Was Marcion a Docetist? The Body of Evidence vs. Tertullian’s Argument

In: Vigiliae Christianae
David E. Wilhite Baylor University US

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There is no credible evidence that Marcion was a docetist. Marcion’s alleged belief that Christ was a phantasm is found in accusations made by Tertullian, but these accusations are a form of reductio ad absurdum and not firsthand information on Marcion’s Christology. There are in fact remnants of data in Tertullian’s Adversus Marcionem, which point to Marcion’s teaching about the material flesh of Christ, a flesh that suffers and dies on the cross. Tertullian dismisses these artifacts as proof that Marcion was foolishly inconsistent: he taught docetism, but still accepted Christ’s suffering and death. Scholars should no longer accept Tertullian’s caricature uncritically, especially in light of the overwhelming amount of other second and third century sources that are unanimously silent about any docetic thinking in Marcion. Moreover, much of the confusion in modern scholarship is shown to derive from Adolf von Harnack’s equivocating explanations about Marcion’s alleged docetism.

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