Marcion, Law Verses Gospel, and Christian Fragmentation

I recently had the opportunity to discuss with a former partner in ministry why Orthodoxy has remained whole throughout the ages, since the call of the Apostles by Christ. This friend continued to mention that all Christianity has been fragmented from the beginning and that the Orthodox Church is not exempt from this.

I have two things to say about this. The first is that although the Orthodox Church has had people break off, it has not been in modern times over modern heresy, unlike the West which has been fragmenting since the break of Rome from the East in the 11th century into tiny fragments to this day. The second thing is that both St. Paul and Christ himself said that there would be many that would fall away – it is a prophetic aspect of the Church…not that the Church would fragment into many churches but that many would fall away from the Church.

As the Church began to be attacked upon in first few centuries they began to ward off the heretics through debate and preaching. A popular heretic example that sticks in my mind is Marcion (b. 85 A.D.), who taught a type of New-Testament-only gospel with heavy Gnostic leanings where creation is seen as evil in and of itself. Marcion is the father of the Reformation, believe it or not! One of the major arguments the reformers proposed – and still do in Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian churches –  is the separation of the Law from the Gospel. TERTULLIAN wrote in the second century, “The separation of the Law and the Gospel is the fundamental work of Marcion.” Reformer John Calvin taught that the law “leads us to the Gospel.” He also wrote that the Law picks back up somehow for the believer but that part did not stick with many that descended from Calvin’s theology (it really did not make much sense in the first place).

Marcion, in my opinion, was the father of the fall of the West. He opened the doors for angry-god-theology – that we are all guilty and God is angry with us until we have a conversion experience; what is now called by the modern/West Church “Penal Substitution.” Marcion’s forming of the Law against the Gospel was what seems to be one of the first ‘scholastic’ heresies of the Church – dividing and fragmenting the Gospel so as to create a rhetorical avenue – for those who desire a more intellectual Christianity.  Marcion also taught that the Gospel account was only valid with the accompaniment of St. Paul’s Epistles. This is what modern Christians of the West do today, in some sense. St. Paul’s words take precedence over most anything else, even the words of Christ. You can see my comments on this, here.

During the first millennium of the Church the seeds were being planted for the largest falling away ever: the West from the East. As stated, Marcion had a huge influence on this in the beginning, but shortly after the Great Schism, Anselm, Western Bishop of England, capitalized on Marcion-thought by introducing what many today call “satisfaction” teaching of atonement;  similar to Marcion’s teachings that the Law is opposed to the Gospel. Anselm wanted to use this legalistic teaching to evangelize the lost. Simply preach that the entire world is guilty of breaking the commandments from birth and that debt was paid by Christ rather than you. The Protestant Reformers took it a step further and taught the “penal” aspect of atonement, that we ask to receive this transfer-of-execution as our debt paid. Again, Law against Gospel!  This is how most modern Christians evangelize today. Rather than building a relationship with an individual and showing them the beauty of Christ and his worthiness to be worshipped, they present a guilt trip to the unbeliever. This is not to say that a non-believer does not need repentance. On the contrary! But repentance is not a one time event. Repentance is a path of life. The Marcion crew, along with the modern West has created an almost cultic aspect of the Gospel so as to present the Gospel as a magic formula rather than a spiritual journey.

Marcion is an example of how, yes, the Orthodox Church has had “schisms.” This is one reason why the Ecumenical Councils were formed, to call heresy what it is so that the Church can continue through the ages.

The Orthodox Church has remained since the beginning and has shed its heresy off. The Western churches have not remained in any sense. The historical Reformed churches, for instance, are completely liberal and heretical. The original Lutherans are heretically liberal, even in Germany, Luther’s home. The original Presbyterians are heretically liberal too. The original Presbyterian church in America is calling the Trinity by a different name of wind, fire and some type of other nonsense. Episcopal/Anglican, need I say more!  Many Baptists are dispensationalists (a modern theology that divorces the Old Testament even harsher than the Reformers did) and most all Baptists are “Sola Scriptura,” which causes major division against apostolic Christianity. Other Evangelicals such as Charismatics and Pentecostals would fall in to the Baptist camp, regading this Sola Scriptura model. Modern churches have not lasted long at all. Some break off and attempt to claim to be the original, but they too fragment and divide over ethics and other ridiculous doctrines that have evolved from the legal aspects of Marcion and Anselm.

The strange things is that the modern churches do not see the truth of Orthodoxy as they split. They continue to return to their vomit as the prophet Isaiah puts it. They divide on a topic and then camp on that topic, but after it has been split in two!

Unlike the West, the East has retained its blessings that the Lord first granted them. They still retain the very power that God granted; the power of the Holy Spirit to take dominion across the earth, through the presence of the Church, which has been dominating the East and is continuing to grow in the West. The Western Church has not done this. Its establishments are dying and the so-called conservatives that are claiming to be the original will never gain ground since they never really had it to begin with. Their buildings, their traditions, their very authority has been crushed. They have been reinvented by the modern Evangelical.

What about Rome? Rome is the original Western fragmentation of the Church, but they took enough congregations with them in the Great Schism to continue to spiritually prosper and take dominion…Until the mid 20thcentury, that is. Vatican II is killing Roman Catholicism with its liberal tendencies to include Islam in the covenant and to refuse to discipline heretical and perverted leaders. But Rome has a love for the Early Fathers and for the Eastern Orthodox Church. Did you know that Rome ONLY allows Eastern Orthodox to receive communion at their churches? They do this because they know the history of the Church. Many of them want to reconcile with the East but are afraid to give up much of what the West has worked for over the past few centuries. They fought Islam, they fought the Reformers (Protestants) but they are now running out of weapons. Perhaps if they had only sent forth martyrs rather than soldiers they would not be so exhausted today. Perhaps if they would have kept the sword closer to their side then to their head they would have been able to last. But this is what Anselm has given them: a Gospel of division, one that does not know its way, one that does not know the Law of Christ but the “Law of the Old” and passive “Grace of the New.”  I’m afraid the Gospel does not survive with this false dichotomy of Marcion. The Gospel is the Law of Christ, the obedience of the Spirit which was given to the Church, the body of Christ. Become a part of the body and become a part of what Christ has left us to preserve through worship, adoration, healing and dominion.

LORD HAVE MERCY, LORD HAVE MERCY, LORD HAVE MERCY!

Comments

  1. I need to apologize for not including Augustine in this post. I am after dismantling Scholasticism more than any one or few theologians. There are many things I love about Augustine but he is a huge contributor to scholasticism and the Law/Gospel divide. Hey, did I mention that I am against scholasticism? ;) The more I learn about it the more I will write about it to help me hash out my own beliefs and understanding of the church.

  2. Wow…great connecting the dots! Can you recommend any patrisitics, books or articles on this subject? That Marcionite Law/Gospel differentiation really does seem to be “feuling” all these various movements and theories. They appear to be different but that does seems to be at the root of it all. The Gospel is that the Law is not abolished but fulfilled in Christ!

    Also, what you have written makes so much sense in light of Hebrews 3:16- 4:2 :For some, having heard, did provoke: but not all who came out of Egypt through Moses. And with whom was He indignant forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter into His rest, except to those who disobeyed? And we see that they were not able to enter on account of unbelief. Therefore let us fear, lest while the promise remains to enter into His rest, anyone of you seems to have fallen short. For indeed we have had the gospel preached (Grk. ευηγγελισμενοι) to us just as those also; but the word which they heard did not profit those, not having been mixed with faith in those having heard it.

    The Law is explicitly referred to as “the Gospel” in Hebrews 4:2! Thanks, One Accord!

  3. When I see the word law used by the fathers, many times I see God’s truth in general, the gospel itself. I think the OT saints meant the same, not only the Levitica law as well as the whole Torah but the prophetic sense of God’s word.

    In Hebrews 8:7-13 we see that with the New Covenant God is progressively writing the law on our hearts. Verse 11 says that teaching will even take a new direction. I beleive this means that obedience and ethics overall must come from a spiritual avenue rather than a legalistic one. Apophatic theology will become more and more important as the New Covenant progresses. Lives will be lived in obedience from pure motive rather than obeying lists of rules and the apoaphatic aspect will guard this by saying “no” to heretical and unethical direction.

    Christian ethics was my favorite subject in seminary but I cannot recommend any good books at this point because they have an equal amount of garbage in them.

  4. Once again, thank you!

    You’ve opened my eyes to something I’ve always overlooked when I read the Scriptures. I’ve held to that false Law/Gospel dichotomy.

    Would you agree to this analogy?: Law is to Gospel as Israel is to the Church.

    There is no actual replacement of Israel, the Church is Israel in a mystery (Eph. 3:6), matured and made one with God through her risen and glorified Messiah. Thus, the Gospel is the crucified, raised, fully matured and glorified Torah.

    Gal 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.
    Jas 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well…

  5. That is a great anology. Thanks!

  6. “Marcion is the father of the Reformation, believe it or not! One of the major arguments the reformers proposed – and still do in Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian churches – is the separation of the Law from the Gospel.”

    …Martin Luther would once again emphasize…that we are “justified by faith alone”, apart from the works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28), adding the German word allein (“alone”) in his translation of the Greek text. There is certainly a trace of Marcion in Luther’s move (Brown H. OJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, pp. 64-65).

    Martin Luther, 1522 Preface to the Epistle of St. James:

    “But this James does nothing more than drive to the law and to its works. Besides, he throws things together so chaotically that it seems to me he must have been some good, pious man, who took a few sayings from the disciples of the apostles and thus tossed them off on paper. Or it may perhaps have been written by someone on the basis of his preaching. He calls the law a “law of liberty,” though Paul calls it a law of slavery, of wrath, of death, and of sin…He mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture. He tries to accomplish by harping on the law what the apostles accomplish by stimulating people to love. Therefore, I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books…”

    You have really hit the nail on the head! Marcionism lives.

  7. Why are you blaming on Marcion what is Paul’s own fault? These notions of gospel vs law are from Paul. Marcion was merely trying to make sense of the nonsensical ramblings of his favorite false apostle.

  8. Jun, you must be the same guy that tried posting before on this. Anyhow, you are taking a very liberal stand on this by calling St. Paul a false apostle. I think you are likely reading his letters from a “sola scriptura” perspective. In other words, you are only understanding his writings based on what you see in the text and not in 1st century judaism. St. Paul was a polemists and was in no way trying to pitch the law against the gospel as many hetrodox teach. Look at Galatians 5 to see what Paul teaches on the Law. He calls it the law of Christ and explains how it is from the spirit now that we obey. The legal terms that you may be hung up on in his letters are geared for the Jews, who saw everything through the law.

    So Jun, are you a liberal?

  9. Huh? I don’t see any comments by anyone else similar to mine.

    “In other words, you are only understanding his writings based on what you see in the text and not in 1st century judaism.”

    Nope. Just read Galatians. The Galatians are doubting Paul’s apostleship and saying he is just an apostle “of men” and not a real apostle “of Jesus Christ” like Peter, James, and John; and therefore Paul writes this letter to the Galatians in order to convince them that, in fact, he is not an apostle “of men” but a real apostle “of Jesus Christ.” But what tactic does he use to persaude them? He attacks Peter, James, and John as Judaizing hypocrites and says they “seem to be pillars” (2:9) and “seem to be something, but whatever they really are makes no difference to me.” (2:6) He later closes the letter with “if a man thinks he is something when he is nothing he deceives himself.” (6:3) All of this tied in together is a sustained attack on the apostleship of Peter, James, and John. Paul’s argument is essentially “Oh, you are rejecting me as an apostle of men an not as a real apostle of Jesus Christ like Peter, James, and John? Well, let me tell you, its just the opposite: I’m the real apostle and they are fakes that only seem to be something.” On top of all that he fearmongers and tells the Galatians to watch out because Peter, James and John are going to try to circumcise them!!!! (Oh please!) He also undoubtedly misrepresents the actual issue behind his disagreement with Peter in Antioch. Peter trying to make the Gentiles eat Kosher? Yeah right!

    Then also read the first 4 chapters of 1st Corinthians. Here the church in Corinth is split into three parties “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” and “I follow Peter.” Obviously a disagreement between Peter and Paul caused the initial division, some of Paul’s own converts rejecting his apostleship in preference to Peter whose apostleship is beyond question. And then Apollos got in the middle and tried to create a compromise position, resulting in a three way split. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 9:2, “Even if I am not an apostle to others, surely I am to you, for you are my seal of apostleship in the Lord.”

    Paul’s own converts had doubts about his apostleship and saw him as subapostolic and many eventually rejected him for the 12. His epistle to the Galatians also fails to convince the Galatians of his apostleship, for he writes at the close of his life in 2nd Timothy 1:15 “You know that everyone in Asia has turned away from me.”

    Is it liberal to see a constant issue of credibility with Paul as one of the major issues of his epistles? Is it liberal to see his sustained attack on the idea that anyone can be righteous, do good, or seek God (Romans 3) as a direct contradiction against Jesus’ statements that “God sends the rain on the righteous and unrighteous,” “good men out of the good treasure of their hearts bring forth good things,” “seek and you will find”? Is it not rather liberal to accept Paul’s weak claims to apostleship on the basis of having seen a light, when he so often contradicts Jesus and when he was eventually rejected by his own converts as a false apostle? Is it liberal to see that Tertullian was right in his Five Books Against Marcion when he called Paul “the apostle of the heretics.” Is it not the heretics, like Augustine, and Luther, and Marcion himself, who most respect Paul? They are the ones who take his teachings seriously. The Orthodox and orthodox, do they not often explain away Paul’s lying teachings to force them in conformance to Jesus? Yea verily they do! Is that liberal? Nay.

    Paul himself in 2nd Cor 11:14 says that talking lights are not guaranteed to truly be Jesus, but could be the devil appearing as an angel of light. With his own admission to this effect, what reason to we have to accept his apostleship other than liberalism?

  10. Jun, Paul was indeed a very exclusive apostle and had riffs with others as you point out. Knowing these problems, we need to decide what to make of them so as to properly interpret Scripture. We can take your position, which basically jettisons the Holy Canon itself and, of course Paul’s apostleship; We can also take the position that Paul is the only true apostle and that all the others fell away, which would in some sense harm the canon since these guys were supposed to be inspired by the Holy Ghost; Or, we can do what the Church has traditionally done, and that is, accept the fact that Paul was an apostle called at a different time, as a convert, and as an example of what Christ can do with those that are not so noble. Yes, Paul was a radical in many ways and really did not know Greek very well. He also was commissioned to the Gentiles but seemed to mesh this call with converting the Jews, which was a certain passion of his (see Romans 11).

    The first thing that must be considered when reading Paul is his context. You can read some on that here. What you may call heresy from St. Paul – because it sounds far too legal than what Christ says – we conservatives call polemics. St. Paul was using the language of the Jews and those who persuaded by them, against them. He was obeying an ancient rhetoric of “answering a fool according to their folly “(Prov. 26:5). It really was not the “entire” picture of salvation. It was a personal conversation. St. Paul did not know that we would canonize his writings. He would have written them in a different manner if that were the case (although there were some of his letters that he commanded to be shared (2 Thes. 3:14). So we are not seeing the whole picture by taking a verse here and a verse there from Paul. This is the science of hermeneutics, carefully examining each passage so as to relate them to the context of what was happening in the culture and also relating each passage to other writings of the church.

    If you want an accurate picture of what Paul thought of the Law and how it related to the Gospel, then read Galatians 5. He very eloquently shows how the Spirit leads rather than the letter, and how that supersedes the written law.

  11. 2Pe 3:15-18 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

  12. since when is hermeneutics a science?

  13. Since when hasn’t it been? Many have called it a science. There are a lot of variables in understanding Scripture, unlike the literalist who is being led on the path of the cults.

  14. Athanasoius Brown says:

    When speaking of law, can it be that one automatically views a system of police judges and a court room, whereas law actually outlines the boundries of a essence, like the law of gravity or the law of physics, so does God’s law really mean what God is not? example God is not hate God is not divided and so on.. I agree with the article don’t get me wrong, I’m just wondering how the law of God vs the “law” was defined in the acients. The points you brought up are marvelous. The law cannot be put against the gospel, for we know that Gospel fulfills the law, be we see the Gospel being fulfilled in the law of God, the law says do not kill , the law of God is life, therefore the fullfillment of it is that Christ laid down his own life granting us life….the law states not to steal, but the gospel tells us to give, so if i make any sense, I see one as a law of the land to keep order and one as a measuring stick to not fully grasp God but rather know what we are not based on what he is not .

    I guess the scholastic approach would hinder the full explanation of this because it is to be experienced rather than taught in study halls as the west most often does continually till this day…..making gnostic believers of a pagan God.

  15. I agree with what you say, Athenasious. I do think that there are some spots in the Scripture that say “law” but do not refer to the moral code. I am going to need to write more about this soon. It has always been an interest of mine.

  16. Its not really a question of law but of “anthropology.” Paul’s differs substantially from Jesus’. I.e. the Pauline anthropology is much more negative and for precisely this reason lends itself to the ultimate conclusion of justification by faith alone. Where Jesus clearly understands Isaiah’s “all our righteousness is as filthy rags” within the context of Isaiah’s polemic against ceremony (see ch. 1) as meaning that the righteousness of Isaiah’s generation was worthless because it was sought not in morality but in sacrifices; Paul on the other hand completely disregards context and takes the phrase “all our righteousness is as filthy rags” as a blanket statement about the nature of all mankind post-Adam. The result is that due to Paul’s flawed “anthropology”, his doctrine deviates from the doctrine of Christ and is irreconcilable with it.

  17. Jeff, that is a good observsation, although, I would not go as far as saying that Paul’s doctrine deviates from Christ’s,

  18. Athanasoius Brown says:

    Jeff,
    Do you realize that the new testament brings the old to life? The new testament is like reading the old in HD! Thus… how can one dare call Paul’s analysis of the Old Testament different from Christ? The Scriptures cleary say that…But having the same spirit of faith, as it is written: I believed, for which cause I have spoken; we also believe. For which cause we speak also:
    (2Co 4:13)

    And again..Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone: In whom all the building, being framed together, groweth up into an holy temple in the Lord.
    (Eph 2:20-21)
    He does not and cannot differ from Christ because of one elementary point, the Holy Spirit! Now our righteousness should not be viewed as a blanket covering our faults Our deeds are as filthy rags , this is true. But this is based on what brings us salvation, it is not a blanket. Orthodox understand righteousness in this matter… it is what we are becoming by the energies of God. We participate in righteous that no it is not our own , but..we by his grace are working towards (not to be confused with salvation by works) but we are to work within the gift given us by God and the gift is salvation by which we are able to use the power of God that is the cross to salvation. What does Romans which Paul wrote say?..For I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth: to the Jew first and to the Greek.
    (Rom 1:16)

    Paul does not deviate from the teachings of Christ.( i can express this enough) Paul futher explains that while others have heretic ways of achieving salvation, for us it is through the cross, then he mentions as I stated before the power which is energy, thus the preaching of the cross is power, power which produces energies that transform one into a marvelous light which we will shine as lights. It is the promise to Abraham that his decendents(of righteousness over bloodline) would be as the stars both in number as well as brightness, brightness being from the unapproachable light which is God himself . We reflect his light to the world. As one partakes of the holy sacraments he is transformed from his corruptible self into incoruption. Paul says follow me as I follow Christ, this is not just reciting scripture but actually doing as Christ. Laying your life for the sake of others,and various acts of love that cover a muiltude of sins.

    I could go on and on.. but how can one read Paul and think that he differs from Christ? What must be understood is how do you read Paul? Do you read him in a leagalistic matter? Most of todays theologians do (mostly western).Based off Tertullian who was a Lawyer in the west none the less. While one may look at this matter by saying we are covered like snow on dung, he lacks understanding of the doctrine of transformation. Have you not read…But we all, beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.
    (2Co 3:18)

    Sorry so long……….

  19. When someone has committed a really bad sin they begin to engage in transference and think that everyone else has been as bad as them. Likewise when someone is extremely righteous it is natural for them to see in everyone else the same potential for righteousness. Between Jesus as the example of absolute perfection and Paul as the chief of sinners there is a deep psychological disconnect that manifests itself in their doctrine. Jesus puts forth a positive message that we can indeed be righteous by following his sayings. Paul puts forth a negative message of defeatism: you’re no good and the best you can ever do is just believe in Jesus.

  20. Jeff, that depends on which Paul you are refering to. Remember, he was an evangelist and his motto was “all things to all people.” His message, for instance, to the Galatians was a little clearer to us than that of the Romans (we can only guess what other comunications they had. He could have cleared things up no problem, but to assume he is against the teachings of Christ is simply not fair. We are out of the loop in some sense but in another we are in the loop because we have the Church and the Spirit). In Galatians 5 he spells out the new Law in Christ.

  21. “We are out of the loop”

    Since his epistles are occasion-based we shouldn’t use his epistles then since being “out of the loop” we are doomed to misunderstand them. (Of course the simpler explanation is that he was a false apostle, but if we have to at least to pretend to accept his apostleship we ought to at least relegate his nonsensical epistles to tertiary canonical status (or less), duetero-canonical being even too high for such a questionable fellow.)

  22. Yes, but we are brought back into the loop through the Spirit, and so then can understand what is needed. You are looking at this from a purely exestential viewpoint, perhaps even Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura Christians only look at the text and not at the circumstances (enough) and refuse to fully listen to the Church. They are far too fixed on the text itself. Most all of them have fallen to liberalism: Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, etc.

  23. How do you define liberalism if it isn’t basically ignoring the text when you don’t like it (which is exactly what you are arguging in favor of)? You sound like a liberal to me.

  24. Is he “ignoring the text” or interpreting it the way it’s been interpreted by the Church for thousands of years. Should we abandon all those Councils and righteous fellows to follow Marcion and jeff b? Also, we believe in a Spirit which leads the Church’s interpretations by faith. We are not left with some naked text to guess what it means by our ever expanding lexicons. The meaning of the text would change as much as the minds and culture of the exegetes, thus making the Scripture null and void. We aslo believe that St. Paul is with us and prays for us still, so to keep going around with this is silly. We believe jeff b, we believe…

  25. “Is he ‘ignoring the text’ or interpreting it the way it’s been interpreted by the Church for thousands of years?” – Maximus

    When interpreting the text “the way it’s been interpreted by the Church for thousands of years” amounts to ignoring what the text actually says, then its both at the same time. Simply because the text has been explained away in a particular way for 1900 years doesn’t mean that it isn’t merely an explaining away. The question here is the difference between explaining away a text and admitting a text is wrong. It is because the early prelates didn’t have the political will to do the latter and keep Paul out of the canon that Paul is still making havock of the church today just as he did before his ‘conversion.’