The Anti-Marcionite Prologues to the Gospels

Introduction

The Anti-Marcionite Prologues to the Gospels are short prefixes to the gospels of Mark, Luke, and John. If there ever was a prefix to the gospel of Matthew it has been lost. The prologues are so named because they were once thought by Donatien de Bruyne to have an anti-Marcion sentiment. In fact, only the prologue to John contains a clear anti-Marcion sentiment.

Manuscripts

The prologues are found together for the first time in the 8th century Latin ms T (Toletanus) and later in the mss FNS. The prologues to Mark and John are found only in Latin while one Greek ms (Athens 91 = A) preserves the prologue to Luke. It is generally agreed that all of these prologues were originally written in Greek.

Unity

It is not clear how these prologues were brought together. Lee Martin McDonald argues that the Lukan prologue probably circulated independently at first since it mentions other writings (John, Revelation), has a different style, and is longer in length.1

Historical Value

The prologues cannot be dated with precision with scholars giving dates between the 2nd and 4th centuries. Most scholars consider the prologue to John to be anachronistic and historically false. They doubt that Papias wrote the gospel for John and that John both opposed and condemned Marcion. The prologues support the widespread tradition regarding the authorship of the gospels.

How much of the tradition found in the Prologue [to Luke] is dependable? One of the least likely lapses in early Christian memory would be the name of the author of two major works (Luke and Acts), especially the widely circulated Gospel, but on other details, not all of this tradition is probable. The Antioch connection probably stems from an improbable inference from Acts 13:1 (connecting the author with Lucius of Cyrene); Luke’s information about Antioch is also sketchier than his report of Paul’s travels (especially the “we” material), despite its significance for the early Christian mission and for Paul himself. The name of his place of origin could also be a case of a prominent locale claiming a prominent figure for itself.

Other aspects of the Prologue‘s tradition are of questionable weight. The author’s occupation in the tradition can be inferred from Col 4:14, given the tradition of his name. That he was a disciple of the apostles could represent a reasonable surmise or apologetic move or even a general statement about his generation; that he remained unmarried might reflect the rising tide of sexual asceticism in the church. The date of this prologue is also uncertain.2

Translation

Roger Pearse has kindly translated the Anti-Marcionite Prologues to the Gospels:

Mark

. . . Mark recorded, who was called Colobodactylus [the nickname means “stumpy finger”], because he had fingers that were too small for the height of the rest of his body. He himself was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself, the same man wrote this gospel in the parts of Italy.

Luke

Indeed Luke was an Antiochene Syrian, a doctor by profession, a disciple of the apostles: later however he followed Paul until his martyrdom, serving the Lord blamelessly. He never had a wife, he never fathered children, and died at the age of eighty-four, full of the Holy Spirit, in Boetia. Therefore — although gospels had already been written — indeed by Matthew in Judaea but by Mark in Italy — moved by the Holy Spirit he wrote down this gospel in the parts of Achaia, signifying in the preface that the others were written before his, but also that it was of the greatest importance for him to expound with the greatest diligence the whole series of events in his narration for the Greek believers, so that they would not be led astray by the lure of Jewish fables, or, seduced by the fables of the heretics and stupid solicitations, fall away from the truth. And so at once at the start he took up the extremely necessary [story] from the birth of John, who is the beginning of the gospel, the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ, and was a companion in the perfecting of the people, likewise in the introducing of baptism and a companion in martyrdom. Of this disposition the prophet Malachi, one of the twelve, certainly makes mention. And indeed afterwards the same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Later the apostle John wrote the Apocalypse on the island of Patmos, and then the Gospel in Asia.

John

The Gospel of John was revealed and given to the churches by John while still in the body, just as Papias of Hieropolis, the close disciple of John, related in the exoterics, that is, in the last five books. Indeed he wrote down the gospel, while John was dictating carefully. But the heretic Marcion, after being condemned by him because he was teaching [lit. sentiebat: he was thinking] the opposite to him [John], was expelled by John. But he [Marcion] had brought writings or letters to him [John] from the brothers which were in Pontus.

Bibliography

“Anti-Marcionite (Gospel) Prologues.” Anchor Bible Dictionary. 1992.

Keener, Craig S. Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Volume 1: Introduction and 1:1-2:47. Baker Academic, 2012. Pages 410.

“Anti-Marcionite Prologues.” The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible. 2010.


  1. Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.262 
  2. Keener 2012, 410 
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