Ebionitism

In my last post I wrote about Docetism which is basically the denial of the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. Ebionitism is the opposite heresy – the denial of the divinity of Jesus.

Ther term Ebionites is derived from the Hebrew word אביונים ebyonim, meaning “the poor” or “poor ones” and refers is to a Jewish Christian movement that existed during the first centuries of the Christian Church and still survives today. In my research on the Internet I was surprised to discover a website devoted to advocating Ebionitism: www.ebionite.org. The site declares, “Our desire is that you know we were the first and the only real ebionite site. We are not Christian, Messianic, and reject Jesus of Nazareth as a savior, a god, or messiah.”

Ancient Ebionites regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah while rejecting his divinity and insisted on the necessity of following Jewish law and rites. The Ebionites used only one of the Jewish Gospels (perhaps an edition of the Gospel of Matthew), revered James the Just, and rejected Paul the Apostle as an apostate from the Law.

As their name suggests that they placed a special value on voluntary poverty. Ebionim was one of the terms used by the sect at Qumran that sought to separate themselves from the corruption of the Temple. Bible scholars can be thankful that the people who lived in Qumran near the Dead Sea preserved and protected scrolls of the Scriptures as well as commentaries and sectarian writings. We know this ancient library as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The nature of Ebionite beliefs and practices is dependent almost entirely on secondary sources, the writings of early Christians who deemed them to be heretical. Consequently, very little about the Ebionite sect or sects is known with certainty, and most, if not all, statements about them are conjectural.

I believe that a form of Ebionitism exists today when people refer to Jesus as a great teacher and moral model who lived and taught in ancient Israel during the time of Roman occupation, but deny that he was God in the flesh. For all of its history the Christian Church has consistently taught that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and is true man and true God. To deny either the humanity or divinity of Jesus is to slip into heresy.

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