), probably belonged to the first century of the Christian aera, though he has been assigned to the second by Basnage and others.
The fathers by whom he is mentioned make him contemporary with the Apostle John, and there is no ground for rejecting their testimony.
He has been universally placed in the list of heretics, and may be reckoned the first who taught principles afterwards developed and embodied in the Gnostic system.
According to Epiphanius, he was a Jew by birth; and Theodoret (Haeret. Fabul.
lib. ii.) asserts, that he studied philosophy at Alexandria.
It is probable, however, that during his residence in Egypt he had not imbibed all the sentiments which he subsequently held; they rather seem to have been adopted while he abode in Asia Minor, where he spent the greater part of his life.
This is accordant with the statement of Epiphanius that he propagated his doctrines in Asia. Whether he often encountered the apostles themselves at Jerusalem, Caesareia, and Antioch, as the same writer affirms, is questionable. Tradition states, that he lived at Ephesus while John was in that city. Nothing is known of the time and manner of his death.
It is not difficult to reconcile the varying accounts of his system given by Irenaeus, Epiphanius, Caius, and Dionysius of Alexandria. Irenaeus reckons him a thorough Gnostic; while Caius and Dionysius ascribe to him a gross and sensual Chiliasm or Millennarianism, abhorrent to the nature of Gnosticism. If it be true that the origin of the Gnostic is to be sought in the Judaising sects, as Neander believes, the former uniting Jewish Theosophy with Christianity, Cerinthus's system represents the transition-state, and the Jewish elements were subsequently refined and modified so as to exhibit less grossness. Irenaeus himself believed in Chiliasm, and therefore he did not mention it as a peculiar feature in the doctrines of Cerinthus; while Caius, a strenuous opponent of Millennarianism, would naturally describe it in the worst colours. Thus the accounts of both may be harmonised.
His system, as collected from the notices of Irenaeus, Caius, Dionysius, and Epiphanius, consisted of the following particulars: He taught that the world was created by angels, over whom presided one from among themselves.
This presiding spirit or power was so far inferior to the Supreme Being as to be ignorant of his character.
He was also the sovereign and lawgiver of the Jews. Different orders of angels existed in the pleroma, among whom those occupied with the affairs of this world held the lowest rank.
The man Jesus was a Jew, the son of Joseph and Mary by ordinary generation, but distinguished for his wisdom and piety. Hence he was selected to be the Messiah. When he was baptized by John in the Jordan, the Christ, or Logos, or Holy Spirit, descended from heaven in form of a dove and entered into his soul. Then did he first become conscious of his future destination, and receive all necessary qualifications to enable him to discharge its functions. Henceforward he became perfectly acquainted with the Supreme God, revealed Him to men, was exalted above all the angels who managed the affairs of the world, and wrought miracles by virtue of the spiritual energy that now dwelt in him. When Jesus was apprehended at the instigation of the God of the Jews, the logos departed from him and returned to the Father, so that the man Jesus alone suffered.
After he had been put to death and consigned to the grave he rose again. Epiphanius says, that Cerinthus adhered in part to Judaism.
He appears to have held that the Jewish law was binding upon Christians in a certain sense
, probably that sense in which it was explained by the logos when united to Jesus.
He maintained that there would be a resurrection of the body, and that the righteous should enjoy a paradise of delights in Palestine, where the man Jesus appearing again as the Messiah by virtue of the logos associated with him, and having conquered all his enemies, should reign a thousand years.
It is not likely that he connected with the millennial reign of Christ such carnal pleasures as Caius and Dionysius allege.
It is clear that he received the books of the Old Testament; and the evidence which has been adduced to prove his rejection of the gospels, or any part of them, is unsatisfactory. Epiphanius affirms, that he rejected Paul
on account of the apostle's renunciation of circumcision, but whether this means all
Paul's writings it is impossible to determine. Several of the Fathers relate, that John on one occasion went into the bath at Ephesus, but on seeing Cerinthus came out in haste, saying, " Let us flee home, lest the bath should fall while Cerinthus is within."
It is also an ancient opinion that John wrote his Gospel to refute Cerinthus.
Walch, Entwurf der Geschichte der Ketzereien,
vol. i.; Neander, Kirchengeschichte,
vol. i. part 2; Mosheim, Institut. Hist. Christ. Major.,
and his Comment. de Rebus Christianorum ante Constant. M.;
Schmidt, Cerinth ein Judaisirender Christ,
in his Bib. für Kritik und Exegese des N. T.
vol. i.; Paulus, Historia Cerinthi,
in his Introductionis in N. T. capita selectiora ;
Lardner, History of Heretics,
Works, vol. iv., 4to. edition.