Some Christians question how the books in the New Testament came to be accepted as the approved canon. Actually, it was the other way around. John, the original apostle, and his understudy, Polycarp, saw to it that spurious and fraudulent books would not become part of the recommended reading material of Christians in the first and second centuries AD. For example, they rejected the Gospel of the Lord, also known as the Gospel of Marcion. There were two extremes of religious leaders seeking to distract people from the gospel of the kingdom of God. One extreme were the legalists, who believed salvation was earned by keeping the law and by being circumcised. The other extreme were the Nicoliatans, whose reasoning was: “God is glorified by forgiving sin, so sin early and sin often in order that God may be glorified that much more.” Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). Antinomian imperatives are not something new in theology. Every era of time has had its advocates. The organized beginnings in the Christian era is documented as far back as the 140’s AD. At that point in time there was a heretic named Marcion who invented a new philosophy, which represented an unusual view of Christ.
In the second century, Marcion of Pontius (in West Asia) became associated with a professing Christian group in Rome. He was the son of the bishop of Sinope. He formulated the idea of the Bad God/Good God. His belief was a strange outgrowth of the gnostic theology. He believed the Most High God was an inferior being. He believed Christ came to overturn the harsh laws of the Most-High God. He believed Christ was always spirit (never flesh). He believed Christ never really died for the sins of every one. He believed Christ to have been a phantasm. This is, of course, the spirit of the Antichrist. He thought the death of Christ was theatrical, not real. Therefore he believed Christ never suffered. He believed there was something somehow holy about not having sex so he and his followers tried to practice celibacy. The bishops (supposedly, including his own father) excommunicated him for his odd philosophy. Ironically, years later, as the standard religion became more corrupt, the mainstream would embrace celibacy as something holy.
Marcion believed the role of Jesus was to liberate Christians from the power of the Most High God (the Father). So he thought the Father was the evil God of the Old Testament. And Christ (he thought) was the nice God of the New Testament who made the harsh God of the Old Testament unnecessary. Does this sound familiar? It certainly fits into some of modern day theology. Marcion believed that only Paul understood the teachings of Christ. So Marcion put together a Christian canon consisting of only ten letters of Paul and a modified Gospel of Luke. He threw out the Old Testament completely. He didn’t want his followers reading Matthew, Mark, John, Acts, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, James, or Jude. And he certainly didn’t want them to read Revelation. In Revelation there are the prophecies of God’s people keeping the commandments right up to the end. Of course, in the Bible, you can’t go further into the future than Revelation.
“And the dragon was angry with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17).
One time when Marcion encountered Polycarp (an understudy of John, the Apostle), Marcion said, “Don’t you recognize me?” Polycarp said, “I do indeed. I recognize the firstborn of Satan!”
Marcion was not the only anti-law advocate at the time. But he was one of the most famous. Marcion’s “canon” (the modified Gospel of Luke and 10 of Paul’s letters) was a thin book (scroll) to begin with. And from time to time he would alter the “canon”. He always subtracted from it. He never added to it. He removed those scriptures that encouraged obedience to God and those scriptures emphasizing works for a Christian to do. Thankfully, Polycarp, and later, Polycrates of Ephesus, made sure that the contrived canons such as Marcion’s were exposed and rejected.
Antiquity Online, Jews and Christians in Rome’s Golden Age, Chapter 19, 1999 Fesmitha, Eureka
Brom, Jennifer, The Ecole Glossary, 1999 Cedar Evansville Education, Ecole
Holmes, Peter, Five Books Against Marcion, 1868 Peter Holmes
Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities of The Jews, 1981 Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, United States
Lieuwen, Daniel F., The Emergence of the New Testament Canon, 1999 Daniel F Lieuwen
Voorwinde, Stephen, Vox Reformata Articles, 1999 Vox Reformata, Geelong, Australia
Wiki Editors, Gospel of Marcion, copyright 2009 Absolute Astronomy
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