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Cautions about Marcion’s Gospel and the Synoptic Problem

A Church Father such as Tertullian accused Marcion of cutting out material in Luke’s Gospel that was not congenial to his theology (Against Marcion 4.2-4), but could it be that Marcion had the original version of the Gospel that was subsequently edited by his “Orthodox” foes? And is this discussion relevant to the Synoptic Problem? After all, New Testament scholars look at whether the major or minor agreements of canonical Luke with Matthew support the dependence of the former on the latter or whether the different arrangement of the shared sayings between canonical Luke and Matthew is evidence of their independence. Yet what if there was an earlier form of Luke’s Gospel (proto-Luke); could this text have been substantially independent of Matthew’s Gospel while the editors of canonical Luke were familiar with Matthew’s Gospel? Could it even be a source for the Synoptic tradition? Here are grounds for caution:

  • Justin Martyr (fictively?) addresses his First Apology to the emperor Antonius Pius (138-161 CE) and his son Verisimmus. A date between 150-154 CE is commended by the reference to the prefecture of Felix in Egypt (ca. 148-154) in 39.3-4 and Justin dating it approximately 150 years after Christ in 46.1 (cf. P. Lorraine Buck, “Justin Martyr’s ‘Apologies: Their Number, Destination, and FormJTS 54 [2003]: 55, 55n.45). Justin’s references to Marcion (1 Apology 28.5; 58.1) show that he was still alive in the early 150s, though perhaps Justin’s surprise that Marcion was still active could be evidence that he already had a lengthy ministry  (cf. Joseph Tyson, contested by Sebastian Moll).
  • In contrast to Markus Vincent’s contention that Marcion composed a Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels postdate it, I do not see how Mark (or Matthew) can be dated later than the first century. I have tried to summarize the external and internal evidence and specialist studies on the date of Mark.
  • It is possible that Marcion inherited a form of proto-Luke and the Church Father’s accusations that he tampered with their version of Luke is mere polemic. Since Marcion’s Gospel survives only in selective citations of his opponents, how confident can we be about its contents? I want to see a critical edition of all the fragments of Marcion’s Gospel generally agreed upon by Marcion specialists before we compare this reconstructed text to canonical Luke to find out which readings are earlier. Dieter Roth seems to be moving in the right direction here, here, here, and here.
  • Finally, it would help if canonical Luke-Acts alluded to Marcion, such as a vague “prophecy” about his “future” rise. The stress on the Jewish piety of the early church leaders, the converts primarily being Jews and Gentile “God-fearers” in the synagogues, and the subordination of Paul to the Twelve do not need to be read in reference to Marcion. The imperial Romans should not judge the “Christians” as a quarrelsome and suspicious new voluntary association, but a unified organized community attached to a venerable ancient (Jewish) heritage. Joseph Tyson reads Acts 16:6-8 as a cryptic reference to Marcion’s origin (i.e. Bithynia is associated with Pontus), but might the author simply be aware that this area was not evangelized by the historical Paul?

In the next post, I will provide a bibliography for further research.

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