Accused of Modern Marcionism

Apostle John on Left, but Marcion on Right.

The Ridiculous Conflation (e.g. You’re a Marcionite Scum!)

This accusation of being a Marcionite from misinformed Christians is nothing creative, new, intelligently sound, or even virtuous. Instead, I regard it as immature, heretical, delusional, and even downright blind to all the senses of the mind (I know the latter reason is put into extreme, but the first three are faithful depictions of their conflation). Indeed, there was a Lutheran named Dr. Jordan Cooper who accused David Bentley Hart of Marcionism in a way, but I find him to be simply immature in his reaction towards D.B.H’s argument against the Old Testament. His comment is this: “I don’t mean to imply that Hart (or anyone other than Marcion…) has identical ideas with Marcion on every point. However, within the history of theology, “Marcionite” has generally been used as a term to classify those who divide God in the OT from the NT. Thus, many of the basic condemnations of Marcion from various fathers would apply to someone who holds to Hart’s perspective on God in the OT.” In other words, “he’s only Marcionite from my interpretation of history and the patristic fathers” since he cites no examples for that matter. Though, he concedes that David doesn’t need to fit Marcion’s theology in full, he only considers him this way because of his rejection of the Jewish god’s dealings with humanity. However, this is considerably illogical because Hart could also assert that Dr. Jordan (and any Fundie) as being Marcionites for accepting the literal interpretation of the Old Testament as being only doctrinally, historically, or philosophically true. To be exact, Jordan would become a Marcionite according to Jordan’s own conflating justifications. The amount of irony that stems from this is greatly intriguing so as to defend a horrendous depiction of God. As I said before, it’s nothing new or soundly intelligent. But this post is not about Dr. Jordan Cooper. It’s actually in response to an article I read.

In Response to an article by Bill Muehlenberg (Italics: Bill)

Thus if a Christian does not know his history — or particularly his church history — he will likely repeat the mistakes of Marcion. So who was he and what was his error? He was a second century bishop who was condemned for his heretical teachings, including his views on God and the Old Testament.

I’m very aware of history and the patristic father’s denial of the literal OT god’s character whereas their usage of allegorical interpretation of Christ. So, I disagree with this comment. Because of your firm literal reading of the biblical texts and constant justifications, not only are there people engaging into Gnosticism as an alternative due to their ignorance of patristic history, but also they make use of the literal reading in way that differs from your literal interpretation of the Old Testament.

Many contemporary Christians act as if they are in fact closet Marcionites. They too have a very low view of the OT, and tend to somehow think that the God of the OT is much different than the God of the NT. They seldom even read the OT, and they tend to shrink away from what they find there when they do read it.

This is ironic, because there are many Fundamentalists who also follow this same category of being mostly ignorant of the Old Testament. David Bentley Hart and others who are very aware of the Old Testament would definitely still hold to the notion that the Jewish god (in most cases) is cruel and unjust.

Indeed, we have many believers today trying to resurrect Marcionism. The emergent church often moves along these lines. Many of them assure us that God is not a God of judgement, he is simply into love and acceptance, and probably everyone will be saved anyway. Indeed, according to some popular emergent leaders, hell almost certainly does not even exist.

Nothing new in such deluded accusations. No one of the rational group is denying that God judges people; we simply deny the nature of the judgement, you fundamentalists seem to suggest as being morally just. If God is love, which is His basic ontology, and if love edifies by nature, then His judgement or justice is corrective, disciplinary, and restorative (1st John 4:16; 1st Corinthians 8:1). If God relies on pure retribution to deal with sinners, He is not only perpetuating the cycle of evil, but He also rendering such sinners as incurable, and He would be contradicting with Paul’s exhortation, “Overcome evil with good”. But if God relies on remedial discipline to deal with sinners, He is not only causing the cessation of evil, but also He renders the sinner curable to the Good and repentant.

They seem to forget the words of Paul when he said that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Not just the words of Jesus, but every word. And of course when Paul wrote this, basically only the OT existed for the use of the Christian church.

In the Koine Greek, it best translates as: “All God-breathed writings are useful…,” which does not mean a divine dictation, nor does it mean that every word in the Scriptures are God-breathed. Or would anyone like to consider the friends of Job to be inspired while God in Job counts them as foolish? Anyone? I thought so. As for the uninspired portions of the Scriptures, we can simply learn from them as identifying as erroneous, or read the unjust portions from pneumatic exegesis as did the early Jews or Christians (e.g. Philo of Alexandria, Paul, Peter, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa). In interpreting these uninspired portions from a pneumatic mind rooted in the criteria of Christ, these portions of scripture become inspired only under this condition. Or as David Hart stated to Peter: “From Paul through the high Middle Ages, only the spiritual reading of the Old Testament was accorded doctrinal or theological authority. In that tradition, even “literal” exegesis was not the sort of literalism you seem to presume. Not to read the Bible in the proper manner is not to read it as the Bible at all; scripture is in-spired, that is, only when read ‘spiritually’ ”.

But the red letter folks want us to have a Jesus who is a bit like someone made in their own image: more of a tree-hugging hippy, flashing the peace sign, than the judge of all the earth. They seem to ignore the fact that there are plenty of red letters found in the book of Revelation, where we read about Jesus the conquering king with blood-covered sword in hand, who executes his just judgments on the wicked — just like the God of the OT in fact.

God is not just or a god of justice if His justice is very much like human vengeance; thus, their depiction of justice is just an arbitrary label justified in the name of God. In other words, virtue and vice almost become like twins in regard to justice. As for the book of Revelation, the majority of its content is meant to be taken as neither literal, nor as actual depictions of reality. Secondly, when Jesus says He’ll cast Jezebel to a bed of suffering, this is not some literal truth. Instead, what most likely happened could have been her works of fornication lead to what we commonly know as STDs. God doesn’t need to punish so as to destroy, because sin and the Devil already fulfill this operation. He utilizes these mediums for remedial purposes (1st Corinthians 5:5). Lastly, John borrows Jewish references from the Old Testament and apocryphal writings like Enoch to convey an idea to his Christian audience familiar with such things as a means to conceal a political message away from Rome. Regardless, Jesus is the Prince of peace, not a warrior (Isaiah 9:6).

The simple truth is, God does not change: he is “the same yesterday, today and forever” as Hebrews 13:8 asserts. Nor does Jesus. Jesus is God, and Jesus is unchanging. He is the same and will always be the same. So we have no right to claim that there are two different Gods, or that the God of the OT is somehow radically different from the God of the NT.

Indeed, I agree God cannot change His character lest His morals be totally subjective and morality be simply a label of invention. If we don’t possess the right to discern, then provide a justification for such claims rather than blindly asserting nonsense (or your moralistic nihilism unless one has the Bible). Christ is the pure and full revelation of God; the Old Testament is a flawed mirror of that same God. It’s a progressive and imperfect revelation, but also a tainted understanding of God. It’s also why John asserts, “No one has seen God, but…Christ came to make Him known” (John 1:18). Also, I don’t think something as minor as the Trinity is more important than knowing the exact dimensions of His moral character, so don’t make the claim that John is referring to the Trinity in this verse. Some Jews were aware of the Two Powers in Heaven before the coming of Christ.

Those who actually bother to read the OT will see that the “nice” attributes of God — eg., his love, compassion, grace and forbearance — are just as much in full display there as in the NT. Also, the attributes we tend to shy away from — eg., his holiness, his justice, his wrath against sin, and judgment on evil — are just as much on display in the NT.

Yes, you could argue that there are some nice works from God in the Old Testament, but the other side greatly contends not only that image of God, yet also the image of Christ. First example, the Jewish god commands David word-for-word to count Israel, yet later punishes him for it. But the objection from modern Fundies is that they’ll say it was God allowing the Devil to tempt David based on their usage of 1st Chronicles 21:1. However, this would still entail a contradiction because 2nd Samuel 24:1 says, “Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He stirred up David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” The Bible, if read by a strict literalist without any sound philosophy in mind, would definitely take this verse as being God Himself rather than considering the Satan out of ignorance for Chronicles, or he would take it as a narrative of both God and Satan working together in direct. Regardless, these would be few that think such, yet it’s sound philosophy that dictates the correct lens of this matter. It’s a contradiction because it doesn’t say that God allows the Devil to tempt him in the same account, and it’s a contradiction because Chronicles was written not only centuries after Samuel, but also by different writers. It’s also possible that some Jews actually thought God tempted people to sin; hence, we have James telling his Jewish audience that God tempts no one (James 1:13). Even if God ordered the Satan to tempt David, it would be unjust for Him to require a righteous man to sin so as to punish Israel when He could simply do it apart from David. Definitely neither merciful nor just. Second example, this imagined god tells a man of God to not eat or drink in a certain region, yet he gets innocently deceived by a so-called prophet, so god punishes him for it. Doesn’t sound fair or merciful. But then people defend this text by saying that he disobeyed, yet for something trivial and innocent due to deceit from a self-proclaimed prophet. However, they’ll continue focusing on his disobedience as being the justified reason for his death. Yet Saint Paul said, “For God has consigned everyone to disobedience so that He may have mercy on everyone” (Romans 11:32). It doesn’t sound like the god of the Old Testament. They’ll argue by saying Jesus came to appease God’s vengeful wrath, yet the Bible makes no mention of this. By this logic they provide, they are indirectly saying that God changed His character to any degree, whether a so-called standard had to be fulfilled or not. Thirdly, the Jewish god seeks to kill Moses only because his son was not circumcised, which is utterly stupid and trivial. If this Jewish god was so insistent to have Moses free his people, and be willing to use his own brother to aid him, why seek the destruction of this same vessel you are passionate for? Is something as trivial as circumcision more important than the welfare of others who are in bondage and oppression? This Jewish god is willing to lose a vessel that he not only sought for, but also meant to use to liberate a multitude of people in bondage to Egypt. Such a deity is either stupid, petty, and evil or plainly imaginary to their accustomed view of God. Finally, there is a story where the Jewish god is seen as being less merciful than Moses when the people of Israel disobeyed. We see Moses willing to fulfill the promise for Israel, but the Jewish god seems reluctant in the beginning until Moses reasons with him. Nothing just or merciful from any of these examples. Instead, we find a deity that imposes trivial commands, petty threats, and sick consequences. Their only defense is to either re-interpret the biblical texts, which requires their own use of philosophy and not scripture, or invent ideas that the text doesn’t claim for its self; hence, deny literal contradictions and condone moral nonsense that the text claims. Other than that, great job! (1st Kings 13; Exodus 4:24–26; 32:31).

In fact we see all these attributes fully displayed at the cross. It is at once a marvelous display of his grace, love and forgiveness, as well as his hatred of sin and his wrath against all that stands against him and his purposes. As D.A. Carson has put it: “Both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the old covenant to the new…. These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax — at the cross.”

On the Cross, there is no sign of a blood thirsty god that seeks to appease himself by the suffering of an innocent man. Instead, we see Jesus representing the Father in every way while humans are torturing Jesus, which demonstrates God’s forgiveness contending with human hostility. Jesus didn’t come to change the Father’s mind, but He came to reform minds back to God and purge our minds from sin (Titus 2:11–14). The “forgiveness of sins” is best translated as “release of sins”, which implies deliverance, purification, or healing as Isaiah 53:5 says, but not forgiveness. By the way, you cannot punish or impute someone for another person’s sins, which is definitely what Ezekiel 18:19, 20 teaches or plainly moral deduction. Ironic for these people to claim to be knowledgeable of the Old Testament, yet totally unaware that their doctrine contradicts the scriptures. Their doctrine is based on poor translations and poor implications of the biblical texts. No surprise!

Selective acceptance of the Biblical text is just not an option for the follower of Christ. Marcion clearly had this problem, big time. But of real concern is this: how many contemporary Christians also have this problem? It seems that we need to not only address this issue in our churches today, but we also need to address the historical and theological amnesia affecting so many of us as well.

Conflating selective acceptance with bias preference instead of rational discernment is a dangerous form of thinking. Then I guess, we should consider the portions where God is also tempter along with Satan, and consider Job’s friends as being messengers of divine wisdom — of course not. Interestingly, Christians of all denominations are all selective in their interpretation of the scriptures, which is a problem for everyone who claims to follow the Bible.

Patristic Interpretations of the Old Testament

Though Clement of Rome didn’t seem to aggressively accuse the poor portrayals of the OT deity, he still denied his characteristics by ignoring him completely while emphasizing the virtues of the saints, and stating characteristics that greatly contradicts the Old Testament’s portrayal of God. Clement utters in his writings, “Wherefore, having so many great and glorious examples set before us, let us turn again to the practice of that peace which from the beginning was the mark set before us; and let us look steadfastly to the Father and Creator of the universe, and cleave to His mighty and surpassingly great gifts and benefactions of peace. Let us contemplate Him with our understanding, and look with the eyes of our soul to His long-suffering will. Let us reflect how free from the wrath He is towards all His creation” (Chapter: 19). He ignores the depiction of God’s character in the OT while emphasizing the love of Moses as an exemplar, “And the Lord said to him, I have spoken to you once and again, saying, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiff-necked people: let me destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make you a great and wonderful nation, and one much more numerous than this. But Moses said, Far be it from You, Lord: pardon the sin of this people; else blot me also out of the book of the living. Exodus 32:32 O marvelous love! O insuperable perfection! The servant speaks freely to his Lord, and asks forgiveness for the people, or begs that he himself might perish along with them” (Chapter: 53). Clement of Rome also uses pneumatic interpretation of the story of Rehab to prefigure Christ’s blood (Chapter:12). Not only does he subtly deny the Old Testament god’s characteristics, but also he uses pneumatic exegesis when reading the Old Testament, which is not Marcionite but Christian.

Mathetes wrote to Diognetus, and he is considered a disciple of the Apostles. He did not regard God as being a vengeful or punitive being, instead he considers God to be long-suffering and even without wrath towards humanity before and after the Cross. He says: “For God, the Lord and Fashioner of all things, who made all things, and assigned them their several positions, proved Himself not merely a friend of mankind, but also long-suffering [in His dealings with them.] Yea, He was always of such a character, and still is, and will ever be, kind and good, and free from wrath, and true, and the only one who is [absolutely] good; and He formed in His mind a great and unspeakable conception, which He communicated to His Son alone” (Mathetes Chapter: 8). Then he says that God sought to sanctify our hearts, to those who have fallen into the priority of sin, through the Cross, “This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us…,” and then he said, “and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering” (Chapter: 9). This perspective of the atonement is not affirming Penal Substitution, but instead it is affirming a Moral Influence theory (i.e. God seeking to reform the minds of fallen men). So far, the subjective view of God being vengeful or wrathful according to the Old Testament is absent in the Early Fathers.

Then we have Gregory of Nyssa denying the Jewish interpretation of God as follows: How would a concept worthy of God be preserved in the description of what happened if one looked only to the history? The Egyptian acts unjustly, and in his place is punished his newborn child, who in his infancy cannot discern what is good and what is not. His life has no experience of evil, for infancy is not capable of passion. He does not know to distinguish between his right hand and his left. The infant lifts his eyes only to his mother’s nipple, and tears are the sole perceptible sign of his sadness. And if he obtains anything which his nature desires, he signifies his pleasure by smiling. If such a one now pays the penalty for his father’s wickedness, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is Ezekiel, who cries: The man who has sinned is the man who must die and a son is not to suffer for the sins of his father? How can history so contradict reason? Therefore, as we look for the true spiritual meaning, seeking to determine whether the events took place topologically, we should be prepared to believe that the lawgiver has taught through the things said” (The Life of Moses by Gregory of Nyssa). However, he replaces the literal or somatic reading of Exodus with the allegorical or pneumatic reading. There is no logically sapient reason to believe in a god that not only contradicts our Lord Jesus, but also contradicts axiomatic morals. If we’re Marcionites, then accuse Clement of Rome, Mathetes, and even Gregory of Nyssa as being Marcionites since they denied the literal interpretation of the god of the Old Testament. One thing is for sure, we are not. Here’s a dogmatic claim:

No rational and mature Christian should forsake the revelation of Jesus, patristic tradition, sapient philosophy, and mystical experiences for the somatic interpretation and literal exegesis of the Old Testament. To do otherwise is to insult the revelation of Christ and deny early Christianity whereas affirm the evil actions of a deity in the mind of the Jews. Always accepting literal exegesis and rejecting spiritual exegesis is closer to heresy than truth. Spiritual exegesis reforms literal exegesis into a profound truth; literal exegesis is denied for philosophical, mystical, or moral truth found by pneumatic exegesis. This method of interpretation stems from the mind of Christ as Paul exhorted the Philippians — the most mature group — to have (2:5).

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George M. Garcia

George M. Garcia

A writer interested in theology and the supernatural. A Christian with divine experiences and a vast understanding of Scripture.