Roth on Reading the Sources for Marcion
(LWH: This is the third invited posting from Dr. Dieter Roth on Marcion.)
In my two previous guest blog posts (here and here) considering Marcion’s Gospel, I focused predominantly on issues of reconstructing this text, highlighting, first, problematic issues in Markus Vinzent’s new monograph and, second, the most important methodological considerations when attempting a reconstruction of Marcion’s Gospel. In this third and final posting, I would like to return to Vinzent’s book and consider “the other side of the coin” of his argument involving Marcion, namely examples of his reading of the sources.
Of course, it is, once again, vital to remember that when reading the sources for Marcion we are dealing with hostile sources and that therefore great care and critical reflection needs to be used when assessing the polemics of the church fathers against “heretics.” Nevertheless, important insights can be gained from the ancient sources, and Vinzent has set forth what he believes are significant new insights into what the sources tell us about Marcion. These readings, however, seem to be to be quite problematic. In order to illustrate these problems, I will consider two examples of Vinzent’s reading of Tertullian, whose Adversus Marcionem (cited hereafter as Marc.) remains the most extensive, and one of the most important, extant sources for Marcion.
As noted in my first post, Vinzent has set forth the thesis that Marcion created the new literary genre of the Gospel and that he had no historical precedent in the combination of sayings and narratives about Jesus (cf. p. 277). Arguing for this view with reference to Tertullian, Vinzent contends: “Tertullian asserts that with his Gospel Marcion introduced a nova forma sermonis, a literary innovation, that there is in Christ a novel style of discourse, when he sets forth similitudes, when he answers questions” (p. 92). In support of this point, Vinzent offers a citation in a footnote from Marc. 4.11.12. His quotation of the Latin, here translated, reads: “In Christ [there is] a new form of discourse, with similitudes set forth, with questions answered” (p. 92, n. 352).
Though this comment would seem to support Vinzent’s view, the glaring problem is that this citation is taken completely out of context, and gives a misleading impression of what Tertullian wrote. In fact, Tertullian states exactly the opposite of what Vinzent asserts. In Marc. 4.11.12, Tertullian contends that though the Gospel is different from the Law (it is an advance out of the Law), the Gospel is in no way opposed to the Law. He goes on to say, “Nor is there in Christ any novel style of discourse. When he sets forth similitudes, when he answers questions, this comes from the seventy-seventh psalm: I will open my mouth, he says, in a parable, which means a similitude: I will utter dark sayings, which means, I will explain difficulties” (Evans translation). Vinzent simply omitted the opening Latin negation (nec) and ignored the manner in which Tertullian actually sees this “not novel” manner of discourse as fulfilling a Psalm.
Second, Vinzent also attempts to support his view that Marcion wrote the first Gospel by contending that Tertullian presents Marcion as the composer of his Gospel text, but as the redactor of Paul’s epistles. Vinzent writes “He [Tertullian] even terms Marcion the ‘gospel-author’, or as E. Evans translates evangelizator, ‘gospel-maker’, and as the German translator V. Luker [sic, Lukas] renders it ‘Evangelienschreiber’” (p. 92).
This interpretation of evangelizator referring to Marcion being a Gospel writer in the manner envisioned by Vinzent, however, strikes me as curious. Vinzent is referring to Marc. 4.4.5 where Tertullian, after stating that heretical emending of the gospel is due to human temerity and not divine authority, comments “even if Marcion were an angel, he is more likely to be called anathema than gospel-maker, seeing he has preached a different gospel” (translation Evans). Tertullian clearly has Gal 1:8 in mind where Paul addresses the proclamation of a gospel contrary to what he had proclaimed to the Galatians. It seems to me that Tertullian’s meaning here, therefore, is that Marcion has proclaimed a gospel message, one that Tertullian views as a different gospel from the message that he regards as valid and true.
Even if the idea is that Marcion “made” or “created” a gospel, this does not support Vinzent’s view that Marcion was the creator of the Gospel-genre. Indeed, in Adversus Marcionem Tertullian makes only one further reference to an evangelizator and two references to evangelizatores (plural). In Marc. 5.5.1, Tertullian refers to Paul as an evangelizator; in Marc. 5.7.11 he refers to true evangelizatores of the gospel; and in 5.19.5 he refers to Judaizing evagelizatores. In all of these instances, Tertullian rather clearly appears to be referring to the proclamation and preaching of a gospel message, not to writing Gospels. For, of course, if evangelizator means Gospel-writer in Vinzent’s sense, then according to Tertullian, Paul and not Marcion was the first to write a Gospel! Such speculation, however, seems unnecessary as there is no need to read Vinzent’s notion of “authorship” and “writing” into Tertullian’s reference to Marcion as an evangelizator; indeed, it seems highly dubious to do so.
A final point to be made here is that in Marc. 5.1.9 Tertullian explicitly states that Marcion’s treatment of the Gospel text that he has now made into his own heretical Gospel leads one to expect the mutilation of the number of Paul’s epistles. That is to say, in Tertullian’s view, the whittling down of Paul’s epistles from thirteen to ten comes as no surprise given Marcion’s excising of passages in the Gospel text. In short, it does not seem that the radical difference posited by Vinzent between Tertullian’s view of Marcion as “writer” of the Gospel on the one hand and “redactor” of the epistles on the other can be sustained. According to Tertullian, Marcion “wrote” his Gospel in the same way that he “wrote” his Pauline letter collection—by changing, editing, and excising already extant texts.
To summarize, I simply do not see Tertullian supporting the notions Vinzent ascribes to him. Once again, however, I welcome the renewed interest in Marcion and his Gospel. Yet, scholarship requires careful, methodologically controlled, and critical work on both Marcion’s Gospel and the sources, as it is only on such a basis that the discussion can move forward in a constructive way.
 Markus Vinzent, Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels (Studia patristica supplement 2; Leuven: Peeters, 2014).