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Marcionite Tampering with Paul

“Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the gospel preached by him [i.e., by Paul].” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1 (180 AD)

Paul’s Epistles Drop Into History As A Single Canon at 200 AD

Paul’s surviving epistles emerge all at once in a recently uncovered manuscript dating to around 200 AD. There is not a single scrap before that very late date unless one counts Marcion's 10 Pauline epistles of 144 AD as the true and accurate originals. At that point of 200 AD, the Pauline epistles emerge as one unified copy in a single book known as the P46 manuscript published in 1935-1937. These epistles were the book of Romans, Hebrews (“almost always included in the Pauline corpus as far as ancient manuscripts are concerned”), 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Thessalonians (ends at 5:28).1 The other epistles were originally present but are missing, detectable by the size of the pages, the numbering used, etc. The missing epistles are 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, and the pastoral letters. Id. Romans is missing up through 5:17. 

What explains that there is no prior repository of Pauline materials? And that they first appear in a unified form? Could it be a highly motivated group of heretics—the Marcionites—had access to those Pauline writings, collected all the known manuscripts, and then published them as a corpus with blatant and easily detectable variances from Luke and Acts? And that later Christians did not have the strength of manuscript copies of Paul’s letters to dispute the Marcionite-circulated “Epistles of Paul”? 

 No Incongruities Up to 180 AD

Irenaeus in the quote above from 180 AD understands Paul’s Gospel delivered orally and in his writings is the same gospel as Luke records. Irenaeus knows of no doctrine in Paul that varies from Luke’s Gospel. Irenaeus also likely meant this was true for Acts—which was part of Luke’s Gospel then, but now is separated and called Acts. Nothing in Acts would then have contradicted anything in Paul’s epistles.

So let’s assume that Paul’s Epistles as of 180 AD matched Luke’s Gospel, and these Pauline epistles also matched the book of Acts. 

Radical Variances As of 200 AD

But something must have radically changed between what Irenaeus is reading as Paul's epistles and what is produced as whole clothe in 200 AD. It is such a radical difference that evangelicals insist that the Paul of his epistles can only be reconciled to Jesus in Luke and the other gospels by insisting Jesus’ teachings belong to a gospel dispensation of Law (or “kingdom gospel”), and that Paul’s teachings belong to a succeeding gospel of grace which is alone valid today. We have all heard of this ‘dispensational’ explanation for why Jesus’ teachings are not true for our time.

As to the gospel variances, they are glaring and unmistakable. Luke’s account depicts Jesus as a law-endorsing Sabbath-keeper who criticizes Pharisees for failing to follow the Law except tithing; that Luke’s Jesus depicts a faith and salvation that can be lost by sin; and a Jesus who describes justification is by repentance from sin, not faith alone. See Luke's Gospel is a Non-Pauline Gospel.

Rather than look in the direction of a tampering hand to explain these blatant variances, evangelical scholars tell us that before Paul was the Gospel of the Law, but after Paul met the risen Christ, Jesus through Paul now delivered a Gospel of Grace. This latter gospel is supposedly the more valid dispensation. In this gospel of grace, justification is now by faith, not repentance from sin as in Luke; the law is done away with (or is for a later time) and we need not follow Sabbath and cannot lose our salvation for sin against the Law, unlike what Jesus taught in Luke, etc. Paul alone supposedly found our “liberty” in Christ by communing with the Risen Christ.

For example, in a book review of Dr. Dubose’s Gospel in the Gospels, the reviewer quoted Dr. Dubose as follows:

“[T]he Gospel, as [Paul] understands it, is not the teaching of Jesus while on earth, nor even His life on earth, but the work and the Person of the Risen Christ...The Risen Christ is St. Paul’s Gospel.” And thus, only the Risen Christ gives us the true gospel, and this Dubose claims, is “best stated by Apostle Paul.”2

Evangelical scholars have also recognized blatant and strong variances between Paul’s Epistles and Acts. The most renown evangelical expert on Acts, R.B.Rackham,3 explained some time ago — a point whch has been strengthened by scholarship since:

It is clear that the writer [Luke] has not used our Epistles of St. Paul as his authorities. They can be fitted in, but there was no special desire of illustrating or even harmonizing with them. This is evident from some apparent discrepancies, especially between the Acts and Galatians. If St. Luke wrote at a date when the Epistles were the public property of the Church and widely read, we cannot imagine his leaving such inconsistencies in their present form. ...The letters of St. Paul were numerous, our Epistles had not won their pre-eminent position, and as yet they were the private property of the Churches to whom they were addressed....St. Luke was writing at a time when the Epistle to the Galatians was not yet widely circulated. That Epistle contained the record of St. Paul's ‘secret history’ poured out to his apostate children.4

How are such variances resolved? Because no one has considered the possibility of tampering before the 200 AD mail-drop of Paul’s epistles neatly bundled on our doorstep, they have chosen by and large to conclude Luke erred.5

However, this implicitly denies the plenary inspiration of Luke. Why do they take this route? Because the alternative is unthinkable—it would admit the Pauline epistles lack such inspiration. But what if the Pauline-inspiration assumption only were applied to what is not tampered with, measured by what is at odds with Luke’s Gospel, including Acts? This would be proper and healthy for the church. Because this would give us a good reason to conform Paul back to Jesus’ Gospel. We can end this dispensational nightmare that has given us a “Christianity without Christ” as Bonhoeffer said in Cost of Discipleship about the dispensational theology that now is rampant. 

Marcionite Doctrines Tell Us What Are Areas of Tampering

It is fairly easy to identify the tampering by the Marcionites if they had the opportunity. Their doctrines are well-known, and were excoriated in the early church. You will be surprised though to learn what they were. Or maybe not!

The Marcionite group’s key tenets were that all the Mosaic law is abrogated (except they fasted on Sabbath);6 that faith alone saves; that subsequent disobedience does not matter to your salvation; there are two salvation dispensations—one where Jesus, the Son of God, is our God while the old dispensation belongs to the God of the Jews, and does not apply to the Gentiles.

The Marcionite canon was what Tertullian called a “mutilated” version of Luke, and Paul’s Epistles. The book of Acts was not included. Hence, the Marcionites never took the time to mutilate Acts, and thus potentially left behind a history that would prove their additions to the Epistles of Paul were false inserts, demonstrable by the variances in the book of Acts and unmutilated versions of Luke. 

Paul’s Epistolic Anti-Law Statements versus Acts & Luke: Additions?

Let’s take the most controversial point of all to illustrate the case for Marcionite Tampering: whether Paul truly said in his epistles that the Law was abrogated, done away with etc. These verses are:

  • Eph. 2:15 ("setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations");
  • Col. 2:14 ("having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out that way, nailing it to the cross;")
  • 2 Cor. 3:14 ("old covenant");
  • Romans 7:2 (God’s wife Israel “loosed” from the Law);
  • Rom. 10:4 ("Christ is the end of the law");
  • Col.2:14-17 ("a shadow");
  • 2 Cor. 3:9 (ministration of condemnation);
  • Col. 2:14 ("wiped out" exaleipsas);
  • Gal.3:19, 4:8-9 ("given by angels...who are no gods [and are] weak and beggarly celestial beings/elements").

All these quotes come dropped all at once on our door-step at 200 AD, as noted earlier.

Now let’s refresh our memory about Irenaeus from 180 AD. Did he know of all these passages? He says:

“Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the gospel preached by him [i.e., by Paul].” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1 (180 AD)

Irenaeus’ View of 180 AD on Continuing Authority of Decalogue aka Ten Commandments

So did Irenaeus know of such material in Paul when he said this? He could not have at all, for Irenaeus said: “If any one does not observe [the Ten Commandments], he has no salvation” (4.15.1; ANF 1:479). He continues:

The decalogue [Ten Commandments] however was not cancelled by Christ, but is always in force: men were never released from its commandments. ("Against Heresies," Ante-Nicene Fathers, Bk. IV, Ch. XVI, at 480)

This was actually a heading. In the text, Irenaeus explains:

Preparing man for this life, the Lord Himself did speak in His own person to all alike the words of the Decalogue [i.e., Ten Commandments]; and therefore, in like manner, do they remain permanently with us, receiving by means of His advent in the flesh, extension and increase, but not abrogation. (Book 4 Ch .16.4.)

Irenaeus similarly said in the same context:

“The commands of the old covenant, as epitomized in the Decalogue, since they were functional before Moses (AH 4.15.1; 4.16.3), remain authoritative in the new covenant (AH 4.16.1). Christ does not contradict the Ten Words. He fulfills and expands them (AH 4.13.1).”7

In Irenaeus’ attack on Marcion, he cited Matthew 5:20 to prove Jesus had every intention the Law must continue. This passage proved that Marcion committed a heresy by teaching that the gospel was “in opposition to and overturning of the [Law] of the past.” (Irenaeus Against Heresies Bk. IV.)8

Even while attacking Marcion, Irenaeus has no moment whether he must address Paul, and what he teaches. Marcion is not quoting Paul in 180 AD when Irenaeus is writing. Doesn’t this tell us that Marcion’s rebuttal to Ireneaus was to fabricate verses in Paul, collect all the manuscripts he could, and then isolate Irenaeus to have nothing upon which Irenaeus could rely except Jesus?

Thus, could it be in 180 AD these epistles of Paul were not circulating enough that Marcion himself simply taught the Law’s abrogation, and did not yet rely upon Paul?

Paul in Book of Acts On the Law

Now we must see whether Irenaeus could knowingly say in 180 AD that Paul’s Epistles teach the same gospel of Jesus about the Law with what Irenaeus would know from Luke’s Gospel, including Acts.

If one reads Acts, Paul is only against circumcision applying to a Gentile for salvation. See Acts 15. This is not too surprising because Leviticus 12:1-3 says it only applies to “sons of Israel,” and in Exodus 12:48, it applies to a Gentile only if he wishes voluntarily to participate in a Passover service. Then once the Temple was built, a prophet said that only a Gentile who wished to enter the Temple had to be circumcised. See Ezekiel 44:9.

Thus, Paul in Acts up through Acts 15 is not claiming circumcision is abrogated—he is construing the command narrowly. James, the bishop of Jerusalem, agreed, and in Acts 21 clarified to Paul that the ruling in Acts 15 still requires Jews to be circumcised. Paul did not disagree, and in fact conformed to James’ request to comply with a Numbers 6 vow to correct the negative impression among those who thought Paul was an “apostate,” apparently misunderstanding that Paul taught even Jews did not have to keep circumcision.

Next in Acts 24:14, Paul affirms the Law entirely in the courtroom with Felix, a Roman ruler, where Paul is standing trial, and is thus under oath:

14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets....(Acts 24:14 NIV.)

This was a trial to determine whether Paul was to blame for Trophimus entering the temple in an uncircumcised state. Thus, Paul is also alluding to what is written by the prophets—the source of the command against a Gentile entering the temple in an uncircumcised state. (Ezekiel 44:9.) Hence, Paul is clearly affirming he believes in all the commands in the Prophets, including Ezekiel 44:9. As a result, Paul must be equally affirming his belief in the continuing validity of all the Law in the Torah, because he links his statement about the Prophets to the Law: “I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets....”

Luke’s Gospel on the Law as of 180 AD

Of course, Paul’s Epistles as of 180 AD according to Irenaeus also did not contradict the Jesus of Luke’s Gospel. So what did Jesus say in Luke about the Law?

First, Luke's Gospel contains another time than just Matt 5:17-19 where Jesus says not one jot or title of the Law will expire until heaven and earth pass away. In Luke's Gospel, Jesus says this another time in an another setting. See Luke 16:17. And in the next few verses, Jesus applies a passage of the Mosaic law. Thus, clearly Luke tells of a distinctly different event with a message similar to Matt 5:17-19 where Jesus again teaches on the continuity of the Law in the New Covenant. Luke 16:16-17 reads in pertinent part:

16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. (Luke 16:16-17 NIV.)

Matthew's similar quotation in chapter five is within the Sermon on the Mount. By contrast, Luke 16 is clearly at a different time when Jesus' disciples alone gather around Jesus. This is ten chapters after Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6:20-49.

In addition, most scholars agree the Sermon on the Mount in Luke is an exposition on the Ten Commandments even though often discussed as paraphrases.

Finally, Jesus’ message to the rich young ruler who asked how to have eternal life was a law-based answer. In Luke 18:18-29 NIV we read:

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’[a]”

Incidentally, Marcion had this passage in his version of Luke’s Gospel, but removed the word “eternal” and so Tertullian in 207 AD commented.

In the heretical gospel life only is mentioned, without the attribute eternal. (Tertullian, Against Marcion (207 AD) Book I, ch. XXVI, loc. 3432.)

Tertullian says the implication of Marcion's alteration is that the Law-based answer was simply intended by Jesus to explain how to “prolong” this life. Tertullian proves that in context the young man was asking about “eternal life.” Thus, Tertullian concludes Jesus taught the obedience to the Law was the key to eternal life. (Book I, ch. XXVI, loc. 3432.)

Today the church simply ignores this passage in Luke in faithful adherence to Paul’s epistles as untampered with and 100% valid.

But you can see now that it is impossible Paul’s negative view of the entire Law was known to Irenaeus when he affirmed that Luke’s Gospel contained the same gospel as Paul. Instead, Luke’s Gospel and the book of Acts teach a different gospel about the Law — including straight from Paul’s mouth in Acts 24:14.

It does seem very possible that Paul’s epistles, when dropped in a single bundle on our door-step in 200 AD, was filtered by the Marcionites. Since one of Marcion’s doctrines was the abrogation of the Mosaic law, predictably Paul’s Epistles that first appear 200 AD reflect such a doctrine. Yet, Irenaeus if well-informed about Paul’s epistles when he said in 180 AD that they are reflected in Luke’s Gospel could not have known of such passages. Nor could Irenaeus endorse keeping the Ten Commandments for Christians, as he clearly did, unless he either knew of Pauline epistles that did not have such verses. The latter appears the better explanation.

 

Future Discussion

In the future, I will detail more potential evidence that each major doctrine of Marcionites was implanted in Paul rather than originated with Paul. This includes faith alone; justification by faith; etc.

This does not make all the problems go away with Paul. I think one doctrine that had a lawless tendency that came from Paul, not the Marcionites, was eternal security. This is because Paul in his four inheritance warnings is combatting that some people think he is teaching eternal security, and he keeps repeating that is not his meaning. Well, this means that unless eternal security had any arguable passages, then why would Paul give the four inheritance warnings to try to combat something he said before, and that he is misunderstood? The Marcionites did not clear out the inheritance warnings because these passages are not the clearest in diction either.

Also, I believe the anti-Sabbath statements are original to Paul because (a) the Marcionites were apparently not anti-Sabbath, as they fasted on Sabbath; and (b) Tertullian in 207 AD is aware Paul “abrogates” keeping the Sabbath, even while Tertullian later says Jesus was in favor of keeping Sabbath although with good works authorized which was “always” its meaning. (Against Marcion 1.12; 1:20; 5.19.) As long as Tertullian is likely relying upon a non-Marcionite version of Paul, then Paul originally had an anti-Sabbath view. Those passages are likely not added by Marcionites.

And there are many doctrines of Paul that are clearly not Marcionite, such as the poor should not be given food unless they work for it, etc.. Such passages are thus clearly Paul’s views alone.

Hence, in the future, we will consider the possibility of removing Marcionite tampering passages, to reconstruct the Paul passages that were original.

 

FOOTNOTES


1. David Trobisch, Paul's Letter Collection (Quiet Water Publications, 2001) at 13 (year 200); 14 (P46 is oldest manuscript of Paul's letters); 16 (Romans begins 5:17; Thessalonians ends 5:28); 23 (oldest manuscripts of Paul begins with P46; Ephesians lacks the 1:1 address); Daniel B. Wallace, Some Notes on the Earliest Manuscript of Paul’s Letters (2013) http://danielbwallace.com/2013/06/08/some-notes-on-the-earliest-manuscript-of-pauls-letters/ (Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts). “[T]he consensus continues that it was produced c. 200 CE.”

2. “Dr. Dubose’s Gospel in the Gospels,” Sewanee Review (University of the South: 1907) at 113.

3. Richard Beiward Rackham was a highly prolific evangelical scholar, writing Acts of the Apostles:An Exposition (1901); Authority in the Matter of Faith (with Baptist scholar, A. Robertson); The Voice of the Church and the Bishops (1896), etc.

4. R.B. Rackham, “The Acts of the Apostles, A Plea for an Early Date,” Journal of Theological Studies (London: MacMillan, 1900) Vol. 1 at 84.

5. In “Historical Reliability of Book of Acts,” Wikipedia (2013), we read: “A key contested issue is the historicity of Luke’s depiction of Paul. According to the majority viewpoint, Acts described Paul differently from how Paul describes himself, both factually and theologically.[4] Acts differed with Paul’s letters on important issues, such as the Law, Paul’s own apostleship, and his relation to the Jerusalem church.[5] Scholars generally prefer Paul’s account over that in Acts.[6]

6. The Marcionites were not anti-Sabbath. “There is no ambiguity in Marcionite sources, for Marcionites fasted on sabbath itself.” (Epiphanius Pan. XLII.3, cited in Gerhard May, Marcion and His Impact on Church History (Walter Gruyter, 2002) at 217.

7. See Ligon Duncan, “Irenaeus of Lyons - A True Radical Orthodox Theologian,” Reformation 21 (2006) at http://www.reformation21.com.

8. Irenaeus had an interesting view of Sabbath that was consistent with the Ten Commandments. He said Jesus as a priest could work on Sabbath as a priest —a recognized exception to the Sabbath command, and thus, we as priests after him, could do likewise, I.e., perform priestly works. This is not claiming the Sabbath Command is abrogated, but claiming an exception to the Sabbath principle applies to all Christians. See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.8.2-3; ANF 1:471.