Archive for September 2015

Marcion’s not quite Marcionite Gospel   Leave a comment


Adolf von Harnack.

Months ago, I met prof. Jason BeDuhn at the Jesus Seminar corner in the book exhibition of the SBL. He was telling me about his then forthcoming on Marcion’s scriptural canon. He was still reviewing what was written on this topic which has been recently revived by several scholars including our King’s College member prof. Markus Vinzent. BeDuhn seemed not very impressed by the classic/patristic view that Marcion edited the Gospel of Luke in the shape we have today (hence Canonical Luke = CLk).

His The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon, was published by Westar Institute and already caused debates over the role that Marcion’s gospel (he called it Evangelion)[1] could play in our understanding of the Synoptic problem. In dealing with the question of the origin of Marcion’s Evangelion, BeDuhn defined three positions:[2]

1- the classic or patristic hypothesis: Marcion edited CLk by cutting the passages that run against his own theological views (most recently, Dieter Roth and Judith Lieu).

2- The Schwegler hypothesis: Luke derives from Marcion’s Evangelion by the process of expansion (most recently Markus Vinzent and possibly Matthias Klinghardt).

3- Semler’s hypothesis (the middle position): the Evangelion and CLk are both independent developments of a common proto-gospel.  (Championed by John Knox and recently Andrew Gregory and Joseph Tyson).

Of course the opinions over gospel priority are not clear-cut as they were proposed this way. For example the “middle position” reflects later intersection between the two development trajectories as it appears in the works of those mentioned above. However, these three position could effectively and broadly define what we have in scholarship.

The classic position relies on two arguments: consistency in grammar, style and vocabulary in CLk throughout the work which should show that it was not a later expansion of an earlier “different” work, and Marcion’s redaction of Luke and his possible knowledge of Lukan redaction. The first one, as BeDuhn says, was challenged by John Knox without any serious response to his 1942 thesis. I would add to that it is really impossible to show this alleged consistency in grammar, style and vocabulary throughout Luke. It is not difficult to see how Luke himself switched between blocks of sources that reflect different backgrounds which could show, in some cases, theological and literary difficulties (compare for example the composition of his Eschatological Discourse and compare it with the Logia Apocalypse of Q17), needless to refer to the passion narrative with all of the difficulties it brings.[3]

As for redaction argument, which sadly BeDuhn did not refer to, I would like to make a brief comment on it. Redaction criticism is not simply switching a word or two here and there but a challenging process because it should show strong consistency between the literary and source criticism of the text. When Hans Conzelmann wrote his important die Mitte der Zeit (ET The Theology of St. Luke), he showed an exceptional skill in tracing both Luke’s mind (theology) and pen. Luke’s overall theology governed his literary work and edited his sources to serve his large picture (Salvation History) which could be evidenced in every corner of Luke’s work. Hence, the book becomes a standard text in scholarship. I must admit, I have not seen this either from those of the first or the second opinions.

Recently, I feel that this term was used excessively and not quite appropriately in debates like the one we have here and, for example, the Gospel of Thomas. The argument that (if we show at least one single verse in text 2 that proves knowledge of redaction in text 1 then text2 knew text 1) is quite simplistic and hence unreliable.[4] In the case of the Evangelion and CLk, it was used in both directions.

For instance, those who claim that Luke edited Marcion are heavily relying on Luke 5:37, we referred to this earlier.[5]  In the opposite case, Dieter Roth, builds his case for Marcion’s knowledge of CLk on, literally, two rather controversial cases Luke 4:43 and 16:16.[6] I have no wish to debate whether these two verses are really Lukan redaction, but this fails to explain important issues. First, Marcion’s constructed text comes from patristic citations with decades of time difference, apparent hostility from those who saved these texts and the clear harmonising and cross-contamination cases which were quite common in similar cases. In what possible way can we ignore these facts and conclude that the whole Marcionite work depends on CLk from these “two bits“? I find the simplicity of this approach rather problematic.

Indeed, all attempts to interpret the expansion of Marcion or reduction of Luke cannot be explained if we take the whole text seriously. In the case of the latter (Marcion reduced CLk), BeDuhn skillfully showed how the Evengelion must have failed miserably if it meant to reduce CLk to serve Marcion’s theology exclusively.[7]

This also applies to the opposite extreme (Schwegler’s).[8]

BeDuhn’s conclusive observation shows us that both the Evangelion and Luke were independently developed and were subject to harmonization from the generations that held a stronger canonical sense of the Gospels we have now in the NT.[9] Here, it seems I must put John Knox’s conclusion which is pretty much what an honest study of the materials should lead to: “The relation between Marcion’s Gospel and the canonical Gospel of Luke is not accurately described either by the simple statement that Marcion abridged Luke or by the assertion that Luke enlarged Marcion. The position would rather be that a primitive Gospel, containing approximately the same Markan and Matthean elements which our Luke contain and some of its peculiar materials, was somewhat shortened by Marcion or some predecessor rather considerably enlarged by the writer of our Gospel, who was also the maker of Luke-Acts.”[10] Thus, BeDuhn’s conclusions run almost in the same direction of the third “middle way” position.

Hence, BeDuhn justifiably asks about the consequences regarding the Synoptic problem, which was also an issue raised by Matthias Klinghardt earlier.[11] Would accepting the shape of the Evengelion as we have it as a fundamental block in the shape of the synoptic problem? BeDuhn makes significant observations including the lack of the minor agreements in the Evangelion, the introductory narratives in Q (John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism and temptation) and, most interestingly (at least to me), is the fact that amongst the 19 parallels between GThomas and Luke, at least 15 are found in the Evangelion. what should we make of all these points together? that’s an open question.

Thus far, I don’t think that the third scenario makes the Evangelion form any threat to the Two Source Hypothesis. However, it certainly invites us to ask legitimate questions regarding the sources of CLk. Hastily, Paul-Louis Couchoud entertained the idea that a proto-Luke could lie behind both Gospels. If we understand proto-Luke in the shape introduced by Streeter and Vincent Taylor, 90 years ago, then certainly not. John Knox’s statistics could show that Marcion owes nearly 50% of his materials to the common Synoptic tradition. However, all it takes is to see how the synoptic traditions were so fluid in the Apostolic Fathers and well until Justin Martyr in order to expect that an already “contaminated” or “harmonised” edition of proto-Luke might have existed could be perfectly plausible.

From my own research I have seen that some Markan insertions into a pre-Lukan tradition (such as Luke 21:20-36) are not well attested in the Marcionite edition, which might suggest that these “unbezeugt” insertions were added into CLk at a later stage, but I will leave that to the next post on Proto-Luke.

In conclusion, BeDuhn’s book reflects the status quaestionis from whence we should move forward into a full analytical study of the parallels between Marcion and the substrata of the materials we have. There is a lot to do and the future of this research is rather promising provided that we set our doctrinal investment aside.

Mina Monier

Maughan Library, King’s College London

September 2015

[1] Terturllian, Ad. Marc. 4.2; Epiphanius, Panarion 42:10

[2] p.79ff.

[3] I refer you to the exhaustive volume of Harrington, J. M. The Lukan Passion Narrative: The Markan Material in Luke 22,54-23,25. Schneider G. Verleugnung, Verspottung, und Verhör Jesu nach Lukas 22,54-71: Studien zur lukanischen Darstellung der Passion. On the vocabulary argument see Rehkopf’s Die lukanische Sonderquelle, on a wider grammar, style and content issues see Kim Paffenthroth The Story of Jesus According to L.

[4] In the case of GThomas see my earlier post here

[5] This wisdom saying appears independently in GThomas 47 which means it is not necessarily a Lukan free redaction (

[6] Rother, D., The Text of Marcion’s Gospel. See chapter 4.4.73 and chapter 5.6. I have been informed that Matthias Klinghardt’s upcoming two-volume work will respond to these points in detail.

[7] Reading the Evangelion shows materials that run against Marcion’s view of God, his relationship with the OT, Jesus’ rather fleshly body and blood..etc. Same applies to the allegedly omitted materials which include a significant body of verses which we cannot really explain why would Marcion omit.

[8] p.84ff.

[9] “The Evangelion and Luke often switch places when it comes to harmonisation to other gospels. Sometimes Luke appears to have a more independent text, while the Evangelion’s has been conformed to Matthew’s wording; at other times, the situation is reversed, and the Evangelion has the more independent text, and Luke’s shows harmonization influence.”p.88, for examples see footnote 75 in his book.

[10] Marcion and the New Testament p.110

[11] Klinghardt, M., The Marcionite Gospel and the Synoptic Problem: A New Suggestion, Novum Testamentum, Vol. 50, Fasc. 1 (2008), pp. 1-27

Posted September 14, 2015 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized