Who Is Jesus? (Part 2) – Cerinthian Heresy


Last week we began the series, Who Is Jesus? If you missed the introduction please click here to read. We concluded that the concept and personage of the Messiah is the great divide between Christianity and other religions. Christ is not the surname of Jesus. It comes from the Greek word Christós, meaning “anointed one” or “chosen one”. It is the Greek equivalence of the Hebrew word Māšîa or Messiah, hence the title, Messiah.

The “baptismal” name given our Lord by Mary and Joseph is Jesus (Joshua), but his titular appellation is the Christ. The Christ or Messiah is a political title, it is not a noun. (Cf. Daniel 9:25). And in that lay the root of some of the misconceptions about Messiah, and the difference between Christianity and Islam. The conception of Jesus as Messiah in Islam is in terms of a verb – THAT HE WILL SAVE the Jewish people. But the conception of Messiah or Anointed One in Christianity is a political personage. It is titular. Jesus is the Messiah not because he will save people but because he is a political personage. It is a political title. It is the name “Jesus” that relates to salvation, not the title of Messiah. “And you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus means saviour. And so Jesus would save his people (Jews) but the Son of God (Messiah) will save the world. “For God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Based on the foregoing, you can now understand the technical import of this scripture: “For to you is born this day in the town of David a Saviour (Jesus), WHO IS CHRIST THE MESSIAH the Lord!” (Luke 2:11). In other words, Jesus the Saviour of the Jews is also Christ the Messiah – the political personage – saviour of the world. And so even though Islam accepts Jesus as Messiah, the role of the Messiah was wrongly ascribed and circumscribed. The role Islam ascribes to the Messiah technically belongs to Jesus, the Saviour of the Jews. Jesus saves the Jews but the Christ saves the world in his political capacity as “Son of God”. “Son of God” is a political title. It does not mean God has a biological son. The Son is Prince of Peace and Heir. The Christ extends the messianic role of Jesus. Now the whole world, not just Jews have access to life eternal.

A lack of technical appreciation of Christology has produced delusions in would-be Christs, and heresies. Perhaps the biggest heresy the early Church had to contend with is what is known as the Cerinthian heresy. It is named after its author and propagator, a man named Cerinthus, and it’s still subsisting in the world. He believed that the “Christ” is an anointing rather than a personage. That the “Christ” descended on a human Jesus at baptism in the Jordan when the Spirit descended on him. And it departed at his death on the cross “flying heavenwards” according to Cerinthus. No such account is in the Bible. Irenaeus, an early Church Father and apologist, described Cerinthus as a man “educated in the wisdom of the Egyptians.” His doctrine was a strange admixture of Judaism, Gnosticism, Chiliasm and Ebionitism.

Chiliasm or millennialism is the belief in the thousand year reign of Christ. There was a Cerinthian variation. Ebionitism refers to the teachings of a 1st century Jewish-Christian sect who rejected the divinity of Jesus. Gnosticism is derived from the Ancient Greek word, gnostikos, meaning “learned” or “having knowledge.” Gnostics believe in a secret knowledge of transcendence arrived at by way of internal intuitive means. The primary authority for the gnostic is his personal religious experience. And therein lies the danger.

According to Irenaeus, Cerinthus taught “that the world was not made by the primary God, but by a certain Power far separated from him, and at a distance from that Principality who is supreme over the universe, and ignorant of him who is above all.” In other words, he resorted to Plato’s invention of a demiurge – an idea Plato floated centuries earlier. A Platonic demiurge is a subordinate deity who fashions the sensible world in the light of eternal ideas. The root word is the Greek dēmiourgos, which literally means artisan or craftsman.

According to Plato this demiurge was a craftsman who fashioned creation out of matter, which is necessarily imperfect. And since matter is imperfect Cerinthus sought to separate the Spirit of God, which he called “Christ” from matter. He could not fathom the co-existence of good and evil, spirit and matter. The central teaching of Gnosticism is that spirit is entirely good and matter is entirely evil – a great misconception. And so Cerinthus ideated that Christ (Spirit) must be separate from Jesus (matter). That they cannot merge. This “Christ” dwelt in “Jesus teaching him, what not even the angels knew, the Unknown God.” Concerning these “revelations” Caius the Presbyter of Rome and a Church Father wrote: “Cerinthus by means of revelations, which pretend to be written by a great apostle, speaking falsely, introduces wonders which he speaks as if they had been shown to him by angels.”

He had many other strange doctrines: That if a man died unbaptized, another should be baptized in his stead and in his name. If not, on the day of resurrection he’ll suffer punishment. It was this error Apostle Paul alluded to in 1 Corinthians 15:29, in his argument on resurrection: “What do people mean by being themselves baptized on behalf of the dead” he asked. He wasn’t endorsing the Cerinthian heresy of baptizing people for the dead, he was using it to draw out a point. Clearly at this time Gnosticism had permeated sections of the early Church. And the people of Corinth…Well! So terrible was this heresy that Apostle John ran for dear life out of a public bath on learning Cerinthus was present. “Let us flee” he told his companions, “lest the bath fall in while Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is there.” Indeed the 1st and 2nd epistles of John were partly written to counter the Cerinthian variety of gnostic teachings.

An early variety of Gnosticism claimed Christ only seemed to have a body. This is called Docetism or Docetic Gnosticism, from the Greek dokeo meaning “to seem.” That was why John wrote in 1 John 1:1 – (the introduction to his epistle): “We are writing about… the Word of Life in Him Who existed from the beginning, Whom we have heard,…whom we have seen with our own eyes, whom we have gazed upon for ourselves and have touched with our own hands.” In other words, contrary to the claims of Gnosticism, Jesus didn’t SEEM to have a body, HE HAD a body! We touched him!

John further wrote: “Who is a liar as he who denies that Jesus is the Christ the Messiah? He is the antichrist who habitually denies and refuses to acknowledge the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2:22 AMP). In other words, John says the denial of the deity of Christ is a spirit of the antichrist. He reinforced his assertion in (1 John 4:2-3): “By this you may know the Spirit of God: every spirit which acknowledges and confesses the fact that Jesus Christ the Messiah actually has become man and has come in the flesh is of God; And every spirit which does not acknowledge and confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God. This is the spirit of the antichrist of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is already in the world.”

Some Christians have mistaken this passage, using it for exorcism – the casting out of demons. They ask demons if Jesus came in the flesh. Not being idiots, the demons give an absolving contextual answer. The demons know the question is out of context and the questioner is ignorant. A critical item on Satan’s agenda is the ignorance of the Christian.

And Paul would go on to counter yet another dimension of Gnosticism in his letter to the Colossians. Gnostics believed the body (matter) is evil so some veered into ascetism. (Some others believed in indulgence). It is this harsh treatment of the body Paul was writing against in Colossians 2:20-23: “If then you have died with Christ to material ways of looking at things and have escaped from the world’s crude and elemental notions and teachings of externalism, why do you live as though you belong to the world? Why do you submit to regulations such as Do not handle this, Do not taste that, Do not touch them… To do this is to follow human precepts and doctrines. Such practices have indeed the outward appearance that popularly passes for wisdom, in promoting self-imposed rigour of devotion and delight in self humiliation and severity of discipline of the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh – the lower nature.”

Today, there are many false Christs. They claim the “Christ” descended on them when it left Jesus. Some are called gurus. This is that spirit of the antichrist Apostle John wrote about. We continue our discourse next week.
© Leke Alder | talk2me@lekealder.com