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Roth on Vinzent on Marcion

March 11, 2015

(LWH:  Given the stir created by Markus Vinzent’s recent book on Marcion, I invited Dieter Roth to give a guest blog-posting on the book. Dieter has just published a full critical reconstruction of the text of Marcion’s Gospel, and is far better qualified than I to provide comment on the subject.)

Last week Larry was kind enough to write a blog post mentioning my new monograph The Text of Marcion’s Gospel published by Brill in January of this year,[1] and he has now extended an invitation for me to write a guest entry interacting with Markus Vinzent’s new book entitled Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels.[2] Indeed, this volume is one of several monographs that have been, or are about to be published, concerning Marcion or Marcion’s Gospel. Though perhaps the present decade has not yet reached the amount of scholarly output found in the debates on Marcion’s Gospel in German scholarship of the 1840s and 1850s, we are well on our way![3]

Vinzent’s views are unique in the renewed debates concerning Marcion’s Gospel in that he believes that Marcion wrote the first Gospel ever written and that all four of our canonical Gospels used Marcion’s Gospel as a source. In his own words, “Marcion, who created the new literary genre of the ‘Gospel’ and also gave the work this title, had no historical precedent in the combination of Christ’s sayings and narratives” (p. 277). Vinzent essentially attempts to construct his case on two foundations: first, and foremost, on the basis of his reading of several important sources for and works on Marcion’s Gospel and second, on the basis of what Vinzent presumes to be the content and readings of Marcion’s Gospel. In a forthcoming review of Vinzent’s monograph in the Journal of Theological Studies I noted that it is important to take Vinzent’s voice into account within the contemporary discussions of Marcion’s Gospel, and that he has provided the reader with a helpful collection of many of the relevant ancient and modern sources for scholarship on Marcion’s Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels. At the same time, however, I find much of the argumentation in his volume to be problematic and, at least to my mind, insufficiently nuanced, at times indefensible, and ultimately unconvincing. Within the confines of my brief, forthcoming JTS review I offer two specific examples concerning problems with Vinzent’s use and reading of the sources (the first foundation noted above), so I will not repeat those here. Instead, in this post I would like to focus my comments on larger issues related to the reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel (the second of Vinzent’s foundations). Discussion of some aspects of Vinzent’s attempts to establish his case via his reading of the sources could perhaps be done in a follow-up posting, but I leave that decision up to Larry and the interests of the readers of his blog.

Right at the outset of the volume, one already encounters three highly curious comments. First, though Vinzent clearly seems aware of the history of scholarship on Marcion’s Gospel and the reconstructions of Marcion’s Gospel in Greek by, e.g., Theodor Zahn and Adolf von Harnack, unaccountably he writes “Marcion’s Gospel has not been critically edited from its Greek and Latin sources to provide us with its contours and, as far as possible, with its Greek wording, except for a very early attempt by the famous August Hahn (1792-1863)” (p. 4).

Second, on the same page he refers to my 2009 Ph.D. dissertation as providing “a textcritical commentary on Marcion’s Gospel, on the basis of which one can establish, at least to some extent, the Greek text, yet he does not give us the text itself.” Though it is true that the reconstruction of the entirety of Marcion’s Gospel only appears in my above-mentioned monograph (word count restrictions precluded my doctoral thesis from dealing with all of the sources and reconstructing all the verses of Marcion’s Gospel), my dissertation provided a textual commentary on every verse attested by Tertullian precisely in order then to reconstruct every verse attested only by Tertullian. In fact, the reconstruction of Marcion’s gospel-text as evidenced in Tertullian is one of the main contributions of the dissertation.

Finally, Vinzent states, “The Gospel and [Marcion’s] Apostolikon (of ten Pauline letters) can be recovered only partially from glimpses that are given by his opponents, unearthed from their writings (primarily Tertullian, Epiphanius, Adamantius’ [Pseudo-Origen?] Dialogue I-II, and Codex Bezae)” (p. 9). When I first read this sentence, I was fully agreeing with Vinzent until he got to “Codex Bezae.” Though the question of the relationship of Marcion’s Gospel to the so-called “Western” text has often been discussed, Codex Bezae is not a source for Marcion’s Gospel and has no place in this list. Such statements are a bit surprising and unexpected for a monograph focusing on Marcion’s Gospel and, unfortunately, reflect subsequent problematic interactions with ancient sources and scholars by Vinzent.

The reader then confronts two further problems surrounding Marcion’s Gospel when reading through Vinzent’s text of Marcion Gospel. First, Vinzent uses a novel manner of chapter and verse numbering. Though there have been occasional exceptions in the history of research, generally verses in Marcion’s Gospel have been referred to with the number of the corresponding text in Luke, much as is done in modern Q studies. Doing this does not mean that the relationship between Marcion’s Gospel and Luke has been decided, or that the reading in Luke is that of Marcion. It simply provides a way for scholarship to reference “the verse in Marcion’s Gospel that corresponds to the verse in Luke.” Vinzent, however, does not do this and not until n. 188 on p. 273 does he let the reader know why: “the verse counting is taken from Marcion’s Gospel: A Synoptic Commentary.” The problem is that this is a planned work of Vinzent’s that has not been published!

Furthermore, as far as I could tell, Vinzent nowhere indicates the source for his, sometimes extensive, citation of Marcion’s Gospel. For instance, on pp. 264-72 he offers Marcion’s Gospel, Luke, Mark, and Matthew in parallel columns in order to argue that Marcion is the “key factor for the innersynoptic relation” (p. 272). Yet, not only is his reconstruction different in both readings and order from what I argue we can actually reconstruct from the sources, there is no indication of the basis for his own reconstruction. Surely we must first argue for a reconstruction before drawing conclusions about the “innersynoptic relation.”

One further problem highlights a methodological issue in reconstructing Marcion’s Gospel. On p. 275, Vinzent offers an (English) reading of Luke 5:36-39 in Marcion’s Gospel. This parable is clearly attested for Marcion’s Gospel, but, in my view, the precise wording cannot be reconstructed. Vinzent’s focus, however, is on 5:39, which (as some others have done before him) Vinzent argues was not present in Marcion’s Gospel, but was added by Luke as an anti-Marcionite reading. The problem is, however, that 5:39 is unattested for Marcion’s Gospel. That is to say, no source makes any mention of either its presence or its absence. As Ulrich Schmid already pointed out in a 2003 article, arguments positing the absence of 5:39 in Marcion’s Gospel are “simply creating positive evidence (in this very case positive negative evidence) out of no evidence at all.”[4] With Schmid, I would posit that arguments from silence based on Marcion’s supposed theological proclivities should not be employed when considering what was or was not present in Marcion’s Gospel. In my view, then, any attempt to establish the relationship between Marcion’s Gospel and Luke by invoking such an argument from silence is so tenuous that it cannot be taken as having any force.

Though I readily admit that I was initially attracted to the study of Marcion’s Gospel due to interest in the questions that Vinzent is also interested in, including the relationship between Marcion’s Gospel and canonical Luke, I quickly became convinced that before any of these issues can be discussed on a sound basis, significant attention must once again be given to the actual text of Marcion’s Gospel. Apart from all the other problems I have with Vinzent’s volume, a fundamental one is that if we are going to debate the place of Marcion’s Gospel in early Christianity, we must first debate the reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel.

In sum, for reasons outlined briefly in my forthcoming JTS review, I do not think that the relevant sources, in particular Tertullian, support Vinzent’s thesis. Nor, as highlighted above, do I find his attempts to invoke Marcion’s Gospel to be established on a critical or cogent reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel. Of course, the devil is in the details and discussing all the particulars here would impose far too much on those patient enough to have read this already far too long blog post. It is my hope, however, that constructive dialogue among those engaged in the present debates concerning Marcion’s Gospel, along the lines that Markus and I have already enjoyed numerous times over the past years, will continue and that as a result, greater insight will be gained into this fascinating and important Gospel text.  (Dieter T. Roth, University of Mainz)


[1] Dieter T. Roth, The Text of Marcion’s Gospel (Leiden: Brill, 2015).

[2] Markus Vinzent, Marcion and the Dating of the Gospels (Studia Patristica Supplements 2; Leuven: Peeters, 2014).

[3] Dieter T. Roth, “Marcion’s Gospel and Luke: The History of Research in Current Debate,” Journal of Biblical Literature 127 (2008): 513-27.

[4] Ulrich Schmid, “How Can We Access Second Century Gospel Texts? The Cases of Marcion and Tatian,” in The New Testament Text in Early Christianity/Le texte du Nouveau Testament au debut du christianisme, eds. Christian-B. Amphoux and J. Keith Elliott (Lausanne: Editions du Zebre, 2003), 143 (139-50).

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  1. Martin Willis permalink

    I think this article is pushing peas around a plate and not getting to the meat and potatoes of Vinzent’s thesis. There was a Marcion conference in Dresden recently and it seems Marcion Priority is gaining support, even a consensus, according to David Trobisch (among Marcion specialists). It’s a fascinating topic.

    • I think you’re missing the point, Martin. Which is: Before we can judge the relationship of Marcion’s Gospel to Luke, we first must have a critical text established for Marcion’s Gospel! Until that is done, any claims are . . . not much worth the paper they’re written on.
      As for the conference in Dresden, it was a curious event. On the question to hand, the only contributors invited were those already in agreement on the priority of Marsion’s Gospel. Hardly a “critical” event!
      In any case, Vinzent’s book doesn’t simply assert priority of Marcions’ Gospel over the canonical text of Luke, but asserts that Marcion’s Gospel preceded all the canonical Gospels. That is a much bigger stretch, and so far as I can see the Dresden conference didn’t deal with that.

      • Thanks for helping Martin — and the rest of us — gain a little perspective on what the scholarly consensus on this issue is and is not.

  2. Thanks to Larry and to Dieter for this thoughtful, gracious and articulate review. Well done, Dieter! I am so proud of my Edinburgh colleagues and your significant contributions to scholarship today!

  3. Thanks for this. I’d definitely be interested to hear more about the author’s use of the sources.

  4. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Surely, if Marcion’s was the earliest gospel, and the others were reliant on it, this would have implications for the argument that the stories of the gospels reflect the life of an actual person called Jesus in first century Palestine.

    • No, Donald. You’re still not getting it. Everyone who has examined the evidence (without a prior agenda) has judged that traditions about Jesus (sayings, stories about him) circulated for decades before authors of the Gospels chose to combine them into a connected narrative with a “bios” like shape. We’re talking about who did this first and when, not about the material upon which he/they drew. It’s a question about the development of the literary genre of the Gospels.

  5. Thank you, Dr. Hurtado and Dr. Roth. We, pastors, usually have to read about theories like Vinzent’s in the media, usually hyped as if true, without qualification. An informed perspective, given in advance, is very helpful.

  6. Donald Jacobs permalink

    “In his own words, “Marcion, who created the new literary genre of the ‘Gospel’ and also gave the work this title, had no historical precedent in the combination of Christ’s sayings and narratives”.”

    Does this mean Vinzent would support those who argue for a mythical Christ?

    • Donald: Vinzent refers to the COMBINATION of Jesus’ sayings & narratives of actions into a continuous bios-type genre. This has little to do with “mythic” Jesus stuff. Vinzent proposes Marcion was significant in the LITERARY history of early Christianity.

  7. It was utterly fascinating to read of Prof. Roth’s work and Vinzent’s controversial thesis! Thank you Prof. Roth for taking the time to explain your own research and the arguments that Vinzent has put forth. I will eagerly await further discussion on this fascinating topic.

  8. Thank you for sharing this important review. I understand that Roth’s critique is mainly built upon Marcion’s Gospel reconstruction, however, I believe that the most revolutionary proposal of Vinzent (also according to his book’s title) is about the Gospels’ dating and the synoptic problem solution. If Vinzent is correct, then he would put to bed Tuckett, Kloppenborg, Goodacre and all. So, alongside David Roth’s review, I’d expect to see a critical review of Vinzent’s book by any scholar dealing with the synoptic problem. I guess that there might be good reasons to challenge Vinzent’s proposal of Marcion’s gospel as being the main single source for all gospels (unless I didn’t correctly get Vinzent’s proposal on the matter). Kindest Regards.

    • No, I think you don’t grasp quite what (Dieter, not David) Roth is saying: Vinzent’s case for the priority of Marcion’s Gospel is built upon a purported reconstructed text of Marcion’s Gospel, and Roth claims that Vinzent doesn’t give adequate basis for the text that he treats as Marcion’s.

  9. Andrew T. permalink

    What a farce. Luke was written about 80 AD and after Mark, and Marcion edited out what didn’t like in it.

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