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Probe Ministries: Are You a Marcion (Martian) Christian?
Wednesday, August 07, 2013 9:27 PM

Written by James Detrich

Marcion or Martian?

Are you a Marcion Christian? No, I don't mean Martian as in the space aliens. No, no, this will not be an article about whether there are alien life forms on other planets. We cover that question on the Probe website. This is, instead, about Marcion, an early churchman who lived in the second century.

As the early church was trying to understand how the Old Testament and New Testament worked together, Marcion said that they are incompatible. He rejected the Old Testament as being too Jewish, too concerned with things like the Law, and sacrifices, and old timey prophets. He claimed the Christian church should have nothing to do with the Old Testament, that we are merely New Testament believers. Actually, now that I think about it, it is pretty neat that his name, Marcion, sounds like Martian as in the aliens. Because that is exactly what the early church thought of Marcion's ideas; they thought they were alien to the faith that had been passed down from Jesus and his apostles. Because the ideas were alien—or might we say, heretical—the earliest Christians rejected them and kicked Marcion and his followers out of the church.

The earliest Christians set up boundaries for right thinking, for right praise, what we call "orthodoxy" today.{1} They declared that it was wrong to believe that the Old Testament was outdated and not essential to the faith, because they understood something very important: how one views Scripture very much depends upon how one views God. The two go hand-in-hand. If you reject Scripture, whether it is the Old or New Testament, then you will reject the God behind the book. Why? Because the Bible reveals God; it is the complete revelation of who He is and what He values.

The reason Marcion wanted to do away with the Old Testament was his wrong belief that the God of the Old Testament was an inferior god, who was full of wrath and justice. He was that nasty god who told the Israelites to execute anyone who worshipped another god. He was insecure, jealous, always wanting love and affection. But the God of the New Testament, taught Marcion, was completely the opposite: He, unlike that malicious Old Testament god, was loving, gracious, peaceful, and infinitely good. This was the true God revealed through Jesus Christ when he came to earth with the good news.{2}

So, Marcion didn't just have two Bibles, he also had two gods. On the bad side were the Old Testament and the god the older book revealed; on the good side were the New Testament and the true God the new book revealed. Was Marcion right? Should we as Christians throw out the Old Testament? Is the Old Testament God worthy of our worship? Or is Marcion's view as alien as a Martian living on planet Earth?

The Two-God Dualism

I settled in my overstuffed chair waiting for the contentious TV interview. The atheist Richard Dawkins was going to be on one of the conservative news shows. I thought to myself, this should be good. Dawkins, of course, is not your usual atheist. His rhetoric is a bit terse and brusque. He was the one who called God a "vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser . . . capriciously malevolent bully," among other things.{3} Safe to say, he is not too thrilled with God. But he was going to be interviewed by a fairly conservative, Catholic talk-show host, and so I figured it should be a good debate on religion. But it wasn't. It was—how to say this nicely—completely and utterly awful. When confronted by Dawkins' usual claims that the Old Testament God is a bully because he ordered the stoning of anyone who did not worship him, the bombastic interviewer basically said that the Old Testament was a bunch of myths that no one really took seriously. He soothed Dawkins' objections with the explanation that the stories in the Old Testament were allegories—they were not historically true. He went on to affirm that if Dawkins had a problem with God, he needed to read the New Testament. It is there where Jesus preaches the good news of faith, hope, and love. These are virtues that are good for society. I'm sure he thought, Dawkins can't possibly argue against this. Every time Dawkins attempted to move the conversation back to the Old Testament, where he thought his argument was the strongest, the interviewer kept the discussion on the New Testament. "How can you have a problem with a God who teaches love?" the host would ask.{4}

But it was dualism all over again; the interviewer was claiming that the Old Testament God was bad and the stories were myths, and the New Testament God is the good, Christian God. Basically, the interviewer affirmed the same things that Marcion affirmed in the second century. It was the old Marcion line that said, "If you want to know what Christianity is all about, read the New Testament; don't read the Old Testament."

Well, it worked. The talk-show host got through the interview unscathed. But at what price? I submit that the price is losing Christianity itself. Because Christianity is not based upon merely the New Testament. We don't have two gods; we have one God. We have one God that is revealed in both the Old and New Testament. It is one book about one God.

But if this is true, then what does the Old Testament contribute to our understanding of God? How do the Old Testament and the New work together? These are some of the questions that we as the body of Christ need to prayerfully think over, and in the next sections I will attempt to provide some answers.

One Book, One Story

We have been discussing the unfortunate practice of separating the Old Testament from the New. This was first done in the second century by Marcion who not only viewed the Old Testament as inferior to the New, but taught that the god of the Old Testament was inferior to the true God of the New Testament. But we need to understand that this was not only a problem in the second century, it is also a tendency in the church today. It is a rare church that preaches the Old Testament as often as the New. Bible studies are typically journeys through New Testament books. When discussing God with our friends, especially our lost friends, we often emphasize what the New Testament says about Jesus and, at times, can feel embarrassed about the demands in the Old Testament. We love to exclaim the grace of God; we don't equally love the judgment, jealousy, and wrathfulness of God that the Old Testament also presents.

Please, don't get me wrong, I am not saying that we should not preach a grace-filled God. I attend a seminary that has a strong tradition of preaching unapologetically the grace of God. But what I am saying is that our view of God must be imbibed from the totality of Scripture, including the Old Testament. This is the great benefit of preaching, teaching, and meditating upon the older book; it provides us with a more complete revelation of God. These two testaments are not contrary to one another; they do not set up two different gods or two different or competing views of God. They are, rather, complementary. They disclose one God who is eternal, infinitely good, and infinitely jealous of his creatures' worship with a holy jealousy borne out of love, because He made us for Himself.

Not only do they reveal one God, but they are also one book, one story. Think for a moment about the nature of story. For a story to work, there must be a conflict. At times, there will be numerous sub-conflicts, but there is always at least one big, overriding conflict that gives the narrative meaning and purpose. The other thing about storytelling is that you are either building toward the resolution of the conflict or you are falling in action because the conflict has already been resolved. Therefore, stories are not straight lines of action; they follow a building | climax | falling structure. The Bible is no different. As a story itself it follows the same structure. From Genesis to Revelation, Holy Scripture tells one story about a conflict that has to be resolved. The action rises as the conflict increases, and after the conflict is resolved, the action then falls. This makes the Old Testament just as important as the New; they may be two testaments, but they are one unified story.

The Big Story of the Bible

Having completely rejected Marcion's view of the Old Testament and seeing it as valuable to be read and taught, we moved forward to examine how the Old Testament and the New work together. We affirmed that both testaments tell one unified story. So, how is this done? At the center of the biblical story is conflict—the clash between God and sin. The question throughout the entire story is, How can a holy, righteous God still have fellowship and communion with His creation given the fact that sin has now been introduced into the creative order? Genesis 1-11 provides the background to the story. Those chapters are like the black screen that comes up at the beginning of a movie like Star Wars, providing the backstory so the audience can understand the setting and characters, and where the story is going. Those background chapters in Genesis tell us about God's creation and the fall of that creation, and then provide details of the extent of the fall demonstrating through the stories of Noah and Babel that man really is sinful and we need redemption.

But the biblical story really gets going in Genesis chapter 12. It is there that God establishes a covenant with Abraham to provide redemption for humanity. This is not to say that God was not at work before Abraham. He was. But not in a programmatic, systematic manner. Now God comes to mankind; He comes to Abraham to begin a new people to establish His reputation in order to bring all humanity to redemption. He works with Abraham, and then Isaac, and then Jacob, and then all of Jacob's sons. Carefully, God works His divine plan in spite of the willful disobedience and, at times, just sheer stupidity of these men and their respective families.

As Exodus opens, this new nation is enslaved and the plan of God appears to be in jeopardy. But through the miracles of the plagues, God brings His people out of slavery. He brings them to Mount Sinai and gives them the Law which is a revelation of who He is and what He expects. If this new nation is to establish the reputation of the one true God, then they must be holy and pure. That is the reason why the Old Testament demands and commands, even with the consequence of death, that the people only worship God and Him alone. He is jealous, like a husband who demands his wife only have one lover—himself. Since God is the only source of life and goodness, He knows that loving and worshiping any false gods leads to disaster and death. All of this, though, is the building of the plot—the increase of the conflict—because God's workings with Israel never provided a full and complete answer to sin. That full and complete answer was yet to come.

The Point of It All: Jesus

In this article we have been discussing the value of the Old Testament. We have rejected Marcion's view that the Old Testament god is different from and inferior to the New Testament God. And we have explored how the Old and New Testaments work together to tell one unified story. In providing the details of how God worked with the children of Israel, all the way from Genesis to the prophets, the Old Testament builds the action and the conflict that reaches a climax and a resolution in the Gospels. For centuries, the people of Israel cried out for a final and complete answer to sin; they desired a Messiah. Just like a movie that builds conflict scene after scene and then finally resolves the conflict, the biblical story spends multiple books and numerous chapters building conflict. And then Jesus appears. The Gospels tell the dramatic story of John the Baptizer, the last of the Old Testament prophets, stepping forth to proclaim, "Behold, the Kingdom of God is at hand." And it is through Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension that resolution is finally brought to the story.

Then, the rest of the story is the creation of this new organism called the church that preaches and teaches Jesus to the entire known world. This part of the story is the falling action; now that the conflict has been resolved, these are the outworkings of the story.

Looking at the Bible this way allows for several things. First, it keeps the story unified with Jesus at the very center and the point of the story. The Old Testament anticipates this Messiah, and the New Testament reflects upon Him by preaching Him to the world. Second, it shows us why the Old Testament is valuable and essential to the Christian faith. It is not a byproduct, not something that can just be discarded or ignored. No, it is indeed essential! It reveals God's character, and it is the "gateway" for the coming of Jesus, the Christ. Third, it unabashedly demonstrates that the entire biblical story discloses one God, not two gods as Marcion believed. This God is the one true God whose sovereign control of history is beautifully displayed in the pages of Scripture as He redeems humanity from sin and provides the way for Himself and us to be reconciled to relationship. It is one story—a story of love. We hope you will embrace this view of the Bible and not be a "Martian/Marcion" Christian!

Notes

 

1. Gerald L. Bray, "Authority in the Early Church," Churchman 95 (1981).

2. For more on Marcion and the conflict in the early church, see Irenaeus, "Against Heresies," in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol. 1. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951).

3. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam, 2006; reprint, 2008), 51.

4. This was a conversation between Richard Dawkins and Bill O'Reilly on the "O'Reilly Factor." See www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FARDDcdFaQ for more.

© 2013 Probe Ministries

About the Author

James Detrich is a research intern at Probe Ministries. He holds a Masters of Theology in Historical Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). He is currently working on a Ph.D. in Early Church History from DTS. James’s interests focus on theology and culture.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

Probe Ministries

2001 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 2000

Plano TX 75075

(972) 941-4565

info@probe.org

www.probe.org

 

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