Flying High since 1998.

Adolf von Harnack, Christian Dogma, Philo of Alexandria, and Hellenism

Edited by Lewis Loflin

Introduction: Judaism moved out from its homeland and spread across the Eastern Mediterranean world. Shedding its extreme ceremonial and dietary laws, it became open to other ideas and other people. It became in reality Unitarianism and through Platonist' mystics such as Philo of Alexandria (20 BC - 50 AD)would transform the fusion of Greek philosophy and Judaism into proto-Christianity. Many of the Church Fathers were former pagan philosophers themselves.

We should note a progression from Philo, to Paul, to Marcion. While Philo to many of the Church Fathers was considered the first Christian, Marcion was declared a heretic. Marcion finished Paul's job of severing Christianity from Judaism. Most telling fact is Jews read the Old testament literally while, Gnostics, Christians, take an allegorical view. Marcion simply outright dumped the Old Testament where Christian' allegorizing did the de-facto same thing.

The Church Fathers insisted on the authority of the Old Testament God, but did not want Him or His Law. They wanted a divine intermediary in Christ, not Jesus the man or His moral teachings which went right back to Judaism. In reality with Christianity Marcion was no heretic. it's sad all the promise early Christianity could have had was poisoned by power hungry men.

The article that follows I did not write, but checks out. I had to correct a lot of spelling errors and reformat the original page to the internet. L. Loflin

Marcion's break with Judaism

This fusion, expressed in Christianity, was first enunciated by Philo of Alexandria.

In The History of Dogma, Adolf von Harnack shows the role of Philo in synthesizing Judaism with Hellenism, paving the way for Christianity. Philo's Logos theology was later adopted by the Church as Christology.

(1) Adolph Harnack, History of Dogma (2) Frederick Engels on the Role of Philo in Early Christianity (3) Philo, On the Creation (De Opficio Mundi) (4) Marcion says Christianity is an entirely new religion

(1) Adolph Harnack, History of Dogma, Volume One. New York, Russell & Russell, 1958; translated by Neil Buchanan from the third German edition. Greek script has been Romanised. {p. 107} �5 The Religious Conceptions and the Religious Philosophy of the Hellenistic Jews, in their significance for the later formulation of the Gospel.

From the remains of the Jewish Alexandrian literature and the Jewish Sibylline writings, also from the work of Josephus, and especially from the great propaganda of Judaism in the Greco-Roman world, we may rather that there was a Judaism in the Diaspora, for the consciousness of which the cultus and ceremonial law were of comparatively subordinate importance; while the mootheistic worship of God, apart from images, the doctrines of virtue and belief in a future reward beyond the grave, stood in the foreground as its really essential marks.

Converted Gentiles were no longer everywhere required to be even circumcised; the bath of purification was deemed sufficient. The Jewish religion here appears transformed into a universal human ethic and a monotheistic cosmology. For that reason, the idea of Theocracy as well as the messianic hopes of the future faded away or were uprooted.

The latter, indeed, did not altogether pass away; but as the oracles {p. 108} of the Prophets were made use of mainly for the purpose of proving the antiquity and certainty of monotheistic belief, the thought of the future was essentially exhausted in the expectation of the dissolution of the Roman empire, the burning of the world, and the eternal recompense.

The specific Jewish element, however, stood out plainly in the assertion that the Old Testament, and especially the books of Moses, were the source of all true knowledge of God, and the sum total of all doctrines of virtue for the nations, as well as in the connected assertion that the religious and moral culture of the Greeks was derived from the Old Testament, as the source from which the Greek Poets and Philosophers had drawn their inspiration.

These Jews and the Greeks converted by them formed, as it were, a Judaism of a second order without law, i.e., ceremonial law, and with a minimum of statutory regulations. This Judaism prepared the soil for the Christianizing of the Greeks, as well as for the genesis of a great Gentile Church in the empire free from the law; and this the more that, as it seems, after the second destruction of Jerusalem, the punctilious observance of the law was imposed more strictly than before on all who worshipped the God of the Jews. {p. 109}

The Judaism just portrayed, developed itself, under the influence of the Greek culture with which it came in contact, into a kind of Cosmopolitanism. It divested itself, as religion, of all national forms, and exhibited itself as the most perfect expression of that "natural" religion which the stoics had disclosed.

But in proportion as it was enlarged and spiritualized to a universal religion for humanity, it abandoned what was most peculiar to it, and could not compensate for that loss by the assertion of the thesis that the Old Testament is the oldest and most reliable source of that natural religion, which in the traditions of the Greeks had only witnesses of the second rank. The vigour and immediateness of the religious feeling was flattened down to a moralism, the barrenness of which drove some Jews even into Gnosis, mysticism and asceticism.

The Jewish Alexandrian philosophy of religion, of which Philo gives us the clearest conception, is the scientific theory which corresponded to this religious conception. The theological system which Philo, in accordance with the example of others, gave out as the Mosaic system revealed by God, and {p. 110} proved from the Old Testament by means of the allegoric exegesis method, is essentially identical with the system of Stoicism, which had been mixed with Platonic elements and had lost its Pantheistic materialistic impress. The fundamental idea from which Philo starts is a Platonic one; the dualism of God and the world, spirit and matter.

The idea of God itself is therefore abstractly and negatively conceived (God, the real substance which is not finite), and has nothing more in common with the Old Testament conception. The possibility, however, of being able to represent God as acting on matter, which as the finite is the non-existent, and therefore the evil, is reached, with the help of the Stoic logoi as working powers and of the Platonic doctrine of archetypal ideas, and in outward connection with the Jewish doctrine of angels and the Greek doctrine of demons, by the introduction of intermediate spiritual beings which, as personal and impersonal powers proceeding from God, are to be thought of as operative causes and as Archetypes. All these beings are, as it were, comprehended in the Logos.

By the Logos Philo understands the operative reason of God, and consequently also the power of God. The Logos is to him the thought of God and at the same time the product of his thought, therefore both idea and power. But further, the Logos is God himself on that side of him which is turned to the world, as also the ideal of the world and the unity of the spiritual forces which produce the world and rule in it. He can therefore be put beside God and in opposition to the world; but he can also, so far as the spiritual contents of the world are comprehended in him, be put with the world in contrast with God.

The Logos accordingly appears as the Son of God, the foremost creature, the representative, Viceroy, High Priest, and Messenger of God; and again as principle of the world, spirit of the world, nay, as the world itself. He appears as a power and as a person, as a function of God and as an active divine being. Had Philo canceled the contradiction which lies in this whole conception of the Logos, his system would have been demolished; for that system with its hard antithesis of {p. 111} God and the world, needed a mediator who was, and yet was not God, as well as world.

From this contrast, however, it further followed that we can only think of a world-formation by the Logos, not of a world-creation. Within this world man is regarded as a microcosm, that is, as a being of Divine nature according to his spirit, who belongs to the heavenly world, while the adhering body is a prison which holds men captive in the fetters of sense, that is, of sin.

The Stoic and Platonic ideals and rules of conduct (also the Neo-Pythagorean) were united by Philo in the religious Ethic as well as in the Cosmology. Rationalistic moralism is surmounted by the injunction to strive after a higher good lying above virtue. But here, at the same time, is the point at which Philo decidedly goes beyond Platonism, and introduces a new thought into Greek Ethics, and also in correspondence therewith into theoretic philosophy.

This thought, which indeed lay altogether in the line of the development of Greek philosophy, was not, however, pursued by Philo into all its consequences, though it was the expression of a new frame of mind. While the highest good is resolved by Plato and his successors into knowledge of truth, which truth, together with the idea of God, lies in a sphere really accessible to the intellectual powers of the human spirit, the highest good, the Divine original being, is considered by Philo, though not invariably, to be above reason, and the power of comprehending it is denied to the human intellect.

This assumption, a concession which Greek speculation was compelled to make to positive religion for the supremacy which was yielded to it, was to have far-reaching consequences in the future. A place was now for the first time provided in philosophy for a {p. 112} mythology to be regarded as revelation. The highest truths which could not otherwise be reached, might be sought for in the oracles of the Deity; for knowledge resting on itself had learnt by experience its inability to attain to the truth in which blessedness consists. In this very experience the intellectualism of Greek Ethics was, not indeed canceled but surmounted.

The injunction to free oneself from sense and strive upwards by means of knowledge, remained; but the wings of the thinking mind bore it only to the entrance of the sanctuary. Only ecstasy produced by God himself was able to lead to the reality above reason. The great novelties in the system of Philo, though in a certain sense the way had already been prepared for them, are the introduction of the idea of a philosophy of revelation and the advance beyond the absolute intellectualism of Greek philosophy, an advance based on scepticism, but also on the deep-felt needs of life. Only the germs of these are found in Philo, but they are already operative.

They are innovations of world-wide importance: for in them the covenant between the thoughts of reason on the one hand, and the belief in revelation and mysticism on the other, is already so completed that neither by itself could permanently maintain the supremacy. Thought about the world was henceforth dependent, not only on practical motives, it is always that, but on the need of a blessedness and peace which is higher than all reason. It might, perhaps, be allowable to say that Philo was the first who, as a philosopher, plainly expressed that need, just because he was not only a Greek, but also a Jew.

Apart from the extremes into which the ethical counsels of Philo run, they contain nothing that had not been demanded by philosophers before him. The purifying of the affections, the renunciation of sensuality, the acquisition of the four cardinal virtues, the greatest possible simplicity of life, as well {p. 113} as a cosmopolitan disposition are enjoined. But the attainment of the highest morality by our own strength is despaired of, and man is directed beyond himself to God's assistance.

Redemption begins with the spirit reflecting on its own condition; it advances by a knowledge of the world and of the Logos, and it is perfected, after complete asceticism, by mystic ecstatic contemplation in which a man loses himself, but in return is entirely filled and moved by God. In this condition man has a foretaste of the blessedness which shall be given him when the soul, freed from the body, will be restored to its true existence as a heavenly being.

This system, notwithstanding its appeal to revelation, has, in the strict sense of the word, no place for Messianic hopes, of which nothing but very insignificant rudiments are found in Philo. But he was really animated by the hope of a glorious time to come for Judaism. The synthesis of the Messiah and the Logos did not lie within his horizon. 3.

Neither Philo's philosophy of religion, nor the mode of thought from which it springs, exercised any appreciable influence on the first generation of believers in Christ. But its practical ground-thoughts, though in different degrees, must have found admission very early into the Jewish Christian circles of the Diaspora, and through them to Gentile Christian circles also. Philo's philosophy of religion became {p. 114} operative among Christian teachers from the beginning of the second century, and at a later period actually obtained the significance of a standard of Christian theology, Philo gaining a place among Christian writers.

The systems of Valentinus and Origen presuppose that of Philo. It can no longer, however, be shown with certainty how far the direct influence of Philo reached, as the development of religious ideas in the second century took a direction which necessarily led to views similar to those which Philo had anticipated (see �6, and the whole following account).

Supplement - The hermeneutic principles (the "Biblical-alchemy"), above all, became of the utmost importance for the following period. These were partly invented by Philo himself, partly traditional, - the Haggadic rules of exposition and the hermeneutic principles of the Stoics having already at an earlier period been united in Alexandria. They fall into two main classes; "first, those according to which the literal sense is excluded, and the allegoric proved to be the only possible one, and then, those according to which the allegoric sense is discovered as standing beside and above the literal sense.

"That these rules permitted the discovery of a new sense by minute changes within a word, was a point of special importance. Christian teachers went still further in this direction, and, as can be proved, altered the text of the Septuagint in order to make more definite what suggested itself to them as the meaning of a passage, or in order to give a satisfactory meaning to a sentence which appeared to them unmeaning or offensive.

Nay, attempts were not wanting {p. 115}, among Christians in the second century - they were aided by the uncertainty that existed about the extent of the Septuagint, and by the want of plain predictions about the death upon the cross - to determine the Old Testament canon in accordance with new principles; that is, to alter the text on the plea that the Jews had corrupted it, and to insert new books into the Old Testament, above all, Jewish Apocalypses revised in a Christian sense. Tertullian (de cultu fem. I. 3,) furnishes a good example of the latter.

Compare also the history of the Apocalypse of Ezra in the Latin Bible (Old Testament). Not only the genuine Greek portions of the Septuagint, but also many Apocalypses were quoted by Christians in the second century as of equal value with the Old Testament. It was the New Testament that slowly put an end to these tendencies towards the formation of a Christian Old Testament. {p. 116}

To find the spiritual meaning of the sacred text, partly beside the literal, partly by excluding it, became the watchword for the "scientific" Christian theology which was possible only on this basis, as it endeavored to reduce the immense and dissimilar material of the Old Testament to unity with the Gospel, and both with the religious and scientific culture of the Greeks, - yet without knowing a relative standard, the application of which would alone have rendered possible in a loyal way the solution of the task.

Here, Philo was the master; for he first to a great extent poured the new wine into old bottles. Such a procedure is warranted by its final purpose; for history is a unity. But applied in a pedantic and stringently dogmatic way it is a source of deception, of untruthfulness, and finally of total blindness. ... 6. The Religious Dispositions of the Greeks and Romans in the first two centuries, and the current Greco-Roman Philosophy of Religion.

After the national religion and the religious sense generally in cultured circles had been all but lost in the age of {p. 117} Cicero and Augustus, there is noticeable in the Graeco-Roman world from the beginning of the second century a revival of religious feeling which embraced all classes of society, and appears, especially from the middle of that century, to have increased from decennium to decennium. Parallel with it went the not altogether unsuccessful attempt to restore the old national worship, religious usages, oracles, etc. In these attempts, however, which were partly superficial and artificial, the new religious needs found neither vigorous nor clear expression.

These needs rather sought new forms of satisfaction corresponding to the wholly changed conditions of the time, including intercourse and mixing of the nations; decay of the old republican orders, divisions and ranks; monarchy and absolutism and social crises; pauperism; influence of philosophy on the domain of public morality and law; cosmopolitanism and the rights of man; influx of Oriental cults into the West; knowledge of the world and disgust with it.

The decay of the old political cults and syncretism produced a disposition in favor of monotheism both among the cultured classes who had been prepared for it by philosophy, and also gradually among the masses. Religion and individual morality became more closely connected. There was developed a corresponding attempt at spiritualizing the worship alongside of and within the ceremonial forms, and at giving it a direction towards the moral elevation of man through the ideas of moral personalty, conscience, and purity.

The ideas of repentance and of expiation and healing of the soul became of special importance, and consequently such Oriental cults came to the front as required the former and guaranteed the latter. But what was sought above all, was to enter into an inner union with the Deity, to be saved by him and become a partaker in the possession and enjoyment of his life.

The worshipper consequently longed to find a "presens numen" and the revelation of him in the cultus, and hoped to put himself in possession of the Deity by asceticism and mysterious rites. This new {p. 118} piety longed for health and purity of soul, and elevation above earthly things, and in connection with these a divine, that is, a painless and eternal life beyond the grave ("renatus in eternum taurobolio"). A world beyond was desired, sought for and viewed with an uncertain eye. By detachment from earthly things and the healing of its diseases (the passions) the freed, new born soul should return to its divine nature and existence.

It is not a hope of immortality such as the ancients had dreamed of for their heroes, were {sic} they continue, as it were, their earthly existence in blessed enjoyment. To the, more highly pitched self-consciousness this life had become a burden, and in the miseries of the present, one hoped for a future life in which the pain and vulgarity of the unreal life of earth would be completely laid aside (hegchrateia and anastasia). If the new moralistic feature stood out still more emphatically in the piety of the second century, it vanished more and more behind the religious feature, the longing after life and after a Redeemer God. No one could any longer be a God who was not also a Saviour.

With all this Polytheism was not suppressed, but only put into a subordinate place. On the contrary, it was as lively and active as ever. For the idea of a numen supremum did not exclude belief in the existence and manifestation of subordinate deities. Apotheosis came into currency. The old state religion first attained its highest and most powerful expression in the worship of the emperor, (the emperor glorified {p. 119} as "dominus ac deus noster ", as "praesens et corporalis deus", the Antinous cult, etc.),

and in many circles an incarnate ideal in the present or the past was sought, which might be worshipped as revealer of God and as God, and which might be an example of life and an assurance of religious hope. Apotheosis became less offensive in proportion as, in connection with the fuller recognition of the spiritual dignity of man, the estimate of the soul, the spirit, as of supra-mundane nature, and the hope of its eternal continuance in a form of existence befitting it, became more general.

That was the import of the message preached by the Cynics and the Stoics, that the truly wise man is Lord, Messenger of God, and God upon the earth. On the other hand, the popular belief clung to the idea that the gods could appear and be visible in human form, and this faith, though mocked by the cultured, gained numerous adherents, even among them, in the age of the Antonines. {p. 124}

Yet men whose interest was ultimately practical and political, became ever more rare, especially as from the death of Marcus Aurelius, the maintenance of the state had to be left more and more to the sword of the Generals. The general conditions from the end of the second century were favorable to a philosophy which no longer in any respect took into real consideration the old forms of the state.

The theosophic philosophy which was prepared for in the second century, was, from the stand-point of enlightenment and knowledge of nature, a relapse: but it was the expression of a deeper religious need, and of a self-knowledge such as had not been in existence at an earlier period. The final consequences of that revolution in philosophy which made consideration of the inner life the starting-point of thought about the world, only now began to be developed.

The ideas of a divine, gracious providence, of the relationship of all men, of universal brotherly love, of a ready forgiveness of wrong, of forbearing patience, of insight into one's own weakness - affected no doubt with many shadows - became, for {p. 125} wide circles, a result of the practical philosophy of the Greeks as well as, the conviction of inherent sinfulness, the need of redemption, and the eternal value and dignity of a human soul which finds rest only in God.

These ideas, convictions and rules, had been picked up in the long journey from Socrates to Ammonius Saccas: at first, and for long afterwards, they crippled the interest in a rational knowledge of the world; but they deepened and enriched the inner life, and therewith the source of all knowledge. Those ideas, however, lacked as yet the certain coherence, but, above all, the authority which could have raised them above the region of wishes, presentiments, and strivings, and have given them normative authority in a community of men.

There was no sure revelation, and no view of history which could be put in the place of the no longer prized political history of the nation or state to which one belonged. There was, in fact, no such thing as certainty. In like manner, there was no power which might overturn idolatry and abolish the old, and therefore one did not get beyond the wavering between self-deification, fear of God, and deification of nature.

The glory is all the greater of those statesmen and jurists who, in the second and third centuries, introduced human ideas of the Stoics into the legal arrangements of the empire, and raised them to standards. And we must value all the more the numerous undertakings and performances, in which it appeared that the new view of life was powerful enough in individuals to beget a corresponding practice even without a sure belief in revelation.


For the correct understanding of the beginning {p. 126} of Christian theology, that is, for the Apologetic and Gnosis, it is important to note where they are dependent on Stoic, and where on Platonic lines of thought. Platonism and Stoicism, in the second century, appeared in union with each other: but up to a certain point they may be distinguished in the common channel in which they flow. Wherever Stoicism prevailed in religious thought and feeling, as for example, in Marcus Aurelius, religion gains currency as natural religion in the most comprehensive sense of the word. The idea of revelation or redemption scarcely emerges.

To this rationalism, the objects of knowledge are unvarying, ever the same: even cosmology attracts interest only in a very small degree. Myth and history are pageantry and masks. Moral ideas (virtues and duties) dominate even the religious sphere, which in its final basis has no independent authority. The interest in psychology and apologetic is very pronounced.

On the other hand, the emphasis, which, in principle, is put on the contrast of spirit and matter, God and the world, had for results: inability to rest in the actual realities of the cosmos, efforts to nun-riddle the history of the universe backwards and forwards, recognition of this process as the essential task of theoretic philosophy, and a deep, yearning conviction that the course of the world needs assistance.

Here given the conditions for the ideas of revelation, redemption, etc., and the restless search for powers from whom help might come, received here also a scientific justification. The rationalistic apologetic interests thereby fell into the background: contemplation and historical description predominated.


he stages in the ecclesiastical history of dogma, from the middle of the first to the middle of the fifth century, correspond to the stages in the history of the ancient religion during the same period. The Apologists, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus; the Alexandrians; Methodius, and the Cappadocians {p. 127}; Dionysius, the Arcopagite, have their parallels in Seneca, Marcus Aurelius; Plutarch, Epictetus, Numenius; Plotinus, Porphyry; Iamblichus and Proclus.

But it is not only Greek philosophy that comes into question for the history of Christian dogma. The whole of Greek culture must be taken into account. In his posthumous work, Hatch has shown in a masterly way how that is to be done. He describes the Grammar, the Rhetoric, the learned Profession, the Schools, the Exegesis, the Homilies, etc., of the Greeks, and everywhere shows how they passed over into the Church, thus exhibiting the Philosophy, the Ethic, the speculative Theology, the Mysteries, etc., of the Greeks, as the main factors in the process of forming the ecclesiastical mode of thought.

But, besides the Greek, there is no mistaking the special influence of Romish ideas and customs upon the Christian Church. The following points specially claim attention: (1) The conception of the contents of the Gospel and its application as "salus legitima," with the results which followed from the naturalizing of this idea. (2) The conception of the word of Revelation, the Bible, etc., as "lex." (3)

The idea of tradition in its relation to the Romish idea. (4) The Episcopal constitution of the Church, including the idea of succession, of the Primateship and universal Episcopate, in their dependence on Romish ideas and institutions (the Ecclesiastical organization in its dependence on the Roman Empire).

(5) The separation of the idea of the "sacrament" from that of the 'mystery", and the development of the forensic discipline of penance. The investigation has to proceed in a historical line, described by the following series of chapters: Rome and Tertullian; Rome and Cyprian; Rome, Optatus and Augustine; Rome and the Popes of the fifth century. We have to show how, by the power of her constitution and the earnestness and consistency of her policy, Rome a second time, step by step, conquered the world, but this time the Christian world.{p. 128}

Greek philosophy exercised the greatest influence not only on the Christian mode of thought, but also through that, on the institutions of the Church. The Church never indeed became a philosophic school: but yet in her was realized in a peculiar way, that which the Stoics and the Cynics had aimed at. The Stoic (Cynic) Philosopher also belonged to the factors from which the Christian Priests or Bishops were formed.

That the old bearers of the Spirit - Apostles, Prophets, Teachers - have been changed into a class of professional moralists and preachers, who bridle the people by counsel and reproof (nouthetein chai elegchein), that this class considers itself and desires to be considered as a mediating Kingly Divine class, that its representatives became "Lords" and let themselves be called "Lords", all this was prefigured in the Stoic wise man and in the Cynic Missionary.

But so far as these several "Kings and Lords" are united in the idea and reality of the Church and are subject to it, the Platonic idea of the republic goes beyond the Stoic and Cynic ideals, and subordinates them to it. But this Platonic ideal has again obtained its political realization in the Church through the very concrete laws of the Roman Empire, which were more and more adopted, or taken possession of. Consequently, in the completed Church we find again the philosophic schools and the Roman Empire. ... {p. 129}


Perhaps the most important fact for the following development of the history of Dogma, the way for which had already been prepared in the Apostolic age, is the twofold conception of the aim of Christ's appearing, or of the religious blessing of salvation. The two conceptions were indeed as yet mutually dependent on each other, and were twined together in the closest way, just as they are presented in the teaching of Jesus himself; but they began even at this early period to be differentiated.

Salvation, that is to say, was conceived, on the one hand, as sharing in the glorious kingdom of Christ soon to appear, and everything else was regarded as preparatory to this sure prospect; on the other hand, however, attention was turned to the conditions and to the provisions of God wrought by Christ, which first made men capable of attaining that portion, that is, of becoming sure of it. Forgiveness of sin, righteousness, faith, knowledge, etc., are the things which come into consideration here ... {p. 226} �2. The Nature of Gnosticism.

The Catholic Church afterwards claimed as her own those writers of the first century (60-160) who were content with turning speculation to account only as a means of spiritualizing the Old Testament, without, however, attempting a systematic reconstruction of tradition. But all those who in the first century undertook to furnish Christian practice with the foundation of a complete systematic knowledge, she declared false Christians, Christians only in name. Historical enquiry cannot accept this judgment.

On the contrary, it sees in Gnosticism a series of undertakings, which in a certain way is analogous to the Catholic embodiment of Christianity, in doctrine, morals, and worship. The great distinction here consists essentially in the fact that the Gnostic systems represent the acute secularizing or hellenising of Christianity, with the rejection of the Old Testament, while the Catholic system, on the {p. 227} other hand, representsa gradual process of the same kind with the conservation of the Old Testament. The traditional religion on being, as it were, suddenly required to recognize itself in a picture foreign to it, was yet vigorous enough to reject that picture; but to the gradual, and one might say indulgent remodeling to which it was subjected.

It offered but little resistance, nay, as a rule, it was never conscious of it. It is therefore no paradox to say that Gnosticism, which is just Hellenism, has in Catholicism obtained half a victory. We have, at least, the same justification for that assertion - the parallel may be permitted - as we have for recognizing a triumph of 18th century ideas in the first Empire, and a continuance, though with reservations, of the old regime.

From this point of view the position to be assigned to the Gnostics in the history of dogma, which has hitherto been always misunderstood, is obvious. They were, in short, the theologians of the first century. They were the first to transform Christianity into a system of doctrines (dogmas). They were the first to work up tradition systematically. They undertook to present Christianity as the absolute religion, and therefore placed it in definite opposition to the other religions, even to Judaism.

But to them the absolute religion, viewed in its contents, was identical with the result of the philosophy of religion for which the support of a revelation was to be sought. They are therefore those Christians who, in a swift advance, attempted to capture Christianity for Hellenic culture, and Hellenic culture for Christianity, and who gave up the Old Testament in order to facilitate the conclusion of the covenant between the two powers, and make it possible to {p. 228} assert the absoluteness of Christianity.

But the significance of the Old Testament in the religious history of the world, lies just in this, that, in order to be maintained at all, it required the application of the allegoric method, that is, a definite proportion of Greek ideas, and that, on the other hand, it opposed the strongest barrier to the complete hellenising of Christianity. Neither the sayings of Jesus, nor Christian hopes, were at first capable of forming such a barrier.

If, now, the majority of Gnostics could make the attempt to disregard the Old Testament, that is a proof that, in wide circles of Christendom, people were at first satisfied with an abbreviated form of the Gospel, containing the preaching of the one God, of the resurrection and of continence, - a law and an ideal of practical life. In this form, as it was realized in life, the Christianity which dispensed with "doctrines" seemed capable of union with every form of thoughtful and earnest philosophy, because the Jewish foundation did not make its appearance here at all.

But the majority of Gnostic undertakings may also be viewed as attempts to transform Christianity into a theosophy, that is, into a revealed metaphysics and philosophy of history, with a complete disregard of the Jewish Old Testament soil on which it originated, through the use of Pauline ideas, and under the influence of the Platonic spirit. Moreover, comparison is possible between writers such as Barnabas and Ignatius, and the so-called Gnostics, to the effect of making the latter appear in possession of a completed theory, to which fragmentary ideas in the former exhibit a striking affinity.

We have hitherto tacitly presupposed that in Gnosticism the Hellenic spirit desired to make itself master of Christianity, or more correctly of the Christian communities. This conception may be, and really is still contested. For according to the accounts of later opponents, and on these we are almost exclusively dependent here, the main thing with the Gnostics seems to have been the reproduction of Asiatic Mythologoumena of all kinds {p. 229}, so that we should rather have to see in Gnosticism a union of Christianity with the most remote Oriental cults and their wisdom.

But with regard to the most important Gnostic systems the words hold true, "The hands are the hands of Esau, but the voice is the voice of Jacob". There can be no doubt of the fact, that the Gnosticism which has become a factor in the movement of the history of dogma, was ruled in the main by the Greek spirit, and determined by the interests and doctrines of the Greek philosophy of religion, which doubtless had already assumed a syncretistic character. This fact is certainly concealed by the circumstance that the material of the speculations was taken now from this, and now from that Oriental religious philosophy, from astrology and the Semitic cosmologies.

But that is only in keeping with the stage which the religious development had reached among the Greeks and Romans of that time. The cultured, and these primarily come into consideration here, no longer had a religion in the sense of a national religion, but a philosophy of religion. They were, however, in search of a religion, that is, a firm basis for the results of their speculations, and they hoped to obtain it by turning themselves towards the very old Oriental cults, and seeking to fill them with the religious and moral knowledge which had been gained by the Schools of Plato and of Zeno.

The union of the traditions and rites of the Oriental religions, viewed as mysteries, with the spirit of Greek philosophy is the characteristic of the epoch. - The needs, which asserted themselves with equal strength, of a complete knowledge of the All, of {p. 230} a spiritual God, a sure, and therefore very old revelation, atonement and immortality, were thus to be satisfied at one and the same time. The most sublimated spiritualism enters here into the strangest union with a crass superstition based on Oriental cults. This superstition was supposed to insure and communicate the spiritual blessings. These complicated tendencies now entered into Christianity.

We have accordingly to ascertain and distinguish in the prominent Gnostic schools, which, in the second century on Greek soil, became an important factor in the history of the Church, the Semitic-cosmological foundations, the Hellenic philosophic mode of thought, and the recognition of the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. Further, we have to take note of the three elements of Gnosticism, viz., the speculative and philosophical, the mystic element connection with worship, and the practical, ascetic.

The close connection in which these three elements appear, the total transformation of all ethical into cosmological problems, the up building of a philosophy of God and the world on the basis of a combination of popular Mythologies, physical observations belonging to the Oriental (Babylonian) religious philosophy, and historical events, as well as the idea that the history of religion is the last act in the drama-like history of the Cosmos - all this is not peculiar to Gnosticism,

but rather corresponds to a definite stage of the general development. It may, however, be asserted that {p. 231} Gnosticism anticipated the general development, and that not only with regard to Catholicism, but also with regard to Neoplatonism, which represents the last stage in the inner history of Hellenism. The Valentinians have already got as far as Jamblichus.

The name Gnosis, Gnostics, describes excellently the aims of Gnosticism, in so far as its adherents boasted of the absolute knowledge, and faith in the Gospel was transformed into a knowledge of God, nature and history. This knowledge, however, was not regarded as natural, but in the view of the Gnostics was based on revelation, was communicated and guaranteed by holy consecrations, and was accordingly cultivated by reflection supported by fancy.

A mythology of ideas was created out of the sensuous mythology of any Oriental religion, by the conversion of concrete forms into speculative and moral ideas, such as " Abyss," "Silence," "Logos," " Wisdom," "Life," while the mutual relation and number of these abstract ideas were determined by the data supplied by the corresponding concretes.

Thus arose a philosophic dramatic poem, similar to the Platonic, but much more complicated, and therefore more fantastic, in which mighty powers, the spiritual and good, appear in an unholy union with the material and wicked, but from which the spiritual is finally delivered by the aid of those kindred powers which are too exalted to be drawn down into the common. The good and heavenly which has been drawn down into the material, and therefore really non-existing, is the human spirit, and the exalted power who delivers it is Christ. {end quotes}(2)

Frederick Engels on the Role of Philo in Early Christianity

In his paper Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity, Frederick Engels writes, "Bauer studied this question [the origin of Christianity] until his death. His research reached its culminating point in the conclusion that the Alexandrian Jew Philo, who was still living about 40 A.D. but was already very old, was the real father of Christianity, and that the Roman stoic Seneca was, so to speak, its uncle."

More from Frederick Engels on this theme:

Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity:

On the History of Early Christianity:

Into the Genesis account of creation, Philo interposed Plato's Ideas between God and the material creation. God first created his blueprint, as Platonic Forms; then, using them, he created material reality. (3) Philo, On the Creation (De Opficio Mundi), in The Works of Philo, tr. C.D. Yonge, Hendrikson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1993:

"for God, as apprehending beforehand, as a God must do, that there could not exist a good imitation without a good model, and that of the things perceptible to the external senses nothing could be faultless which was not fashioned with reference to some archetypal idea conceived by the intellect,

when he had determined to create this visible world, previously formed that one which is perceptible only by the intellect, in order that so using an incorporeal model formed as far as possible on the image of God, he might then make this corporeal world, a younger likeness of the elder creation, which should embrace as many different genera perceptible to the external senses, as the other world contains of those which are visible only to the intellect."

This sentence, fusing the Greek and Judaic cultural streams, is the basis of Christendom, and through it Western Civilisation.

The Platonic God was synthesized with Yahweh, Reason with Revelation, the Bible providing insights into God's Blueprint (Forms) which were often not attainable through Reason.

By this means, the Platonic tradition abandoned the concept of time as cyclic, expressed in its acceptance of reincarnation, for the Judaic (originally Zoroastrian) linear concept of time as "salvation history".

Greeks had adopted the notion of time as cyclic from Indian influences. The Aryan Vedic concept is of linear time, in one's personal life, but without the whole of human history being seen as a linear, teleological salvation-history culminating in a utopia.

The notion of time as cyclic, both on a cosmic scale and through personal reincarnation was accepted into later Aryan thinking, like the god Shiva, as an influence from the subject non-Aryan population of India. From there it spread to the Pythagoreans, whom Plato followed.

The Jewish concept of Time was linear, like the Aryan one, but with the Zoroastrian concept of history (time) as "salvation history" tacked on.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion says that Philo's contribution to the beginnings of Christian theology contributed to his being cold-shouldered by subsequent Jewish scholars. Augustine later continued the synthesis pioneered by Philo.

Not only was Plato's metaphysical God, the a-histologist mathematician, fused with the jealous tribal histologist Yahweh; Plato's utopia (Republic) was also fused with the Jewish (later Christian) theocratic utopia (Israel or Jerusalem).

Marxism similarly joined Plato's Republic (with its abolition of the family) with the Jewish Messianic utopia.

Philo contributed to shifting Western culture from Shame-Culture (that of Japan today, as Ruth Benedict identified) to Guilt-Culture, a shift identified in Ancient Greece by E. R. Dodds in his book The Greeks and The Irrational.


(4) Marcion says Christianity is an entirely new religion Gerd Ludemann, Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity; translated by John Bowden (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1996): {p. 148} The Arch-Heretic Marcion and His Time

With the shipowner Marcion of Pontus in the second century, a personality emerges to whom a paradoxical verdict going back to Franz Overbeck and taken over by Adolf von Harnack applies: 'Only one Gentile Christian understood Paul - Marcion - and he grossly misunderstood him.' Marcion's action consisted in establishing a canon consisting of letters of Paul and a Gospel, and at the same time banning the Old Testament as Holy Scripture. In order to understand his radical theological remedy, we must first sketch out the use of the Old Testament in the time before Marcion. An account of the life and work of this tragic figure follows after that.

The use of the Old Testament in the period before the emergence of Marcion


In the view of the earliest Christians, the passion and resurrection of Jesus took place in accordance with the holy scriptures of the Jewish people (1 Cor. 15.3-5). They found prophecies of all the details of his passion and death in this, their Bible, and the evangelist Matthew shows, for example with his repeated formula 'that it might be fulfilled what is said by ...' (Matt. 1.22; 2.5, etc.), how the life and death of Jesus were rooted in the scriptural salvation history. Of course mistakes crept in here. Cf. chiefly Mark 1.2., where there is a quotation from Malachi, although a quotation from the prophet Isaiah is announced, which only follows in v. 3.

The Old Testament was the sacred book right from the beginning, as a Christian and not as a Jewish book. From it could be ascertained the 'revelation of the past, the present and the future' (Barn. 1.7), and from it Paul backed up his doctrine of justification by faith (Gen. 1.6); he regarded the passage of the Israelites through the sea as typology for Christians (II Cor. 1O).

According {p. 149} to Peter in the Kergyma Petri, the books of the prophets 'partly in parables, partly in enigmas, partly with certainty and in clear words name Christ Jesus, and we found his coming, his death, his crucifixion and all the rest of the tortures which the Jews inflicted on him, his resurrection and his assumption to heaven before the destruction of Jerusalem, how all was written that he had to suffer and what would be after him. Recognizing this, we believed God in consequence of what is written of (in reference to) him.'

Even where the Old Testament is not explicitly alleged to be scripture, as for example in the Shepherd of Hermas and in the Letter of Barnabas, which refers to the fact that Christ 'himself prophesies, he himself dwells in your midst' (Barn. 16.9), the holy scriptures are generally treasured, read and learned by heart in the community.

Christian teachers like the author of Barnabas are zealous in steeping themselves in scripture, unlocking the mysteries of the divine revelations from it and taking up their treasures, to hand them on to zealous disciples. Underlying this is the unshakeable basic conviction that the Old Testament is always on the side of Christian belief and can never be against it, because it has been fulfilled with the coming of Christ.

This certainty is further heightened in the third and fourth generations by comparison with Paul and the New Testament Gospels. Thus the Old Testament becomes a book of Christ and there is no longer any doubt that not only Moses and David but also the prophets awaited the coming of Christ and even foresaw in the Spirit some episodes of his life. And not only this: Christ himself already speaks within the Old Testament as Logos or speaks through his Spirit. However, everything depends on perceiving and recognizing this - in contrast to the unbelieving Jews.

Even where Bishop Ignatius of Antioch got into a dispute with opponents in Philadelphia who expounded the Old Testament in a Jewish way, its authority remained intact. Ignatius has heard them say, 'If I do not find it in the archives, I do not believe it to be in the gospel' (Phil. 8.). He continues: 'And when I said, "It is written", they answered me, "That is just the question"' (ibid.).

Evidently Ignatius had appealed to the testimony of scripture, which his opponents had not recognized. (Perhaps he had cited the beloved prophets who had proclaimed Christ [Phil. 9.2.) And when that does not work, he leaves the basis of scripture and {p. 150} immediately appeals to the gospel: 'For me the archives are Jesus Christ, the inviolable archives are his cross and death and his resurrection and faith through him - in which, through your prayer, I want to be justified' (ibid.).

It would not be admissible to see the authority of the Old Testament attacked in such a statement. Three times there are quotations from the Old Testament in Ignatius which are introduced with 'it is written' (Eph. 5.3; Magn. 12; Trall. 8.), and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets have entered salvation through the door (= Jesus ) (Philad. 9.1). Therefore no basic dispute over the Old Testament may yet have broken out between Ignatius and his opponents in Philadelphia, although it is clear from the dispute between Ignatius and his opponents that the question of the relationship between the Old Testament and the revelation of Christ would sooner or later need a clear answer.

Individual interpretations of the Old Testament

I shall first quote some examples of interpretations of the Old Testament in the second century which often seem quite remarkable to us. In Justin, Dial. 40, the following interpretation can be read (the Old Testament passages to which Justin refers have been added in brackets):

'1 The mystery, then, of the lamb which God enjoined to be sacrificed as the Passover, was a type of Christ; with whose blood, in proportion to their faith in him, they anoint their houses (cf. Ex. 1.7-21), i.e. themselves, who believe on him. For that the creation which God created - namely, Adam - was a house for the spirit which proceeded from God (Gen. 2..7), you all can understand. And this is my proof that this injunction was temporary.

2 God does not permit the lamb of the Passover to be sacrificed in any other place than where his name was named (Deut. 16.5f.); knowing that the days will come, after the suffering of Christ, when even the place in Jerusalem shall be given over to your enemies, and all the offerings, in short, shall cease. 3 And that lamb which was commanded to be wholly roasted (Ex. 12.9) was a symbol of the suffering of the cross which Christ would undergo.

For the lamb which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and {p. 151} one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb. And the two goats which were ordered to be offered during the fast (= the Day of Atonement, Lev. 16.5ff.), of which one was sent away as the scapegoat and the other sacrificed, similarly declared the two appearances of Christ ...'

Justin, Dial. 42, 1f. makes the following comment on the prediction of the twelve apostles in the Old Testament: 'Moreover, the prescription that twelve bells are to be attached to the robe of the high priest (Ex. 8.33 f.), which hung down to the feet, was a symbol of the twelve apostles, who depend on the power of Christ, the eternal priest; and through their voice all the earth has been filled with the glory and grace of God and of his Christ ...'

At one point the letter of Barnabas combines Gen. 14. 14 ('When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he armed his servants, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan'), Gen. 17.23 ('Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins ...'), and

Gen. 17.27 ('and all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him'), and wants to prove from this that by the circumcision Abraham had already been thinking of the crucifixion of Jesus. He circumcised 318 men. I (= the first letter of the name Jesus) is the figure for ten, H (= the second letter of the name of Jesus) for eight, and T, the sign of the cross, stands for three hundred. The passage can then be read as follows:

'7 Learn fully then, children of love, concerning all things, for Abraham, who first circumcised, did so looking forward in the spirit to Jesus, and had received the doctrines of three letters. 8 For it says, "And Abraham circumcised from his household eighteen men and three hundred." What then was the knowledge that was given to him?

Notice that he first mentions the eighteen, and after a pause the three hundred. The eighteen [in Greek figures] is I (= ten) and H (= eight) - you have Jesus - and because the cross was destined to have grace in the T he says "and three hundred" [T is the {p. 152} Greek figure for 300]. So he indicates Jesus in the two letters and the cross in the other. 9 He knows this who places the gift of his teaching in our hearts. No one has heard a more excellent lesson from me, but I know that you are worthy' (Barnabas 9.7-9).

Justin develops the following 'reasonable proof' for the power of the cross: '2 For consider all the things in the world, whether without this form they could be administered or have any community. 3 For the sea is not traversed except that trophy which is called a sail abide safe in the ship; and the earth is not ploughed without it; diggers and mechanics do not do their work, except with tools which have this shape.

4 And the human form differs from that of the irrational animals in nothing else than its being erect and having the hands extended, and having on the face extending from the forehead what is called the nose, through which there is respiration for the living creature; and this shows no other form than that of the cross. 5 And so it was said by the prophet,

"The breath before our face is the Lord Christ" (Lam.4.20). 6 And the power of this form is shown by your own symbols on what are called banners and trophies, with which all your state possessions are made, using these as the insignia of your power and government, even though you do so unwittingly. 7 And with this form you consecrate the images of your emperors when they die, and you name them gods by inscriptions' (1 Apol 55 2-7).

It must be said that the examples just cited verge very much on the abstruse and the curious, and at all events are well suited to demonstrate once and for all how strange, peculiar and remote from us early Christianity is. At the same time - despite all their vapidity - they are documents of a spiritual and religious mobility which still had to find a distinctive theological standpoint and therefore showed a certain delight in experimentation.

The sayings of Jesus

At the same time, by way of an appendix, it has to be emphasized that down to the middle of the second century most Christians predominantly quoted and understood the words of Jesus himself {p. 153} in their simple sense. (The allegorizing of the parables of Jesus which already begins in the New Testament Gospels [cf. Mark 4.10-20] is hardly representative. ) One might compare the sayings of Jesus in Justin, 1 Apol 15 1-8, which had perhaps already been collected (the relevant passages in the New Testament Gospels are put in brackets):

'1 Concerning chastity, he uttered such sentiments as these: "Anyone who looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart before God" (Matt. 5.8). And, "If your right eye offends you, cut out, for it is better to enter the kingdom of heaven with one eye than having two eyes to be cast into everlasting fire" (Matt. I8.9). 3 And, "Anyone who marries a woman who is divorced from her husband commits adultery" (Matt. 5 .32). 4 And, "There are some who have been made eunuchs of men, and some who were born eunuchs, and some who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, but all cannot receive this saying" (Matt. 19.12.). 5

So that all who by human law are twice married are sinners in the eyes of the master, and those who look on a woman to lust after her. For not only the one who commits adultery in the act is rejected by him, but also the one who desires to commit adultery; since not only our works but also our thoughts are open before God. 6 And many, both men and women, who have been Christ's disciples from childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty and seventy years; and I boast that I could produce such from every race. 7 For what shall I say, too, of the countless multitude of those who have reformed intemperate habits, and learned these things?

For Christ called not the just nor the chaste to repentance, but the ungodly, and the licentious and the unjust; 8 his words being, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5.3). For the heavenly Father desires rather the repentance than the punishment of the sinner. Reference might also be made to the sayings of Jesus about patience in Justin, 1 Apol. 16 1f.:

'1 And concerning our being patient of injuries, and ready to serve all, and free from anger, this is what he said: "To him who smites you on one cheek, offer also the other; and do not forbid him who takes away your cloak or coat" (Luke 6.29). 2. "And whoever is {p. 154} angry is in danger of the fire" (Matt. 5.22). "And if any one compels you to go a mile with him, go two with him" (Matt. 5.41). "Let your light so shine before men that they may see it and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5.16).

Immediately afterwards they are given an illuminating application:

'3 For we ought not to strive, nor has he desired us to be imitators of wicked men, but he has exhorted us to lead all men, by patience and gentleness, from shame and the love of evil. 4 And this indeed is proved in the case of many who were once of your way of thinking but have changed their violent and tyrannical disposition, being overcome either by the constancy which they have witnessed in their neighbors' lives or by the extraordinary forbearance they have observed in their fellow-travelers when defrauded, or by the honesty of those with whom they have transacted business.'

Alongside this, both the words of Jesus and the words of Old Testament prophets are related to his own time. This happens in faithfulness to the conviction that it is 'the work of God, to tell of a thing before it happens, and as it was foretold so to show it happening' (1 Apol. 12., 1O). Thus for example according to Justin, Jesus said the following in anticipation of the heretics of his own time:

Dial 35, 3: "Many shall come in my name, clothed outwardly in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matt. 7.15; 24.5). And, "There shall be schisms and heresies" (1 Cor. 11.18f.). And, "Beware of false prophets, who will come to you clothed outwardly in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matt. 7,I5). "Many false Christs and false apostles shall arise, and shall deceive many of the faithful" (Matt. 24.11, 24 ).

Justin goes on to comment: 'There are, therefore, and there were many, my friends, who, coming forward in the name of Jesus, taught both to speak and act impious and blasphemous things; and these are called by us after the name of the men from whom each doctrine and opinion had its origin ... (although they call themselves Christians).'{p. 155} The main perspectives of the use of the Old Testament.

Considered systematically, in early Christianity six ways of using the Old Testament can be isolated:

1. The Old Testament provided a monotheistic cosmology and approach to nature. For example, at the end of the first century the author of 1 Clement wants to lead the Corinthian community to the insight that God is free from anger against his whole creation. He then continues:

'1 The heavens moving at his appointment are subject to him in peace; day and night follow the course allotted by him without hindering each other. 3 Sun and moon and the companies of the stars roll on, according to his direction, in harmony, in their appointed courses, and swerve not from them at all. 4 The earth teems according to his will at its proper seasons, and puts forth food in full abundance for men and beasts and all the living things that are on it, with no dissension, and changing none of his decrees.

5 The unsearchable places of the abysses and the unfathomable realms of the world are controlled by the same ordinances. The hollow of the boundless sea is gathered by his working into its allotted places, and does not pass the barriers placed around it, but does even as he enjoined on it; 7 for he said, "Thus far shall you come, and your waves shall be broken within you." 8 The ocean which men cannot pass, and the worlds beyond it, are ruled by the same injunctions of the master.

9 The seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter give place to one another in peace. 10 The stations of the winds fulfill their service without hindrance at the proper time. The everlasting springs, created for enjoyment and health, supply sustenance for the life of man without fail; and the smallest of animals meet together in concord and peace. 11 All these things did the great Creator and master of the universe ordain to be in peace and concord, and to all things does he do good, and more especially to us who have fled for refuge to his mercies through our Lord Jesus Christ, 12 to whom be the glory and the majesty for ever and ever, Amen' (1 Clem. 20.1n12).

2. The Old Testament had long ago announced the appearance, indeed the whole life of Jesus, and the foundation of the church from all nations. Cf. Justin, 1 Apol. 49, 1f.: {p. 156} 'And again, how it was said by the same Isaiah that the Gentile nations who were not looking for him should worship him ... And the words are spoken as from the person of Christ; and they are these:

"I was manifest to those who did not ask for me" (cf. Isa. 65.1). 3. Similarly, the Old Testament already points to all that is to come in the future. Cf. Justin, 1 Apol. 52,2: 'For as the things which have already taken place came to pass when foretold, and even though unknown, so shall the things which remain, even though they be unknown and disbelieved, yet come to pass.'

4. The Old Testament in effect contains all the principles and institutions of the Christian community like baptism and Eucharist (see already 1 Cor. 1O.1-5), and 5, The necessary moral admonitions and - especially in the Psalms - testimonies to a faith which overcomes the world and a spiritual and worship of God which puts all other religions in the shade. 6. The Old Testament attests that the Jewish people are wrong and have either never had a covenant with God or have lost it. Barnabas 4.6-8 is particularly clear here:

'6 And this also I ask you, as being one of yourselves, and especially as loving you all above my own life: take heed to yourselves now and do not be made like some (people), heaping up your sins and saying that the covenant is both theirs and ours. 7 It is ours: but in this way they finally lost it when Moses had just received it, for the scripture says:


And Moses was on the mountain fasting forty days and forty nights, and he received the covenant from the Lord, tables of stone written with the finger of the hand of the Lord." 8 But they turned to idols and lost it. For thus says the Lord: "Moses, Moses go down quickly, for the people whom you brought forth out of the land of Egypt have broken the law." And Moses understood and cast the two tables out of his hands and their covenant was broken in order that the covenant of Jesus the Beloved should be sealed in our hearts in hope and faith.'

In Didache 8.1f. (beginning of the second century) the Jews (following Matt. 6.2, 5, 16) are still generally called hypocrites: {p. 157} '1 Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays, but do you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. And do not pray as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his gospel, pray thus ...'This is along the same line as the statements of the author of the Apocalypse {Revelation} (2.9; 3.9), who formally denies the (non-Christian) Jews the name of Jews and dismisses them as a 'synagogue of Satan'.

The last point is particularly important and should be specially emphasized. The self-awareness of the Christian community of being the people of God was shaped above all in its attitude to the Jewish synagogue, whose mere existence was the strongest threat to that self-awareness. Hence the absolutist condemnation in the examples cited. In view of this special dynamic, which already begins with Paul, attempts at mediation by Jewish Christian groups (see Chapter 3 above) to stop this - in vain - or guide it in the right direction did not have a chance and were caught up in the maelstrom of Christian self-assertion.

For example, Justin tells his Jewish discussion partner Trypho that the Old Testament scriptures belong to the Christians, not to the Jews, and he continues: 'For we obey them, while although you read them you do not understand their meaning' (Dial. 39.2).

Indeed even the pain of the Jews at the future coming of Jesus was found predicted in the Old Testament. '1O And what the people of the Jews shall say and do, when they see him coming in glory, has been thus predicted by Zechariah the prophet: "I will command the four winds to gather the scattered children; I will command the north wind to bring them, and the south wind, that it keep not back." 11 And then in Jerusalem, there shall be great lamentation, not the lamentation of mouths or of lips, but the lamentation of the heart, and they shall rend not their garments but their hearts.

"Tribe by tribe they shall mourn, and then they shall look on him whom they have pierced; and they shall say, Why, O Lord, have you made us err from your way? The glory which our fathers blessed has for us been turned to shame" (cf. Zech. 12.10-12)' (Justin, 1 Apol. 52, 10-12).

This last piece of evidence to he documented is not only important {p. 158} but also bitter in terms of its effect, since from then on the claim that Christians were the only ones who could interpret the Old Testament dominated Christian theology, and the real Israel in the existence of the Jews was overlooked or Israel was regarded as one of many religions.

Results and criticism

It is evident from what has been said so far that with their typological and allegorical interpretation, Christians, who had been aroused to an enormous self-awareness, had snatched the Old Testament from the (non-Christian) Jews and had made it their own scripture. As the spiritual Israel, the church recognized only a spiritual interpretation of the Old Testament, which discovered in it prophecy of Christ and the church, and rejected all other interpretations. When, for example, Justin's conversation partner Trypho referred to the king in the royal psalms to Solomon - with good historical justification - he was given the following rebuff:

'And where it has been said, "O God, give your judgment to the king" (Ps. 72.1), since Solomon was king, you (viz. Jews) say that the Psalm refers to him, although the words of the Psalm expressly proclaim that reference is made to the everlasting king, i.e. to Christ. For Christ is king, and priest, and God, and lord and angel, and man, and captain, and stone, and a Son born, and first made subject to suffering, then returning to heaven, and again coming with glory, and he is preached as having the everlasting kingdom: so I prove from all the Scriptures (Dial. 34, 2).

But somewhere these fantasies had to be submitted to a process of clarification, for as things stood the sacred scripture of the Jews had been handed over defenseless to the most foolish combinations by Christians in 'philological games without precedent'. However, the hope that this process of clarification might perhaps have been initiated by a theologian who was at home in both spheres - the church and the synagogue - was in vain.

The external circumstances no longer allowed that, since Gentile Christianity and Judaism were growing increasingly further apart. Rather, the stimulus came from a theologian who further radicalized the {p. 159} opposition between church and Israel. Hans Lietzmann sensitively remarked:

'But if a teacher had come forward, and refused to let himself be blinded by the shimmering gleams of this "spiritual" ingenuity, and had looked the Old Testament plainly and simply in the face, in spite of all cries that he was Judaizing, a catastrophe would have happened. The book would have slipped out of the hands of the Christians again into those of the Jews.

If such a teacher had read, and firmly grasped, Paul's doctrine of the abrogation of the Law through Christ, he would have seen how the problem of the Old Testament was to be solved. He would of necessity have come to an understanding that would lead him far from the paths hitherto taken by theologians. This possibility became actuality in Marcion.'

The life and theology of Marcion

Marcion was born in Sinope, in Pontus on the Black Sea, around the end of the first century, the son of a bishop, and lived until around 160 CE. The chronological cornerstones are provided by the report of Clement of Alexandria that he appeared under the Roman emperor Hadrian (117 CE) and that he was no longer alive under Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE).

The further piece of information that Marcion was the son of a bishop has occasionally been doubted. But there is no reason to doubt it, because it is not tendentious. Rather, it explains Marcion's preoccupation with Christian belief from his childhood, and also makes it plausible that Marcion may have come into contact with the letter to the Galatians, which was addressed the communities of north Galatia. This may have been in the archives of the church of Pontus, where his father was bishop.

Marcion left home after a dispute. Church polemical writers report that his father had expelled him from the church because he had seduced a virgin. However, this spiteful tradition has no historical value because later (and probably also earlier) Marcion lived a strictly ascetic life and because Ovirgin' here, as in other early Christian sources, also symbolizes the church.{p. 160} In this tradition Marcion's enemies wanted to say above all that he robbed the church of its innocence. And in a way that is even correct, as will emerge in the course of the account.

Marcion's family must have been very prosperous. According to reliable tradition he was a shipowner (naukleros). 'A naukleros is a shipowner or captain of his own ship or one that he has leased, in which he trades in his own name. The very risky mercantile trade not only presupposes capital but also yields profits.'

He may also have received a degree of education as a child. This is suggested by his activity as a textual critic: 'To venture on textual criticism at all presupposes education; the degree of education received at a grammar school was sufficient. If the teacher went through classical texts in the grammar school, first of all the copies which the pupils had in their hands had to be c-ordinatedo; enarratio and explanation, commentary and exegesis, were practiced for each one, along with emendatio: the text was "improved", purged of errors.'

(enarratio - recounting; exposition/setting forth; detailed interpretation; conversation .)

Because of his later literal interpretation of the Old Testament, it has occasionally been assumed that Marcion was a Jew. However, that is improbable, since at that time the Jews did not always understand the Old Testament literally, but applied various rule of exegesis, as Paul already indicates (see above, 67). Moreover, the tradition that Marcion's father was a bishop suggests that he came to know early Christian writings at home and in the community of which his father was the head.

His journey to the West, undertaken in connection with his break with home and the church in Pontus, suggests a sense of mission. Probably he had already been active on the west coast of Asia Minor, but sought to gain influence there in vain, since according to a tradition Polycarp and Marcion fell out. Thus Irenaeus reports (in Eusebius HE IV 14, 7): 'When Marcion once met Polycarp and said to him "Recognize us", Polycarp answered, "I recognize, I recognize the firstborn of Satan!"'

This tradition is particularly vivid, as hate-filled legends are at all times. However, it does seem to reflect the historical knowledge that Polycarp of Smyrna was at a radical distance from Marcion who seemed to him to be a baneful reformer. This attitude was well in keeping with the customs of the representatives of orthodoxy at that time (the author of the Pastorals, Ignatius, Polycarp) {p. 161} in dealing with 'heretics', as Irenaeus also illustrates immediately after the episode between Marcion and Polycarp. He writes: 'The apostles and disciples had such abhorrence of those who corrupted the truth that they would not even enter into conversation with them' (Haer III 3, 4).

In Rome, Marcion got to know the Syrian teacher Cerdo. Cerdo put forward a doctrine of two gods which in the view of many scholars had a great influence on Marcion (see further below, 165). Here he also joined the Roman church and made over to it the proceeds of 200,000 sentences from the disposal of his ship. He sought and gained influence in this community.

He had 'not come to Rome as a notorious heretic who was at all costs to be avoided'. However, in 144 CE a dramatic hearing was held before the presbytery there over his separation (not excommunication), as the reformer could not convince the leaders of the Roman community of the truth the new insight which he had gained.

In the course of the session Marcion asked the presbyter's and teachers of the Roman community what they thought of the following similitude of Jesus: 'No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it upon an old garment; if he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed' (Luke 5.36).

When Marcion could not prevail with the call for the newness of the gospel' which is implied here, he abruptly parted with the Roman community and founded his own church, which with amazing rapidity spread all over the Roman empire. Indeed, a decade later it was already known among all the peoples of the empire.

Marcion's teaching had taken hold with headlong speed, and with it he was evidently meeting the secret desires of many Christians. 'What had dwelt in their inner consciousness in a more or less undefined form until then, acquired through Marcion the definite form that satisfied head and heart. No one can call that a falling away from orthodoxy to heresy.' {p. 162}

The Antitheses

What was the teaching of the orthodox or heretical teacher from Sinope?

It is set down in Marcion's main work, the Antitheses, which to some degree represents a commentary on his Bible. The introduction to the Antitheses runs: 'O fullness of wealth, folly, might, and ecstasy, that no one can say or think anything beyond it (the gospel) or compare anything with it!'

Here already it is possible to recognize that Marcion's teaching is based on an overwhelming experience. The gospel is exclusively gift, and cannot be compared with anything in this world. Indeed, it cannot really be comprehended in either speech or thought. The reason for this is that in it God enters the world as the stranger.

This revelation of the strange God makes Marcion and his community real strangers in this world, which no longer has any power over them. Although the gospel is ineffable and unthinkable, it does endow those to whom it is given with tremendous riches.

At the same time this introduction to the Antitheses (like the parables of Jesus about a new patch on an old garment and new wine in old skins) expresses the newness of the gospel and its incompatibility with the old with unparalleled elemental force. The point of Marcion's message is that in the gospel everything is new: 'It does not have links back into history, nor any foundations in creation'.

Marcion's contemporary opponents held his doctrine of two gods against him from the start and wanted to demonstrate that he was a dualist. It is remarkable, and needs explanation, that, as Adolf von Harnack aptly remarked, in 'all these and many other problems ... historiography so far has been essentially content to repeat the short, decided comments of his opponents. Today we are still following their tendency; they wanted to show that he was a dualist but can be refuted from what he allowed to stand in the N(ew) T(estament)."

Andreas Lindemann's influential 1979 book on 'Paul and Earliest Christianity. The Image of the Apostle and the Reception of Pauline Theology in Early Literature to Marcion', which with an extent of more than 400 pages devotes less than 20 to the 'arch-heretic' from Pontus, moves at this well-tried level of interpretation {p. 163}. According to Lindemann, Marcion's starting point was the dualistic distinction between the good God and the just God.

Then follows the statement: 'In Paul, talk of God's grace is based ... on the fact that the God who judges (sc. the righteous God) is believed in as the gracious (viz. good) God', and he goes on to remark

: 'But Marcion's good God has nothing at all to do with the law - and thus his act of redemption is ultimately not an act of grace at all.'

This comment, which is open to misunderstanding, is later made more specific: 'The central statement of the apostle's theology, that by grace God renounces implementing his claim on human beings and pronounces them righteous in Christ by faith, is completely robbed of its meaning by Marcion when he interprets grace as a transition from the sphere of power of the creator into that of the good God.'

At any rate here Lindemann at least concedes to Marcion a doctrine of grace, modifying the sentence first quoted above. But he does him an injustice because he quotes with assent the following question of Tertullian from he sphere of ethics: 'If you (the Marcionites) do not fear God as being good, why do you not boil over into every kind of lust and so realize that which is, I believe, the main enjoyment of life all who do not fear God?' (Adv Marc. 1 27, 5). He then continues: 'Marcion was the champion of a strictly rigorous ethic, which was based on the notion that no room may be left for the creator God. He could not give a reason for his ethical principles derived from the saving act of the good God.'

To that, the following objections are to be made. First, Tertullian foists on the Marcionites an Epicureanism which Paul's Jewish Christian opponents already wanted to foist on him (Rom. 3.8). In neither case, of course, can that be taken as a serious argument. Secondly, in Paul the ethical foundations do not occupy the first rank, as Lindemann suggests. Thirdly - and connected with this - Paul believes that total sexual asceticism is the best way (1 Cor. 7.1: 'It is good for a man not to touch a woman').

Marcion radicalized this side of Pauline ethics and then generalized it by requiring - unlike Paul - all the members of his church to be unmarried. However, at this point an anti-sexual radicalism appears that might almost be called pathological, 'which must be regarded as due to Marcion's social background'' Fourthly, Marcion's experience of grace lies much nearer to Paul than {p. 164} Lindelllann's theological statements will have it.

For here, too, as in all areas of living religion, experience precedes theology. In this connection one might ask theological critics in future to take more to heart some statements by Hans Lietzmann which are grounded in historical knowledge: dualistic notions were certainly 'not his starting point, nor in any way the inspiration of his thesis.

His main contention is clear enough and does not require the help of such assumptions. Men of that period were accustomed to find a multitude of intermediate beings between God and man, including both the devil and the divine logos. Moreover Marcion's teaching was in reality neither dualistic in its starting point nor in the way in which it was worked out.'

Furthermore, by way of anticipation, reference might be made to Marcion's pupil Apelles, who will be discussed further below: for him the question of the unity of God was the most difficult question of all and as an ingredient of faith is a notion of faith. According to Apelles, only belief in the crucified Jesus is important. As the crucified one, this Jesus - putting it in almost a modern way - is the ground of faith. The same is also true for Marcion. We must not get things back to front, as is the wont of the opponents of heresy, old and new.

Marcion's Bible

As well as the Antitheses there is the new Marcionite Bible, which contained the Gospel of Luke (purged of Judaistic falsifications) and seven letters of Paul. Marcion did not accept into his canon the Old Testament, which hitherto had been the sacred book of Christianity, since in his view the message that it contained was incompatible with Jesus' gospel of love. He supported this theological decision by rejecting any interpretations of the Old Testament that were not literal, the kind that Christianity before him had abundantly cherished (see 150-2 above). Here he sought clarification completely and fearlessly, and in so doing gave their Bible back to the Jews.

Here his procedure is stamped by fanatical matter-of-factness. He looked the Old Testament straight in the eye and - passing over the piety of the psalms and the religion of the prophets - acutely perceived the wretched humanity of the Old Testament God. 'He saw a God who had created a world full of the {p. 165} most deplorable imperfections:

a God who had created men, and drove them to fall into sin; who frequently repented of what he had done, and who overlooked the most serious sins in his favorites, although he pursued them cruelly in others.' At the same time he showed an abhorrence of the 'flesh', the 'pollution' of birth and 'the impurity' of the sexual act, which led him into ever deeper antipathy to the creator of this world.

Another dimension of God took shape and developed in Marcion as a result of intensive reading of the accounts of the message of Jesus. In it he found another righteousness than that of the Old Testament, namely the unconditional demand for toleration, forgiveness and love. From this point he was led almost consistently to accept that the God of the Old Testament had to be distinguished from the God of Jesus Christ.

It has been asked whether Marcion derived this distinction between two Gods from Gnosis, specifically from the Gnostic Cerdo, whom Irenaeus calls a forerunner of Marcion. The question is to be answered in the positive, with some reservations (see above, 160). However, a distinction needs to be made. Irenaeus writes:

'Cerdo was one who to his system from the followers of Simon, and came to live at Rome in the time of Hyginus, who held the ninth place in the episcopal succession from the apostles downwards. He taught that the God proclaimed by the law and the prophets was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the former was known, but the latter unknown; while the one also was righteous, but the other benevolent. Marcion of Pontus succeeded him, and developed his doctrine. In so doing he advanced the most daring blasphemy against him who is proclaimed as God by the law and the prophets, declaring him to be the author of evils' (Haer 1 27, 1f.).

However, the redactional character of the link between Cerdo and Marcion made by Irenaeus his predecessor tells against a direct derivation of Marcion's doctrine of two Gods from Cerdo. Furthermore, as became clear above, the straight-line development of Marcion's thought led t his own distinction between the Creator and Father of Jesus Christ.

Cerdo's arguments may have been fruitful here. However, they are in no way the starting point of his thought, which rests on an overwhelming experience. So we have to continue to assume that Marcion developed the doctrine of {p. 166} two Gods only at a later date - probably after his separation from the Roman church - and received a stimulus here from Cerdo.

Marcion and the earliest Christian tradition

Now, at the latest, we have to ask: was not Marcion himself clear that at least with the developed form of his doctrine of two Gods he was giving a slap in the face to everything that the earliest Christian witnesses had said about the unity of God, namely that he was not only the Father of Jesus but also the creator of heaven and earth?

Marcion did not feel that in this way he was conflicting with the earliest Christian tradition. Rather, he claimed to be helping to revive what was really the earliest tradition. Repeated reading of the first two chapters of Galatians, which in Paul's own words report how false brethren had slipped in (Gal. 7.4), along with the hypocrisy of Peter and other Jewish Christians (Gal. 2.13), had disclosed to him that the original gospel of Jesus had been falsified by the apostles. He had newly discovered this original gospel and reconstructed it on the basis of the Third Gospel, purified from Jewish additions (e.g. Luke 1-2.).

But the lying apostles of Jerusalem had not only distorted and altered the gospel and even put several gospels in the place of one gospel; they had even altered and supplemented the letters of the apostle Paul. To some extent, these falsifications of Jesus and Paul which had taken place robbed Marcion of his naivety in dealing with church tradition.

They shattered his primal trust in the church and led him to regard it as his most personal task to give Christianity the originally pure gospel and the letters of the apostle in their original form. The one gospel - consisting of the Gospel of Luke freed from falsifications - and ten letters of Paul formed the canon of his reformed Christianity, supplemented by the Antitheses which to some degree as a hermeneutical guideline formed an introduction to the New Testament.

At the head of his collection of the letters of Paul Marcion quite deliberately put Galatians, by reading which he had arrived at his revolutionary insights; then followed I and II Corinthians, Romans, I and II Thessalonian, Ephesians (called the letter to the Laodiceans by larcion), Colossians/Philemon, Philippians. The Pastorals were certainly not part of his collection. {p. 167} As the two letters to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians and Colossians and Philemon (because of the striking similarity of the lists of greetings in both letters) were regarded as a unity, this gave a collection of seven letters of Paul.

Marcion's influence

As we know, Marcion did not find a majority for his reformation in the Roman church, yet he was of unmistakable significance for further developments. Without Marcion there would have been no New Testament, and without this heretic no letters of Paul. (For further justification of this statement see Chapter 9 below.) He was the interpreter of Paul in the second century and in any case came closest of all his contemporaries to understanding the apostle to the Gentiles, although he completely misunderstood him. He cut the knot which Paul had tied right through the middle instead of untying it (assuming that at was possible).

At all events his opponents were right: according to the testimony of Paul and the early Christian writings, the creator of the world is the Father of Jesus Christ. Anyone who tears creation and redemption apart so that they are absolute opposites is no longer on the same side as Paul. However, the same is even more true of Marcion's critics, for whom Paul's understanding of faith and experience of faith, which Marcion and his school had rediscovered, were almost incomprehensible.

Hans von Campenhausen sums this up by commenting: 'To the extent that Marcion experiences the gospel once more in its true nature as the redemption of the lost, his theology is primitive Christian in the spirit of Jesus; and in his understanding of faith as freedom from the Mosaic law he is directly akin to Paul.'

A spotlight is thrown on Marcion's reformation by an episode in Rome at the end of the second century. Adolf von Harnack remarked that it was 'the most significant religious dialogue that we have from the earliest church history'. Indeed one can hardly overestimate the significance of the extant source material for this controversy, since here the embattled heretic is himself finally allowed to make some central statements about his position in the faith uncensored. {p. 168} A Catholic writer named Rhodo disputed with Apelles, the old disciple of Marcion, and composed a report on this dispute of which a fragment has been preserved in Eusebius's Church History. Rhodo writes here:

For the old man Apelles, when he talked with us, was refuted in many wrong statements. Therefore he went on to allege that one ought not to examine doctrine at all, but that everyone should remain in his own belief. For he asserted that they who have placed their hopes in the Crucified will be saved, if only they be found in good works. But he held that the most obscure thing of all was, as I have said, the question of God. For he spoke of a single principle, as also our doctrine does.'

(There follows a transitional remark by Eusebius that Rhodo presented the whole teaching of Apelles. Then he continues.) 'But when I said to him, "Whence do you get this proof? or how can you say that there is a single principle, tell us," he replied that the prophecies refute themselves, being absolutely devoid of truth; for they are inconsistent and lying and self-contradictory. But as to how there is a single principle, he said he did not know, but that it was merely his impression.

Then on my adjuring him to tell what was true, he swore that he was speaking the truth when he said that he did not understand how there was one uncreated God, but that this was his belief. For my part I laughed, and reproved him, because he said he was a teacher, and yet was unable to establish what he taught' (Eusebius, HE V 13, 5-7).

This report makes the following things clear:

First, Apelles is not 'refuted in many wrong statements', as Rhodo puts it at the beginning of the extant report. Rather, contrary to his own interpretation, Rhodo himself is, for his claim to be able to prove his teaching as a theological teacher seems very wooden and arrogant. 'We now know from him that he has listened to the dozen philosophers of the age.'

Secondly, Apelles' survey of the prophetic writings, the contradictions in which he - like his teacher Marcion earlier - has discovered as a 'thorn in the flesh' for any harmonization of the Bible, is captivating.

Thirdly, the depth of Apelles' message of faith is impressive: he presents the Pauline theology of the cross and an admonition to {p. 169} faith which is made effective through love (cf. Gal. 5.6) with an abruptness which seems unprecedented.

Fourthly, a spirit speaks in Apelles which 'was independent of the outlook of his period, which had grasped a great truth, and which had even expressed it almost in modern terms, viz. that the religious idea of God does not belong to the sphere of logic, but to that of "emotional" thought'. He is one of the few theologians of the second century who speaks to us directly today. His theology, like that of his teacher Marcion, has doubtless preserved some of the recognition of grace that we find in Jesus and Paul. If it was not possible even in the second century to listen to Marcion and Apelles, this certainly must be remedied today, and the way must finally be paved for their return home to the church.


Arthur Schopenhauer on the merging of cultural streams from Judaism and from India, within Christianity. G. F. Brandon claims that Pacifism developed in early Christianity AFTER Rome's defeat of the Jewish revolt of 66-70 AD, in his book Jesus and the Zealots and The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth. The Pacifism was developed especially in Matthew's Gospel, written in Alexandria, where many Jewish rebels had fled after their defeat. Matthew, in view of the power of Rome, was taking pains to stop an uprising there. His Gospel features the Sermon on the Mount.

Brandon makes no mention of a possible Buddhist colony or influence in Alexandria. But of all cities in the Roman Empire, it would be the most likely. It's unlikely that Jesus "never existed"; more likely, he was posthumously theologically "reworked" (reinterpreted) into "the Christ", as Gautama (a real man) became "the Buddha".

Peter Myers, August 25, 2002; update September 24, 2003. From (site is gone)

"Western Civilisation" is a fusion of two culture-steams, the Greek (basis of academia) and the Judaic (basis of the sense of history).
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