I've been re-acquainting myself with the second century heretic, Marcion.
In the Lion Handbook: The History of the Christian Church, there is a very helpful short article by H Dermot McDonald that summarises Marcion and his teaching. (You need the 1990 edition of the Lion Handbook - there is a 2009 edition out which I've never seen, but it seems it is a brand new book so won't have this exact portion in).
“Marcion was born in Sinope, Pontus, on the Black Sea, the son of the bishop. He arrived in Rome about AD 140, and immediately fell under the spell of the Gnostic teacher Cerdo, who believed the God of the Old Testament was different from the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. The God of the Old Testament was unknowable; the latter had been revealed. The former was sheer justice; whereas the God of the New Testament is loving and gracious. …
“His garbled Christian views were firmly repudiated by the church in Rome, and Marcion was excommunicated in AD 144. …
“Marcion developed Cerdo’s division between the God of the Old Testament and the New. He held that the Old Testament God was basically vengeful and the author of evil. God was solely concerned for the Jewish people, for whom he was prepared to destroy others. In contrast, the New Testament God is a God of grace and love for all, who disclosed himself in Jesus Christ, his Son.”
What struck me is how very contemporary that feels. It seems that quite a lot of people today would probably hold a very similar view of the Old Testament.
There are 3 big problems with this view, however.
- It doesn't work. Take an example of God's justice in the Old Testament - the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah as recorded in Genesis 19. Jesus said that those who ignored his teaching will suffer a worse fate on the day of judgement (Matthew 10:15). The New Testament is no softer on justice than the Old. Equally, God's grace in the New Testament is explicitly linked back to the Old - this is what the Old Testament said would happen (e.g., Acts 3:24).
- If you say this, you end up with the God of the New Testament being unable to save. The Old Testament is clear that only the God who made us can save us (Psalm 146:3, for example). If Jesus is not the God of the Old Testament, or if Jesus' Father is not the God of the Old Testament, then they cannot save us. You end up with two gods - the Old Testament one, who is unknowable, and the New Testament one, who would like to save us but is not suitably qualfied.
- It's not Jesus' view of the Old Testament. This is clearest in Matthew 5 (on which I preached a while back), but also comes out of his own personal submission to its teaching from the start (Matthew 4:1-11) to the finish (Matthew 26:36-46) of his ministry.