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Marcion and Methodology–Roth #2

March 17, 2015

(LWH:  The following posting is the second in a series of guest-postings I’ve invited from Dr. Dieter Roth, whose newly published critical reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel sets the standard and basis for all further debate about that text:  The Text of Marcion’s Gospel. Leiden:  Brill, 2015, the publisher’s online catalogue is here.)


I was pleased to hear from Larry that based on the number of page views and comments he received after my first guest blog posting last week, there seems to be a significant amount of interest in Marcion’s Gospel and recent work on this text. As a result, Larry has extended an invitation for two more guest postings in order to allow me to expand on two important issues mentioned in my first posting. Thus, in this second post I will provide an overview of the issues involved in reconstructing Marcion’s Gospel and what I consider to be the most important contributions of my monograph in this regard.[1] In a final posting I will offer a few thoughts on Tertullian’s testimony concerning Marcion’s Gospel, once again in critical dialogue with the recent book by Markus Vinzent.[2]

The difficulty that scholarship has always faced when discussing Marcion’s Gospel is that there are no extant manuscripts of this text. (As an aside that cannot be pursued further here, I am skeptical, at least to this point, that papyrus P69 is a manuscript of Marcion’s Gospel as tentatively suggested by Claire Clivaz and Jason BeDuhn). For this reason, in order to utilize Marcion’s Gospel for gaining insight into written Gospels in early Christianity, compare it with Luke, or consider its place in the transmission of the Gospels, one must first, at least to some extent, reconstruct Marcion’s text. Attempting such a reconstruction, however, faces the rather daunting challenges of determining both which sources are relevant for reconstructing Marcion’s Gospel and how these sources are to be read and utilized in the pursuit of this scholarly endeavor.

Everyone agrees that the most important sources are Tertullian’s Adversus Marcionem, especially book four; the Panarion (Adversus haereses) of Epiphanius, especially section forty-two and the seventy-eight σχόλια (“notes”) and ἔλεγχοι (“refutations”) concerning Marcion’s Gospel; and the Pseudo-Origen Adamantius Dialogue, especially books one and two, where Adamantius debates the Marcionites Megethius and Marcus. This not to say that other sources, though minor and of lesser importance, are insignificant, nor is it to say that there are not important debates to be had concerning the relevance of sources such as (Pseudo-)Ephrem’s An Exposition of the Gospel 1–76 (Pseudo-Ephrem A). This latter text is posited as a valuable one by Jason BeDuhn,[3] though I am hesitant to share this assessment and am therefore equally hesitant of including some verses in Marcion’s Gospel that BeDuhn has included solely on the basis of this source (e.g., Luke 6:47–48 or Luke 8:5–8a).[4]

The more important issues for a reconstruction, however, are methodological. In my first post I highlighted a methodological problem with the use of Luke 5:39 in debates concerning the relationship between Marcion’s Gospel and Luke. This verse is one of many that are unattested for Marcion’s Gospel. That is to say, it is a verse concerning which no source gives us any indication of its presence or absence in Marcion’s text. Two types of argument from silence have repeatedly been used in the history of scholarship on Marcion’s text, both of which I find highly problematic. On the one hand, scholars attempted to argue whether or not the verse could have been present based on Marcion’s theological proclivities.

On the other hand, arguments were presented of whether or not a source would or would not have mentioned a verse if it had or had not been present. These latter arguments proceeded along the lines of: “if a given author had (or had not) seen a given verse in Marcion’s Gospel surely he could not have resisted using it (or its absence) against Marcion.” Both of these types of arguments from silence led to extended, and fruitless, debates. For this reason, I have argued that when reconstructing Marcion’s Gospel we must distinguish between verses that are attested as present, verses that are attested as absent, and unattested verses.[5] Only the first two categories are, in the first instance, relevant for a reconstruction. Unattested verses are simply unattested and I have labeled then as such in my reconstruction.

In my estimation, however, the most important methodological insight for reconstructing Marcion’s Gospel is one already employed by Ulrich Schmid in his reconstruction of Marcion’s Apostolikon.[6] This insight is that when considering “citations” and references to Marcion’s Gospel in the sources, we must understand as precisely as possible the citation habits of those sources. The best way to do so is to con­sider multiple citations of a biblical passage throughout the entire corpus of a source in order to recognize how a particular author handles references to texts. Once the patterns generated by citation habits are recognized, the testimony that a church father offers for readings in Marcion’s Gospel can be evaluated far more precisely and profitably.

Though details here can once again quickly become rather technical and involve extended discussions, several arguments over whether Marcion used Luke or Luke used Marcion are, for instance, related to which Greek word stood in Marcion’s text on the basis of the Latin words used by Tertullian. Such arguments, however, have often failed to take account of Tertullian’s own word-preferences, theological proclivities, and the changes that Tertulian regularly makes when “citing” scriptural passages. In my monograph the study of precisely such citation habits of a source is foundational for my reconstruction.[7]

Finally, in my reconstructed text, for the first time in the history of scholarship on Marcion’s Gospel, I offered differing levels of certainty for readings in Marcion’s text: secure, very likely, probable, and possible. This presentation was intended to provide guidance on the level of confidence we can ascribe to attested readings in light of a source’s citation habits and the evidence found in the manuscript tradition of Luke, with which all sides of the debate agree Marcion’s Gospel was somehow related. I in no way regard my suggested reconstruction, or my suggested levels of certainty, as the “last word” in reconstructions of Marcion’s Gospel; however, I sincerely hope that it will stimulate further debate concerning this text because it is only with a critical and methodologically controlled reconstruction that scholarship can advance in the debates for which this text is relevant. Until we have debated and achieved at least some level of agreement on the reconstruction of Marcion’s text of his Gospel, all proposals about its relationship to the Gospel of Luke, for example, will remain insecure and speculative.


[1] Dieter T. Roth, The Text of Marcion’s Gospel (New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents 49; Leiden: Brill, 2015).

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

[3] Cf. Jason Beduhn, The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon (Salem, Oreg.: Polebridge, 2013), 40.

[4] Cf. the discussion of the sources for Marcion’s Gospel in Roth, Text of Marcion’s Gospel, 46–78.

[5] I have provided complete tables of these three types of verses in Roth, Text of Marcion’s Gospel, 49–78.

[6] Cf. Ulrich Schmid, Marcion und sein Apostolos: Rekonstruktion und historische Einordnung der marcionitischen Paulusbriefausgabe (Arbeiten zur neutestamentlichen Textforschung 25; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1995).

[7] I have also provided a brief overview of the issue of “citation habits” with two examples in Dieter T. Roth, “Marcion’s Gospel: Relevance, Contested Issues, Reconstruction,” The Expository Times 121 (2010): 291–94.

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  1. lbehrendt permalink

    Dr. Hurtado, I don’t want to belabor the obvious, but I have a basic question about what scholars mean when they “date” a book of Scripture. As an example, in “An Introduction to the New Testament,” Raymond Brown dates Luke to “85, give or take five to ten years.” This makes it sound as if Brown had in mind a specific event that took place on a specific date, but that the state of our historical knowledge does not allow us to specify the exact date. In contrast, Brown dates the Gospel of John to “80-110,” and in doing so it seems clear that he is referring to something in addition to uncertainty about exact dates–he is also referring to a process of composition and redaction that took place over a period of years.

    Sometimes it appears that a book of Scripture might have been composed over a long period, but the book is dated by scholars to a shorter period identified as significant. For example, the Book of Daniel is commonly dated to a four-year period between 167-164 BCE, even though it is obvious that oral and written stories about Daniel must have circulated before 167 BCE, and that the history of Daniel’s composition continued after 164 BCE (see for example the history of the Septuagint Daniel). Returning to Luke, if I follow Brown’s dating of Luke to roughly 75-95 CE, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that Luke was redacted in the second century in response to Marcion. Or does it?

    Is there a scholarly consensus of what we mean when we “date” a book of Scripture? Has this been discussed? Is there a book I should read? In some part, are Roth and Vinzent arguing over the definition of a book’s “date”?

    • A few comments in response here (and maybe a future posting):
      –In the case of NT writings (and other early Christian ones), we are talking about a much shorter period than for OT writings. So there was less time for major, rolling revisions. Not impossible. Just less window of time for it.
      –No literary text that I know of from antiquity bears a specific date. So scholars have to estimate a date based on various factors (including any references in a text to known historical event). In the case of GMark, it’s obvious that the fall of Jerusalem and the temple was a major event (pictured as predicted by Jesus, but likely actually known about by original readers). So, that = dating GMark either during or perhaps not long after that event.
      –If then, per the dominantly shared hypothesis, GMatt and GLuke used GMark as inspiration and source, we’d have to allow at least a few years for GMark to circulate and acquire such influence. So that means an estimated date of GMatt, ca. 5-10 yrs after GMark? And something similar for GLuke.
      –As for major “redactions” of Gospels, yes, possible. But such hypotheses have been offered and considered repeatedly for a century or more, and usually in the end found unsupported or unlikely.
      –Roth and Vinzent differ (in my view) more over methodology: Vinzent makes claims about the textual relationship of Marcion’s Gospel to GLuke by comparing small textual data. Roth insists (rightly, I think) that Vinzent proceeds prematurely and on an insecure textual basis, without a critically established text of Marcion’s Gospel. Moreover, Vinzent seems to take a “what if” thought about Marcion as THE key guy in the whole 2nd century and then tries to line up everything else with this one thought. Roth and others of us try to start with all the various and complicated data and make inferences “upward” from these data, instead of trying to force them all to fit some predetermined theory.

  2. Hugh Scott permalink

    I am currently reading through Joel Marcus’s 2-volume Anchor Bible commentary on Mark (2000, 2009) totalling more than 1200 pages, Marcus starts by establishing his compelling case for a composition date some time during the Jewish revolt against Rome (66-73 AD), the key date being the destruction (completed, or imminent) of the temple in 70 AD. ,And, for Marcus, Mark probably wrote for a Christian community in Syria.driven from Palestine during this war, Marcus then repeats,,surely hundreds of times, that practically every pericope in Mark reflects this 66-73 war as a background. This type of analysis by the vast majority of gospel commentators (date, author, intended readership for each gospel) surely convincingly contradicts Vinzent.

    • Or Vinzent contradicts the great majority of other scholars. But Marcus’ particular views on some matters aren’t unanimously shared. Particularly his view of the provenance of GMark, with many of us suspecting a Roman provenance.

      • Hugh Scott permalink

        Thanks, Larry. Joel Markus discusses the definite possibility that e.g. Mark 13 reflects Neronic persecution of Christians in Rome rather than the Jewish revolt in Palestine, but prefers the Palestinian setting. In either case, the DATING of the gospels between 70 and 100 AD,,against Vinzent’s 140 AD date, remains the most probable.

        Another crucial point against Vinzent: why would four gospels, with quite different (though of course overlapping) viewpoints have been written in Rome at the same time, and presumably to the same community? Surely the four gospels address the special interests and needs of four different communities?

  3. bee permalink

    Conventional dating for the gospels still allows very, very considerable editing. Possibly as late as 140 AD?

    • Oh yes, in principle. And if one entertains the argument of James Kelhoffer, that the “long ending” of Mark was added by sometime 120-140, that would be a major example. Likewise, it’s been argued (Theo Heckel) that John 21 was added when the Gospel of John was prepared to form part of a four-fold Gospel, sometime in the early 2nd century. But any claims about radical editing need to be supported by evidence, not supposition.
      Moreover, Vinzent’s claim isn’t that the Gospels were “edited” in the 2nd century, but that they were composed de novo in response to Marcion’s Gospel, after 140 CE. That is a very strong claim that seems to me wholly unsupportable.

      • bee permalink

        But with no actual extensive manuscripts until very late, that would leave conventional dates still suppositional? Possibly some could support a very substantial Marconian edit, amounting to almost an entire remake?

      • But the manuscripts of the Gospels are actually remarkably early, not “very late”. There are, e.g., remains of some 18 manuscripts of GJohn from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Moreover, e.g., Irenaeus (ca. 180 CE) affirms four Gospels. So there is actually very little time for Gospels to be composed in the mid-late 2nd century and acquire the circulation and standing necessary for them to be treated as they were.

  4. There seems to be a level of frustration among scholars — approaching futility, perhaps — in achieving certainty and consensus concerning Marcion’s original text.

    My interest in this and related studies of texts is best summarized in a question:

    Is the consensus still, essentially, that Marcion has deleted and altered material from existing documents attributed, by the orthodox church, to the apostles and their companions?

    • It is probably still the dominant view (I reserve the word “consensus” for anything on which there is full agreement, and it’s hard to find many such things in many areas of ancient history, including early Christianity) that the four familiar Gospels were written in the late first century, that they had begun to be treated as scripture by the mid-second century (or earlier), and that Marcion preferred one Gospel to the plurality and differences among the four that became canonical. This, as many other things, is always subject to challenge, such as that launched by Vinzent (with somewhat related challenges by a few others). But to launch a challenge is by no means to be successful in it!

  5. Thank you for your reply. For a matter of completeness, here’s the link to Vinzent’s explanation of his schema (I am not a scholar, so I don’t want to be unfair by providing any misleading short summary of his full proposal):

    Regarding Jason Beduhn book on Marcion, mentioned by Roth in the References, I read that in his book he uses some unusual translations such as “The Human Being” instead of “The Son of Man”.

    I know you may have your opinion about such translation and my questions at this point are the following:
    1. is Beduhn an expert of Biblical Greek?
    2. is Beduhn considered a subject matter expert by scholar community when it comes to texts reconstructions?

    If that is not the case, why are we dealing with these outsiders’ books (e.g. Vinzent, Beduhn) when discussing Marcion’s text reconstructions?

    Thank you

    • “The human being” is simply an alternate, “dynamic” translation of ο υιος του ανθρωπου, traditionally (and more woodenly) translated “the son of man.” BeDuhn seems fully capable of reading Koine Greek. As to his authority in Marcion-studies, that remains to be established.

  6. I think that the whole Vinzent’s proposal goes beyond textual relationships between Marcion and Luke. That’s what puzzles me. Vinzent thinks that *all for canonical Gospels* were written in Rome between 140 and 142 CE, as a response to Marcion’s gospel.

    Here’s a diagram of revolutionary Vinzent’s proposal for Gospel’s redaction and dating:

    So, besides the text relationships between Marcion and the Gospels, I have the following questions:

    1. is there any solid ground to affirm that all Gospels were written in Rome? It’s the very first time I hear this.
    2. Is there any solid ground to affirm that all gospels were written in 140 CE? Again, it’s the very first time I hear this.

    I know there are studies about time&date of gospels composition and none of them support Vinzent’s proposal. If any of the questions above can get a negative answer, then Vinzent’s proposal has to be rejected.
    Otherwise we may really be close to a revolution in this field of studies.

    • Thanks for this URL giving Vinzent’s schema. I know of no reason/basis for linking all four Gospels to Rome as place of composition. Indeed, such a proposal would likely be met with serious objection (and even derision) among most NT specialists. Likewise, Vinzent’s dating of the Gospels is . . . well, shall we say, a maverick opinion. Basis? Scant that I can see, and opposing data, plenty. Cf., e.g., Stanton, G. N. “The Fourfold Gospel.” NTS 43 (1997): 317-46.

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