The First Christians Part 3: the Marcionites

 Heresy Is Subjective Indeed!

by Kat Kent, January 1, 2017

The first Jesus Christian cult, the Ebionites, led by Jesus brother and disciple James, had an early rival for their Jesus “Christos” (Greek for anointed)or Messiah. This would also represent the first major split among believers in the Jesus Christos, regarding Jesus’ true nature.  In 37CE, about 7 years after the Ebionite group formed, another disciple of the Jesus Christos, Paul, formed a group of followers that did not believe the Jewish law was necessary for salvation. In fact, his group denounced Judaism, and all it’s rituals, as most of his followers were originally non-Jewish Romans. This was a more lenient form of Christianity, which quickly gained many converts, especially among those who found circumcision or other Jewish rituals to be distasteful.  Paulines denounced the Ebionites, who became their bitter enemies.

Paul

Followers of Paul actually believed in 2 gods of the universe. There was the Jewish God, a vain and angry creator god who was actually a demonic power, and who gave the law to the Jews through Moses. The 2nd cosmic deity was the God of the Gospel who brought the new law through Jesus after the Jews had failed to follow the earlier laws. Paulines believed in “docetism”, or the belief that Jesus never lived on earth, and was not God’s son. And Jesus was not a human, but only a spiritual being. His occurrences of descention in the “15th year of Tiberius rule” were as a full grown adult man in spirit form. Jesus “died” to take the punishment of Christian sinners so Christians would not have to be put to death by the wrathful Jewish god when they sinned, as was normally the case. Once Jesus “died” to teach humanity about this “Unknown Father” god of the gospels, he immediately ascended back into the heavens. But it was all simply a “show” being performed by God, and not considered real. As the belief and story developed over the next century, the aeons became the souls of all men, and out of sheer goodness, the God of the Gospels had sent Jesus to save man from his material world and bring him to a new home in the heavens.

Paulines taught that salvation only depends on faith in Jesus. They developed the idea of crucifixion and resurrection leading to the salvation of the world. But you had to believe to be saved. Good works did not matter, just the belief. Even when faced by contrary evidence, one must continue to believe, as this evidence was “the product of the evil god of the Jews”. This was a huge departure from the norm for any gentile religion.

The Ebionites condemned Paul and his teachings, but could not stop his rise in support. They considered Paul a heretic, and dangerous for promoting an alternative to Jewish law. It did not make sense that the Paulines believed Jesus died simply so that all could know he existed in the heavens. Or that he died so God could forgive all of man’s sin. Later when the Pauline Christians first encountered the Ebionites, the Pauline group could not accept that they were not the first Jesus cult, and harassed, arrested and eradicated the Ebionites, burning all their doctrine. The Ebionite version of Luke-like gospel was adopted but all references that supported adoptionism were changed.  The same editing of the pre-Matthew text took place. They adopted and rewrote a virgin birth story, probably that of Mithra, and plagiarized it after editing, adding the first two chapters to what would become Matthew.

Marcion

The Paulines continued to thrive and eventually caught the attention of a second century philosopher and theologian, Marcion.  Marcion was raised in the early gnostic church in Sinope (Turkey). His father was a Bishop, who ultimately came to believe his son’s views were heretical and not to be tolerated. After his father excommunicated him, he moved to Rome in 139CE. He had found Paul’s “Lost Gospel” and 10 Pauline epistles (letters addressed to Church groups defining belief) just prior in Antioch, and had them translated into Greek and Latin. As an Antioch Samaritan, Marcion was very anti-Semitic. Independently wealthy from his family’s shipbuilding business, he made a large donation to the Roman Church, which endeared him to the church and the Roman politico. As the Roman Church had evolved from 170BCE, so too had their canonical gospels. The 4 Christian Gospels closely resemble the 4 books of magic of the Egyptian Ritual of the Masonic Order, written originally about the God Osiris. Marcion studied them and became a religious writer. By 144CE, he had called a council of church leaders to present his ideas and get his views ratified. This attempt failed miserably, with church elders finding his ideals repugnant. He was quickly excommunicated, and his original donation to the church was returned. Marcion retreated to Asia Minor, where he established several small churches. It was there the cult became known as the Marcionites and it continued to grow and exist for centuries.

Marcion doctrine

Marcion’s “Gospel of the Lord” seems to have been used to create Luke almost 200 years after Jesus’ death. Remember Marcion’s Gospel was already a rewrite of the Ebionite’s doctrine.   He edited all doctrine to remove any references that contradicted Paul believing the comments to be corrupted by Jewish sympathizers.  There was no historical Jesus references, no childhood stories, no birth. Jesus was not from Nazareth or born in Bethlehem. Marcion purged Jesus of any Jewish traits, and claimed his incarnation happened a century before the orthodox Jesus would be said to. The story was that Jesus had descended on several occassions, in spirit only, to teach at the temple on the sabbath, and his final visit was just another “visionary” experience, where he died a symbolic death on the cross.

Marcion wrote the “Antitheses” which contrasted the wrathful Jewish God of the old testament with that of the God of the Gospels, a god of love and mercy, and considered his religion to be the “true Christianity”. His first canon of scripture contained the 10 of Paul’s letters and his own Gospel of the Lord.  It is believed that Marcion also wrote the Gospel of Mark, or that his writings were used to write it in 175CE.   This first New Testament was the basis for the Roman Church’s canon.

“Gnosis of Love and Discord”

Marcion and his followers practiced strict asceticism, which included strict self denial and self mollification, to restrict contact with the demon creator’s world and look forward to eventual salvation in the realm of the more loving extra worldly God of the Gospels. The Marcionites were considered the most dangerous of the Gnostics by the established church. Marcion is said to have been identified in Rome as “the firstborn of Satan.” Even worse, Marcion had admitted women to the priesthood!

Marcion’s writings and teaching still remain some of the most influential in the Roman Catholic Church despite his fall from grace. And the divide between the Ebionites, the followers of James, and Marcionites, the followers of Paul, would begin a conflict regarding the true nature of the Jesus Christos that would continue among Christian cults to this day. Marcion died in 160CE, but his influence would remain strong even as the Roman Catholic Church created formal “Christianity” at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE and the doctrine accepted to be eventually canonize in 367CE, some 200 years later.

The First Christians Part I:  the Gnostics

The First Christians Part II:  the Ebionites

Sources:
“The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors”, Kersey Graves, 16th edition, 2001 Adventures Unlimited Press
Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authenticity, the Teaching Company 2002,University of NC at Chapel Hill, Professor Bart D. Ehrman
The Christ Conspiracy, The Greatest Story Ever Sold, Acharya S (DM Murdock), 1999
http://ebionite.com/
http://peopleof.oureverydaylife.com/ebionites-beliefs-2922.html
http://www.vexen.co.uk/religion/ebionites.html
The Catholica Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen
Justin. First Apology, Chapter XXVI. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *