Who were the Ebionites? (Early Christian Heresies)

The Judaizer-Ebionites were an ascetic group of Jewish Christians and a Judaizer sect from Palestine.

The name “Ebionite” was given by early Church fathers to refer to a purported founder of the group called Ebion although the name actually comes from the Hebrew term ebyonim, or ebionim (“the poor”). They were called the poor because they believed that embracing poverty is essential to realizing the Kingdom of God. 

The Ebionites taught that Jewish customs and practices needed to be embraced to attain salvation. They held that gentiles (those who are not Jewish) had to convert to Judaism to embrace Jesus Christ as the Messiah. One was required to observe Jewish traditions, customs, and rituals such as circumcision, feast days, and dietary laws of the Law of Moses. The book of Acts in the New Testament displays knowledge of these activities: “some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (15:1).

We learn about what the Ebionites believed from later Christian writers like Ignatius, Irenaeus, Epiphanius, and Tertullian, among others. Doctrinally, the Ebionites affirmed belief in one God and that Jesus was the Messiah mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15 of the Old Testament. But they also differed significantly from dominant trends in early Christianity. They rejected Jesus’ pre-existence and virgin birth, and instead believed Jesus to be a great holy man (rather than God) who was chosen by God to carry out his work. The Ebionites also did not accept Paul, both rejecting his letters and deeming him a false prophet. All the gospels were rejected except for Matthew or a revised version of Matthew.


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