Last week, a person commented on an old post I wrote that they believe Cephas (the Apostle Peter) and Cerinthus were the same historical person.
At first, I thought this claim seemed unlikely; however, after giving it some thought, this speculation has tremendous explanatory power that makes Docetism’s evolution make much more sense; instead of assuming Docetism was the result of people inventing a religion on a historical foundation of things that never happened, this Cerinthus-Peter connection reveals what Christianity’s evolution really was: a philosophical debate centered around the nature of God and the value that should be assigned to the material realm in a region of the world that was in shambles.
Docetism is roughly defined as the idea that Jesus Christ was not entirely human. The nature of Jesus’ humanity, as well as which invisible God was pulling Jesus’ strings, was a major source of the earliest debates. Some Docetists believed Jesus encapsulated the Christ for some time (Cerinthians and Ebionites, technically the Valentinians), while others believed Jesus and the Christ were the same entity, both lacking flesh (Marcion, early Johannines [Acts of John]).
The term Docetic is so broad, it often becomes easy to substitute with the phrase “early Christianity”. In my research on the matter, I see the broadness of the term as a challenge to find coherence around why such a dilemma could even exist, particularly as it relates to the question of whether Jesus Christ ever existed.
In my opinion, I have overcome this dilemma by positing a (not so radical) idea that the Ebionites rose in response to Cerinthus, and Marcionism arose in response to the Ebionites, with a more radical Docetism than his Cerinthian predecessors, which posits Jesus Christ was not even flesh. This impression is drawn mostly from Ireneaus’ Against Heresies, i.26.1-2, along with the timeline that Irenaeus and Epiphanius attached to Cerinthus – they were put in the same timeframe as John (supposedly died C100), as well as Peter, who supposedly died before 70.
With my Cerinthus-Ebionite-Marcion solution, which I have been surprised (and a bit disappointed) to find has already been discerned by others who have traversed this matrix of data, I encountered a new dilemma, or at least raised another question: what were the specific internal pressures that led to Cerinthianism’s conversion to Marcionism?
I have proposed in prior posts in this blog that Marcion’s predecessor, Cerdo, was actually a polemical pseudonym given to Cerinthus, perhaps to obfuscate true Christian history for a new generation of Christian stakeholders. Though my former speculation was reasonable (and still plausible even in this newer hypothesis), the hypothesis that Cerinthus was Peter has even more explanatory power, because it would explain, in Marcion’s own words (assuming he wrote Galatians), the conflict that gave rise to Marcionism, as well as the logical underpinnings for why the pre-Orthodoxy had to make Jesus increasingly more human in response to Marcion’s phantom formula.
I cannot hope to prove this hypothesis, but I have assembled a list of relevant facts to support why I think this hypothesis fits so beautifully:
- In Galatians 2, Paul writes to the Galatians about a conflict he had with Cephas, presumably the person otherwise known as Peter throughout the Gospels and a long list of apocrypha and pseudepigrapha.
- This conflict was catalyzed by men from James, and their (Jewish) influence on Cephas, which affected how he treated the Gentiles and uncircumcised
- A reasonable implication in Galatians 2 is that Cephas and James were contemporary predecessors of Paul
- References to “men from James” and “remember the poor” both seem to be references to the Ebionites
- In AH 1.26.1 and 1.26.2, Irenaeus contrasts the Ebionites and Cerinthus, where the primary difference is their view of who the highest God is
- AH 1.26.2 also mentions that the Ebionites saw Paul as an apostate from the law
- A plausible implication of AH1.26.1 and 1.26.2 is that Cerinthus preceded the Ebionites
- Marcion was seemingly the earliest consumer of Paul’s letters
- The centerpiece of Marcion’s Paul-centric canon was the letter to the Galatians
- Epiphanius wrote that Cerinthus was in Galatia (Panarion 1.28); Irenaeus puts him in Ephesus (AH 3.3). The two geographic locales are roughly 400 miles apart, both located in Roman Asia, which is modern day Turkey
- The letter to the Galatians makes reference to Christ being portrayed as crucified (Gal 3:1).
- Galatians, along with other authentic Pauline texts, makes references to a preferred Gospel (Gal 1:6, Gal 2:2, Gal 4:13). He also makes reference to alternative, inferior Gospels.
- A proto-Gospel of Matthew was exclusively used by the Ebionites, and was written to contrast the Gospel of Mark
- The Gospel of Mark reads like a Greek tragedy that was written specifically for dramatic depictions (this is actually a well-developed idea, and not just my crackpot idea).
- The Gospel of Mark seems to make reference to Paul in Mark 9:34-40
- The Gospel of Mark is particularly unkind to Peter, having Jesus refer to him as Satan (Mark 8:33).
- Peter also denies Jesus, despite his assurances to the contrary (Mark 14:66-72)
- The unkind treatment of Peter in the Gospel of Mark suggests that the Gospel of Mark’s writer might have been aware of Paul’s letter to the Galatians
- This suggests the Gospel of Mark’s writer was taking sides, and that he sided with Paul, as opposed to Cerinthus
- Irenaeus indicates that people who held very similar views to Cerinthus preferred the Gospel of Mark (AH 3.11)
- Marcion’s theology seems to be an evolution (and logical endpoint) of Cerinthus’ theology
- Cerinthus saw Jesus as a human who temporarily encapsulated the spirit
- Marcion saw Jesus as a phantom who only appeared to be human
- Both Marcion and Cerinthus believed there was a fall from the Godhead, which gave rise to material
- For both Cerinthus and Marcion, the material realm was the creation of an inferior God
- A theological solution was necessary to give believers a means to return to the highest God
- The Ebionites were similar to Cerinthus, in that they believed the Christ descended onto the man Jesus
- Perhaps, after more time spent with the Ebionites, Cerinthus (or an influential Cerinthian called Cephas) retained the Docetic belief of the Ebionites (where the spirit descended onto Jesus), but also came to believe that Yahweh was the high God. If this is the case, then Paul’s tantrum in Galatians was actually Marcion lashing out against Cephas because he came to reject the fall from the Godhead; therefore, a subsequent commitment to acts within the law would have been a likely manifestation of this conversion.
- Cerinthus was claimed by different groups to have written Revelation
- The Gospel of Mark appears to be aware of Revelation – they both seem to be aware of Josephus’ Wars, and the reference to the young man in white in Mark 16 suggests Mark’s author’s intention to make his Gospel a prequel to Revelation 1:13
- Perhaps Paul’s reference to a man he knew who saw mystical revelations in 2 Corin 12 is a reference to Cerinthus/Cephas, and his story of Revelation
- A group called the Alogi also claimed Cerinthus wrote John’s Gospel; perhaps John’s Gospel was written as a sort of synthesis to this developing feud between Marcion and Cerinthus (as well as an integration of Valentinian theology).
I also discussed this on a Youtube video: