Markus Vinzent's Blog

Monday, 17 November 2014

What is the relation between Mark, 'canonizer of Paul', and Marcion's Gospel?

In his comment to one of my blogs, Giuseppe noted, as follows:
The strongest doubt is shortly: if the Gospel of Mark, being proto-orthodox (in your view), is anti-Marcionite, then why Mark is so pro-Paul just as I would expect instead from the Gospel of Marcion? Why does Mark look so marcionite in his denigration of 12 disciples & Peter? For example, Tom Dykstra says that the author of that Gospel “deliberately created a literary Jesus whose words and actions parallel the words and actions of Paul” (“Mark, Canonizer of Paul,” p. 149).

Besides, Mark is shorter than other Gospels.
Why Mark presents the story of the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida while the other gospels didn't have that episode? I see in that episode a midrash from Judges 9:8-15: There the trees allude to riotous people of Israel.

The blind man sees ”men as trees walking”, and soon after Jesus rebukes Peter (”vade retro satana”) ”seeing his disciples”(Mark 8:33), then Jesus and the blind man see the same thing: blind people that want a king-messiah for themselves (you can see the allusion to Judges 9 about seditious trees).

The miracle in two steps to regain the sight is parallel to the process in two steps to identify Jesus as Christ by Peter & co (Mark 8:27-30).

In this way, the blind man becomes more close to God (and more similar to Jesus) than the same disciples, the true blind men of allegory (who has a name, is indeed blind, and who is anonymous, sees better). All this would make more easily the same point of Marcion's Gospel: Paul is the unique true Apostle. How do you explain all this?

Very Thanks for a satisfactory reply to all these questions!

Dear Giuseppe,
Thanks for your enlightening questions on some issues I had not thought about before. Let me start with your strongest doubt. This is based on the common perspective which I tried to correct in my Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels (Leuven, 2014) that the early responses to Marcion, including the later canonical Gospels, are anti-Marcionite in the sense of them regarding Marcion’s text heretical. If they had regarded it as heretical, they would not have used it. Yet, we have to differentiate. On the old synoptic model, scholars assume that Matthew and Luke have used Mark – although they all admit that the way Matthew and Luke make use of Mark by rewriting him, re-ordering the material, leaving things aside, adding others, poor Mark would certainly not have recognised, let alone endorse these aemulationes of his own work. Was Matthew and Luke anti-Mark? In some sense certainly yes, they did not simply subscribe to his text, yet, on the other side, they adopted it and made it their own.
When I did invite Matthias Klinghardt to give a paper at a Marcion seminar at the 2011 International Conference on Patristic Studies, Oxford, he repeated his view which he had published before, namely that he believed Mark to be the oldest Gospel, from which the others, including Mcn (his short cut for Marcion’s Gospel – although maintaining that this text has not been written or even redacted, but only used by Marcion). Now that he has done the reconstruction of Mcn (his reconstruction is announced to be published in due course), he has corrected is older view and takes Mcn to be the source even of Mark.
My view is that Marcion’s Gospel, like that of Mark in the early dating theory, was regarded as both – attractive and contentious. It was good enough to be borrowed, used, adapted and corrected. With the adoption, however, the original impacted on those who copied the text, even if they heavily re-wrote it. This we can see with the Pauline influence that has always been noticed in Luke. Thanks, also for drawing my attention to Tom Dykstra, Mark, Canonizer of Paul. His book does not only show (against earlier works like that of Martin Werner of 1923) that Mark is indebted to Paul, but, what he has not spelled out, Mark goes beyond Paul, specifically in areas where – in my view – he is dependent on Marcion (such as his criticism of Peter, see Dykstra, 119ff). And you are right, he might even have taken Marcion’s criticism of Peter a step further, you indicate the relation between the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida with the following pericope of Jesus rebuking Peter. Mark, however, is also deviating from Marcion’s position, particularly in altering Marcion’s antithetical position to an interaction between Jesus and Judaism that ‘presents Jesus as a rabbi among rabbis’, as By Robert McFarlane ‘The Gospel of Mark and Judaism’ put it:the interactions between Jesus and the others concerns establishing his way as the legitimate reading of the Torah. In this sense it must be said that Mark can not be characterised by anti-Judaism. Rather, Mark appears to have the qualities of a sectarian group, seeking to establish a new interpretation of Torah.’ Hence, it is no surprise that you are rightly reminded of a midrash from Judges 9:8-15 and make the connection to the story about Peter. As often in Marcion’s Gospel, the weak, the ill, the marginal and the excluded people are closer than any of the disciples, especially than Peter. and, as in Marcion, Paul is the unique true Apostle.
Put the other way around and follow the traditional model – why, if Marcion’s copied Mark on this, did he leave out the story of Bethany which would be so close to his chest? The opposite can be easily shown that Mark redacts Marcion’s Gospel and gets rid of the antithesis of Christianity and Judaism, although he still shows and maintains a number of other Marcionite features.


  1. Very interesting.

    About your Marcion and the Dating of the Synoptic Gospels (2014), it talks in detail about the relationship between Mark and Marcion, between Luke and Marcion, etc. (all topics I like a lot) ? Or all of this will be discussed in more detail later in your future commentaries on the Gospel of Marcion, episode after episode of it put in parallel with the Synoptics ?

  2. I have booked your monograph of 2014, and my library ensures me that the book will arrive in Italy after five weeks (I hope!).

    Meanwhile, I have a new doubt based on my knowledge of old dating of the Gospels.

    I point out, in the old dating of the gospels (Mark--> Matthew--> Luca -->John) this trend:

    Mark is so demonstrably allegorical that unlike the later Gospels it never represents itself as a biography strictu sensu. It seems to be constructed in a consciously allegorical mode from beginning to end. Matthew, meanwhile, is even more grandiosely symbolic/allegorical. Luke is the only Gospel that was actually trying to sound as if it were a biography (and not itself a symbolic/allegorical text like previous Gospels).

    Assuming your new dating with Mcn first, how the Gospel of Marcion fits into this trend above described? Did it look more like our Mark (thus more allegorical/symbolic than biographical) or more similar to our Luke?
    There is not the risk that, in some way, the priority of Marcion stops or breaks that tendency from allegorical to biographical?

    Thanks for any reply,


    1. Dear Giuseppe,
      as before - the answer turned out to be too long for a response, so please see the new post,
      thanks for your fantastic question and doubt
      yours Markus

  3. Just a point about the blind man...if his name is BarTimaeus...then there's a tie to Plato. The translation of that from Hebrew is "Son of Timaeus, which would refer to Plato's work of the same name." That would indicate 1) Mark had read Plato (as had Philo) and 2) was trying to make some point related to Plato or philosophy there. What do you think, Markus?