by Al Maxey

Issue #210 ------- September 19, 2005
We are not afraid to follow truth
wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error
so long as reason is left free to combat it.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Marcion of Sinope
Portrait of Early Church Heresy

A reader from the beautiful state of California recently requested that I do a special article in my weekly Reflections on the life and teachings of Marcion. By way of explanation he wrote, "The reason I am suggesting Marcion is because I was sharing with someone about your Reflections ministry, and after describing what you are attempting to convey in your Reflections, he said that it sounded very similar to Marcion." Well, needless to say, the comment made by this reader's friend captured my attention! After all, it is not every day one is compared to an individual some have characterized as the greatest heretic of the early church! Thus, I shall seek in this current issue to shed some light on Marcion, both the man and the message. Although there are, admittedly, some similarities between aspects of my teaching and his, the dissimilarities are far greater.

Marcion was born around 85 A.D. (although a few scholars place the date of his birth at 110 A.D.) at the seaport of Sinope, which was located in Pontus along the Black Sea. His father was not only a wealthy ship owner and merchant, but he was also the Bishop of Sinope. Epiphanius (c. 315-403 A.D.) relates, in his own writings, that Marcion had very early in his life (while still a youth) vowed to live a life of chastity and asceticism, but that his father had banished him from his home and from the church for seducing a young maiden. Modern scholars, however, feel this may simply have been a libelous attempt by later church writers, Epiphanius being foremost among them, to discredit this man whom they regarded as a heretic. Apparently, Epiphanius was rather fond of such exaggeration, and even fabrication, for the sake of defaming those with whom he differed. The testimony of many of the church fathers prior to this time indicates Marcion's austerity was indeed valid and well-known. The story is also unlikely in view of the fact that when Marcion moved to Rome, he was obviously already a recognized bishop in the church at Sinope (a fact attested to in the writings of both Optatus of Mileve and Adamantius). He certainly could not have traveled to Rome as a bishop, and been received as such, had he been cast from the church in Sinope for unchastity.

Marcion relocated to Rome around 135-140 A.D. Upon his arrival he attached himself to the church in Rome and bestowed upon them a gift of 200,000 sesterces (about $7,000), which was a huge amount in those days. Several years later, when he was excommunicated by the church in Rome, this amount was returned to him. It was while in Rome that Marcion's theology truly began to take form, and it was not long before he found himself at odds with the leadership of the church. His teachings were causing such a stir in the city that they soon came under investigation, and then condemnation. In the autumn of 144 A.D., Marcion and the Roman church finally parted ways. He quickly began to proclaim his views far and wide, soon gaining a huge following -- a group known as the Marcionites, which the Catholic Encyclopedia says were "perhaps the most dangerous foe Christianity has ever known." Justin Martyr, in his first Apology (written around 150 A.D.), declares that Marcion's heretical teachings had "spread everywhere." Polycarp, just a couple of years later, characterized Marcion as "the first born of Satan."

Marcion used Rome as his base of operations, using his gift for organization, and also his considerable wealth, to spread his teachings far and wide, and to put together a group of followers he hoped would rival that of the church in Rome. The fact that such a host of Church Fathers sought to attack the teachings of Marcion in their writings attests to the success of his message. It was viewed as a serious threat to orthodoxy, and thus had to be dealt with by the best minds in the church. Marcion wrote a single work: Antitheses, in which he set forth his theology. Sadly, that work is no longer extant. However, it is still possible to reconstruct a large portion of his theology based on the writings of those who opposed him, the greatest contributor being Tertullian (160-225 A.D.) in his classic work: Against Marcion (c. 207 A.D.).

Tertullian relates that near the end of his life Marcion repented of his heresies and sought to be readmitted into the church at Rome. As a condition of his readmittance to the church he was to "bring back into the fold" those men and women whom he had "led astray." Unfortunately, his death in 160 A.D. prevented him from carrying out this goal. Marcionism continued in the western church for another 300 years until it was absorbed by Manichaeism. It continued in the eastern church for several centuries after that. It became especially strong in Syria. After the fifth century other heresies far overshadowed Marcionism, and it eventually ceased to be a force feared by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Teachings of Marcion

The Marcionite Heresy dates from 144 A.D., and began in full force in the city of Rome following the excommunication of Marcion by the Roman Church officials. His views were deemed incompatible with those of the larger church, and thus he was cast out. Marcion immediately began his quest to organize a body of believers that would rival the church in Rome, and was so successful in doing so that he, his followers, and his teaching came to be feared as the most dangerous foe the church faced in the second century. Although most of his teachings were later absorbed and assimilated into other heretical groups, such as Manichaeism and various forms of Gnosticism, nevertheless those teachings were a force to be reckoned with for quite some time. Ernest Evans, a noted theologian and church historian, wrote that Marcion founded in Rome "a church which within half a generation expanded throughout the known world, vigorous enough to be in almost every place a serious rival to the catholic church, and with strong enough convictions to retain its expansive power for more than a century, and to survive heathen persecution, Christian controversy, and imperial disapproval for several centuries more."

Marcion's primary thesis was that Jesus had come to reveal to the world a supreme God who was previously unknown to the world; a God who was vastly different from the Creator God of the Old Testament writings. He perceived the mission of Jesus to have been the liberation of the people from the power of the fierce, angry God of the Old Covenant. This Creator God of the OT was evil, but the God Jesus came to reveal was good, gracious, merciful and kind. Marcion did believe the OT writings were inspired, but inspired by an evil God, thus he largely rejected these writings as having any relevance for the church. Since the God of the OT was the "God of the Jews," Marcion believed the Jews were the people of an evil God, thus Christians were to have no association with them whatsoever. Indeed, Judaism was viewed as a defiling force whenever it came into contact with Christianity. In many ways, Marcion believed the "mantle of St. Paul" had fallen upon him: the divine task of refuting the Judaizers who would seek to bring Christianity back into the fold of Judaism. Marcion was very anti-Semitic, and the term Marcionism is even used in modern times by some to refer to various anti-Jewish tendencies and teachings in some Christian churches.

Peter, James and John were regarded as apostles who had betrayed their trust -- "false apostles" -- because they continued their association with the Jews. Only the gospel preached by Paul was regarded as "pure." So disappointed was he in many of these men that he decided to edit the New Covenant writings then in circulation, and put out a list of those writings he believed to be inspired by the True God. Thus, Marcion produced the very first New Testament canon, which may well have provided the strong impetus for the larger church to produce a more responsible canon of inspired writings (which eventually resulted in the canon of 27 books currently in use today). Marcion's list of accepted writings was rather small. This, by the way, was a reductionism in marked contrast to the expansionism of heretics such as Valentinus (who sought to add spurious writings to those commonly accepted as inspired). Notice the canon of Marcion:

  1. Marcion rejected the entirety of the OT writings. They simply were not relevant to the Christian faith, since they had all originated from an evil, lesser God, and were focused on the despised Jewish people. It should be noted that Marcion did not regard the OT writings as uninspired. He did indeed believe they were inspired of the Creator God. But, this was a lesser God, in his view, and not the supreme Father revealed by Jesus, and to whom Christians owe their allegiance.

  2. Marcion accepted only the gospel according to Luke, and threw out the gospel records of Matthew, Mark and John. He believed Paul (in Galatians) had specified that there was only one gospel, and if anyone should preach another gospel than the one he preached, that person should be anathema. Since Luke was a companion of the apostle Paul, and had accompanied him on some of his journeys, Marcion believed the one, true gospel to be Luke's.

  3. The only other writings accepted by Marcion were those by Paul (and not even all of them -- he rejected the Pastorals, for example). He accepted only 10 of Paul's writings, which he called the Apostolikon. These were regarded as the "source, the guarantee, and the norm of true doctrine." These ten were: Galatians (which he considered the "charter of Marcionism"), 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians (although Marcion referred to this epistle as Laodiceans), Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians.

  4. It should also be noted that Marcion did some editing of the above writings. Any references to the God of the OT, or any statements that differed with his understanding of what Paul should have written, were judged to be nothing more than "Judaizing interpolations," and were removed from the text. For example, Gal. 3:16 - 4:6 was deleted because it was a reference to Abraham and his descendants. E.H. Broadbent, in his work The Pilgrim Church, wrote, "Any error may be founded on parts of Scripture; the truth alone is based on the whole. Marcion's errors were the inevitable result of his accepting only what pleased him and rejecting the rest."

Many of Marcion's strong beliefs were quite similar to some of the major tenets of Gnosticism (although there were clearly differences; Marcion was not a Gnostic, but merely held similar beliefs in some areas). He regarded the physical creation to be corrupt and evil; true purity resided in the spiritual realm. Tertullian claims that Marcion stood staunchly against the practice of marriage, for procreation was the invention of the Demiurge. Further, he taught that Jesus was a "phantasmal Christ." He was "revealed as a man, though not a man." It was an illusion. According to the writings of Hippolytus (170-236 A.D.), Marcion also did not believe Jesus really died on the cross, since, after all, He did not truly possess a body, but merely the illusion of a physical body. Deity is too holy to exist in, or partake of, the physical creation, which was the product of the lesser God of the OT (the Demiurge). Irenaeus wrote that Marcion believed "that salvation is of souls only, those souls which have learned his doctrine: the body, derived from the earth, cannot possibly partake of salvation." Marcion, therefore, denied a coming physical resurrection of the dead. Tertullian also attacked this belief of Marcion, and also his belief that Cain later came to embrace the true God, but that Abraham and the other patriarchs refused to embrace the true God, clinging to the evil Creator God, and thus were ultimately not saved.

In short, Marcion's Christology (his beliefs regarding Christ) was largely Docetic in nature (i.e., he denied the human nature of Christ). This was one of the major false teachings dealt with by the apostle John in his inspired writings, and which explains, in part, why these writings were completely rejected by Marcion. A few historians believe that Marcion may have been influenced by the Syrian Gnostic Cerdo (who died in 143 A.D.), with whom he had become personally acquainted, and this is certainly a possibility. There is very little evidence, however, that Marcion ever fully embraced Gnosticism. Indeed, he seemed to differ with them almost as much as he did with Judaism.

A scholar by the name of Kenneth Scott Latourette, in his History of Christianity, points to another important aspect of Marcion's teaching -- the importance of faith over Law. He wrote, "All that the Good God asks of men if they are to escape from the rule of the Demiurge is faith in response to His love. Men have been emancipated from the legalistic requirements of the Demiurge and of his creature Judaism." It was the belief of Marcion that all the apostles, with the exception of Paul, had "corrupted their Master's teaching by an admixture of legalism" (Dr. F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, p. 135). Marcion believed the Christian dispensation to be founded upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the gospel of Paul, and which was a revelation of a gracious, loving, accepting, merciful God --- not the lesser Creator God (the Demiurge) of the OT, who was primarily interested in the imposing of LAW and the harsh punishing of all offenders. Marcion, therefore, became a proclaimer of faith and grace, and an opponent of legalism. It was probably for this reason that the friend of the reader from California felt my teachings are reminiscent of Marcion's, and in this very limited sense he would probably be correct.

Marcion would only baptize those who had not been polluted by the flesh (those "polluted" being those who were married). In other words, the only candidates whom he personally regarded as fit for baptism were virgins, widows, celibates, and eunuchs. Those unbaptized, however, were still regarded as being legitimate disciples of Jesus Christ, and were fully accepted as saved, they were simply not the inner circle of "pure ones." Marcionites practiced fasting on the Sabbath day in order to demonstrate their opposition to the Jewish God who had made the Sabbath day a day of rest, spiritual reflection, and a time to draw closer to Him. Marcion and his followers tended to gravitate toward asceticism, forbidding many of the activities of the flesh as the creation of the Demiurge.


Needless to say, I am not even remotely a Marcionite, either in practice or in teaching. As with most men, there are similarities in some areas, and even points of agreement, but I regard Marcion as one who went astray from the Truth. He did provide a valuable service historically, however. Perhaps that is best stated by Dr. F.F. Bruce: "The chief importance of Marcion in the second century lies in the reaction which he provoked among the leaders of the Apostolic Churches. Just as Marcion's canon stimulated the more precise defining of the NT canon by the Catholic Church, not to supersede but to supplement the canon of the OT, so, more generally, Marcion's teaching led the Catholic Church to define its faith more carefully, in terms calculated to exclude a Marcionite interpretation" (The Spreading Flame, p. 252).

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
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by Al Maxey
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Reflections from Readers

From an Elder in New Mexico:

Al, I appreciate receiving your Reflections and use parts of them in my teaching from time to time. Keep up the good work, brother! May God bless you as you challenge our thinking and practice! By the way, Jim Morrow and I were buddies since high school days in Carlsbad, and we attended Abilene Christian University at the same time in the early sixties. I will miss his insightful visits. I was planning on mailing him a copy of Mike Armour's "Systems Sensitive Leadership." We had just discussed his concepts at a recent Higher Ground at our camp near Ruidoso, NM. Are you familiar with the book?

From a Reader in California:

Al, We so look forward to your Reflections every week! Keep up the good work, and may God bless you and yours!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

I appreciate you putting me on your mailing list for Reflections. At first I wasn't sure where you were coming from, but after reading a few of your articles I see that you are a very sincere and thoughtful man in search of the grace and truth of God. It is good for me to be aware of these important issues in our brotherhood. Thanks, and may God bless you!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Al, Good afternoon to you and your lovely bride Shelly. The devil has a two-headed monster: one head is legalism and the other is patternism, created to confuse and destroy those who call Jesus Lord. The name of the monster is "Inconsistency." One cannot speak of legalism or patternism without also talking of inconsistency. I do not believe a person can practice either legalism or patternism without worshiping "Inconsistency." This monster has many children. The first and oldest is "Hypocrisy." The longer one bows before "Inconsistency," the harder it becomes to break away from this monster. I do not believe men can break the monster's hold over them unless they allow the Holy Spirit to actively work within them. May God always favor you and your efforts to bring disciples together in love.

From a Reader in Michigan:

Al, I read Goebel Music's book ("Behold the Pattern") several years ago. What an embarrassment to our Stone-Campbell heritage. You'd almost think Daniel Sommer wrote it! We have a neighboring congregation that also distributes this book. Shameful!! They ought to be embarrassed. There is virtually nothing of value in it, except in its display of all the attitudes a Christian ought not have!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Someone gave me a copy of "Behold the Pattern" quite some time ago. I read a lot of it, but not all because I got turned off by all the name calling. "Axe on the Root" (by Ira Rice) is another one that really turned me off, and that was before I even started to become a "liberal" (back then I had even walked out once on a "liberal" preacher's Bible class!!).

From a Prison Minister in Oklahoma:

Dear Bro. Al, Shortly after the initial publication of the book "Behold the Pattern," I was given a copy of it by a brother who was praising the book very highly. Filled with real expectation for enlightenment, I read the book. Shortly after beginning the book, somewhere along about the point when the subject changed from patterns to the massacre of the "liberals," my feelings changed from enthusiasm to sheer disgust. I did go on and finish the book by sheer force of will because I had promised the brother who gave it to me that I would read it. The book was then placed on the shelf reserved for "books of questionable value," and it has not been taken down since. The book has little value, and your original premise still stands!

From a Reader in South Carolina:

Amen to your thoughts about "Behold the Pattern." I received the book as a "gift" on the condition that I read it. I read it. Now it sits on my library shelf with propaganda from the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. I was horrified by Music's personal attacks on other brethren. An unintended consequence was that I actually enjoyed reading what made some people "unsound." It was refreshing to know that others were also moving away from legalism and patternism. Thanks so much for your weekly Reflections.

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, Perhaps I can help you to see their "pattern." It is there for anybody to see. So, behold their pattern: (1) Refusal to be specific, (2) Attack those with whom they disagree, (3) Inconsistent application of Scripture, (4) Making opinion LAW, and (5) Placing opinion and law over love. There ... I hope that I've helped you!!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

I've always wondered why men refer to Bro. Music's work as "the 660 page book" -- as if 660 pages ought to be enough to show us "liberals" there is indeed a pattern!! It is as you say, Al -- you could gather the leaders from 40 different Churches of Christ and ask them for this list of pattern doctrines, and ALL 40 of them would be different! Talk about straining gnats and swallowing camels! I will say, however, that the chapter on repentance (chapter 13) changed my life. It is incredible! And it should be thoroughly studied, especially if one thinks they know what repentance is all about. I have kept my original copy of "Behold the Pattern" all these years just for that chapter. Al, if they ever release a 13th printing, we just might find your name among the "liberal elite." Wouldn't that be something?! Keep up the great work, brother!

From a Minister in California:

Bro. Al, Many years ago, following a particularly "liberal" sermon that I had preached (at least in her opinion), a sister in our church called and asked if she could come and talk with me about my sermon. Regardless of our disagreements, I've always appreciated the fact that she at least came to me to discuss her concerns face to face. We made the appointment and she came with a copy of Music's book and her Bible. She held up his book and asked if I had read it. I told her that I had. She asked if I agreed with it. I told her, "I agree with very little in his book." That was about the extent of our conversation! When she left, I was struck by one observation during our couple of minutes together, and it probably had no significance, but my training as a psychologist came through -- she had Goebel's book on top of her Bible, as if it were the more important of the two. At one point in my life, when I was a bit less mature, I had as a personal goal to somehow be included in Goebel's next book! When I first read his book, my initial response was to sit down and hand-write a letter to each of the ten brothers in his chapters on "Strange and Uncertain Sounds" and thank them for their work in the Kingdom. As always, I appreciate your writings!

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Al, I enjoyed your last issue of Reflections with a strange sense of deja vu. I was confronted in the past with a similar book -- "Change Agents and Churches of Christ" -- which takes an identical approach. It was page after page that basically tried to "prove" the pattern by exclaiming, "Can you believe that (insert name of minister, formerly of our brotherhood, now a tool of Satan) has actually said (insert out of context statement clipped from a public address)!" Although I have never read "Behold the Pattern," I am led to believe from your comments that it is in the very same category as my copy of "Change Agents and Churches of Christ." It is essentially propaganda; a volume written to "true believers,' so there is no use in wasting ink on the "true beliefs" (the pattern), since "we all know and agree on" these things anyway. It totally ignores the questions, the dissenting voices, the failures of the past, and the shifting nature of our denomination's history. It is very simply: modern politics.

From a Reader in Montana:

Al, Jesus nowhere laid out a plan, but plainly taught principles of right living; Peter and the apostles never taught or mentioned a pattern. The so-called "patterns" I see in the Church of Christ are not founded on any evidence found in the Scriptures. My contention is that if a pattern was intended, we would read of it loud and clear. Far too much is read into the Scriptures.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, I happened upon "Behold the Pattern" at a thrift store and purchased this sad book for 50 cents. After spending almost 50 years among the patternistic/legalistic group within the church, I left because of the very thing Goebel Music mentioned on page 398 of his book -- "The New Testament pattern is not to be a 'hit' and 'miss' type of guideline, that is, I cannot just pick and choose 'this' item and then omit 'that' item. We do not have the prerogative to be selective and just obey one or two pieces of the pattern." Okay, so where is the holy kiss among these brethren? Where is foot washing? Where is wine for the Lord's Supper? Where is their "book, chapter and verse" for a church treasury and for such monies to be spent on church buildings? How can they advertise in newspapers, and on radio and TV? The list could go on and on. The fact is, the legalists "pick and choose" their own patterns! I stand amazed at their own ignorance of what they are doing!!

Although Bro. F. LaGard Smith is not a strict patternist/legalist, neither is he a "liberal." However, he was more honest than he realized when he stated in his book, "Radical Reformation" (p. 79), "Unlike the minute details given for the construction of the tabernacle, we don't always have the luxury of explicit details regarding the early church. It's more a matter of reading between the lines, or piecing together a complicated puzzle." This is exactly the point!! Can the way we "read between the lines or piece together the puzzle" really be binding for all time upon all people??!!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Al, I have known Goebel for thirty years. I bought his book. I started reading it. After several chapters I determined it was more about beholding character assassination than it was about beholding a pattern. At the time he wrote it, I found things in it that simply were not true. That's as far as I went. It found its way to my library shelf and has remained there since. Many of the patterns we have held so dear are actually different from the very passages which are supposed to teach those patterns. Since we practice something different from what those pattern passages actually say, it must mean that we are either failing to follow the pattern and have already consigned ourselves to hell, or they actually aren't pattern passages to begin with. By the way, I just ordered your book from Barnes & Noble. I look forward to reading it.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Al, I personally have not read "Behold the Pattern." I had heard it recommended by some of the brethren, but even at that time, before I broke free of the legalistic shackles, such a concept of following a pattern simply did not make sense to me. The very idea itself was contrary to all I knew from my study of the Scriptures. It is evident that a misdirected zeal has caused many over the past several generations to legislate where God has not, and to create law that displaces the true doctrine of Jesus Christ. That being said, I have drawn the conclusion that we, in the Church of Christ, have become that which we abhor and hold in disdain. As the nature of patternism is foreign to the Scriptures, we have become abundantly successful in creating an entirely new Gospel, and in so doing make void the holy message of God's salvation by grace through faith.

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, I once declined a preaching position in a small east Texas town, and one of the main reasons was this book ("Behold the Pattern") was lying on the front pew. I asked the elders if this was indicative of their approach to biblical Christianity, and they all seemed to pretty much agree that it was. They offered us the job, but I turned it down, and am glad of that decision.

From a Minister in Florida:

Dear Al, I hope that all is going well with you and your lovely wife, Shelly. I have never met you, except through your web site, but I wanted to say hello. I have been preaching the gospel of our Lord since 1969. I ran across your Reflections today on the Internet, and I was encouraged by your sterling evaluation of "Behold the Pattern." I also have been battling this new legalism within the Lord's family. I would say that there is a pattern, but it is not a framework but a person: Jesus, the Christ. I must imitate Him. God bless you in your ministry for Him.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Back in the early 90's I received brother Music's book in the mail. I have no idea how he or the publisher got my address, but it was a surprise. I never read all the way through "Behold the Pattern" as I thought it was disjointed and somewhat of a ramble. I never saw anything within it, however, that would be conclusive of a defined list of "patterns." I enjoyed your article, Al.

From a Reader in West Virginia:

That was a good Reflections article on "Behold the Pattern." I agree that the patternists do not give us the pattern, nor can they. The NT does not contain such a pattern. Brother, keep up the good work. You will suffer because of it, I know from experience, but the rewards are great.

From a New Reader in Australia:

Greetings from Tasmania, Australia! I have just found your web page for Reflections and have already passed along some of your articles to friends. Would you be so kind as to place me on your mailing list? Thank you.

From a Reader in Texas:

I had to deal with Goebel Music's book "Behold the Pattern" when I served as an elder of the church. It has damaged people spiritually, and it has also thrown walls up against their brothers and sisters in Christ. It divides Christians. "The Pattern" is just another device of Satan to deceive the conservatives, causing them to believe it is church doctrine and must be followed. I challenge anyone to show from the Scriptures that this patternism was ever taught by the apostles as church doctrine. This book mixes in a number of truths with distortions and lies. It cannot be specific about what this "pattern" is because to do so would risk exposure of several inconsistencies -- just like all other man-made doctrines. To be blunt, "Behold the Pattern" presents doctrinal error. Unfortunately, people do not study the Scriptures as they should and will thus be seduced by this philosophy of patternism.

Bro. Maxey, it took me years to understand being right with God is not as complicated as these people want others to believe. It is not a list of rules or regulations created and interpreted by men, but a close, healthy relationship with the Father and with His Son. You have written several good articles on this subject yourself. It may be time to remind people by publishing this information! My advice to those who own the book "Behold The Pattern" is: toss it in the trash and move on! Maybe I have been too blunt, but I have witnessed too many Christians destroyed doctrinally by the teachings expressed in this book.

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