Imagine you have some strongly held beliefs on a subject. You have thousands of followers who agree with your assessments as completely rational. But you run up against a larger force of believers that consider your views outrageous, sacrilegious, and evil. They gather up all that you have ever written on the subject and destroy your life’s work. Your followers are threatened and dispersed, your views branded heretical. Ages pass. Your name occasionally appears as a person of interest in history. But now the only references to you from the time when you were alive were made by the people who were against you. Your enemies wrote your history. You are probably not going to be portrayed in the best light.
In the early Nazarene movement there was such a man. (Actually there were more than one but we’ll talk here about just one person.) Living during the second century AD, his name was Marcion and his views became known as Marcionism. Jesus had been crucified over a hundred years before. The New Testament did not yet exist. What would become known as Christianity was in a state of flux and a patchwork collection of various ideas that often contradicted and were in direct opposition to one another. Collections of sayings attributed to Jesus circulated amongst various groups in the Eastern Mediterranean. Gospels, stories, and rumors surrounding the life of Jesus numbered in the thousands. Various conflicting ideas about who Jesus was and his purpose each drew followers.
As an early Christian evangelical, Marcion rejected the god of Moses. He could not reconcile in his mind the vindictive, murderous, genocidal, vengeful, god of the Old Testament with the god that Jesus claimed to represent; that of a god of love, tolerance, and mercy. He concluded that these two gods could not be the same entity. The god of the Old Testament, he preached, was the creator of the physical world, which was filled with disease and imperfections and misery, maybe like this god himself. He reasoned there was another god, the God, superior to the cruel creator god of the Old Testament. Marcion therefore rejected much of the divine nature of the Old Testament even doubting the creation myths, truly astounding for the time. God was supposed to be consistent, and yet here was direct evidence that the god of Moses did not meet that requirement.
In the Marcionian view, Jesus was more of a ‘spirit force’ than flesh and blood. He believed the true god, the one Jesus represented, was a completely new revelation to the world of men, a spirit being, more of a ‘message’ than an individual. His rejection of the god of the Old Testament as the antithesis of the ‘Jesus message’ led to his excommunication in 144AD. As mentioned, his writings were destroyed, and his followers forced to conform to the growing force of doctrine, flee the area, or face dire consequences. Mostly through Marcion’s detractors do we gain some insight into his nature and beliefs.
What Marcion saw so clearly, at a time when the stark contrasts between the two versions of God were vividly apparent, has never been objectively addressed by Christian advocates. Various excuses and imaginative thinking have been put forth over the centuries to attempt to reconcile the radical shift in the very nature of God. The mental gymnastics required to believe the two diametrically opposed personalities occupy the same entity strain even the most gullible and credulous mind. God, as advertised, we are to believe, is never changing, always just, loving, the personification of perfect morality and justice and yet in Old Testament writings He commands the slaying of innocent women and children in the most brutal and barbaric fashion, (cutting the wombs from pregnant women and smashing the heads of children) treats His chosen people with alternating rewards and contempt, is perfectly fine with slavery and genocide, demotes women to merely the vessels for increasing the population, demands sacrifice and groveling from his subjects, gets angry and loses control over human failings even though He created humans that way, delivers pestilence and disease on ungrateful subjects, and yet we are to believe: ‘He loves us!’
Even at a time when logical thought was barely a concept, Marcion could see that the god of the Old Testament and god of the ‘Jesus message’ could not be reconciled. Christian apologists will gloss over the obvious conundrum of the ‘two god problem’ by grasping from the recesses of their imaginations the conclusion that God by nature and by his actions is always good despite evidence to the contrary. We just don’t understand his purpose or intent we are told. This worn out excuse may have worked for illiterate and ignorant peasants two thousand years ago but today it is soundly debunked by widely accepted human norms of decency, justice, and morality. Apologists, it seems, need to up their game. There is no evidence based factual proof for the existence of either of these versions of an all-knowing invisible divine entity, but the second incarnation, the Newcomer as Marcion believed, seems to be a vast improvement over the first.