Sunday, November 29, 2015

Recommend-a-blog (15)

Marcion’s favourite interpretative technique
Marcion of Sinope was quite a character.

Wikipedia calls him “an important leader in early Christianity”; important, I guess, in the sense that his theology got him denounced by the church fathers of his day. Often described as a Gnostic, he is said to have rejected the deity described in the Hebrew scriptures and to have affirmed instead that the true God was the “Father” referred to by the Lord Jesus.

In this he foreshadowed many today who have difficulty reconciling the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New.

A Whole New Level

Marcion, however, took this to a whole different level. In his book The Canon of Scripture, F.F. Bruce describes how Marcion was so enamoured of the apostle Paul’s refusal to allow any element of law-keeping in the message of salvation that he created an edition of the Bible that omitted the Old Testament and much of the New, deleting all or parts of any verses he took to disagree with his thesis. Thus, Bruce says:
“ ‘The old is good’ (Luke 5:39) is omitted because it might be taken to imply approval of the Old Testament order. The reference to Jesus’ mother and brothers could not be retained in Luke 8:19 ([in Marcion’s view] Jesus belonged to no human family) and the description of Zacchaeus as a son of Abraham in Luke 19:9 had to go.”
Marcion’s freelance butchery of scripture was undoubtedly a catalyst in the formalizing of the New Testament canon, so some good did come of his heresy.

Marcionism Today

Neo-Marcionites of today like John Piper do not go nearly so far, at least in one sense: they would never dare to actually redact the words of scripture in their desire to demonstrate the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old. But in another way, a supersessionist reading of the Old Testament is as extreme as Marcion’s in that it appropriates to Christianity from the Law by means of allegory anything Jewish that it desires while ignoring or explaining away (though not formally deleting) anything considered undesirable (like the curses pronounced on Israel in the Pentateuch).

Ashrei and the Integrity of Scripture

On the other side of the coin entirely, we have this thoroughly intriguing blog written by a pseudonymous believing Jew that seeks to better understand the New Testament by reference to the Old.

Notwithstanding Marcion’s editorial hackwork, “Salvation,” the Lord Jesus tells us, “is from the Jews”. If you want to really understand that statement, Ashrei is a good place to read regularly.

A caution: this blog is probably not for every student of the Bible. It is HEAVY. It is also a product of diligent scholarship and reverence for the word of God, and well worth the effort involved in mining it.

Hagar Revisited

For example, the story of Hagar (which, by pure coincidence, I happened to reference here yesterday) is taken up here in a discussion of a technique of rabbinical interpretation called the midrash:
“A midrash is the Jewish way of saying that an allegorical, sermonic, or homiletic interpretation of the Scripture is about to take place. This midrash is in Galatians 4:21–31. It is difficult to understand, as all midrashim (plural of midrash) are. Its difficulty has discouraged and confounded many a Bible interpreter.

Sha’ul uses this midrash to illustrate the point he made in chapter three with his comparison of the two important covenants, the Abrahamic and Mosaic (not the old and the so-called new). Just as Abraham was putting Hagar before Sarah in order to fulfill G-d’s promises of descendants by means of his own efforts i.e. works, so there are those presently in Paul’s day who are attempting a works justification by putting Sinai (covenant of obedience) before Abraham (covenant of promise).

G-d called Abraham to a life of faith. G-d promised Abraham that He would give him children in his old age. G-d intended for the children would come through Sarah. Time went by and no children came. Apparently, Abraham thought he would attempt to secure God’s promises by his own efforts instead of relying on G-d to perform it. Thus, he had a child through Hagar. Although this was perfectly in keeping with the established customs of his day, it was not perfectly in keeping with trusting G-d. Abraham should have trusted G-d and waited for Sarah to have a child. Ishmael, therefore, was a child of works, a result of Abraham’s efforts, but Isaac was the child of faith, a result of G-d’s promise.

Paul is now midrashically applying the text of the Torah to his present situation of the Galatians and arguing that anyone who tries to secure G-d’s gracious promises of salvation and justification by obeying the Torah (going to Sinai) is not unlike Abraham trying to secure G-d’s gracious promises through his own efforts with Hagar. In the Galatian congregation, they were simply putting ‘Sinai’ before ‘Abraham,’ when they should have been putting ‘Abraham’ before ‘Sinai.’ ”

The Internet’s Anti-Marcion

If you find this sort of study beneficial, this introductory analysis of the Seven Rules of Hillel is equally illuminating.

Any set of interpretative preferences that maintains the integrity of all scripture is going to get my undivided attention.

Ashrei is pretty much the internet’s anti-Marcion.


  1. I have (and do) very much appreciate these Recommend-a-blog's. I don't always have the time to research and find good blog's on my own. When you point out a blog like this, and others, and give suggested "it's good but watch out for" warnings (as needed), they have steered my to some good stuff not only for me but others that I speak with and want some good exhorting stuff to be reading. Always more and better "filling" than cat videos, as cute as some might be. Thanks for the heads up and "vetting" these for your CU readers.

    1. Thanks for the encouraging works, Anonymous. I have to give Tom all the credit for that: he stays on top of this stuff.