Skip to content

Marcion’s Text of the Gospel of Luke

March 2, 2015

I’m pleased to note that the new and thorough study of Marcion’s text of the Gospel of Luke by my former PhD student, Dieter T. Roth, has now appeared:  The Text of Marcion’s Gospel (Leiden:  Brill, 2015).  The publisher’s online catalogue entry is here.

Marcion is the famous (notorious?) 2nd-century Christian teacher who rejected the OT as Christian scripture (and rejected the OT deity as well).  As well, he rejected multiple Gospels, and multiple apostles, finding in these pluralities  . . . confusion.  Only one Gospel.  Only one true Apostle.  That was his stance.  His choices:  Only the Gospel of Luke, and only epistles of Paul.  These comprised Marcion’s canon.  Indeed, by ca. 140 CE, Marcion had a closed canon.  So “canon-consciousness” was scarcely a late development, even if what became the canonical “winner,” our familiar “Bible” of OT and a 27-book NT took a couple more centuries to achieve closure.

The problem is that we don’t really have any manuscript preserving Marcion’s NT.  What we have are ostensible quotations of it and references to it by later Christian writers.  So, the scholarly task is to devise some way of trying to reconstruct Marcion’s text.  Some years ago, Ulrich Schmid performed this task on Marcion’s text of the Pauline epistles:  Ulrich Schmid, Marcion und sein Apostolos. Rekonstruktion und historische Einordnung der marcionitischen Paulusbriefausgabe. Arbeiten zur neutestamentlichen Textforschung, 25 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1995).  But the only previous attempt to reconstruct fully Marcion’s text of Luke was by the great Adolf von Harnack a century ago.

So, Roth’s new work is a historic milestone of research.  In addition to a full history of previous research, Roth also improves on Harnack’s classic work by giving a fresh and independent analysis of the data, and also by providing detailed comments and explanation for his judgements about the text of Marcion’s gospel.

One final observation:  It’s often stated that the NT canon represents primarily the exclusion of texts, but that’s actually a very dubious claim.  Marcion certainly represents an exclusionary move.  But in comparison the familiar NT canon actually represents an inclusive motive, favouring plurality, even a certain diversity.  Four Gospels, not just one.  Multiple apostolic voices, not simply Paul.  Oh, and by the way, there is actually little indication that the so-called “apocryphal” texts were intended to form part of a canonical collection as diverse as the NT.  So, it’s difficult to sustain the claim that they were “excluded” from such a collection.

But, in any case, Roth’s newly released study is now the “go-to” work on Marcion’s text of Luke.

From → Uncategorized

  1. Dr. Hurtado, are you familiar with Markus Vinzent’s new book on Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels? [Studia Patristica Supplement 2] I would be interested in your perspective on it (or Dr. Roth’s perspective, as well). Vinzent basically argues that Marcion’s “gospel” was the first gospel, that the Synoptics post-date it, and he bases much of his argument on a reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel and a comparison of it with Luke. Interestingly, he does not at all discuss 1 Clement, including 1 Clem 13:2 or 1 Clem 46:8.

    • I haven’t read Vinzent’s book on Marcion (I’m rather fully occupied with writing commitments of my own right now), but I’ve had advance sight of a forthcoming review of the book in Journal of Theological Studies that rather confirms my advance suspicions about the book. And “watch this space,” as I’m in conversation with a Marcion scholar about possible writing a guest blog-posting on the book.

  2. Jades permalink

    As held in traditional view, Marcion cut Luke’s Gospel to suit his theological idea, I wonder why he decided to do this cutting instead of doing creative reading of the material? I am aware that he is not considered as one of the Gnostics. Is it only because the fluidity of materials (as not-yet-sacred) characteristic in the second century?

    • Marcion seems not to have imagined himself as trying to be creative, but, instead, seems to have thought that the text of NT writings had been corrupted and his aim was to purge them of these corruptions. Convinced as he was that his own theological position was the only correct one (the god of the OT an inferior being, the OT not Christian scriptures, the non-Pauline apostles all being inferior), he consequently removed things that he thought must have been inserted (e.g., the birth narrative of Luke).

      • Prof. Hurtado, if indeed there were parts of Luke Marcion thought to have been inserted, how is the consistency of Lukan style in the whole Gospel to be explained? I am aware of the possibility that Lukan style could be followed easily by those who “corrupted” the Gospel. But, still it is interesting.

      • Marcion proceeded from his premise: That the God of the OT was not the true/high deity that Jesus revealed. Everything else proceeded for Marcion from this. So, things in Luke that went against this, he just knew were corruptions.

  3. Ross Ponder permalink

    I am currently waiting for my interlibrary loan request to come through for Roth’s new book, so I will ask a question here in the meantime.

    Does Roth’s recent book critically engage with Claire Clivaz’s claim that P69 is a probable copy of a Marcionite gospel?

    Roth’s dissertation, which I found online, calls her HTR article an argument from silence without substantively engaging her claims. I am curious to know if there was any revision on this point, since he wrote his dissertation. BeDuhn entertains the idea (not just because P69 is on the front cover of his book, but there are some substantive comments about it in the notes to his reconstruction of the Evangelion).

    Thank you for responding, when you have the time!

    • I don’t myself have Roth’s published book yet. Please note that his PhD thesis only included data from Tertullian (because of word-limits on PhD theses, he wasn’t able to include the other data); but the book apparently now presents all the relevant data.

      • Ross Ponder permalink

        Thank you for the response. That’s great to hear. I’m pleased to hear that he was able to engage a wider set of data. I’ll look forward to seeing his full arguments in the book, whenever the ILL comes through.

  4. For those who may be interested, professor Jason David BeDuhn has reconstructed Marcion’s canon and translated it into English as “The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon,” which is available at Amazon, here:

    • But BeDuhn has produced a new reconstruction, only a translation.

      • I was going by the blurb on Amazon’s site, which says:

        “Jason BeDuhn introduces Marcion, reconstructs his text, and explores his impact on the study of Luke-Acts, the two-source theory, and the Q hypothesis.”

        In any case, it’s nice to have this English translation available for research, and I thought some here might agree.


    • Doug Blinkhorn permalink

      I was wondering how he got left out. Also check out BeDuhn and Tyson for the scholarship arguing that Marcion did not edit our Luke, but inhereted an earlier Ur-Lukas tradition.

      • How who “got left out”? Marcion? He didn’t want in! He created his own complete canon of NT, comprising a Gospel of Luke and 10 Pauline epistles. C’est tout!

  5. Jim permalink

    I realize that the following may not be answerable, but here goes anyway. Would the gospel Marcion relied upon be considered to be a pre-canonical version of Luke? Also, can it be known if the gospel he had in his hands was entitled the “gospel according to Luke”, or if the gospel was unnamed at that point and happened to be the only gospel that Marcion actually knew about? I ask because you would have a way better handle on the current scholarly consensus that I.

    • Jim: To be precise (you may say pedantic), we don’t have a “canon” of the NT (i.e., a closed/fixed list) until the late 4th century or even later. So, technically, up to then there is only a “pre-canonical” Luke. I presume, however, that you mean some putative version of Luke prior to, and different from, the version that we know as part of canonical Luke. Any suggestion that Marcion had some “proto-Luke” is . . . a suggestion. I’m not aware that it is capable of any corroboration, or even that the data require it over the presumption that Marcion basically had Luke as we know it and deleted what he regarded as corruptions of its text.

  6. Donald Jacobs permalink

    What did Christian scribes use before they used nomina sacra? If nomina sacra go all the way back to the first century, why is it commonly assumed they don’t go all the way back to the NT autographs? Did nomina sacra gain currency in the LXX first then spread to the NT or the other way round?

    Since Marcion didn’t like the God of the OT and the Jews and early Christians were aware that the tetragrammaton was used for the divine name, maybe Marcion developed the nomina sacra notation to get rid of the tetragrammaton and replace The Lord God with The Lord Jesus in the minds of readers?

    • We don’t know how Christian copyists wrote the words in question before they used nomina sacra forms, because we don’t have Christian manuscripts without nomina sacra. We do have pre-Christian Greek OT manuscripts, and they don’t use nomina sacra forms. So, the practice seems more likely a Christian innovation. All indications point to an origin probably earlier than Marcion. The nomina sacra don’t “replace the tetragrammaton”, as that was done by rendering YHWH as “Kyrios”. And “the Lord God” isn’t “replaced” with Jesus . . . in any early Christian text. Donald: You need to get the facts straight before you formulate hypotheses.

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        “We do have pre-Christian Greek OT manuscripts, and they don’t use nomina sacra forms.”

        But they don’t use kyrios either, do they? Where is the actual MSS evidence that the divine name was ever replaced in the LXX by kyrios written in full? Isn’t the idea that the early LXX used kyrios a (shock horror) *theory* rather than *fact* supported by actual manuscript evidence? So isn’t your distinction between facts and theories a bit self-serving? If you can call the idea that the early LXX used kyrios a fact (without any actual MSS) yet label the idea that Marcion’s anti-OT God stance impacted treatment of the divine name just a theory.

      • No. Identifiably pre-Christian Greek OT manuscripts typically have YHWH represented in Heb characters. But (to repeat myself to you for the umpteenth time, Donald), we do have other evidence that “kyrios” was what was PRONOUNCED in reading the OT texts in Greek. Keep things straight, please. Now, when we get “LXX” manuscripts as such (all of which are Christian manuscripts) “YHWH” is rendered as “Kyrios” and the latter written in nomina sacra forms. (I haven’t claimed that pre-Christian Greek OT manuscripts use “kyrios” for YHWH, Donald. Track things more closely, please).
        As for the nomina sacra, I repeat (again!!) the inception of this practice seems most likely prior to Marcion’s “NT” (ca. 140). So, it’s not likely he invented it! And, anyway, I see no logical connection between Marcion’s theology and the use of the nomina sacra forms.

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        Incidentally Professor Hurtado have you heard of this book/do you know if Edinburgh has plans to acquire it? Not at Glasgow. Very expensive but I tempted to buy it myself.

        From the contents it may well touch on Marcion as well as the pre-Christian treatment of the divine name in the LXX and other interesting issues.

      • I was alerted to the book by a colleague. It looks interesting, but we’ll have to await a copy for our library.

  7. Dr. Hurtado,

    1) At what point in time would a codex have been capable of holding all 27 of the books we call the New Testament? And for the whole of the Bible?

    2) Are the answers different for papyrus than for parchment?

    • We don’t have any codex containing a full NT or a full Christian Bible until the mid-4th century, the classic instances being Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. By that point, parchment had become the preferred writing material.

      • Thanks, but I am aware that Sinaiticus and Vaticanus in the mid-4th century are our earliest extant examples of a complete NT or full Christian Bible, and that they are parchment. My question, to now re-phrase it for the sake of more clarity, is: Did the mid-4th century mark the first point in time that “codex technology” would allow that much text in one codex?

        That is, I’m wondering whether, assuming it contents could be agreed upon, it was even possible to produce an entire NT or full Christian Bible in earlier centuries, and, if so, which century that would have been.

      • It appears that “codex technology” wasn’t advanced enough in the 3rd century to accommodate such a huge body of text in one volume as represented in a complete NT as we know it, to say nothing of a complete Bible including OT and NT. As I’ve discussed the matter in my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian origins, the various approaches to codex construction reflected in 3rd century Christian manuscripts suggest that Christians then were still struggling to find ways to make the humble codex serve for larger bodies of text than the bookform had been used for previously.

      • Thanks. I have that book…and it is marked up. However, my memory retention is proving to be poor. I will go back and re-read it, more carefully this time. Thanks again.

        By the way, would this “codex technology limitation” therefore be an obstacle to the David Trobisch proposal of a “canonical NT” in the late second-century?

      • A “canon” is a list of books/writings, and does not depend on being able to put them all on one scroll or in one codex, although a canon can lead to a desire to have it all in one book. Contrary to the occasional ill-informed claim, the codex didn’t bring about a NT canon. The idea of a developing canon, and the desire to have scriptures in one book, these led to the advancement of codex technology, driving the development of the codex among early Christians.

  8. Andrew T. permalink

    I wonder if modern people who think there was something nefarious about some texts being excluded from the New Testament canon, understood the metaphor of too many cooks. The tentative canons that church fathers earlier than Athanasius favored, was almost always less inclusive than Athanasius’ (I mean, having fewer texts). Sometimes it included now-unfamiliar works like the Epistle of Clement or Apocalypse of Peter, but the motive was always catholic.

    P.S.: I am always perplexed that Marcion excluded the Johannine books, even though those books seem to agree with him even more than Paul does. Can you explain that? In any event, Marcion’s editorial hand was quite autocratic and shameless!

    • Marcion seems to have felt that it was important to have a singular voice, a single Gospel and single Apostle (as reflected in his key theological work, “Antitheses”). The plurality of the Gospels was a problem for many in the 2nd century, and an object of criticism by pagans such as Celsus.

  9. “It’s often stated that the NT canon represents primarily the exclusion of texts, but that’s actually a very dubious claim. Marcion certainly represents an exclusionary move”

    If dozens of bright minds came to the first conclusion based on actual primary sources and were wrong how on earth can you speak with such certainty about someone like Marcion for whom we have no primary sources available to us? Anything related to Marcion should be framed with the qualifying terms ‘maybe’ ‘perhaps’ because we simply don’t know enough to have any certainty.

    I was with you until your ‘final observation.’ It’s a pity that anyone pretends to know anything with any degree of certainty about Marcion. But academics look foolish admitting things are beyond their understanding, so they have difficulties saying ‘maybe’ ‘perhaps’ for too many sentences in a row.

    • Stephan: I never have problems qualifying my knowledge of things, and freely/frequently use “probably”, “so far as we know,” “to my knowledge,” et alia, when called for. In the case of Marcion, we actually have fairly secure grounds for characterizing him, at least as to his main theological orientation. See now, e.g., Sebatian Moll, The Arch-Heretic Marcion (WUNT, no. 250. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010). And earlier, there was Schmid’s study of Marcion’s text of Paul, and now Roth’s fine study of Marcion’s text of Luke. When you’ve done something scholarly that wins the respect of other scholars in the field, then you might be in a better position to judge what the rest of us do.

  10. Donald Jacobs permalink

    I wonder if Dieter Roth has anything to say on whether Marcion’s text used nomina sacra. Was it devised before or after he developed his canon. Or maybe he pioneered the idea and the later editors of the NT adopted it from him. He was such an influential fellow and it was such a murky time.

    • We don’t have manuscripts of Marcion’s text of Luke or Paul. What we have are quotations and comments on his text in the works of other early Christian writers. So, we don’t know whether he used nomina sacra, but I’d guess that he did. The practice seems to have emerged quite early, perhaps even in the late 1st century CE. It’s hardly likely that Marcion invented the practice!

  11. Dear prof. Hurtado,
    In my study on the causes for the differences between the KJV and NIV I found one difference that to my opinion could be directly linked to Marcion. It is the addition found in Luke 9:55 – 56. Am I making a correct deduction? (
    I wish I could lay my hands on Dieter T. Roth’s study! But surviving on a small pension, it is way out of my reach.

    • No, Herman, I don’t know that anyone thinks that the variants in Luke 9:55-56 have anything to do with Marcion. Instead, the longer variants seem to have been fairly popular (attested in many manuscripts), but are likely insertions (perhaps marginal glosses originally).

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: