Wednesday, August 30, 2017
The first real "heretic" of Christianity was a man named "Marcion" who saw the radical difference between the God of the Old Testament scriptures and the God revealed by Jesus.
But this was not his heresy. In fact, many -if not all- early Christians also saw this same radical difference between the two testimonies of God's nature.
What's more, all of those early Christians also rejected the violence of God in the Old Testament scriptures and fully embraced the radical enemy-love taught by Jesus.
There are no dissenting voices in the early Christian church when it comes to non-violence and enemy love whatsoever.
So, what was Marcion's heresy? It was his solution for responding to the differing perspectives of God between those two Testaments that got him labeled a heretic.
Marcion's solution was to literally throw out the entire Old Covenant and to claim that the God revealed in those Hebrew scriptures was actually a demon.
[Now, that's a heresy!]
When another early Church Father wrote to rebuke Marcion's extreme response, it was not to dismiss the idea that there were obvious differences between the way God was viewed in the two Covenants.
In fact, Origen agreed with Marcion that there were differences between God as Moses and the other Prophets spoke of Him and the "Abba" Father God as revealed through Jesus.
The most surprising thing about Origen's rebuke of Marcion was that he realized that the heresy was rooted in one thing: Reading the Bible literally.
The reason that is so surprising - even ironic - is that there are Christians today who insist on reading the Bible literally and yet still consider Marcion a heretic.
In other words, today's Bible Literalists see Marcionism as a heresy even though the sin of Marcionism is specifically defined by Origen as reading the Bible too literally.
What they miss is that no one considered Marcionism a heresy for claiming that Jesus was right about who God was and what God looked like.
Every early Christian embraced that idea. All of them.
The idea that Jesus was - and is - the clearest picture anyone could ever have of God was universally accepted by the early Christian Church.
This was not heresy. It was Christianity.
Origen agreed with Marcion that a literal view of God as seen in the Old Testament scriptures "would not be entertained regarding the most unjust and cruel of men" and went on to say:
"Holy Scripture is not understood by [Marcion] according to its spiritual, but according to its literal meaning" [De Principiis, Origen, 4.8-9]
In other words, Marcion went off the rails because he read the Bible too literally. By reading the Bible literally, Marcion could not reconcile the God of Moses - who commanded genocide and delighted in the dashing of infants against the rocks - and the God of Jesus - who showed love and mercy to the just and the unjust and forgave sinners freely.
Therefore, Marcion could only do one thing: He jettisoned the entire Hebrew Bible and rejected the God he read about there as a demonic aberration of Jesus' "Abba" Father God.
But, as Origen and the other Church Fathers demonstrated, there is a better way than this.
Instead of taking everything we read in the Old Testament about God as a literal fact - as if those words are dictated by God and transcribed by dispassionate observers with no bias of their own - we should read those scriptures through the lens of Jesus.
Jesus is our best and most accurate testament of who God really is.
Rejecting Marcionism needs to include a rejection of a literal reading of the Old Testament scriptures.
NOTE: Special thanks to Derek Flood's book "Disarming Scripture" for a comparison of Origen and Marcion.