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The Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-four Formative Texts Hardcover – November 15, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1248 pages
  • Publisher: Signature Books; 1 edition (November 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560851945
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560851943
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 2.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

 Robert M. Price holds doctoral degrees from Drew University in both theology and New Testament. He is currently Professor of Scriptural Studies at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, traveling lecturer for the Center for Inquiry Institute in Amherst, New York, and editor of the Journal of Higher Criticism. His books include The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical PaulDeconstructing Jesus, The Da Vinci Fraud, The Reason-Driven Life, Paul as Text: The Apostle and the Apocrypha, and The Widow Traditions in Luke-Acts: A Feminist-Critical Scrutiny. He has published in the American Rationalist, Evangelical Quarterly, Journal of Psychology and Theology, Reformed Journal, and elsewhere.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Marcionite invasion

The history of a distinctively Christian scriptural canon begins with Marcion of Pontus in Asia Minor. Traditionally dated about 140 AD/CE, Marcion actually may have begun his public ministry earlier, just after the turn of the century. One ancient tradition makes Marcion the amanuensis (secretary) of the evangelist John at the end of the first century. That is probably not historically true, but no one would have told the story if they had not assumed Marcion was living at that time. It was a general tendency of early Catholic apologists to late-date the so-called “heretics” to distance them from the apostolic period in the same way apologists today prefer the earliest possible date for the epistles and gospels.

Marcion was the first Paulinist we know of. It would later be a matter of some embarrassment to the church fathers that the earliest readers and devotees of the Pauline epistles were the Marcionites and the Valentinian Gnostics. We know of no Paulinists before these second-century Christians. The mid-first century existence of Pauline Christianity is simply an inference, admittedly a natural one, from taking the authorship and implied dates of the Pauline epistles at face value as works representing a wing of first-century Christianity. But it is quite possible that the Pauline literature is the product of Marcionite and Gnostic movements in the late first and early second centuries. Even if most of the Pauline epistles are genuinely from the first century, the most likely candidate for the first collector of the corpus remains Marcion. No one else in the relevant time period would have had either the interest or the opportunity. No one was as interested in Paul as Marcion. Why?

It was because he shared with his theological cousins, the Gnostics, the belief that the true God and Father of Jesus Christ was not the same deity as the creator and law-giver God of Israel and of the Jewish scriptures. In this belief Marcion was perhaps influenced by Zoro-astrian Zurvanism, a dualistic doctrine, as Jan Koester suggests. Marcion allowed that the creator God was righteous and just but also harsh and retributive. His seeming grace was but a function of his arbitrariness: Nero might render a verdict of thumbs-up or thumbs-down as the whim moved him, and so with the God of Israel. Marcion deemed the Jewish scriptures historically true and expected messianic prophecies to be fulfilled by a Davidic king who would restore Jewish sovereignty. But Marcion deemed all of this strictly irrelevant to the new religion of Christianity. In his view, which he claimed to have derived from Paul’s epistles, Jesus Christ was the son and revealer of an alien God who had not created the world, had not given the Torah to Moses, and would not judge mankind. The Father of Jesus Christ was a God of perfect love and righteousness who would punish no one. Through Jesus, and by extension Paul, the Christian God offered humans the opportunity to be adopted as his children. If they were gentiles, this meant a break with paganism. If they were Jews, it entailed a break from Judaism and the Torah. Marcion preached a strict morality. All sex was sinful. Begetting children only produced more souls to live in bondage to the creator. Marcion believed Jesus had no physical birth but had appeared out of heaven one day in a body that seemed to be that of a thirty-year-old, complete with a misleading belly button, although not human at all: rather a celestial being. Jesus taught and was later crucified. His twelve disciples were to spread his gospel of an alien God and his adoption of all who would come to him. But things v/ent awry: the disciples, as thick-headed and prone to misunderstanding as they appear in the Gospel of Mark, underestimated the discontinuity of Jesus’ new revelation with their hereditary Judaism, thereby combining the two. This was the origin of the Judaiz-ing heresy with which Paul deals in Galatians and elsewhere.

Marcion had noticed an oddity most Christians never notice as they read the New Testament: if Jesus had named the Twelve to succeed him and seemed satisfied with them, why was there a need for Paul at all? And why should he come to eclipse the others in importance? The Twelve are, for the most part, merely a list of names. By contrast, Paul wrote letters that formed the basis of much of the church’s theology. Marcion saw a simple answer: the risen Jesus saw how far off the track his disciples would go and decided to recruit another who would get the message straight. This was Paul. To invoke a recurrent pattern in Christian history, think of Martin Luther, Alexander Campbell, John Nelson Darby, Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, Victor Paul Wierwille, and others. All these believed that original, apostolic Christianity was corrupted by an admixture of human tradition, and they believed they had a new vision of the outlines of the original, true Christianity and could restore it. This is what Marcion thought already in the early second century. It should not sound that strange to us. Like these later men, Marcion would succeed very well in launching a new church, one that would spread like wildfire all over and even beyond the Roman Empire. Most noteworthy is the fact that the New Testament was his idea.

The emerging Catholic Church, which would develop into the medieval church, which then subsequently split into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, was by this time employing the familiar authority structure of scripture and tradition. By scripture was meant the Septuagint, the Greek translation of Jewish scriptures, including the so-called apocryphal or deutero-canonical books of the Maccabees, Judith, Tobit, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, Baruch, the Epistle of Jeremiah, 1 Esdras, and so on. This was “scripture.” Tradition, on the other hand, was a growing body of sayings attributed to Jesus and stories about him, as well as the summaries of “apostolic” doctrine represented in such formulae as the Apostles Creed and similar summaries in the late second century by writers like Irenaeus and Tertullian, to name two. There were a number of early Christian writings of various kinds (gospels, epistles, apostolic acts, revelations, church manuals) that were written and circulated more or less widely, but these were at first more expressions of than either the source or criteria for faith. That is not to say they were not important. Think of the writings of Calvin and Luther: they are important to Calvinists and Lutherans who still study them, but Calvinists and Lutherans would not consider the wise writings of their founders to be scripture on the same level with the Bible. Admittedly, the difference in actual practice may evaporate, but that is just the technical distinction that is important here. The question that concerns us is precisely how the early Christian writings came to cross that line and join the category of scripture. The earliest Catholic Christians felt no need as yet for new scripture since they found the Septuagint Bible adequate to their needs as long as they could use allegory and typology to see in it a book about Jesus Christ and Christianity.

This reinterpretation of Jewish scripture was not something Mar-cion was willing to undertake. He insisted on a literal, straightforward reading of the Septuagint, refusing to treat it as a ventriloquist dummy and make it seem to speak with Christian accents. Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428) had the same attitude, though he was no Marcionite. Read in a plain-sense fashion, the Jewish scriptures, Mar-cion realized, had nothing to do with Christianity. Even lacking his belief in two different biblical Gods, one can see his point when one thinks of the strained arguments needed in order to make various Old Testament passages sound like predictions of Jesus. And it is still common today to hear Christians contrast the severe God of Israel with the tender Father of Jesus. So Marcion repudiated the Jewish scriptures. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe them, because he did. He simply felt they were the scriptures of someone else’s religion and didn’t overlap with Christianity as he understood it. Nor was he anti-Semitic or even anti-Judaic. For him, Judaism was true on its own terms, just not the religion of Jesus Christ or of the apostle Paul.

Without the Septuagint as his scripture, Marcion felt the need to compile a new canon that would teach Christian faith and morals authoritatively. He accordingly collected the early Christian writings he felt served this purpose. These were paramountly the Pauline epistles except for the Pastorals, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, because these did not exist yet, still waiting to be written in reaction to Marcion and other “heretics” in the mid-second century. Marcion had shorter, earlier versions of the texts than ours. Likewise, he had a book he knew simply as “the gospel” corresponding to a shorter version of our Gospel of Luke. Catholic writers decades later would claim he had edited and censored the texts, cutting out material that served to link Christianity with its Jewish background. Marcion no doubt did do some editing, textual criticism as it seemed to him, but it seems that Catholic apologists did much more in the way of padding the texts with their own added material, claiming their own versions were original and should be adopted instead of the Marcionite text. Marcion called his scripture the Apostolicon (“Book of the Apostle”). In his and his opponents’ claims and counter claims, we begin to see the inevitable relation of the twin issues of text and canon–which versions of which writings are authoritative?

More About the Author

Robert M. Price (Selma, NC), professor of scriptural studies at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, is the editor (with Jeffery Jay Lowder) of The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave and the Journal of Higher Criticism. He is also the author of Top Secret: The Truth Behind Today's Pop Mysticisms; The Paperback Apocalypse: How the Christian Church Was Left Behind; The Reason-Driven Life: What Am I Here on Earth For? and many other works.

Customer Reviews

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Footnotes are placed strategically and provide a very illuminating commentary on the text.
P. Gangopadhyay
The first word that comes to mind when reading Dr. Robert M. Price's opus "The Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-four Formative Texts" is "massive."
Acharya S aka D.M. Murdock
When I received my Pre-Nicene NT I was EXTREMELY impressed with the quality of the printing, design and typography.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

198 of 200 people found the following review helpful By Acharya S aka D.M. Murdock on May 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The first word that comes to mind when reading Dr. Robert M. Price's opus "The Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-four Formative Texts" is "massive." It is a massive undertaking, a massive amount of research and a massive volume of writing, comprising over 1200 pages. With TPNNT, Price has produced a book that could literally serve as a weapon in the pummeling of logic into the human mind. To review properly such an enormous and effective endeavor could in itself constitute the pursuit of a lifetime. Having said that - somewhat in jest - I have nonetheless put pen to paper to provide a proper analysis of a worthy effort.

There can be little doubt that Dr. Price is one of the leading luminaries in New Testament studies, bringing with him not only an impressive amount of erudition but also a fresh perspective of an old and festering dilemma, which is the probable condition of the New Testament prior to the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD/CE. Price does well to start off his exegesis of some 54 early Christian texts, both canonical and non, with a discussion of Christian bishop and Gnostic "heretic" Marcion (c. 110-160 AD/CE), as it is universally accepted that Marcion was the first producer of a "New Testament" canon. Indeed, in between Price's impressive translations of these texts, as well as in the footnotes, appear nuggets of material that help fill out the overall thesis of the work: To wit, the pre-Nicene New Testament essentially originated with Marcion, as was related in ancient times. This fact I also asserted in The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold (1999), following the scholarship of other individuals over the centuries.
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113 of 118 people found the following review helpful By Scott Knickelbine on December 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Price has produced a massive volume with a jaw-dropping revelation on every page. He includes plenty of non-canonical works from early Christianity, including some -- like the Book of John the Baptizer -- that one rarely finds in print. But it is Price's own translations of familiar New Testament texts that make this book such an eye opener. Not beholden to any theological agenda, Price lets these texts speak for themselves, and what they say reveals the incredible diversity of early Christian thought. For just one example, his translations of the Pauline epistles reveal them to be full of docetic and gnostic references that led Tertullian to dub Paul "the apostle of the heretics." Price's footnotes often show how Gospel stories derive from Old Testament or pagan prototypes. If you're interested in early Christianity or the textual basis of the world's largest religion, you've got to have this book
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71 of 74 people found the following review helpful By P. Gangopadhyay on January 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a collection brimming with information. The translation of the texts is superb. It is a great help that doubtful sections (possible interpolations or redactions) are given in italics. Footnotes are placed strategically and provide a very illuminating commentary on the text. There is a survey of higher criticism of the Bible at the end that is very helpful to the reader. A reader of this book can see the influence of Greek and Egyptian thought on these new testament texts. In all, this is a very satisfying and informative read.

However, staunch Christians will most certainly not like this book.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By A. Ort on June 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"Indications that..." "If..." "Seems to have..." "Perhaps influenced by..." "Pretty much..."

These are the words that flood this dense volume of texts. Price lays out 54 texts which includes the traditional NT documents, other famous documents such as The Gospel of Thomas, some lesser known documents and recreations of other tentative documents such as The Gospel of Marcion. This is obviously the summation of a lifetime of labor. Fascinating. Brilliant. One worth owning.


Every source possible has been included here in deconstructing these texts. The problem here is that it begins to sound conspirational. Here are some snippets (out of context, certainly, but the statements alone indicate quite clearly where this is going...).

"The sayings included here are the ones appearing in al-Ghazali's Revival of the Religious Scienes, a twelfth-century Sufi work. There are indications the author may have derived all of these sayings from a source with earlier Christian roots. If the historical Jesus were a Cynic, this is the sort of thing he would have said." (p. 49)

How is a twelfth-century Sufi work Pre-Nicene?

"Like the other gospels, Mark seems to have come from the mid-second century..." (p. 69)

"Literally, "the word" perhaps influenced by the Stoic doctrine of..." (p. 79)

"In the present hypothetical reconstruction, we may see [the Gospel of Hebrews] as in a glass darkly, but we are seeing it. From our rather substantial evidence, we can be sure it must have looked pretty much like this." (p. 180)

He recreates a Gospel of Marcion and then lays out his reasons for believing that Galatians is primarily a Marcionite document. "Marcion wrote only what we read as chapters 3-6.
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