Cerinthus flourished during the second half of the first century, though the date of his birth and his death are unknown. None of Cerinthus' actual writings seem to have survived. Our most detailed understanding of the man Cerinthus' teachings are from the 4th century Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis, a few centuries after his death, though Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 135-202) briefly outlines Cerinthus' beliefs in his five books against Gnosticism. Publication of surviving fragments of Hippolytus of Rome's (c. 170-235) Capita Adversus Caium demonstrate Epiphanius drew heavily from Hippolytus' Refutation of the Thirty-two Heresies.
Irenaeus writes that Cerinthus was educated in the Gnosis of the Egyptians. According to Epiphanius, Cerinthus was the instigator of trouble against the Apostles Paul and Peter at Jerusalem, and had sent out men to Antioch commanding that gentile converts must be circumcised and keep the Law, prompting the convention of the Jerusalem Council (c. 50). After these things, Epiphanius says that Cerinthus founded a school in the Roman province of Asia Minor, which at its height spread into the province of Galatia. According to Galatian tradition, Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians against Cerinthus' followers who were troubling the church.
In Asia, early Christian writers identify Cerinthus as an adversary of the Apostle John. According to Irenaeus, his teacher Polycarp (a disciple of the Apostle John) told the story that John the Apostle rushed out of a bathhouse at Ephesus without bathing when he found out Cerinthus was inside, exclaiming, "Let us fly, last even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is inside!" Irenaeus also relates that John sought by proclamation of his gospel "to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men".