The word Ebionites is derived from the Hebrew word ebionim, meaning “the poor.” The Ebionites were a Jewish Christian sect, who viewed poverty as holy, adopted ritual ablutions, and rejected animal sacrifices. They lived during the early centuries after the resurrection. They were probably the followers of the Judaizers who introduced heresies in the early church (Acts 15:1; Galatians 1:6–9; 2:16, 21).
The Ebionites viewed Jesus of Nazareth as a mere man who was adopted by God because of his good deeds and righteousness. They taught that Jesus was justified by keeping the Law and his followers must be justified in the same manner. Also, they believed that God’s children should keep the Written Law of Moses alone (without the Oral Law). Thus, they believed in salvation by works.
To them, Jesus was merely a descendant of David who was selected by God to be the last true prophet. Because Jesus obeyed the Jewish law, he was commissioned to preach the coming Kingdom of God on Earth. Thus, the Ebionites opposed the teachings of the proto-orthodox Christian beliefs in Jesus’s divinity and virgin birth.
The Ebionites used their own gospel which is called “The Gospel According to the Hebrews,” as additional scripture to the Hebrew Bible. They respected James the Just as a model of righteousness and considered him the true successor to Jesus (rather than Peter). But they saw Paul as a false apostle and rejected his epistles. They only accepted the gospel of Matthew as containing some truths.
Historical records by the Ebionites are scant and what is known about them comes from the Church Fathers. Irenaeus mentioned the Ebiointes in the second century. And Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, and Tertullian spoke against them.
The Bible Opposes the Ebionites’ Beliefs:
1-The Scriptures teach that divinity of Christ.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
“While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5).
“About the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8; Psalm 45:6).
“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).
2-The Scriptures teach salvation is by faith alone.
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 5:1).
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
3-The Scriptures teach that all the books of the Bible are inspired by God (including the Pauline epistles).
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
The Disappearance of the Ebionites
The Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 AD eliminated the Jerusalem church and the Ebionites slowly disappeared from the region. And many Jewish Christians living at Pella renounced their Jewish traditions and joined the mainstream Christian church. Those who remained at Pella and continued their obedience to the Law were labeled heretics. Epiphanius mentioned in 375 AD that the Ebionites lived in Cyprus, but by the fifth century, Theodoret of Cyrrhus recorded that they were no longer there.
In His service,