Cerinthus

c.100. Heretic who lived in Asia Minor. His theology appears to have been a combination of Ebionite theology with Gnostic speculation. The world, he taught, was not the creation of the Supreme God, but that of an inferior angel who held the world in bondage. According to him, Jesus was a normal man, the son of Joseph and Mary, who differed from ordinary men only in greater wisdom and righteousness. He was chosen by the Supreme God to proclaim Him and release the world from its bondage. For this task the Christ descended upon him at his baptism in the form of a dove, sent from the Father. This Christ departed from Jesus before his crucifixion, and it was only Jesus who suffered and rose again. Cerinthus taught also a carnal doctrine of the Millennium, in that at his coming Jesus would introduce 1,000 years of sensuous pleasure before the consummation. According to the Alogi,* Cerinthus was the author of the gospel of John and the Apocalypse.


CERINTHUS sə rĭn’ thəs (Κήρινθος). Cerinthus is not mentioned in the Bible. He was an early Gnostic who lived at the close of the first Christian cent. According to Irenaeus, he appeared about the year 88, was known to the Apostle John, and it was in refutation of his errors that John wrote his gospel. The apocryphal Epistle of the Apostles, written around the middle of the second cent., lists him with Simon Magus as one of the two “false apostles, concerning whom it is written that no man shall cleave with them.”

Cerinthus was a Jew by race and religion. He studied in Alexandria, appeared in Pal., and was most active in western Asia Minor, spreading his false teaching about the person of Christ. He taught that the world was created, not by God, but by a power far separated from Him; that Jesus was the natural son of Joseph and Mary, although he was more righteous, prudent, and wise than other men; that at Jesus’ baptism the Christ descended upon Him in the likeness of a dove, providing Him miraculous powers; that at His death the Christ departed from Him, so that it was only the human Jesus that died and rose again. These views regarding Christ became known as Cerinthianism.

Epiphanius claims that he was the arch-opponent of both Paul and John. There is, however, no evidence that he was active during the ministry of Paul. Irenaeus relates that when the Apostle John went to the bath at Ephesus, upon learning that Cerinthus was there, he fled for fear that the bath should fall to pieces.

Cerinthus reflects a syncretism of Gnosticism, Judaism, and Christianity. He is said to have insisted on the necessity of circumcision and the observance of the Jewish sabbath. He held a rather crude view of the millennium, that the righteous would enjoy a paradise of sensual delights in Pal., and that Jesus, through the power of the divine Logos coming upon Him, would reign as the Messiah for one thousand years.