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The Ebionites were an obscure Jewish Christian sect extant from apostolic times to the fifth century. The sect was an early heresy that broke with the Nazarenes, i.e., the Church of God centered at Jerusalem with James as the overseer, ca. CE 49, in the matter of keeping Torah including practicing ritual circumcision and observing the whole Law of Moses. The Ebionites, who insisted on strict compliance with the Mosaic code and ritual circumcision of males, refused to accept the divine nature of Jesus, seeing him simply as an ordinary human being, the biological issue of Mary and Joseph, preferring to keep the early community of Jesus’ followers in the context of first-century Judaism.

They met in synagogues as did the early Church of God. By the time of Epiphanius many Gentile Christians referred to their own meeting places as churches (Latin: ecclesia; Greek: čkklesía) not synagogues. In a fourth century discussion of the Ebionites, where Epiphanius wrongly identifies them as the successors of the Nazarenes, he states that "they have elders and archisynagogues, and they call their church a synagogue and not a Church and honor Christ in name only" [Epiphanius, Panarion 30:18, 2 as set forth in Patristic Evidence for Jewish—Christian Sects by A. F. J.Klijn and G. J. Reinink (Klijn and Reinink 1973:187)].

The Ebionites, who rejected the apostle Paul, appear to have split off from the Church of God not later than the time of writing of Paul’s epistle to Titus CE ca. 62. Paul referred to "those of the circumcision" (Titus 1:10) teaching for "sordid gain"—the tithes and offerings of the people. When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi in ca. CE 61 (Philippians 3:2-3) warning them to "beware of the false circumcision, for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" he appears to have been dealing with this same group.

This Ebionite, or christianized Pharisee, faction likely were the "so-called circumcision" to whom Paul refers in Ephesians 2:11 and "those of the circumcision" among the trouble makers at Crete (Titus 1:1, 14). While the evidence is yet inconclusive the christianized Pharisees, the Ebionites, had more compelling reasons to raid Judeo-Christian congregations than non-believing traditional Jews. They also would have had more knowledge of and ready access to Judeo-Christian assemblies.

Page last edited: 02/02/06 08:40 PM

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