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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Probably Cerinthus was educated in Egypt (Hippol., vii. 7, 33; x. 21 [ed. Duncker]); certainly he taught in proconsular Asia contemporaneously with John, the writer of the Gospel and Epistles, i.e. in the last quarter of the 1st cent. a.d. (Polycarp, quoted in Iren., adv. Haer . iii. iii. 4). Cerinthus is one of the earliest of the Gnostics. The world, he taught, was made not by the Supreme God, but by a Power inferior to, and ignorant of, Him. He denied the virgin birth of Jesus, who was, however, pre-eminent for righteousness, prudence, and wisdom. Ho separated Jesus and Christ. Christ descended on Jesus after baptism and left Him before the crucifixion. Jesus suffered and rose again, but Christ, a pure spirit, was impassible (Iren., adv. Haer . i. xxvi. 1; cf. iii. xi. 1; Hippol., vii. 33, x. 21; Pseudo-Tertullian, adv. omn . Haer . x.).

It is not incredible that Cerinthus judaized to the extent of teaching the obligation of circumcision and the Sabbath (Epiph., Haer . chs. i. and ii., and Philaster). Though Judaizing and Gnosticism afterwards became inconsistent with each other, at Cerinthus’ stage such a limited alliance is not unthinkable. It is, however, his christology that is most important, and it is an interesting query-Is it this that is attacked in 1 John? Beyond doubt St. John has an actual heresy in view; he gives no mere general warning against errors that may arise. The crucial passage is  1 John 4:2-3 a, which, literally translated from the critical texts, reads: ‘Hereby know ye the spirit of God; every spirit which confesses Jesus Christ come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which confesses not Jesus is not of God.’ The use of ‘Jesus’ alone in  1 John 4:3 a makes it almost certain that  1 John 4:2 should be taken to mean ‘confesses Jesus as Christ come in the flesh.’ Thus it is not Docetism that is opposed, but a separation such as Cerinthus made between Jesus and Christ. Further, according to Socrates ( HE [Note: E Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.).]vii. 32), ‘confesses not’ in  1 John 4:3 was substituted for an original ‘dissolves’ or ‘disrupts’ (λύει, so Vulgate solvit ). If we accept this, the case may be said to be proved. It is exactly the christology of Cerinthus that is attacked. So in  1 John 2:22, the denial that Jesus is Christ can scarcely be the old Jewish denial, but a refusal like that of Cerinthus to identify Jesus with Christ. Again, in  1 John 5:6 ‘blood’ probably refers either to the birth or to the death of Christ, both of which Cerinthus denied. Quite possibly other errors are in St. John’s mind as well as Cerinthianism. Docetism, no doubt, was a real danger, and passages like  1 John 1:1 f. seem to have it in view. But it is probable in the highest degree that it is mainly Cerinthus who is to St. John the enemy of the truth.

The errors dealt with in 1 John had antinomian consequences. According to Gaius of Rome (quoted by Euseb., HE [Note: E Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.).]iii. 28), Cerinthus taught the coming of a millennium of sensual delights. Too much credence, however, is not to be attached to such statements. In early days, as always heretics were readily and rashly painted as moral delinquents, and, as noted above, John may have others besides Cerinthus in view.

Other views have been attributed to Cerinthus, but the evidence is so scanty, confused, and contradictory, that it is not worth while to state them.

Literature.-J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians and  Philemon 1:3, London, 1879; H. L. Mansel, The Gnostic Heresies , do. 1875; A. Hilgenfeld, Ketzergeschichte , Leipzig, 1884, p. 411ff.; D. R. A. Lipsius, Zur Quellenkritik d. Epiphanios , Vienna, 1865, p. 328f.; R. Law, The Tests of Life , Edinburgh, 1909, chs. ii. and xiii.; article‘Cerinthus,’ by A. S. Peake, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics iii. 318.

W. D. Niven.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [2]

( Κήρινθος ), a heresiarch, who lived in the time of the apostle John, towards the end of the first and at the beginning of the second century. The accounts of the ancients and the opinions of modern writers are equally at variance with respect to him. He was a Jew by nation and religion, who, after having studied in the schools of Alexandria, appeared in Palestine, and spread his errors chiefly in Asia Minor. Our sources of information as to his doctrines are Irenaeus, adv. Haer. 1:26; Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3:28; 7:25; Epiphanius, Haer. 28; and Theodoret, Fab. Haer. 2:3 (Opp. tom. 3). Epiphanius makes him to have been one of those Jews who, in their zeal for the law of Moses, troubled the Church of Antioch by insisting on the necessity of the legal ceremonies for the Gentile converts; but in this he is probably mistaken. The account of Irenaeus is that he appeared about the year 88, and was known to St. John, who wrote his Gospel in refutation of his errors. Irenaus, on the authority of Polycarp, narrates that the apostle John, when at Ephesus, going on a certain day to the bath, and finding Cerinthus within, fled from the building, saying, "Let us even be gone, lest the bath should fall to pieces, Cerinthus, that enemy of the truth, being within." Eusebius (3:28), quoting from the presbyter Caius, states that Cerinthus put forth some Revelations, written by himself, as it were by some great apostle, filled with the most monstrous narrations, which he pretended to have received from angels.

As to his peculiar tenets, also, "there is great difference of opinion. Some consider his system to be pure Gnosticism; others a compound of Gnosticism, Judaism, and Christianity. Irenaeus says, 'Cerinthus taught that the world was not made by the supreme God, but by a certain power (Demiurge) separate from Him, and below Him, and ignorant of Him. Jesus he supposed not to be born of a virgin, but to be the son of Joseph and Mary, born altogether as other men are; but he excelled all men in virtue, knowledge, and wisdom. At His baptism, the Christ came down upon Him, from God who is over all, in the shape of a dove; and then He declared to the world the unknown Father, and wrought miracles. At the end, the Christ left Jesus, and Jesus suffered and rose again, but the Christ, being spiritual, was impassible.' Epiphanius says nearly the same, but asserts that Cerinthus taught that the world was made by angels, and that he opposed the apostles in Judaea. It appears that Cerinthus considered Christ an ordinary man, born in the usual way, and devoid of miraculous powers, but distinguished from the rest of the Jews by possessing superior wisdom, so that He was worthy to be chosen as the Messiah; that he knew nothing of his high dignity till it was revealed to Him in His baptism by John, when He was consecrated to the Messiahship, and furnished with the necessary powers for the fulfillment of His office by the descent of the supreme Logos or Spirit from the heavens, which hung over Him like a dove, and at length entered into His heart; that He was then raised to the dignity of the Son of God, began to perform miracles, and even angels were now taught by His revelations; that redemption could not be effected by His sufferings. Jesus, in union with the mighty Spirit of God, could not suffer, but must triumph over all His enemies. The very fact of suffering was assumled to be a proof that the Spirit of God, which had been previously united to Him, was now separated from Him, and had returned to the Father. The sufferings were of the man Jesus, now left to himself. Cerinthus denied also the resurrection of Christ. He adhered in part to Judaism, and considered the Mosaic law binding on Christians. He taught that the righteous would enjoy a paradise of delights in Palestine, and that the man Jesus, through the power of the Logos again coming upon him, as the Messiah, would reign a thousand years" (Farrar, Ecclesiastes Dict. s.v.). It is supposed that Cerinthus and his doctrines are alluded to in John's Gospel. The system of Cerinthus seems to combine Ebionitism with Gnosticism, and the Judaeo-Christian millenarianism. A full discussion of Cerinthus and his doctrines is given by Mosheim, Comment. 100:1, § 70. See also Gieseler, Ch. Hist. period 1, § 36; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, 1, § 23; Neander, Ch. Hist. 1:396; Neander, Planting, etc. 1:325, 392; Dormer, Lehre v. d. Person Christi, 1:310; Lardner, Works, 8:404 sq.; Schaff, Ch. Hist. 1:236; Paulus, Historia Cerinthi (Jena, 1795); Schmidt, in Bibliothek f Ü r Kritik, etc. 1:181 sq.; Cunningham, Historical Theology, 1:125 sq.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [3]

A heresiarch of the first century, whom, according to tradition, St. John held in special detestation, presumably as denying the Father and the Son.