What is marcionism?

by Matt Slick

Marcionism is the theological doctrine known after the heretic Marcion of Sinope, "a ship owner from Pontus in Asia minor"1 who died around 160 A.D. Marcion taught that the God of the Old Testament was the author of evil, oppressive, and a lesser and distinct entity from the God of the New Testament who exhibited love and forgiveness. This is a Gnostic idea where lesser gods are involved in the world, and the true supreme God is far above, inaccessible. Marcion accepted 11 books of the Bible, which included an abridged gospel of Luke. In his version, he removed all references to the Old Testament, the Jews, and the humanity of Christ. He also included 10 of Paul's epistles:  Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon. He was excommunicated in A.D. 144 for his radical views.2 Marcion was the first individual who sought to establish a canon of Scripture. The early Christian apologists Tertullian and Irenaeus wrote against the heresies of Marcion.

With his wealth, Marcion was able to establish a church in Rome, espousing his false doctrines. It lasted for several centuries but eventually died out in the fourth century. However, his attacks on the canon of Scripture forced the Christian church to defend the Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures.

  • The teachings of Marcion (d. c. 160), which featured a sharp disjunction between the “God of wrath” of the OT and the “God of love” of the NT and the view that Christ never became flesh. In Marcionism, Christianity replaces Judaism.3
  • "Thus far our discussion seems to imply that Marcion makes his two gods equal. For while we have been maintaining that God ought to be believed as the one only great Supreme Being, excluding from Him every possibility of equality, we have treated of these topics on the assumption of two equal Gods; but nevertheless, by teaching that no equals can exist according to the law of the Supreme Being, we have sufficiently affirmed the impossibility that two equals should exist. For the rest, however, we know full well that Marcion makes his gods unequal: one judicial, harsh, mighty in war; the other mild, placid, and simply good and excellent."4
  • "Irenaeus writes in Against Heresies (1.17.2 ), “Besides this, he [Marcion] mutilates the Gospel which is according to Luke, removing all that is written respecting the generation of the Lord, and setting aside a great deal of the teaching of the Lord, in which the Lord is recorded as most clearly confessing that the Maker of this universe is His Father."5
  • "He argued that there were two gods—a creator and a redeemer. The former was the god of the Old Testament, who was evil and capricious. The latter was the god of love and redemption, whom Jesus Christ revealed."6
  • 1. Fahlbusch, E., & Bromiley, G. W. (1999-2003). The encyclopedia of Christianity (3:398). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans
  • 2. Myers, Allen C. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987.
  • 3. McKim, Donald K. (2014-04-21). The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition: Revised and Expanded (Kindle Locations 8535-8537). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
  • 4. Tertullian, Against Marcion, 1.6; Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. Vol. 3. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.
  • 5. Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Tyndale reference library (855). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
  • 6. Eckman, James P. Exploring Church History. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.