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11 He came unto his own, and his own received him A.D. 97. not.
that they did not become sufficiently formidable to disturb its peace till towards the conclusion of the first century, when the Gospel of St. John is more generally allowed to have been written. The time when Cerinthus lived is uncertain; but the earliest date assigned to him is after the year 70, with the exception of Baronius, who speaks of him as living within some few years after our Lord's ascension. Le Clerc asserts, that he flourished in the year 80; Basnage, 101. Lampe (r), from the discrepancies in the accounts of Irenæus and Epiphanius, entertains the very erroneous opinion, that the Gospel of St. John was valued by the Cerinthians; and endeavours to prove that Cerinthus was a heretic of the second century. Even this, however, does not invalidate the argument that St. John's Gospel was written to oppose the principles professed by Cerinthus; for they are said by Irenæus to have been inculcated by the Nicolaitans. Yet, as Irenæus, who asserted that St. John wrote against Cerinthus, was a disciple of Polycarp, who was personally acquainted with St. John, his testimony, which was given a hundred years after, appears most likely to be correct. The best evidence, therefore, that the scanty records of antiquity have handed down to us, corroborates the presumption that Cerinthus sowed the seeds of his principles during the life of the excellent Evangelist St. John, and, we might well suppose, that the Apostle would be most anxious to refute and repress them.
Michaelis therefore observes, with equal force and justice, that "if Irenæus had not asserted that St. John wrote his Gospel against the Gnostics, and particularly against Cerinthus, the contents of the Gospel itself would lead to this conclusion. The speeches of Christ, which St. John has recorded, are selected with a totally different view from that of the three first evangelists, who have given such as are of a moral nature, whereas those which are given by St. John are chiefly dogmatical, and relate to Christ's divinity, the doctrine of the Holy Ghost, the supernatural assistance to be communicated to the Apostles, and other subjects of a like import. In the very choice of his expressions, such as 'light,' 'life,' &c. he had in view the philosophy of the Gnostics, who used, or rather abused these terms. That the fourteen first verses of St. John's Gospel are merely historical, and contain only a short account of Christ's history before his appearance on earth, is a supposition devoid of all probability. On the contrary, it is evident that they are purely doctrinal, and that they were introduced with a polemical view, in order to confute errors, which prevailed at that time respecting the person of Jesus Christ. Unless St. John had an adversary to combat, who made particular use of the words 'light,' and 'life,' he would not have thought it necessary, after having described the Creator of all things, to add, that "in him was life, and the life was the light of men,' or to assert that John the Baptist was not that light.' The very meaning of the word 'light' would be extremely dubious, unless it were determined by its particular application in the oriental Gnosis. For without the supposition that St. John had to combat with
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12 But as many as received him, to them gave he
an adversary who used this word in a particular sense, it might be applied to any divine instructor, who by his doctrines enlightened mankind. Further, the positions contained in the fourteen first verses are antitheses to positions maintained by the Gnostics, who use the words λόγος, ζώη, φῶς, μονογενὴς,
nowμa, &c. as technical terms of their philosophy. Lastly, the speeches of Christ, which St. John has selected, are such as confirm the positions laid down in the first chapter of his Gospel: and therefore we must conclude that his principal object throughout the whole of his Gospel was to confute the errors of the Gnostics" (s).
That we may understand the design and order of St. John's Gospel, it will be necessary to take a brief review of the tenets of Cerinthus, in opposition to which the Evangelist purposely wrote it. This will not only reflect considerable light on particular passages, but make the whole appear a complete work-regular, clear, and conclusive.
Cerinthus was by birth a Jew, who lived at the close of the first century: having studied literature and philosophy at Alexandria, he attempted at length to form a new and singular system of doctrine and discipline, by a monstrous combination of the doctrines of Jesus Christ with the opinions and errors of the Jews and Gnostics. From the latter he borrowed their Pleroma or fulness, their Eons or spirits, their Demiurgus or creator of the visible world, &c. and so modified and tempered these fictions, as to give them an air of Judaism, which must have considerably favoured the progress of his heresy. He taught, that the most high God was utterly unknown before the appearance of Christ, and dwelt in a remote heaven called Pleroma, with the chief spirits or Eons:-That this supreme God first generated an only begotten Son, who again begat the Word, which was inferior to the first-born :-That Christ was a still lower æon, though far superior to some others :-That there were two higher æons, distinct from Christ; one called Life, and the other Light:-That from the æons again proceeded inferior orders of spirits, and particularly one Demiurgus, who created this visible world out of eternal matter:-That this Demiurgus was ignorant of the supreme God, and much lower than the Æons, which were wholly invisible:That he was, however, the peculiar God and protector of the Israelites, and sent Moses to them; whose laws were to be of perpetual obligation:-That Jesus was a mere man, of the most illustrious sanctity and justice, the real son of Joseph and Mary:-that the Eon Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove when he was baptized, revealed to him the unknown Father, and empowered him to work miracles :-That the Eon Light entered John the Baptist in the same manner, and therefore that John was in some respects preferable to Christ :-That Jesus, after his union with Christ, oppposed himself with vigour to the God of the Jews, at whose instigation he was seized and crucified by the Hebrew chiefs, and that when Jesus was taken captive and came to suffer, Christ ascended up on high, so that the man Jesus alone was subjected to the pains of an ignominious death; that Christ will one day return upon earth, and, renew
(s) Michaelis, vol. iii. part i. p. 280.
power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
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ing his former union with the man Jesus, will reign in Palestine, a thousand right, or priyears, during which period his disciples will enjoy the most exquisite sensual vilege. delights.
Bearing these dogmas in mind, we shall find that St. John's Gospel is divided into three parts, viz.
Part I. contains doctrines laid down in opposition to those of Cerinthus, (John i. 1-18.)
Part II. delivers the proofs of those doctrines in an historical manner, (i. 19. xx. 29.)
Part III. is a conclusion, or appendix, giving an account of the person of the writer, and of his design in writing his Gospel, (xx. 30, 31. xxi.)
Besides refuting the errors of Cerinthus and his followers, Michaelis is of opinion that St. John had also in view to confute the erroneous tenets of the Sabeans, a sect which acknowledged John the Baptist for its founder. He has adduced a variety of terms and phrases, which he has applied to the explanation of the first fourteen verses of St. John's Gospel, in such a manner as renders his conjecture not improbable. Perhaps we shall not greatly err if we conclude with Rosenmüller, that St. John had both these classes of heretics in view, and that he wrote to confute their respective tenets (t).
The Docets (u) taught that Christ was a man in appearance only, and not in reality. In opposition to these, St. John says in his Epistles, which were published before his Gospel, "Every spirit which confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God;" and, in his Gospel, "the Word was made flesh." From this sect originated the Ebionites, whom Bishop Horsley has proved to have a great affinity to the Simonians: observing, with equal force and truth," that as the ancient Ebionæan doctrine passes by a single step, the dismission of the superangelic Being, into the modern Unitarianism, that too is traced to its source in the chimæras of the Samaritan sorcerer. And thus both the Ebionites of antiquity, and the Unitarians of our own time, are the offspring of the ancient Gnosticism” (x).
The general prevalence of these erroneous notions concerning the Logos, and the frequent mistakes of the primitive converts, who united their own philosophical opinions with the inferences deducible from Revelation, produced an ample stock of other heresies; many of which did not obtain celebrity till the Church became so extended, that the greater number of any particular sect attracted public attention: and frequently the heresiarchs, or leaders themselves, were not generally distinguished till their opinions had been widely disseminated. Thus we often find the several errors they adopted had been long in existence before even the names of their principal supporters were known. Those, for instance, embraced by Cerinthus, Saturninus, the Docetæ, and Basilides, may
(t) Mosheim's Commentaries, vol. i. p. 337-347. Dr. Lardner's Works, 8vo. vol. ix. p. 325-327. 4to. vol. iv. p. 567–569. Michaelis, vol. iii. p. 285 -302. Apud Horne's Critical Introduction, vol. ii. 1st edit. p. 466-468. (u) Lardner's Works, 4to. vol. v. p. 375. (a) Tracts in controversy with Dr. Priestley, 3rd Supplemental Disquisition, p. 495.
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13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
be traced to the perversions of Jewish tradition, the reveries of Platonism, and the fancies of the half converted and speculative (y).
The Gnostics (z), among many errors on the origin and continuance of evil, anticipated with eagerness the arrival of an eminent personage, who should deliver the souls of men from the bondage of the flesh, and rescue them from the evil Genii who governed the world. Some of these, being struck with the miracles of Christ, conceived Him to be the Being they expected. Many of his doctrines, therefore, they willingly embraced; while they refused to believe in the reality of his apparently material body. To these, or to such as these, that passage might have been addressed, "the Word was made flesh." He, who descended from an invisible state to deliver man from evil, was made flesh. Whether the Evangelist alluded to the Gnostics or Docetæ, we cannot positively decide.
Saturninus (a) was another philosophizing heretic, who believed in the existence of an independent, eternal, evil principle. He supposed the world to have been created by seven angels, which were the same as the people of the East believed to reside in the seven planets. One of these angels he supposed to be the ruler of the Hebrew nation, the Being that brought them up out of the land of Egypt, and whom the Jews, not having knowledge of the Supreme Being, ignorantly worshipped as God. His other reveries may be found in Mosheim.
Upon his conversion to Christianity, (if we may so denominate that monstrous combination of his own absurd, and, falsely called, philosophical opinions with Christianity,) he endeavoured to reconcile his former efforts to account for that baffling mystery, the origin and continuance of evil, with his new creed. In consequence, he supposed that there was a rebellion of these seven angels and their dependents against the Supreme Being, and that, on their involving mankind in their revolt, the Son of God descended from above, and took upon him a body, not indeed composed of depraved matter, but merely the shadow or resemblance of a body. He came to overthrow all evil, its authors, and agents, and to restore man, in whom existed a divine soul, to the Supreme Being. His notions on this point, therefore, might likewise have been alluded to by St. John in the Preface to his Gospel: He who came from God, the true Logos, was made flesh, and they beheld his glory.
Carpocrates, an Alexandrian, was also a contemporary of St. John. Baronius speaks of his followers as distinguished for their opinions in the year 120-Basnage 122-Tillemont 130-Dodwell 140. He taught that the world was made by angels, much inferior to the eternal Father; that Jesus was the real son of Joseph and Mary; and he consequently denied his divinity, though he considered Christ as superhuman. In opposition to Carpocrates, St. John taught that the world was created, not by angels, but, by the Logos, who was revealed to man, as the Christ, the divine personage promised by the prophets, and expected by the world.
(y) Vidal's Translation of Mosheim, cent. i. § 60.
(x) Mosheim, vol. i.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,
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I omit much more, that might be made applicable to this argument, concern- s Matt. i. 16. ing the Elcesaites, Valentinians, and other heretics, enumerated by Irenæus, and Epiphanius, and discussed by Mosheim and Lardner, as well as the arguments of Michaelis respecting the Sabians, which is too long to extract, and too condensed to be further abridged.-Marsh's Michaelis, vol. ii. part 2. p. 288, &c. Neither is it necessary to enter here upon the question, so warmly discussed by Bishop Horsley and Dr. Priestley, concerning the ancient Ebionites.
The sentiments of Basilides of Alexandria (b), may, in the same way, be traced to the perversion of the doctrine of the Logos. He is supposed to have forsaken the communion of the Church about the time of Trajan, or Adrian. Basnage speaks of him at the year 121. Mill says that he flourished 123-Cave 112. Clement of Alexandria tells us, that Basilides was accustomed to boast that he had been taught by a disciple of St. Peter.
Irenæus observes, that Basilides, in order to appear to have a more sublime and probable scheme than others, outstepped them all; and taught, that from the self-existent Father was born Nous, or Understanding; of Nous, Logos; of Logos, Phronesis; of Phronesis, Sophia and Dunamis; of Dunamis and Sophia, powers, principalities, and angels, that is, the superior angels, by whom the first heavens were made; from these proceeded other angels, which made all things. The first of these angels he represents as the God of the Jews, who, desiring to bring other nations under the dominion of his people, was so effectually opposed, that the Jewish nation was in danger of being totally ruined, when the self-existent and ineffable Father sent his first begotten Nous, who is also said to be Christ, for the salvation of those who believed in him. He appeared in the world as a man-taught-worked miracles-but did not sufferfor Simon of Cyrene was transformed into his likeness, and was crucified: after which Christ ascended into heaven. Basilides taught also, that men ought not to confess him who was in reality crucified, but him who came in the form of man, and was supposed to be crucified. Any reader of St. John's Gospel, who acknowledges the authority of that Evangelist, must be convinced of the errors of Basilides, as this inspired writer plainly declares, that the Logos itself was made flesh, had become a teacher of the Jews, had dwelt among them, and, as a man among men, was crucified.
Basilides taught, says Vitringa (c), according to the testimony of Irenæus, (Adv. Hæres. c. 23.) and Epiphanius (Hær. 24. s. 1.) that Nous was first born from the self-existent Father-then succeeded the Logos-from the Logos, Phronesis-from Phronesis, Sophia and Dunamis-from Dunamis and Sophia, or from Power and Wisdom, proceeded Virtues, Princes, and Archangels who made the heavens.
(b) Lardner, vol. iv. p. 534. (c) Vitringa Observationes Sacræ, vol. ii. p. 152.