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BAD GOD – VS – GOOD GOD

oct 6, 2020

Editor

 

  A few decades after the death of Jesus, a crucial figure in early Christianity led a controversial movement that shook the Christian world's foundations. Bishop Marcion of Sinope, a 2nd-century philosopher, and theologian, born in Sinope, northern Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) (45 A.D. – 160 A.D.), believed there were two gods: One cruel and vengeful and the other good and compassionate. He preached that the God of the Old Testament, the creator of Adam and Eve, the God of Judaism, was not the Father of Jesus. Jesus' Father was a higher deity who sent His Beloved Son into the world. Allegedly, his father, Bishop of Sinope, considered Marcion's views too heretic and intolerable. His Father's reactions to his ideas made him move to Rome in 139, to join the church there. Determined to be influential, he donated approximately five and a half months of a soldier's salary to the church.

While in Rome, Marcion wrote his most notable works: The Gospel of Marcion and The Antitheses. The Marcionites maintained that the God of the Old Testament – the bad God – could not be the God of Jesus, the God of the New Testament. They were two distinct gods. He developed his ditheistic beliefs by studying current Hebrew scriptures and apocryphal writings circulating on those times. According to Marcion's teachings, the God of the Garden of Eden created the universe and designed a body of laws for the Jews, where the chief justice was to punish humanity for its sins. He defined this God as a jealous deity who favored suffering and death to impart justice. This deity is in no way the same God of compassion and love professed by Jesus, the one who cares about humanity and looks at humans with gracious mercy. Marcion's emphatically believed that the God of the Old Testament's actions were incompatible with the teachings of Jesus' Father, as told by the New Testament, leading him to conclude there were two Gods.

 

Marcion also insisted that Christianity was not related to Judaism at all. He based this assertion in Paul's references to the God of the Old Testament's laws and the gospel of Jesus as established in the New Testament. He went a step further by describing a creation event where the Old Testament's Jewish God created the world, gave Jews his laws, and made them his people. On the other hand, the God of Jesus came into this world to deliver people from this cruel and vindictive God of the Jews. He supported his views in his Gospel of Marcion, which consisted of his version of Luke's Gospel and ten letters of Paul. The roman church elders found his ideas despicable and excommunicated him from the church. Because of the conflicts created by his preaching of two gods, the Roman church excommunicated him in 144 AD and returned his large donation.

 

Defending his creation's version, he defied most leaders of the recently created Christian Church and divorced his church from Judaism. He rejected Judaism altogether. He did not say that the Jewish scriptures were false; on the contrary, he recommended to read them literally without the usual misinterpretations of the texts. He affirmed that those who read the Bible in that manner would reach the same conclusion he got, that they were two Gods. He taught his followers that Genesis' God had a physical body and was not omniscient, proving he wasn't the same God who fathered Jesus. Among his teachings, Marcion expressed that Jesus was the son of the Good God, but not in a physical sense. For Marcion, Jesus was a divine creation, not human at all. Marcion believed that Jesus was not part of this material world. He said Jesus' body was an imitation, a phantasm; accordingly, his birth, death, and resurrection did not affect him in any way. In essence, he believed that Jesus was a spirit that took a human form to appear to human beings, but did not take a human body.

 

Unhappy about the reaction to his preaching, he set his own Bible. The Gospel of Marcion, as it was called, consisted of eleven books: his version of Luke's Gospel and ten letters written by Paul the Apostle. Most scholars feel certain that Marcion intentionally edited Luke and Paul to adapt their writings to his predetermined thoughts about the creation and two gods. He did it to delete all those comments contradicting his views. In his literary work – The Antitheses – he contrasted the God of love and mercy preached by Jesus with the Jew's God of wrath and vengeance. While the Old Testament God ordered the Israelites to kill their enemies, the God of Jesus tells his followers to love them.

 

However, a few erudites believe his texts were not edited and are an earlier version of said texts. Unlike Mark's gospel, the Gospel of Marcion did not mention Jesus' birth and childhood. Marcion greatly admired Paul and followed his teachings to the letter because he believed he was the only apostle who understood the message preached by Jesus,  the best interpreter of Jesus's teachings. In Marcion's opinion, Paul was the most important figure in Christianity. As proof of his assertion, he cited the New Testament, which contains 13 of Paul's epistles. Marcion's admiration for Paul originated in his differentiation between his gospel message and the Jewish law. Paul taught that you did not have to follow the Old Testament rules to be made right with God; you must have faith in Christ. Marcion went further to conclude that the God who gave us Jesus cannot be the same God who gave the law to the Jews. This is why he gave Paul's testimonies a distinct centrality in his gospel.

 

From there, he went to Asia Minor, where he successfully led the many churches that followed the teachings of his Gospel of Marcion, where he proclaimed that the God of the Law and the Prophets is not the Father of Jesus. By preaching the Gospel of Marcion, the Marcionite church expanded greatly, becoming a primary adversary to the recently created Catholic church. More than seven hundred churches thrived in the Roman Empire for several centuries after their leader's death. They survived the great controversy inspired by Marcion's belief and the strong disapproval of imperial Rome.

 

The group's writings have not survived the ravages of time. We find its  information in the many books and pamphlets written by its antagonistic church fathers, particularly Tertullian, who wrote abundantly about these "heretics." Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr declared Marcion a heretic. Similarly, the proto-orthodox Christians also opposed Marcion. In his book, The Prescription Against Heretics, written in 200, Tertullian reported that Marcion repented his assertions about two Gods and agreed to receive a church pardon. During this process of reconciliation with the church, he died. Despite reliable reports attesting Marcion's strict celibacy, they accused him of promiscuity. His accusers couldn't show evidence of his "despicable" behavior. Since then, many of these claims have been discredited.

 

Marcion's thoughts cannot be related to other lines of thought in Christianity. To him, the Heavenly Father, the Father of Jesus, did not make the world. The Good God had nothing to do with the creation of this world. Even today, we felt Marcion's influence on the development of orthodox Christianity. His Gospel of Marcion was fundamental in developing the New Testament canon because the early Christian church was obligated to consider it during the canonization process. Many Christians continue to compare the Old Testament's cruel and strict God with the New Testament's merciful God. Many Christians today believe that the Old Testament, Moses' law, is for the Jews; accordingly, they do not have to obey it.