Theology 76 (1973) pp.201-3


TERTULLIAN: ADVERSUS MARCIONEM. Edited and translated by Ernest 
Evans. Oxford University Press, 1972. 2 volumes, xxiii+ 658 pp. 8.

"The Old Testament reveals a highly variable picture of God. He plants
and uproots, kills and makes alive, does good and creates evil; he com-
mands not to kill, but slaughters Amalekites; he commands not to steal,


but plunders Egyptians; he forbids covetousness, but is possessively
jealous; against breakers of his arbitrary and inconsistent laws he is
vindictively cruel; human weakness of character and human bodily
form are often attributed to him, though he repudiates both. The total
picture is at many points irreconcilable with the loving, gracious Father
revealed by Jesus, or with any sane philosophical view of the unchanging
goodness of the invisible God. Theology should start from the revelation
in Christ, from the sheer grace of God in sending his Son to take upon him
the curse which the Old Testament lays on offenders and to die for the
oppressed and outcast. This unparallelled kindness of God is our sole
datum for knowing and understanding him. The early Church distorted
the whole Gospel of Jesus and Paul when it set aside the doctrine of free
grace to which sinners freely respond in gratitude and love, and reintro-
dated Jewish legalism. In this legalism, God as dreadful Judge still punishes
and requires appeasement; the Old Testament is either taken literally
(with disastrous theological results) or absurdly spiritualized; and a crude
materialist eschatology is reinstated, with Christ returning as judge,
the resurrection of the flesh, and a millennium of bodily pleasure and
plenty on earth. The true destiny of the saints is a deliverance from the
world and the flesh in a real but spiritual communion with God. By
renouncing fleshly passions, by readiness for martyrdom, one may enjoy
even now the new life later to be consummated in release from the body."

    So one might summarize the principles which led Marcion to posit a
higher, purely good God above the vengeful and variable Creator who
spoke in the Old Testament, and to reform Christianity on the basis of
the "original" texts critically reconstructed from the Gospel of Luke
and the letters of Paul. Many modern Christians might agree the princi-
ples but shirk the conclusions. Tertullian repudiates the whole system,
launching against it his massive armoury of erudition, logic and rhetoric.
Far from rescuing the true deity from the vagaries of the world and history
Marcion had destroyed the concept of God, who is the unique highest
being and the source of all that is; he substitutes arbitrary intervention
for moral providence. Deliberately, irrevocably, God made man free,
but simultaneously bound himself divinely to punish. The difficulties
alleged in the Old Testament are sometimes intrinsically justifiable,
sometimes to be allegorically interpreted, sometimes (like the sacrificial
system) corrective expedients worthy of a considerate God; where they
apparently encroach upon his sovereign impassibility, they belong to the
condescending Son and not to the absolute Father. Marcion opposes
the just God to the good God, when he should see goodness and justice
inseparable in the one God.

    Turning in Book III to Christ, Tertullian claims that his mission is
unintelligible without its Old Testament antecedents. But these must
be sifted and explained with the aid of a complex tradition of exegesis
in which we cannot follow Tertullian. The method is not convincing,


nor is the textual foundation in the Old Latin Bible; which adds its own
mistakes and ambiguities to those of its Greek original, and which
Tertullian in turn sometimes misquotes. The bodily reality of Christ is
vindicated, and with it not only creation and the Creator's Scriptures,
but the flesh of man, a positive estimate of sex and marriage, the resurrec-
tion of the body and the earthly millennium--a doctrine which Tertullian
shared with almost all his non-gnostic Christian predecessors. Books IV
and V are detailed commentary on those Scriptures which Marcion
accepted, in which Tertullian strives to show that even what remains
of Luke and Paul is irreconcilable with Marcion's thesis. This is a battle
which Tertullian wins on points, though he has some trouble with Jesus'
more pungent aphorisms and Paul's less guarded mythological terms.
Altogether the sustained piece of New Testament exegesis makes interest-
ing reading.

    Evans is a fine Latinist. As an editor, he is no less subtle but usually
more prudent than his predecessors. It is rarely possible to impugn either
his textual judgement or his translation. The Introduction is sound, but
in its doctrinal parts conventional. There is no reference to W. Bauer's
demonstration that much oriental Christianity was Marcionite. Similarly,
we find the Millennium described as if it were a Montanist quirk (p. 247
n.2). The footnotes generally are learned and relevant, but sparse; more
cross-reference where Tertullian repeats himself would be useful. The
purpose of Appendix 2, which describes the Marcionite scriptures, is
not clear, and its account of the Gospel so compressed as to be barely
intelligible. But the shortcomings are slight compared with the service
done to theology by this splendid edition, in the series of Oxford Early
Christian Texts.

    Misprints are laudably few. So are minor errors. I noted in p. 32,
line 7 id est sine re is left untranslated (following Kroymann's text?);
similarly p. 124, line 25 peccatores sui; p. 614, line 19 deum significantly
misrendered Christ (should eum be read?). The note on p. 461 is mis-
conceived, the reference being clearly to Lk 5:12-16, where the leper
is unconditionally healed and only afterwards sent to the priest.

The University of Nottingham                                    STUART G. HALL


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