Cerinthus was a Jewish Christian from Egypt and the Gnostic arch-heretic that St. John opposed. In Ephesus, this man was a leader of a Gnostic cult which took the teachings of pagan Gnosticism and mixed them with Christian doctrine. These heresies today could be compared with many of the errors in the Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists and Mormon cults. No writings of any kind have come down to us but many of the church fathers have written of Cerinthus' false teachings. John recoiled from the presence of Cerinthus.

Cerinthus admitted to one Supreme Being, taught that the world was produced by an aeon, a distinct and far inferior power (a lesser god) who made the earth. He does not even identify this Creator or Demiurges with the Jehovah of the Old Testament but similar to the Latter Day Saint heresies, with angels that have both made the world and given the law. The absurdity of the heresy is stretched to the point that these creator-angels were ignorant of the existence of the Supreme God. Cerinthus denied grace by holding to the law as sacred and believed that obedience to its precepts would lead to salvation. Cerinthus distinguished between Jesus and Christ and was one of the founders of Docetism, in that form spoke of Jesus as merely man, born of Joseph and Mary and did not become the "Christ" until thirty years later at the time of his baptism. At that time the nature of the "Christ" had descended at his baptism in the form of a dove, leaving again at the crucifixion. Jesus was merely a man, though eminent in holiness. Cerinthus therefore taught that Jesus had a dual nature, both Jesus as physical and the "Christ" as spiritual. When Jesus suffered and died, the "Christ" departed leaving only the human Jesus to die and was no physical resurrection from the dead, or, as some say Cerinthus taught, He will be raised from the dead at the Last Day when all men will rise with Him.

Tertullian wrote this of Cerinthus: "After him (Carpocrates) broke out the heretic Cerinthus, teaching similarly. For he, too, says that the world was originated by those angels; and sets forth Christ as born of the seed of Joseph, contending that He was merely human, without divinity; affirming also that the Law was given by angels; representing the God of the Jews as not the Lord, but an angel. His successor was Ebion, not agreeing with Cerinthus in every point; in that he affirms the world to have been made by God, not by angels; and because it is written, "No disciple above his master, nor servant above his lord," sets forth likewise the law as binding, of course for the purpose of excluding the gospel and vindicating Judaism."

John refused to remain under the same roof with the man who had denied the divinity of Jesus. Cerinthus taught in Asia minor. One time in Ephesus, John was entering into one of the great public baths (thermae) and when informed that Cerinthus was in the building, John turned away exclaiming "Let us fly, that the thermae (steam) fall not on our heads, since Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is therein." There is a preposterous legend that said that Cerinthus wrote the apocalypse.

Starting from this belief that evil is inherent in matter, this type of teaching disparaged man's bodily life, and as it affected Christian thought, denied the reality of the incarnation of the Lord. This heresy is combated by the declaration that "the Word became flesh." Cerinthus claimed for himself inner mystic experiences and exalted knowledge of God apart from the true apostles and prophets of Jesus. John insisted that Jesus was the actual, material, authentic manifestation of God in the flesh, and the genuine knowledge of God must result in moral transformation. These things may not seem to be important for us today but it is vital that we believe in the true nature of Jesus Christ for our salvation. We are to believe in order to be saved but it can not be a false Christ, it must be the One and Only. As for Cerinthus, Jesus Himself was not the preexistent Son of God that we are taught who truly took on our human nature in order to die for our sins and rise again for our justification.
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