Recently Atlanta pastor Andy Stanley argued that Christians should “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament. He was trying to respond to concerns that people have about difficult episodes in the history of redemption but in so doing he fell into an ancient error confronted by the church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Marcion (d. circa 160 AD) was from a wealthy family in Asia Minor (Pontus). He was a pastor’s son. He was apparently under church discipline when he fled to Rome around 140 AD, where he briefly attended services with the congregation there. He apparently gave the congregation a gift but by 144 he had been excommunicated from the Roman congregation (who returned to him the gift). As cultists often do, he used the faithful church as a base to build his own sect.
Marcion divided the Old and New Testaments radically. The Old Testament he called “Law” and the New Testament he called “Gospel.” He dismissed the “god” of the OT as a judgmental, angry demiurge. The “god” of the New Testament was said to be a god of love. He rejected much of the NT except for 10 of the Pauline epistles. He edited his own version of the gospel based on Luke. He denied the true humanity of Christ (docetism). Doubtless, this theology was driven by a desire to justify his own sin and impenitence. Contra Harnack’s stupid and flip remark, Marcion did not anticipate Luther.
Marcion was persuasive and developed a considerable following. His movement lasted for about a century as most of his followers became Manichaeans. The influence of Marcion’s ideas, however, lasted much longer. One finds echoes of them in popular evangelical teaching, as in Stanley’s remark. One often hears well-meaning Christians saying things like, “but the Old Testament is not for today.” When we lose the Old Testament we lose two-thirds of Scripture and the single most important source for the New Testament. Without knowledge of the Old Testament we will not be able to understand the New, which not only quotes and alludes to the OT almost constantly but also teaches us how to read the OT.
Chris and I discussed this question on a recent episode of Abounding Grace Radio. To anchor our discussion Chris and I discussed the revelation of God’s holiness in Isaiah chapter 6.
Here is the episode.
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