Marcionism Will Not Die

In his book Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament, Dr. Waltar Kaiser, Jr. makes an important point about Marcionism: it just will not die. He writes:

The first use of the expression “Old Testament,” as applied to the first thirty-nine books of the Bible, didn’t appear until much later in the fourth century AD int he writings of Eusebius of Caesarea. Clearly, Eusebius started this divisive reference with the distinct intention to show the superiority of the New Testament over the Old Testament – even though the New Testament proclaims that “all Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Centuries later, G. L. Bauer (1755-1806) wrote the first book to use the title Old Testament (1796), wherein he tried to show that the Old and New Testament belonged to two different inspirations and that the Old Testament was foreign to the Christian faith. The outcry for the removal of the Old Testament from the canon of Scripture grew louder by the time of Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930). Harnack denounced the practice of retaining the Old Testament as part of the Christian canon as “an ecclesiastical and religious paralysis.” Friedrich Delitsch (1850-1922)* wrote Die Grosse Tauschung (The Great Deception) in 1920, in which he argued that the Old Testament was not a Christian book and the New Testament superseded it. Even more recently, Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) adopted explicit Marcionite views as he advocated that the Old Testament was a witness to a miscarriage of history as Israel failed to obey the law, which therefore necessitated the need for grace to replace it. The Old Testament was not a document for Christian faith according to Bultmann. Even Karl Barth (1886-1968), who did not agree with Bultmann, still usually stayed away from the Old Testament as he unadvisedly opposed the New Testament God of grace to the Old Testament God of law. (9-10)

There is another name that should (to the surprise of many including myself) that should be added to this conversation: John MacArthur. Before you react, let me explain.

A few years ago, MacArthur finished preaching verse-by-verse through the entire New Testament. It was a forty year effort that was completed when he finished the Gospel of Mark. Such an accomplishment is nothing short of amazing and thousands of pastors (including myself) around the world benefit from his exposition in the form of his New Testament commentaries as a result.

But why did he only preach expositionally through the New Testament? I have personally heard MacArthur state on multiple times that he views himself as a New Testament Christian and primarily uses the Old Testament as a means of illustrating, illuminating, or explaining the New Testament text before him.

To be honest, this is dangerous.

Let me clear here. MacArthur is not a Marcion by any stretch of the imagination and does not share the theology of the men in the Kaiser quote above. MacArthur is orthodox and has defended orthodoxy throughout his ministry. With that said, this one area of his preaching ministry, I believe, should not be followed by other expositors. The local pastor should feed his flock a healthy dose of both Testaments. Let us not forget that the apostles and first Christians had a Bible they were content with now known as the Old Testament and it should not be neglected.

That is my point here. Marcionism continues to haunt us especially in liberal circles and it should be rejected at all times. At the same time, we should be careful when we show an unhealthy favoritism toward the New at the cost of of the Old. Christ is on every page. Let us, therefore, read, study, and preach every page.


* Not to be confused with his father, Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890).

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