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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[1] 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.

[1] Markus Vinzent, Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels (Studia patristica supplement 2; Leuven: Peeters, 2014).

How We Roll Here: A Reminder

As new readers are continually coming to this blog site, I give a reminder of “how we roll here” (i.e., the rules for comments, etc.).  These are stated under the tab marked “About Me and This Site.”  Among them, we use real names here, just as we do in live social conversation.  You know who I am, so please identify yourself.  Cutesy blog-names aren’t acceptable, and I can never figure out how/why that sort of thing got started anyway.  (And, please, that isn’t an invitation for extended comments on the use of such devices.)

Also, speak to the issue dealt with in the posting, and try to avoid introducing extraneous issues.  In particular, those who seem to have some “hobby horse” should refrain from trying to wedge it into discussions where it isn’t the posting topic.

And be concise.  This isn’t a soap-box for extended perorations.  Express your question, or make your point, concisely and to the point.

Those who want to operate in other ways, who want to sound off on subjects (typically, on which they aren’t at all qualified), or who want to try to inject some extraneous issue, or who just want to play “silly buggers” are invited to go to sites where they can do so.

Jesus Research: New Volume

For those interested in latest developments in “Jesus-research” (which = especially research on the historical figure of Jesus), a recent volume comes recommended: James H. Charlesworth (ed.), Jesus Research: New Methodologies and Perceptions. The Second Princeton-Prague Symposium on Jesus Research. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014.  The publisher’s online catalogue entry is here..

Especially in a time when old-and-long-ago-refuted ideas of a “mythical” Jesus are again circulating (this time, thanks to the Internet, with rapidity and without critique, and with little awareness that they’re not new), I sometimes get asked what do scholars in the main think of matters.  This multi-author volume will serve as an indication of what scholarship in the field is up to, what methods are used, what texts are studied, and, generally, what conclusions seem cogent.

Textual Transmission of NT Writings in the Second Century

The recent postings by Dieter Roth on Marcion’s Gospel reflect wider questions about how the writings that now form the familiar NT regarded and transmitted, especially in the second century.  It is all too easy to play a “what if” game, postulating this or that theory.  Our data are frustratingly limited, but sufficient, I think, to allow us to proceed with some guarded confidence.  And these data also enable us to assess various proposals about these wider questions.  I’ll simply mention here a few resources for those seriously interested in the questions (and not simply posers), and offer a few observations/results of such studies.

Perhaps the crucial work now is the multi-author volume:  The Early Text of the New Testament, eds. Charles E. Hill & Michael J. Kruger (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2012).  In addition to overviews of key questions, such as Kruger’s discussion, “Early Christian Attitudes toward the Reproduction of Texts” (pp. 63-80), there are detailed analyses of the textual history of each of the main NT writings by competent textual historians.  There are also studies of a host of related matters, such as Hill’s discussion of “Methods and Standards of Literary Borrowing in the Second Century,” Paul Foster on “The Text of the NT in the Apostolic Fathers,” Dieter Roth on “Marcion and the Early NT Text,” Joseph Verheyden on “Justin’s Text of the Gospels,” Tijtze Baarda on “Tatian’s Diatessaron and the Greek Text of the Gospels,” Stanley Porter on “Early Apocryphal Gospels and the NT Text,” Jeffrey Bingham & Billy Todd on “Irenaeus’ Text of the Gospels in Adversus haereses,” and Carl Cosaert on “Clement of Alexandria’s Gospel Citation.”  And each essay is rich with citation and engagement with the abundant other scholarly literature and views on each topic.

On a more modest scale, I’ll also refer to my own essay published several years ago: Larry W. Hurtado, “The New Testament in the Second Century: Text, Collections and Canon,” in Transmission and Reception: New Testament Text-Critical and Exegetical Studies, edited by J. W. Childers and D. C. Parker (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2006), 3-27.   As suggested by the sub-title, I discuss various historical factors that likely helped to shape the transmission of the NT writings in that early period.  The pre-publication version is available on this blog site here.

To make some basic observations:

  • There are indications that some of the familiar NT writings were being treated as scriptures by ca. 100 CE (perhaps even a bit earlier), esp. epistles of Paul, and not much later at least some of the canonical Gospels (and perhaps all four).
  • The extant remains of early manuscripts, which may take us back into the late 2nd century, show variations in copyist attitudes and abilities, and variations in the texts copied.  But these variations are actually quite small and unremarkable.  None of the major variants are attested.  These data suggest (1) it is unlikely that there was some centralized recension of NT writings that artificially obscured an earlier and greater diversity in text, and (2) there is no indication of a “wild” copying tendency or a readiness to change the texts in any major manner.  It is interesting that, although we commonly presume that major variants such as the “Pericope Adulterae” (John 7:53–8:12) and the “Long ending” of Mark were added to copies of the respective Gospels in the second century, we have no extant manuscript from the earliest centuries with either variant.

So, my final plea is that we formulate our theories “upward” from the extant data, not by starting with some “what if” notion and then force-fitting everything to suit the hunch.  It’s more boring, maybe, but it’s also more scientific and likely to achieve something valid.



Marcion and Methodology–Roth #2

(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.

A Newly-Published Detailed Study of Codex Alexandrinus

Codex Alexandrinus is a fifth-century “pandect,” that is, the Greek Old Testament and the Greek New Testament writings in one manuscript.  From its original provenance (still uncertain), it came to England in 1627, presented to King Charles I as a gift by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lucar, and is now housed in the British Library (London).  Alexandrinus is well known to students of the Greek NT, especially those who study NT textual history and textual variants.  It is the “fountain head” of what became the “Byzantine” text-type of the Gospels.  But, as strange as it may seem, there has been no study of the codex of equivalent depth prior to the newly-published work by  W. Andrew Smith:  A Study of the Gospels in Codex Alexandrinus: Codicology, Palaeography, and Scribal Hands (Leiden: Brill, 2014).  The publisher’s online catalogue entry here.

Smith, a recently-minted PhD, whom I supervised here, has produced what will now certainly be the “must consult” study on practically all aspects of this famous codex.  I recall reading his work as he handed it in, chapter-by-chapter, but seeing it in published form (and kitted out with additional data not included in the thesis) I’m again impressed with his dedication to the project and to the quality of what he produced.  It is not practical here to mention more than some larger results of his study, and I assure you that there is much more of interest than I can relate here.  His analysis yields conclusions that require some ideas held earlier to be revised.

His detailed study of the features of the handwriting leads him to insist that we can no longer hold confidently to an Egyptian provenance for the manuscript.  Using a combination of palaeographical analysis and statistical analysis of various copyist devices, he contends also that there were three copyists involved in producing the NT writings, two who copied the Gospels and much of the NT, and a third copyist who produced Revelation (correcting the judgements of a number of previous scholars such as Kenyon,  Skeat and Milne).

One of the features of Alexandrinus is the abundance of para-textual features (what Smith refers to as “a rich feature set”), including black and red inks, marked quotations from the OT, a chapter-numbering system, the “Eusebian Canons,” and “supplemental texts” such as the Odes, the Hypotheses, the epistles of Clement, and the Psalms of Solomon.

As well, there are features intended to facilitate the (most likely liturgical) reading of the manuscript, such as division of the text into paragraphs, initial vowels marked with a “diaeresis” (looks like a German Umlaut), unusual word endings marked with a book or apostrophe, liberal use of punctuation and “paragraphus” marks to indicate breaks in lists, sentences and portions of text.

As well as giving now the most in-depth study of Alexandrinus available (with special focus on the Gospels), Smith has also produced what I think must be seen as a model for the detailed analysis of other important manuscripts.  I’m pleased and proud to have served as supervisor for this landmark project.


Roth on Vinzent on Marcion

(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).

REF Results and Research in the UK

In December 2014 results of the UK “Research Excellence Framework” (REF) were released, and now the funding councils for England & Wales and for Scotland are making decisions in light of these results.  The REF is the latest version of the periodic ordeal suffered by UK scholars and universities in which departments submit up to four publications (from the preceding period since the previous such review) of each member of academic staff who is “submitted” for the review.  These publications are rated by committees appointed for the particular subject areas/disciplines (or combinations of smaller fields of study) on a scale of 0 to 4 (4 = a publication of international significance that contributes in some noteworthy way to knowledge of a given subject, i.e., the sort of publication that everyone working on the topic should read and that will likely be cited for years/decades to come).

The REF exercise (formerly called the “Research Assessment Exercise” or RAE) produces ratings of departments, not named individuals.  UK universities are funded by public funds in two streams or “envelopes”:  A certain amount per student (the teaching “envelope”) and a certain amount in the research “envelope.”  The latter amount is calculated by the funding councils using REF results.  Indeed, the major point of the whole exercise is to give the funding councils a way of judging how much of the latter “envelope” to award to each university.

There are also some curious features of this whole exercise that show that it really has little to commend it as an academic assessment of publications and departments.

For example, these committees are expected to judge publications that in a good many cases have been published only short months (or even weeks) before the submission deadline.  How a committee can judge in advance that a given publication is to become seen, for example, as discipline-changing so early in the life of the publication is a mystery to me.  But, it’s what the government says must be done, and so . . . it’s done.

There is also some game-playing by university departments.  As I’ve noted, the results don’t name individuals, but give a department-based assessment.  Departments want to obtain a high rating, of course, both because of the prestige factor (the results typically used in advertising and recruitment) and because there are the financial consequences mentioned already.  Departments, however, are free to submit as many or as few of their academic staff as they wish.  So, if a given department has only some, or a few, people whose publications are likely to get high ratings, they can submit only these people, hoping to get a collective high rating for the department.

But the announced results don’t indicate what percentage of members of a department have been submitted.  In Divinity here in Edinburgh, we submitted 90% of academic staff this time.  But some places submitted much smaller percentages.  This could give a misleading impression, the REF results perhaps reflecting the research of only a small portion of a given department.  (Prospective postgraduate students take note.)

So far as biblical studies is concerned, this REF got off initially to a curious start.  When the committee was initially announced, there was no one recognizable as a contributing biblical scholar on it.  After strong representations to the body responsible for the REF (English Higher Education Funding Council) and the chair of the relevant committee, eventually two respected biblical scholars were added to the committee.  This was a curious situation because I am reliably told that in this REF the publications in biblical studies comprised some 19% of the total of published works submitted in Theology and Religious Studies.  Given that this committee received submissions in all areas of, and approaches to, religion studies and in all religions, that 19% has got to be one of the largest single subject areas, if not (perhaps) the largest.  Anyway, it’s done, and now the funding councils will apportion funds according to their chosen policies.  As Emeritus Professor, I’m out of the whole ordeal now, and thoroughly sympathetic with colleagues who aren’t.


Marcion’s Text of the Gospel of Luke

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.

Middleton on Martyrdom in Mark and Revelation

Paul Middleton offers a tightly argued and stimulating essay on early Christians’ attitudes toward suffering (for their faith/Jesus) and martyrdom:  “Christology, Martyrdom, and Vindication in the Gospel of Mark and the Apocalypse:  Two New Testament Views,” in Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism:  Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado, eds. Chris Keith & Dieter T. Roth (London:  Bloombury T&T Clark, 2015), 219-37.

Middleton (one of my former PhD students) is now the “go-to guy” on early Christian martyrdom, with a number of valuable and informed studies of the subject, including these:  Radical Martyrdom and Cosmic Conflict in Early Christianity (London:  T&T Clark, 2006); Martyrdom:  A Guide for the Perplexed (London:  T&T Clark, 2011); and “Early Christian Voluntary Martyrdom:  A Statement for the Defence,” Journal of Theological Studies 64 (2013): 556-73.

In the first part of the essay in question, Middleton reviews some major issues about early Christian martyrdom, taking what I regard as sound and balanced stances on some controversial issues.  For example, in response to some scholars’ minimizing of the incidences of state-sponsored executions of Christians, he rightly notes that, though “imperial persecution” (i.e., empire-wide) was sporadic, “local prosecution” (by magistrates such as Pliny) needs to be taken into account as well:  “To insist upon a persecution/prosecution distinction is artificial; to the Romans all actions taken against Christians were prosecution for misdemeanour rather than persecution, while Christians would interpret all such action as manifestations of the suffering anticipated in the NT on account of Jesus’ name” (221).

Noting that early Christian texts typically present Christian martyrdom as a kind of re-enactment of Jesus’ execution (perhaps the first example of this the Stephen episode in Acts 7, followed by a number of other texts, particularly evidence in Ignatius of Antioch’s letters), he observes how suffering (variously) for Jesus’ sake is likewise treated in light of, and connected to Jesus’ own “passion.”  He also notes, however, that “not all early Christians appear to have placed the same value on suffering and martyrdom” (225).  Seconding an earlier study by Elaine Pagels, he judges, “There is, therefore, a clear correlation between an early Christian group’s view of the Passion [Jesus’ own suffering/death] and their attitude to martyrdom” (227).  The “less enthusiastic” for Christian martyrdom also tended to be those who thought that Jesus did not really suffer (so-called “docetic” Christians).

The second part of Middleton’s essay (227-37) is a survey of the treatment of Christian suffering/martyrdom in the Gospel of Mark and in Revelation.  He makes a contrast between these two writings:  Mark emphasizes the necessity to follow Jesus in suffering and “take up the cross” also, with very little explicitly stated as the reward, whereas Revelation emphasizes both the looming danger of martyrdom and also proffers explicit rewards for those who are faithful through suffering/martyrdom.  I grant that he makes a case successfully that these two writings treat the topic differently, at least as to emphasis.  But I think that he reads Mark overly bleakly, not doing justice to some texts and (in my view) misreading one or two others.

For example, Middleton judges that the reader of Mark “has to imagine the vindication of Jesus which takes place beyond the text” (231).  But at various points readers are assured that Jesus will both suffer and be raised (by God).  E.g., texts often referred to as “passion predictions” are more accurately “passion-resurrection predictions” 8:31; 9:31; 10:32-34, reflective of a curious monocular tendency in Markan scholarship.  Likewise, the transfiguration episode (Mark 9:2-13) includes Jesus’ reference to his resurrection (which the text highlights by having the disciples puzzled over the matter), and in Mark 14:27 again Jesus foretells his resurrection and renewed leadership.  Finally, in 16:7-8 the mysterious youth announces to the stunned women at the tomb that Jesus has been raised bodily, and that they will again see him in Galilee.  So, I’d say that readers of Mark should have little doubt that Jesus has been vindicated and what form that vindication has taken.  Consequently,in my view,  the hope of believers is not quite so contentless as Middleton claims.  In short(as Middleton seems to have suspected), I don’t find Mark quite as “bleak” as he does.  But I’d guess that his view is more widely shared among Mark scholars than mine is.  So take that into account.

But, our somewhat different “take” on Mark aside, I reiterate my praise for this fine essay.  He certainly shows differences among various early Christians on the subject of suffering & martyrdom.  I’m honoured to have been Paul’s supervisor, and pleased and honoured to have this fine essay included in this volume.


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