The Fourth Gospel /turmel/p30.


Marcion, born in the vicinity of the year 100, at Sinope on the edges of the bridge Pont-Euxin (today the Turkish province of Anatolie) worked for a time in the marine profession (Tertullian enjoys giving to him the name "pilot"). But he renounced early on the sea and focused his attention to the Christian religion in which he had probably been raised since his childhood. Epiphanius (Haer. XLII), tells that Marcion was the son of a bishop; this information that he probably received from Hippolyte, cannot be admitted on the condition of taking the word "bishop" in a very general sense.

About the year 130 he preached, with a success continually increasing, first in Asia then at Rome where he arrived in the vicinity of 138, a theology of which he owed the germ to Cerdon and which the objective was toward resolving the problem of evil. I borrow from Tertullian, whose work entitled "Against Marcion" is our main source of information, for this survey of the marcionite system which one is about to read. Justin dedicated some lines to his contemporary Marcion in his First Apology, XXVI, 5; LVIII, 1. The same observation applies to Rhodon, from whom Eusebius provides us a fragment in his "Ecclesiastical History", V13, 3. Irenaeus, who often takes on Marcion in part, gives a general view of his doctrine in Adv.Haer.1:27. Also see the Panarion of Epiphanius, Haer. XLII. The "Dialogues of Adamantius" presents to us a marcionism quite advanced.

1) The problem of evil cannot itself be resolved until one admits there are two Gods, the one evil, the other good.

2) The evil God is the Creator God, that is to say, the one who made the visible world. This God boasts himself in Isaiah (45:7) as being the author of evil. He is indeed cruel and belligerent. It is by his incumbent responsibility that the fall of man took place since his beginning. Later, in the mosaic law, which is his work, he is shown to be barbaric and fanciful. Moreover, if the Creator God didn't foresee the evil that exists in the world created by him, he is ignorant; if, having foreseen it, he didn't want to prevent it, he is evil; if, he wanted to prevent it but was unable, he is impotent.

3) The Creator God, who is the author of the mosaic law , is also the author of the books of the Old Testament. The prophets are his agents. It is he who speaks through their mouths.

4) The Creator God announced by his prophets that he would send his Christ. But this Christ, whose coming the books of the Old Testament foretells, is a political individual as well as religious.

He has for a mission to unveil the throne of David, to provide to the Jewish people his old-fashioned strength. He has nothing in common with Jesus. Moreover, in the era of Marcion, which was more than a hundred years following the coming of Jesus on the earth, the Christ of the Creator God had not yet arrived.

5) The Good God is the author of invisible beings, of these here only. Creating neither the visible world nor man, he was completely unknown in this world until the day when Jesus revealed his existence. The evil God himself did not know him.

6) The Good God is gentle, tender, lenient, compassionate, incapable of becoming angry. This God, seeing that man was oppressed by the Creator who strived to make him miserable, became interested in him and resolved to save him. To save him, that is, to deliver and liberate him from the power of the God who had created him.

7) To achieve his objective, the Good God, under the reign of the emperor Tiberius, departed from his heaven, the third heaven; he crossed the heaven of the Creator situated beneath his own; he descended upon the earth into Galilee and went immediately to work. Immediately-- and here is why. He had only the appearance of a human body. In reality he was a spirit, a spirit savior.

He received nothing from Mary, he was not born, he didn't need to grow up. But is this the property of the Good God who personally came to the earth? Is he not limited to delegate someone? It was He Himself who was manifested to us under the appearance of a human body and who is called the Christ. The Christ is thus the Good God clothed with an ethereal cloak which renders him visible. (It is this ethereal covering, the appearance of a human body, which is entitled "son of God" and which calls God his father ( I, 19 , The marcionite Christ, having had no childhood, descended from the heaven in the 29th year of our era, right at the moment where his public life began; I.,14-15;IV,7; I., 24;III,10; IV, 19,21;I,19,14;II,27). The spiritual Christ possesses a principle of life analogous to the human soul which allows him to experience, as he wishes and is without it subject, to the psychological and physiological phenomenons that we experience.

8) Upon arriving to the earth to deliver men who groaned under the cruel yoke of the Creator God, the Good God couldn't let stand the mosaic law, who on one hand, being incarnated, allowed the barb- arism of the evil God. On the other hand he could dispense in revealing himself to men as their savior. He abolished thus the law and, along with the law, the prophets. He is, all the more, made known to men. As much as the Son he revealed the Father; as much as the Father he revealed the Son, according to what he himself declared: "no one knows who the Son is but the Father; and no one knows who the Father is but the son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him" (Luke 10:22).

9) The Creator, seeing the Christ working against him, determined his loss. And, for best appeasing the hate that this rival inspired in him, he attempted to inflict upon him the torment that his law, the mosaic law, reserved for the accursed, which was the agony of the cross. The Christ was therefore crucified by the virtues and strengths of the Creator; he died on a cross (Tertullian noted that the death of the marcionite Christ was only a sham since his body was only a phantom; but the marcionite spoke of the crucifixion and death of Christ as a phenomenon truly accomplished ( AM I., 25,11; III, 23;4,21;III, 19; here Tertullian reproaches Marcion to speak of the death of Christ whose birth he rejected; III, 8, same reproaching of the inconsistencies held by Marcion who believed in the death of Christ).

10) The Christ died; but he saved men in the sense that he liberated them from the yoke of the Creator. To be exact he saved their souls, expecting that the flesh was destined to perish. The resurrection, understood in the sense of a return of the flesh to the life which would take place at the end of the world, is an illusion. However there exists for the soul a spiritual resurrection that takes place everyday. This spiritual resurrection is produced when the soul passes from error to truth, which is when it detaches from the Creator God in order to be given to the Good God whose existence was revealed to him by the Christ. This conversion is, indeed, the transition from death to life ( I., 24). Tertullian mentions several times in his "Resurrection of the Flesh" (notably XIX) the spiritual resurrection admitted by Marcion. Irenaus, Adv. Haer. II, 31,2, mentions the same doctrine by the gnostics .

11) The Good God does not punish sinners, nor does he judge them. His judgement is limited, in effect, to declaring those who are evil. The evil God causes fear, but the Good God is love. The Good God consequently has no inferiority. In the final day, he will satisfy the anger of the Creator God with the guilty which the Creator will then gather into his hell.

Add that Marcion had confessed penance at one time in the Roman church, but the Roman clergy had cast him out in 144.


For as long as one attributed the fourth gospel to John, an immediate disciple of Jesus, one placed the composition of this book at the extreme limit of the first century. One didn't dare go any higher on account of Irenaus who portrayed the fourth gospel as a refutation against Cerinthus. On the other hand, one couldn't go down any lower for the difficulty of conferring an improbable length to the life of John. One attached then a historic value to the narrations of the fourth gospel. When this illusion fell, when the fictional character of the book attributed to the apostle John was established, a problem entirely new stood before the critics. One asked whether an immediate disciple of Jesus, through a colorful recounting of his life, might have been capable of transforming his master into an abstraction.

The answer to this question does not have to wait.

One realizes easily that this human fantasy has some impassable boundaries and that a witness to the life of Jesus would have never been able to write a fiction as the one which unfolds beneath our eyes in the fourth gospel. Historicity and Johannine origin are two intertwined facts, inseparable and of which the first drags the other in its fall. Historically, the fourth gospel could be by the author to whom tradition assigns it. But, if it is only a liberal composition, it cannot, to any degree, emanate from a companion of Jesus, and one is forced thereby to search for a different origin.

The critics searched. And if this didn't succeed in determining by whom the fourth gospel was written, they believed to have succeeded in fixing the approximate date of its composition. According to them this book was composed by an unknown in the neighborhood of the year 100; and, consequently, the tradition is not mistaken if partially accounted. It is wrong to attribute to it an apostolic plume; but this becomes reason for placing it at the fringe of the first century. In regard to the epistles of Ignatius and of Polycarp: these writings, they say, underwent the influence of Johannine literature and are clearly later; now these become set in the vicinity of the year 100.

This reasoning, as one comes to see, hinges everything entirely upon the dating of the letters of Ignatius and Polycarp; if this date should turn out to be wrong, this falls to the ground. Now all the correspondence of Ignatius is a fabrication subsequent to 150. As for the letter of Polycarp to the Philippians it is- barring some lines- authentic, but again it doesn't go any higher than the middle of the second century. In sum, Polycarp and the false Ignatius limits us to saying that the fourth gospel existed in the middle of the second century. Try to find elsewhere some information less vague.

For their search it suffices to concentrate on the school of the Johannine Christ and to gather his oracles. "What is there between me and you, woman?"; "You know neither me nor my Father"; "you never heard his voice, you never saw his shape"; "All those who came before me are thieves and robbers"; "The World is in the power of the Evil One"; "You have for a father the Devil"; "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world"; "the one who hears my word... has passed from death to life"; "I have a food to eat that you don't know".

Before these texts and others still, believers and critics close their eyes for not comprehending them. But it is impossible for them to consider the surface without seeing the source. The author of the fourth gospel constructed his edifice with some stones taken from the yard of Marcion.

This becomes especially obvious in the text of 5:24, where the Christ declares that the one who hears his word "has passed from death to life" and in the parallel text of the first epistle, 3:14, where the author, using this expression of Christ, states: "passed from death to life". These two oracles set before us the spiritual resurrection, that resurrection which consists in the conversion to the Christian faith, these reflecting the marcionite doctrine which likewise taught the spiritual resurrection. I know that some are going to raise an objection to this. Some are going to say that the dependence is on the side of Marcion who monopolized the Johannine formula and in so doing abused it to serve his ends.

This explanation strikes against the text of the second epistle to Timothy, 2:17-18, in which the two heretics Hymenaeus and Philetus are denounced because they "concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection already arrived" and that, in doing so, "they overthrow the faith of some". The theologians say that this denunciation emanates from Paul himself, who wrote the second epistle to Timothy in the year 62, shortly before his death.

The critics estimate that the author who wrote this was a Catholic in the vicinity of 125. If Paul himself, in the year 62, forbade from presenting the resurrection as a fact already accomplished, how explain that around the year 100, the author of the fourth gospel had no reservations about using a formula which threatened, in a saying of a great apostle, to "overthrow the faith of some"? And if the pastoral epistles are from the vicinity of 125, how explain that, at this date, a Catholic condemns, without any restriction, without any distinction, a formula that he could not have failed to read in the fourth gospel and in the first Johannine epistle, since the critics place these writings in the vicinity of the year 100? I am bound for the moment to conclude that the Catholic editor of the pastoral epistles (I will prove that he stands in the vicinity of 150) denounces precisely, under the names of Hymenaeus and Philetus , the marcionite writers, which included the author of the fourth gospel.

The book that one calls the Gospel of Saint John is, considered in its first edition, a marcionite product. It didn't see the light of day until after the first third of the second century. This date illuminates the 5:43 text, in which the Johannine Christ, after having reproached the Jews for not receiving him, he who came in the name of his Father, added: "If another comes in his own name you will receive him". The apologists and the critics, who persist in remaining in the vicinity of the year 100, confess here honestly their embarrassment and confess their incapability to identify the "other" to whom the Jews will make a favorable welcome. Here is the sense of the oracles: "You refuse to receive me, I who came in the name of my Father; but, in a hundred and three years, you will receive the impostor Barkochba who himself will claim a heavenly mission ". The Johannine Christ describes what occurred in the year 132 when the Jews, led by Barkochba, revolted against Rome.

The fourth gospel reflects the doctrines of Marcion. How, with such an original stigma, had it succeeded in becoming accepted by the Church? One cannot respond to this question other than by some conjecture. Here is one that might be deduced:

Marcion was excommunicated by the Roman clergy in 144. The same measure was perhaps already taken against him and his adherents by the churches in Asia where he had sojourned before coming to Rome. Other churches later followed the example given to them.

In the vicinity of 150 Marcion was a terror to the catholic surroundings; one agreed with Polycarp to consider him the "eldest son of Satan". But note that he had spent time in Rome. Marcion arrived in the imperial city around 138; it was only in 144 that he was forbidden from the assembly of the faithful. During six years he could gather some disciples, inoculate his ideas into them and nevertheless maintain contact with the Church. During six years he and his disciples participated at the liturgical reunions without alarming the clergy.

This was not made possible outside of strict discipline. Marcion imposed himself and imposed to his circle of friends a great deliberation. He did not express overtly his ideas to where he felt defiance he became reserved. He let rather his theories be guessed if he had not formulated them. He put into practice the maxim (Matt7 :6): "do not give that which is holy to dogs, and do not cast your pearls before swine".

It is in this state of mind that the first writing of the fourth gospel was written in the proximity of 135 (the allusion to Barkochba is understood best two or three years after the revolt of 132, rather than eight or ten years later). The author, a disciple of Marcion, had sojourned to Jerusalem and in Palestine before the war of 132 (one can depict a man like Justin born in Palestine and, consequently, be familiar with the Jewish conventions as also with the topography of the country). The new gospel was destined to expound, by putting into the mouth of Jesus, the good doctrine, the doctrine of Marcion. He expounded it with a level of uneasiness which capitalized on the current prejudices. Thanks to the ambiguous formulas that he used, thanks also to his reticence, the Johannine Christ remained in evident obscurity. He told the faithful: "Your doctors sketched for you a rough as well as inaccurate portrait of my person". And he outlined, on his origin, on his intimate nature, some explanations which pricked the curiosity without satisfying it, and which demanded the same to be completed at an opportune time with some oral explanations.

The fourth gospel saw its day in Asia (during this time Marcion had not returned to Rome). The Church where it appeared admitted to its liturgy - the disciples of the spiritual Christ whose doctrine she knew only so vaguely. When the new gospel was presented, she didn't try to study thoroughly; she contented in admiring the face of the edifice; the differences escaped her. She took confidence in the book one of her children had composed and she allowed its reading in her assembly. Other churches followed. About the year 140, the fourth gospel- or to be exact, the form in which it existed then- received authority in some of the main communities of the Orient.

Ten years later, Marcion and his disciples were despised. But the tree that they had planted in the garden of Christ had had time there to deepen its roots. It remained. The fourth gospel nourished the faith and piety of the faithful who themselves managed not to comprehend it; it continued exercising its mission. It no longer belonged to its author who, moreover, had launched it under the veil of anonymity. The Church, the great Church- that of the Orient- had taken possession of it with the same fact that she had introduced it into her liturgical assemblies. She guarded her treasure, reserving the sole right to enrich it.