Marcion of Sinope (Asia Minor) was expelled from the Roman Christian community in 144 CE on the accusation of heresy. Notoriously, he rejected the authority of the Old Testament and positioned a Savior Christ against an evil Creator. However, he also played an important role in the history of Christianity by stimulating discussions around the biblical canon. While none of his works exist today, we know that many early Christian theologians disputed Marcion and his teachings (e.g., Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus). Through apologetic and polemical statements by these theologians, we catch glimpses not only of Marcion’s teachings, but even of the way Marcion edited or redacted New Testament texts to conform to his theology (of course, Marcion himself believed he was retrieving the purest versions of these books).
Is it possible to reconstruct Marcion’s text of Galatians based on quotes from other early theologians? As tantalizing as this prospect might be, scholars agree that the answer is “no.” There are several reasons why this is not feasible. First, anti-Marcionite theologians such as Tertullian and Jerome wrote in Latin, so it is difficult to trace that back to Greek and get the wording right. Second, we cannot be sure that the “orthodox” theologians were intending to quote Marcion verbatim; perhaps they were paraphrasing. Thirdly, we must take into account the propensity toward exaggeration when it comes to polemics.
But if reconstructing Marcion’s version of Galatians is not possible, we can identify certain patterns or editorial habits that are probably accurate with respect to how he read and revised Galatians. We will discuss two of these (“omissions” and “revisions”).
We can be reasonably sure that Marcion omitted certain features of Galatians that did not align with his theology. For example, according to Jerome, Marcion eliminated any text that explained that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. Instead, Marcion urged that Jesus raised himself from the dead. So, in a place like Galatians 1:1, we can imagine that Marcion’s version differed from our preferred readings in this way:
NA28: Παῦλος ἀπόστολος οὐκ ἀπ᾽ ἀνθρώπων οὐδὲ δι᾽ ἀνθρώπου ἀλλὰ διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ θεοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν.
Marcion: Παῦλος ἀπόστολος οὐκ ἀπ᾽ ἀνθρώπων οὐδὲ δι᾽ ἀνθρώπου ἀλλὰ διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν.
So, Jerome had written about this verse: “One should know that in the Pauline corpus of Marcion the words ‘and through God the Father’ have not been written, because he wanted to stress his point that Christ has not been raised by God the Father, but arose spontaneously through his own strength” (Jerome, Comm. Gal. 375). Presumably, the αὐτός (ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν) would then be understood as reflexive (“himself”) rather than as a simple pronoun (“him”).
It wasn’t just at the word, phrase, or clause level that Marcion omitted material. He also removed entire verses or sections. According to Tertullian (Against Marcion, book 5), Marcion omitted verses in Galatians that connected Gentile Christians to Abrahamic fatherhood. Furthermore, Marcion removed many Pauline quotations from the OT, including Gen 15:6 in Gal 3:6.
Marcion did not just remove material from Galatians, but also revised it on occasion. So, for example, according to Tertullian (Against Marcion), he changed Gal 3:26 in this way:
NA28: Πάντες γὰρ υἱοὶ θεοῦ ἐστε
Marcion: Πάντες γὰρ υἱοὶ πίστεως ἐστε
Wanting to sever the link between Abraham and Christ, Marcion focused on believers being “children/sons of faith,” rather than “children/sons of God.”
Again, as we learn via Tertullian (Against Marcion), Marcion did more extensive revision and supplementation in Gal 4:21–31. Clearly Marcion wanted to create a rift between “Judaism” and “Christianity,” and his emendations demonstrate this transparently. Below, we show Marcion’s revisions to 4:24 and 4:26.
NA28: 24ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα· αὗται γάρ εἰσιν δύο διαθῆκαι, μία μὲν ἀπὸ ὄρους Σινᾶ εἰς δουλείαν γεννῶσα, ἥτις ἐστὶν Ἁγάρ . . . 26ἡ δὲ ἄνω Ἰερουσαλὴμ ἐλευθέρα ἐστίν, ἥτις ἐστὶν μήτηρ ἡμῶν·
Marcion: 24ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα· αὗται γάρ εἰσιν δύο διαθῆκαι, μία μὲν ἀπὸ ὄρους Σινᾶ εις την συναγωγην των Ιουδαιων κατα τον νομον γεννῶσα εἰς δουλείαν . . . 26Μία δε υπερανω πασης αρχης και δυναμεως και εξουσιας και παντος ονοματος ονοματοζομενου ου μονον εν τω αιωνι τουτω αλλα και εν τω μελλοντι γεννωσα εις την αγιαν εκκλησιαν ην συνομολογουμεν, ἥτις ἐστὶν μήτηρ ἡμῶν·
While Marcion was summarily condemned by the Church Fathers, we do recognize that his energetic attempts to purify the Christian canon of Scripture accelerated broader canonical discussions in an attempt to counteract Marcion’s proposals and influence and to generate consensus on the breadth of the holy books.
For more information, see Jason D. BeDuhn, The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon (Salem, OR: Polebridge, 2013).
Scripture quotations marked SBLGNT are from the SBL Greek New Testament. Copyright © 2010 Society of Biblical Literature and Logos Bible Software.
- Nevertheless, less than a decade after this, during which time he preached his message far and wide, he had a massive following; Justin Martyr refers to his influence spreading to “many of every nation” (Apology 1.26). ↵
- “. . . for the synagogue of the Jews according to the Law . . . :” ↵
- “But [the] other begets above every ruler, and power, and authority, and every name that is named not only in this age, but also in that to come, for the holy church which we confess . . .” ↵