The Cerinthus-Peter Connection

maxresdefaultLast 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:

  1. 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.
  2. This conflict was catalyzed by men from James, and their (Jewish) influence on Cephas, which affected how he treated the Gentiles and uncircumcised
  3. A reasonable implication in Galatians 2 is that Cephas and James were contemporary predecessors of Paul
  4. References to “men from James” and “remember the poor” both seem to be references to the Ebionites
  5. 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
  6. AH 1.26.2 also mentions that the Ebionites saw Paul as an apostate from the law
  7.  A plausible implication of AH1.26.1 and 1.26.2 is that Cerinthus preceded the Ebionites
  8. Marcion was seemingly the earliest consumer of Paul’s letters
  9. The centerpiece of Marcion’s Paul-centric canon was the letter to the Galatians
  10. 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
  11. The letter to the Galatians makes reference to Christ being portrayed as crucified (Gal 3:1).
  12. 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.
  13. A proto-Gospel of Matthew was exclusively used by the Ebionites, and was written to contrast the Gospel of Mark
  14. 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).
  15. The Gospel of Mark seems to make reference to Paul in Mark 9:34-40
  16. The Gospel of Mark is particularly unkind to Peter, having Jesus refer to him as Satan (Mark 8:33).
  17. Peter also denies Jesus, despite his assurances to the contrary (Mark 14:66-72)
  18. 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
  19. This suggests the Gospel of Mark’s writer was taking sides, and that he sided with Paul, as opposed to Cerinthus
  20. Irenaeus indicates that people who held very similar views to Cerinthus preferred the Gospel of Mark (AH 3.11)
  21. Marcion’s theology seems to be an evolution (and logical endpoint) of Cerinthus’ theology
    1. Cerinthus saw Jesus as a human who temporarily encapsulated the spirit
    2. Marcion saw Jesus as a phantom who only appeared to be human
    3. Both Marcion and Cerinthus believed there was a fall from the Godhead, which gave rise to material
    4. For both Cerinthus and Marcion, the material realm was the creation of an inferior God
    5. A theological solution was necessary to give believers a means to return to the highest God
    6. The Ebionites were similar to Cerinthus, in that they believed the Christ descended onto the man Jesus
  22. 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.
  23. Cerinthus was claimed by different groups to have written Revelation
  24. 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
  25. 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
  26. 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:

See also:

Cerinthus
Marcion
The Ebionites

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

13 thoughts on “The Cerinthus-Peter Connection”

    1. I think the Gospel of Mark represents a transition between Cerinthian Docetism and Marcionism. It’s a bit of a stretch, but not altogether implausible. The Docetists did prefer the Gospel of Mark; given the anti-Peter themes in Mark, the only way this (Cerinthus=Peter) hypothesis works is if the Mark community elevated Marcion over Cerinthus…

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    1. The reference to the person casting out demons in Jesus’ name seems to be a reference to Paul. Given the Ebionites’ rejection of Paul, their heavy use of Matthew, and the response Matthew gives to Mark 9:38-39 in Matthew 7:21-23, it seems quite likely that Matthew’s writer understood that Mark was referring to Paul.

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  1. I guess right now the elephant in the room is the Price-Ehrman Debate few days ago. I’m right now looking at different mythicist blogs and apparently, I prefer the ones by Rene Salm and Neil Godfrey. The one made by Richard Carrier has some bitterness in it in my opinion as if he wants to tell everyone it should’ve been me. Nonetheless, Bart Ehrman continues to treat Mythicism as if it’s folklore itself and asks everyone to ditch it. What drives me nuts is his attempt to dismiss Price because he’s a Trump voter, which in my opinion is poisoning the well. I haven’t seen the debate because it’s geographically restricted and I’m not sure if a virtual private network will work. Some content providers can now detect if an IP address is created by a VPN just like Netflix. Apparently, Bart made the stronger argument according to Carrier but Ehrman’s arguments are still wrong. As per Ehrman, Galatians 1:18-19 is an evidence for the historical Jesus.

    Richard Carrier: http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/11435

    Rene Salm: http://www.mythicistpapers.com/2016/10/25/the-price-ehrman-debate-pt-1/ & http://www.mythicistpapers.com/2016/10/27/the-price-ehrman-debate-pt-2/

    Neil Godfrey: http://vridar.org/2016/10/28/conclusion-ehrman-price-debate-3/ & http://vridar.org/2016/10/29/the-dark-side-of-the-bart-ehrman-robert-price-debate/

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    1. Thanks for the comment and the links – I hadn’t seen Salm’s response. I’m staying out of the debate analysis, because I don’t think I have anything to say that is different than any other skeptics of Jesus’ historicity. I wasn’t a fan of Carrier’s response, and as I investigate this topic more, I am more and more skeptical of his interpretation and timeline – for instance, he often makes reference to the “cleverly devised myths” in 2 Peter, which I think is a very obvious reference to the Valentinians. I also think his interpretation of some Pauline passages are just as easily described as a Docetic, Marcionite view.

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  2. This is really interesting! I happen to think that Paul is a cypher for Peregrinus, so having Cephas in the second century would fit right into that model. I have also noticed that the “Jewish Life of Jesus” version of the Toledot also uses the cyphers Elisha ben Abuyah and Nestorius for Paul and James just before they bring up Cephas. I think this may indicate that the Cerinthians actually came after the Ebionites. The Cerinthians were the ones who combined Gnosticism with Judaism, making Yahweh the higher god instead of the Demiurge. I think this explains why Revelation has two different End Times theories: 1) The Ebionite idea of Jewish maryrs physically resurrecting to create the Kingdom of God on Earth with Jesus as king for 1000 years, and 2) The Gnostic idea that all people are resurrected spiritually and enter into the Kingdom of God in heaven. This is combined into a ridiculous idea that Satan would be released after 1000 years to allow a second Gnostic apocalypse. Thus the Cerinthians attempted to bridge the Ebionties and the Gnostics. Here are some of my own links showing my own conception on the evolution of Christianity:

    http://lost-history.com/introduction.php

    Jeff Q.

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    1. Thanks for the response!

      The Toledot Yeshu is definitely an intriguing source…I have a difficult time speaking to it because I haven’t devoured it the way I have some other sources.

      That’s an interesting sentiment about Peregrinus. I have another commenter who (I think) links Peregrinus to Cephas. I’ve thought he resembles Igantius of Antioch a great deal.

      The Cerinthians seem to have an interesting connection to the Carpocratians, who I think seem more Gnostic than the Cerinthians – Irenaus (AH i.26.1 and iii.11.7) all but says that the Cerinthians were consumers of the Gospel of Mark, where the Carpocratians were consumers of either Luke or Matthew, as well as Romans (which Clement confirms); therefore, since Matthew has anti-Paul undertones, I connect the Carpocratians to Luke, as opposed to Matthew…that also means the Ebionites weren’t quite the “good practicing Jews” they are currently considered to be (for reasons I’ll omit in this response).

      That means that the Carpocratians might very well be connected to the Marcionites, who also revered Paul and used a Luke-like gospel.

      Will definitely check out your link!

      Feel free to check out some of my other posts where I develop some of these ideas:

      https://timsteppingout.wordpress.com/christ-myth-theory/

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