to thee.” “Marcion’s heresy,” says Epiphanius who
flourished about the middle of the fourth century, “is
even now existent at
His heresy received from some the condemnation it
deserved. The aged Polycarp of
The heresies of Marcion are scarcely more to be deprecated than the comments of Neander on them. Thus Neander supposes him to have “belonged to the number of those who were first brought to the faith, not by the tradition of the Church, but by their own study of the written word” - that word which he mutilated and blasphemed. “Perhaps,” continues Neander, “it was the majesty of Christ as it shone upon Him in the contemplation of His life, and the study of His words, that attracted him to Christianity. And the Pauline type of doctrine which most completely harmonized with his tone of mind, may have been the form in which he first learned to understand Christianity, and which chained his spirit once for all.” - Neander, Vol. 2, p. 133.
Again, Neander writes: “the consciousness of redemption formed the ground-tone of his (Marcion’s) religious life: the fact of redemption he regarded as the central point of Christianity. [Redemption, as revealed in Scripture, had no place in Marcion’s system at all.] ... To his heart, filled and flowing with the image of the God of mercy and compassion who had appeared in Christ. Nature appeared as something wholly inconsistent with the way in which this God had revealed himself to him in his soul. ... The same mental tendency which made it impossible for him to recognise in Nature the God of the gospel, allowed him to see nothing but contrariety, no fundamental unity between the Old Testament and the New. ... In the Churches of Asia Minor he believed it impossible to recognise the genuine Christianity which had been preached to them by the Apostle Paul. Accordingly, this conviction may have given rise (to his desire) to purify Christianity from the foreign Jewish elements with which it had been mixed, and to restore it to its primitive form. ... And so, step by step, he was continually driven to place the Old and New Testament in sharper contrast to each other”, until at last, he boldly taught that there was one God and Christ for the Jews, and another God and Christ for the Church.
I will now conclude these already too extended remarks, by a few brief quotations from some of our Protestant Confessions in reference to the inclusion of the Old Testament Saints in the one elect body, the Church.
The confession of Dort, after quoting the words, “whom he predestinated, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified, and whom he justified, them he also glorified”, adds, “this election is not manifold (i.e. diverse) but one and the same of all which are to be saved, both under the Old and New Testament; because the Scripture speaks but of one only good pleasure, purpose and counsel of the will of God by which He hath chosen us from eternity, both unto grace and glory, both unto salvation and the way of salvation, which He hath prepared that we should walk therein”. ... and “this doctrine, touching God’s election, was by God’s appointment declared by the Prophets, by Christ Himself, and by the Apostles as well under the Old Testament as the New” - Articles of Dort., 8 and 14.
Also the Confession of
“We most constantly believe that God preserved, instructed, multiplied, honoured, decreed, and from death called to life His Church in all ages, from Adam till the coming of Christ in the flesh. As we believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, so do we most constantly believe that from the beginning there hath been, and now is, and to the end of the world shall be, one Church, that is to say, a company, a multitude of men chosen of God, who rightly worship and entreat Him by true faith in Christ Jesus, &c.” - Art. 5 and 16.
So also the seventh of our English Articles.
“The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the Old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God to Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding. No Christian man is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called moral.”*
[* The doctrines of the Roman Church are, it is well known, most erroneous and false as to the condition of the Old Testament saints whilst militant on the earth. Yet, even they, warned perhaps by Marcion’s example, refuse to exclude them from the Church in glory. Thus Dr. Manning, in his recent work on “The Mission of the Holy Ghost”, writes as follows:-
“The multitude and fellowship of the
just who, from Abel to the incarnation, had lived and died in faith and union
with God, constituted the soul of a body which should be hereafter. They
did not constitute the body, but they were waiting for it. They did not
constitute the Church, which signifies not only the election but
the aggregation of the servants of God; not only the
calling out, but the calling together into one all those who are united to
Him. Some of the Fathers do indeed speak of them as the Church,
because they were to the then world what the Church is now to the world of
today. They belong also to the Church, though it did not then exist, just
as the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world, though the sacrifice on
“As then till the Incarnation there was no Incarnate Head, so till the day of Pentecost there was no complete organization.”
There are, no doubt, parts of the above statement to which
just exception might be taken, but passing these, I quote the passage merely
because of its unequivocal acknowledgment of the inclusion of the Old Testament
saints in the ultimate glory of the Church. “All
grace was from the beginning given through the most precious blood, though as
yet it had not been shed,” are important words. I question,
however, whether these words and the paragraph as a whole, would please the
censors of the
We must remember, too, that although the words “most precious blood” are blessed words, and grateful to the hearts of those who understand them according to the Scripture, yet they are suggestive of far different thoughts to the mind of a Romanist. They direct his soul not to the once perfected sacrifice, whereby he that believeth is sanctified and perfected for ever, but he thinks of blood carnally taken by him in material flesh, which he believes that he actually eats, and thus the value of that holy blood becomes his. Unless he carnally eats it he perishes: and so he becomes an idolater, and worships a phantom, and does (unless he repents) perish.
Dr. Manning’s statements, respecting the condition of the Old Testament
saints whilst on earth, are most objectionable. Thus
when he says that “the Church is gathered from the
world by baptism, and that into every soul rightly baptized the grace of Faith,
Hope and Charity are infused, together with the seven gifts and a substantial
union of the Holy Ghost with the soul is constituted”, it is very
evident that he excludes the Old Testament saints, while on earth, from the
condition into which he pretends that baptism brings, and excludes them from
the possession of that LIFE which is the portion of all the regenerate
of every dispensation, and which when given involves everlasting relationship
to God as His sons, and heirs of glory. Again, Dr. Manning says, “before the Incarnation, the Holy Spirit wrought in the souls
of men, one by one, illuminating, converting, sanctifying, and perfecting the
elect. But the union between His presence and the soul was conditional on
the correspondence and fidelity of the individual. It was a dissoluble
union,” &c. (p. 58). And again, “its
Dr. Manning recognises no distinction between the operation of the Spirit of God in quickening the elect, and His coming personally to dwell in those whom He has quickened. The Old Testament saints were regenerated as truly as we. They had LIFE as truly as we: and although the Spirit was not given to them as the Paraclete, or as the Spirit of son-condition, yet He was given to them as the Spirit of servantship, (Rom. 8: 15) because, though they were sons (see Gal. 4), they were in a state of pupilage until redemption was perfected. “Now I say, that the heir, so long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all.” Gal. 4: 1. And as the Old Testament saints received acceptance through the foreseen value of the blood of Immanuel, so also they received Life before He, in whom that life was, was manifested in the flesh. As light existed before the sun, and was afterwards in the sun concentrated, and from it dispensed, so life was dispensed to the elect before He came, in whom that life essentially was, and in whom it was manifested. God fore-acted on what Christ was as fore-ordained. But wherever there is a disposition to misrepresent, or to magnify unduly the present dispensational standing of the Church, there the sacrificial work of Christ as alone giving the TITLE to all the blessings brought by redemption is depreciated, and results which God has made to depend exclusively on Christ’s relation to the redeemed, are ascribed not to Christ’s work, but to the Spirit. The truth of the Gospel is lost when this is so. Whether we say that they who are not baptized do not belong to the body of Christ, or that they who did not receive the Spirit in the manner in which He is now dispensationally given, do not belong to the body of Christ, in either case we destroy the truth of the Gospel. Title to belong to the body of Christ is founded entirely on the work of Christ in redemption. The gift of the Spirit (which is a purchased result of redemption) does not give the title to membership in the body of Christ, but supplies the power of that associated action which is needed by those who are called to act together as co-members in one body. Are we to confound title, and power to act according to such title?
See also Luther:-
“When the Scripture saith that all nations which are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham, it followeth necessarily that all, as well Jews as Gentiles, are accursed without faith, or without faithful Abraham. For the promise of blessing was given to Abraham that in him all nations should be blessed. There is no blessing then to be looked for, but only in the promise made unto Abraham, now published by the Gospel, throughout the whole world. Therefore whosoever is without that blessing is accursed.” - Luther on Gal. 3, 10.
See also Calvin:-
“And this is a singular proof of the benevolence of God toward us, that although from the beginning of the world he showed Himself bountiful to His children (the Old Testament saints), He nevertheless so regulated His grace as to provide for the salvation of the whole body (in which we, of this dispensation, are included). What more could any one among ourselves desire than that regard should be had to him in respect of the blessings with which God hath followed up Abraham, Moses, David, &c., so that with them he might coalesce in the body of Christ?” - Calvin on Heb. 11.
God has made a better provision for us than to allow that our elder brethren, who have preceded us in the path of faith, should be perfected in glory apart from us. The Scripture uses the word “apart.” They who are not apart must be together.
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