This site suggests that Marcion's version of The Gospel of Luke - a version which includes no birth narrative - was written before the version of Luke that includes the birth narrative, and that the birth narrative was probably written in response to Marcion. Others, however, say that Marcion removed the parts of Luke that he didn't agree with.

Was Marcion's gospel a shortening of a version of Luke that included the birth narrative? Or was the birth narrative added in response to Marcion's beliefs?

  • More information on an early Luke-Acts can be found in Did Luke use Josephus as a Source.
    – Frank Luke
    Oct 1, 2013 at 22:05
  • 1
    If Mark was the primary source for Luke it would mean that either the narrative was added to Luke at a later date or edited out of Mark. Both are possible but maybe not as late as Marcion It is a bit difficult to believe that Matthew and Luke would have different birth naratives if it was a later addition. Oct 6, 2013 at 11:45

3 Answers 3


Marcion's gospel is clearly based on Luke's gospel. That's not important by itself because all of the early Christian writers, including the writers of the books that became cannon, depended on one another.

Matthew and Luke were written in stages in the late first century, around AD 80. The Gospel of the Lord (Marcon's Gospel) was written around AD 140. Secular academics and progressive Christian scholars, who generally dispute the historical accuracy of both birth narratives (the events don't match up with recorded history), believe that the birth narratives were written last but there's no real consensus that they were written late enough to be in response to Marcion. Conservative Christian scholars will insist that Marcion removed the birth narrative and all references to the OT from Luke's gospel.

The problem with determining which came first is that everything we know about Marcion comes from his critics. Probably the most well known is Against Marcion by Tertulian. There are those who believe that Marcion was wrongly excommunicated but, it's clear that his works are very different from the majority view at the time. It's also important to know that the majority in AD 140 included a lot of people who had been taught directly by Jesus or by one of the Apostles.

Since we don't have any original manuscripts of any part of the Bible, we rely on copies that are from centuries after these works were written. We also trust that the scribes were faithful in preserving the original text, much as the Jews trust that the scribes who have copied the Torah for thousands of years have also been faithful. So, if the birth narratives were added after Marcion, it would mean that someone decided to break the faith and it would undermine the accuracy of the entire Bible.

In the end it all comes down to trust. You either trust the word of thousands of bishops and scribes throughout the past 2000 years or you don't. And until someone finds an original manuscript or invents a time machine that's all we've got.

  • 1
    What do you mean that the birth narratives are added latter? By who? By Matthew?
    – user4951
    Oct 1, 2013 at 1:49
  • There is a theory that Marcion's gospel caused an uproar and led to persons unknown editing the gospels of Matthew and Luke to include the birth narrative. It's not a theory I subscribe to but it's impossible to prove academically either way. Oct 1, 2013 at 11:52
  • @crownjewel82: Do you have any references for people making this claim about Matthew's birth narrative. I'd only ever seen it in relation to Luke.
    – Noah
    Oct 1, 2013 at 17:13
  • I was going to limit my answer to only Luke and then I saw this article on Myths surrounding Jesus' birth and I edited it to include Matthew. I think Luke gets mentioned most often because Marcion based his gospel on Luke's but it follows that people who challenge the narrative in Luke would also challenge it in Matthew. Oct 1, 2013 at 17:22

It is very important to keep in mind that we have no manuscripts of Macion's gospel and no translations of it. Furthermore, we have no extant neutral or pro-Marcion commentaries. The two commentaries we have, by Tertullian and Epiphanius, have a strongly anti-Marcion agenda, furthermore they disagree with each other at some key points. This makes saying anything certain about Marcion's gospel very difficult.

Your question really contains several separate questions:

Was Marcion's gospel older and closer to the historical Jesus than all the canonical gospels?

The answer to this is a resounding no. All scholars think that Mark predates Marcion's gospel and that Marcion's gospel was dependent on Mark. Furthermore, all scholars agree that Matthew also predates Marcion. Note that Matthew has a birth narrative, so birth narratives are indisputably older than Marcion. (Of course, Mark does not have a birth narrative, so gospels without birth narratives also indisputably predate Marcion.)

Was the birth narrative a later addition to Luke?

Many critical scholars think it's plausible and perhaps likely that the birth narrative is a later addition (possibly by the same author). The evidence is mostly circumstantial: the location of the genealogy is difficult to explain without this theory, Luke 3:1 reads like the beginning of a book, and many scholars think it makes more sense that the gospel that Marcion received (before he did whatever editing he did) also did not have the first two chapters. The evidence is far from overwhelming, and many scholars disagree, but it is a common opinion.

Was the birth narrative written in response to Marcion?

The vast majority of critical scholars think that Luke was written around 80 CE, and that Marcion's prime was much later (130 CE or later). So even scholars who think that the birth narrative was a later addition, generally don't think that it was a response to Marcion. On the other hand, there's a minority of scholars who think that Luke-Acts was written much later and in response to Marcion. A major book advocating this position is "Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle." This is a small minority opinion, but not a fringe opinion.

(Full disclosure: personally I find the arguments for a late anti-Marcionite Luke-Acts pretty strong. But I'm not an expert, and most experts are strongly in favor of 80ish AD.)

Did Marcion heavily edit his gospel

Sadly we don't really know, since we don't have Marcion's gospel, and we don't know whether his source was canonical Luke or one of canonical Luke's sources. Many scholars think the most plausible situation is that before doing any editing, the gospel used in Marcion's region was somewhat different from canonical Luke, but that Marcion probably did some editing himself as well.


Luke's Gospel was written after Marcion's. Most of the scholars assume Jesus was a real person that existed in the beginning of the first century and that the writers of the Gospels interviewed eyewitnesses. The Biblical Jesus could have originated from the life of Yeshu ben Pandera, aka Yeshu Ha-Notzri/Jesus the Nazarene/The Teacher of Righteousness who lived a century before the Biblical Jesus, and the Apostle Paul could have been based on the life of Apollonius of Tyana. The first actual historical reference to the Gospel of Luke wasn't until the late second century, after Marcion's death. The Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were both addressed to Most Excellent Theophilus. In the Toledot Yeshu, is was mentioned that after years of turmoil, the followers of Yeshu ben Pandera were ultimately exiled to Antioch. Rather than being written in Aramaic, the Gospel of Luke, as were the rest of the Gospels, written in Greek. Christians claim that the Gospels were translated, and that the word spread like wildfire. Or, possibly the Gospel of Luke was written by Lucian of Samosata and addressed to the Christian patriarch Theophilus of Antioch, who both live in the late second century. That would explain who Theophilus was, why the Gospel of Luke was written in Greek. The reason why there was already a church in Antioch so soon after the supposed death of Jesus, is because the church was in Antioch for a long time.

The primary difference between the Gospel of Luke and Marcion's Gospel of the Lord is the birth narrative. When one closely studies the contradictions in the birth narrative, google "Myths Surrounding the Birth of Jesus", it becomes apparent that the birth stories are fiction. The author of Luke makes great pains to get the birth of Jesus to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy and connect him with the lineage of King David. He creates a bizarre census the contradicts history and would create chaos, plus the heritage doesn't match Mathew's at all. Obviously he's trying to connect Jesus to the Jewish religion and heritage. There is a Bib1 - Bib14 video series on the creation of the Gospels detailing the source of the birth narrative, which is the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. The birth narratives of Matthew and Luke don't make sense, but is more complete in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. However the writers objected. The resurrection story was derived from the Gospel of Peter.

Another good source is nazoreans.com which goes into more detail regarding the New Testament creation. In my opinion the natural approach to explaining the Bible fits the best, but ultimately it comes down to whether one prefers a miraculous approach or a more natural approach at explaining the world we live in.

  • 1
    Luke's Gospel was written after Marcion's. That is a VERY bold assertion (I am not aware of a single scholar that believes that), and needs to be backed up, not just taken as a fact. Based on the rest of your answer, I think you are confusing the Gospel of Mark with Marcion's gospel. Marcion was a second century heretic who (according to all extant accounts) used an edited version of Luke's gospel + Paul's letters as his only scripture. None of Marcion's actual writing survives... Other than that error, your answer is just thoughts on the reliability of Luke, which is not what was asked.
    – ThaddeusB
    Nov 9, 2015 at 2:49
  • 1
    Much of your information is flat out wrong,BTW. The people you got this information are either very confused (for example, conflating the dating of Gospel of Thomas with the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a much later work) or purposely deceiving.
    – ThaddeusB
    Nov 9, 2015 at 3:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.