From Cerinthus To Cephas To Peter

Up until a month ago, my view was that the heretic Cerinthus should primarily be associated with Revelation and the Gospel of Mark.  My reasoning behind associating Cerinthus with Revelation relies mostly on the fact that various groups asserted he wrote it, notably the Alogi and Caius the Presbyter.

john-bathhouse-cerinthus-luyken-1740An economical position in the face of likely objection by those who adhere to the traditional narratives about Revelation’s authorship* is that Cerinthus was probably a consumer of Revelation, perhaps holding some leadership position with an early iteration of Johannine Christians.  A subsequent speculation I make is that Cerinthus’ theological interpretation of Revelation was different than John’s (assuming John even existed), which is why Irenaeus relays the story about John fleeing from a bathhouse after encountering Cerinthus in AH iii.3.

*Note:  Revelation’s author was presumably a person named John – Irenaeus adamantly claimed in Against Heresies that it was John the Apostle who wrote Revelation and John’s Gospel, but it was later presumed that it was John the Evangelist (or some alternative John) who wrote it.  This idea seems to have been first proposed by Eusebius in the early 4th century.

Cerinthus’ association with the Gospel of Mark is more nuanced. Irenaeus implied this association in AH iii.11.7 and i.26.1


Those, again, who separate Jesus from Christ, alleging that Christ remained impassible, but that it was Jesus who suffered, preferring the Gospel by Mark


[According to Cerinthus] But at last Christ departed from Jesus, and that then Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ remained impassible, inasmuch as he was a spiritual being.


When reading Mark through the lens of Revelation (or vice versa), interesting correlations emerge, such as the reference to the young man dressed in white in Mark 16; compare that to the old man dressed in white in Revelation 1.  One speculation is that both these men were representations of the angel Gabriel, whose role as God’s proxy seems to have been eventually taken up by Jesus, particularly in the Gospel of John 14:6, when Jesus says  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  This role is quite analogous to other messengers in mythology, notably Anubis and Hermes.


A detail which made me rethink Cerinthus’ explicit attachment to Mark was a curious statement by Epiphanius in Panarion

For [the Cerinthians] use the Gospel according to Matthew—in part and not in its entirety

This is a curious statement by Epiphanius, but it is also exactly the sort of data I would expect to see in my developing model.  Most church fathers made it clear that the Ebionites used the Gospel according to Matthew.  Of course the Ebionites rejected the virgin birth.  If we presume that the Ebionites were derivatives (or the same) as the “men from James” Paul describes in Galatians 2:11-13, and we place Paul in the first century CE, then we might conclude that the earliest version of Matthew lacked a virgin birth…a speculation which is not altogether radical.

If this is the case though, then the original version of Matthew’s Gospel was even more similar to Mark than it is now – in fact, they would have probably been difficult to distinguish from one another, considering 90% of Mark is used in Matthew; coupled with the fact that the Ebionites and Cerinthians (and the Carpocratians) saw the Christ as a separate entity from a human Jesus, a likely solution is that this adoptionist belief was indeed part of the earliest Christian theology, and that Cerinthus and the Ebionites were contributors to a proto-Synoptic Gospel which later diverged into Mark and Matthew; therefore, the names that the early church fathers attached to the first two Gospels might very well be interchangeable.  Incidentally, this solves part of the Synoptic problem.

Consider one original distinction between the Cerinthian and Ebionite theologies, notably the notion of the high God.  Whereas the Ebionites held a decidedly 2nd temple view of the high God, where Yahweh was the most high, the Cerinthians believed the high God was separate from the creators of the earth, who were angels far removed from Elyon.  It is therefore not inconsequential that the Cerinthians had a theology which would have left room for the Queen of Heaven, considering she shows up in Revelation 12 (a text which we already speculate was consumed and/or authored by Cerinthus) as the mother of the messiah, who is also the mother of those who kept the true law, and not the same law as the one invented by Josiah and his high priest after finding the phony lost law of Moses prior to his 1st temple purge of the Queen and Baal in the 7th century BCE.

Irenaeus implicitly contrasted Cerinthus and the Ebionites in Against Heresies 1.26, but he explicitly contrasted the Ebionites with Paul, whom the Ebionites believed was an “apostate from the law.”

In other words, where Paul sharply diverged from the Ebionites, the contrast between the Ebionites and Cerinthus was more nuanced.  This is consistent with the extant canonical Gospels, notably the anti-Paul sentiments in Matthew, where Mark’s Christology is not only in-line with Paul’s, but also seems to equate Paul with Simon of Cyrene.

A major implication here is that Cerinthus is analogous to the Cephas whom Paul described in Galatians.  Cerinthus was originally, or at least superficially, attached to a Marcan theology, but had enough Ebionite sympathies that he came to associate with them, and therefore to the Gospel of Matthew which the Ebionites consumed; perhaps this explains the divergence between Mark and Matthew in the proto-Synoptic Gospel referenced earlier.  That Cerinthus is also associated with Revelation makes 2 Corin 12 more striking, specifically where Paul says that he knew a man who, 14 years earlier, was taken to the third heaven and saw “unspeakable things”.  The link becomes even stronger when, later in 2 Corin 12, Paul discusses the other “super apostles”, compared to whom he is not the least bit inferior (2 Corin 12:11).

The link here is that this was Revelation’s exact setting; according to Caius the Presbyter, Cerinthus wrote Revelation while “pretending to be a great apostle”.

This must be along a similar timeline as Paul described in Galatians 1-2, where he talked about 3 years after his conversion, and meeting Cephas for the first time in Jerusalem.  14 years later, he went to Jerusalem again, and had his famous conflict with Cephas (Gal 2:11-21).

Consider Epiphanius’ description of Cerinthus in this context:

And so Cerinthus stirred the circumcised multitudes up over Peter on his return to Jerusalem by saying, ‘He went in to [a place with uncircumcised] men…’ For, because he was circumcised himself he sought an excuse, through circumcision if you please, for his opposition to the uncircumcised believers…

[The Cerinthians] discount Paul, however, because he did not obey the circumcised. Moreover they reject him for saying, ‘Whosoever of you are justified by the Law, ye are fallen from grace,’ and, ‘If ye be circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.’

Epiphanius referred to Acts 11 with the reference to Peter going into a house of uncircumcised men.  In Acts 11, Peter is chided by someone (it was Cerinthus, according to Epiphanius) for going into a house of uncircumcised men, something which would have been blasphemous to those “men from James” who had tainted Cephas’ faith in Galatians 2.  Peter in Acts 11 explained why it was acceptable for him to eat unclean meat with uncircumcised men – entirely in contrast to Paul’s Cephas in Galatians 2, who adopted an increasingly Jewish, anti-Paul position as a result of Ebionite influence.

What Epiphanius was doing was offloading attributes of Paul’s Cephas onto Cerinthus, and subsequently remaking Peter 2.0 as a carbon copy of the Acts version of Paul – a superstar apostle and entirely Orthodox team-player who was existentially incapable of heresy once he received the Spirit.  In other words, at least according to Epiphanius, the worst part of Paul’s Cephas became Cerinthus and the remaining shell was recrafted as Peter, a new and completely Orthodox doppelganger.  This brought Matthew consumers into the new Orthodoxy by remaking one of their revered figures to be an exact match to the sanitized Christianity.  This is a very interesting detail in light of the already curious parallels between Cephas-Peter and Cerinthus.


Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

20 thoughts on “From Cerinthus To Cephas To Peter”

      1. The question whether these early groups actually believed Jesus was a real person isn’t so straight forward, IMHO. The whole point of these gospels, as far as I can tell, is to demonstrate the prerequisites of receiving the spirit, as well as what powers the spirit gives.

        The fact that Jesus of Mark so closely resembles Jesus ben Ananias, and the fact that Mark’s Gospel clearly makes reference to so many aspects of the anecdote Josephus gave in Wars of the Jews about JBA, coupled with the fact that Revelation makes reference to the same section of Wars as JBA is found, it looks to me like these early Christian writers were using Josephus as their encryption key to create an allegory for their Spirit mystery, and Jesus Christ was simply the first (or perhaps 2nd – following John the Baptist) recipient of the Spirit.

        What I’ve gotten to suspect is that these earliest groups believed they were the children of the Queen of Heaven, Aherah (Revelation 12:1) as the feminine Spirit, and her heavenly-raised son, the Christ; according to Elxai, they were 96 mile tall invisible figure in the sky…


    1. Sorry to inundate with responses, but one more. This sect of Judaism was not very much like Rabbinical Judaism – they longed for a return to the 1st temple. They (probably) did not recognize the 2nd temple as legitimate, and were probably much more Polytheistic than 2nd temple Jews after 7th Century BCE. They did not see Yahweh as the highest God.

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