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EBIONITES

Hb: ebion: poor. Hb: ebionim: the poor.

A heretical sect that appeared in early Christianity, and which some Muslims claimed to be true Christians. In addition to following Jesus, they also taught the observance of the Jewish Law (with some variations). The first mention is to be found in some manuscripts of Ignatius' letter to the Philadelphians mentions "Ebionite", but was thought to be a later addition (other versions of the letter thought to be more reliable do not have them):

if any one says there is one God, and also confesses Christ Jesus, but thinks the Lord to be a mere man, and not the only-begotten God, and Wisdom, and the Word of God, and deems Him to consist merely of a soul and body, such an one is a serpent, that preaches deceit and error for the destruction of men. And such a man is poor in understanding, even as by name he is an Ebionite.
Its origin is thus obscure and most scholars date them to the late second century. It was errorenously said by early Christian writers that the sect was founded by a certain Ebion. The early accounts about them were subject to much debate.
Most of the features of Ebionite doctrine were anticipated in the teachings of the earlier Qumran sect, as revealed in the Dead Sea Scrolls. They believed in one God and taught that Jesus was the Messiah and was the true "prophet" mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15. They rejected the Virgin Birth of Jesus, instead holding that he was the natural son of Joseph and Mary. The Ebionites believed Jesus became the Messiah because he obeyed the Jewish Law. They themselves faithfully followed the Law, although they removed what they regarded as interpolations in order to uphold their teachings, which included vegetarianism, holy poverty, ritual ablutions, and the rejection of animal sacrifices. The Ebionites also held Jerusalem in great veneration. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online)
In Eusebius and Origen, they talked about the Ebionites being a two-fold sect, while the others do not make the distinction, and some scholars considered that Eusebius and Origen were confusing them with another group called the Nazarenes. Thus it is necessary to be careful about which group (if there really is more than one) one is refering to. Origen claimed that he obtained commentaries of Symmachus, an Ebionite, from a certain Juliana who inherited it from Symmachus himself. Symmachus attacked the Gospel of Matthew in his comentaries.

In common, they believe in the necessity of the Jewish Law and do not believe in the divinity of Jesus. Thus, we have to distinguish between the two sects. Because of Jesus' exemplary conduct, he was esteemed as son of God, which is very close to adoptionism. Tertullian mentioned Hebion.

Comparison of the (generic?, combined?) Ebionite sect with Islam:
Belief Ebionite Muslim
manhood of Jesus "For they considered him a plain and common man, " (Eusebius, HE III 27.2)

"But nevertheless, inasmuch as they also refused to acknowledge that he pre-existed, being God, Word, and Wisdom," (Eusebius, HE III 27.3)

believed that Jesus is a man, not divine. It is not clear if Muslims can assent to the description of "plain" and "common" by virtue of the many special qualities he has (see JESUS). Also, Muslims believed Jesus to be the Word of God.
virgin birth "Cerinthus ... represented Jesus as having not been born of a virgin, but as being the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation ... their [Ebionites'] opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates." (Irenaeus, Against Heresis 1.26.1-2).

[Note: A different description can be found in the table below]

believe in the virgin birth of Jesus
Jesus is not Christ "Cerinthus ... after his [Jesus'] baptism, Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove from the Supreme Ruler, and that then he proclaimed the unknown Father, and performed miracles. But at last Christ departed from Jesus, and that then Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ remained impassible, inasmuch as he was a spiritual being ... their [Ebionites'] opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates." (Irenaeus, Against Heresis 1.26.1-2). [Clearly, here, Ebionites are said to believed that Jesus and the Christ are not one and the same, but the later descended on the former] believe that Jesus is indeed the Christ (Messiah). al-Masih is a title used exclusively of Jesus in the Qur'an.
angel in Jesus "This opinion will be very suitable for Ebion, who holds Jesus to be a mere man, and nothing more than a descendant of David, and not also the Son of God; although He is, to be sure, in one respect more glorious than the prophets, inasmuch as he declares that there was an angel in Him, just as there was in Zechariah." (?+++Tertullian?+++) Muslims believe that Angels helped Jesus, but do not dwell in him.
another Christ And therefore it was, (according to the Ebionaeans) that (the Saviour) was named (the) Christ of God and Jesus, since not one of the rest (of mankind) had observed completely the law. For if even any other had fulfilled the commandments (contained) in the law, he would have been that Christ. And the (Ebionaeans allege) that they themselves also, when in like manner they fulfil (the law), are able to become Christs; for they assert that our Lord Himself was a man in a like sense with all (the rest of the human family). (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 7.22) there does not seem to be any suggestion that there is another Christ after Jesus, who is called The Christ in the Qur'an. The Ebionites believed that any one can be a christ, but Muslims seemed to have a different idea of Messiahship.

Also, Muslims believe that Muhammad also obeyed God perfectly, which will make him a Christ according to Ebionite belief.

virtues of Jesus

"Cerinthus ... represented Jesus as ... more righteous, prudent, and wise than other men ... their [Ebionites'] opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates." (Irenaeus, Against Heresis 1.26.1-2).

"justified only because of his superior virtue" (Eusebius, HE III 27)

The Qur'an doesn't seem to say that Jesus was "justified" because of his virtues (deeds).
additions to Jewish Law (1) touching of foreigners, (2) washing after intercourse, (3) bathing in their clothes (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.2.3-6) (1) is not a Muslim belief, although the Qur'an says not to take infidels as friends and protectors. (2) is in conformity. don't know about (3).
Lord's supper celebrate Lord's supper (Luke 22:15-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29) with unleavened bread (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30.16.1) no celebration of the Lord's supper
suffering of Jesus "... Jesus suffered and rose again " (Irenaeus, Against Heresis 1.26.1-2). believed that Jesus was not crucified on the cross, but only a likeness of Him. It is not clear if he suffered before Pontius Pilate.
gospel "His successor was Ebion, not agreeing with Cerinthus in every point; in that he affirms the world to have been made by God, not by angels; and because it is written, "No disciple above his master, nor servant above his lord," sets forth likewise the law as binding, of course for the purpose of excluding the gospel and vindicating Judaism." (?+++Tertullian?+++) [Note: we see Tertuallian jumping to conclusion that the Ebionites were from Hebion or Ebion] The Injil was sent to Jesus.
Gospel according to Matthew "They use the Gospel according to Matthew only" (Irenaeus, Against Heresis 1.26.1-2). Also Ephiphanius's Panarion 30.3.7. do not accept the gospel accounts in the Bible or the apocryphal Gospel according to the Hebrews as scripture. Muslims sometimes say that the Gospel of Barnabas is the Injil
Paul believed that Paul was gentile and failed to become a proselyte in order to marry a Jewish woman, so turned against Judaism. [The Bible gives no evidence that Paul was married, unlike Peter (see 1 Corinthians 9:5)] believed that Paul was a Jew. Says nothing concerning Paul's marriage.
Old Testament prophets rejected Old Testament prophets (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.18,4-5) accepted many of the OT prophets.
vegetarianism believe in vegetarianism Not upheld
poverty "the Ebionites, who derive the appellation of "poor" from their very name" (?+++Origen?+++) Not upheld. Material wealth is seen as a blessing from Allah.

Comparison of the two-fold sect with Islam:
Belief Ebionite 1 Ebionite 2 Muslim
virgin birth "... He was begotten like other human beings" (Origen, Contra celsus, v. 61). Thus, Jesus was the product of the sexual union between Joseph and Mary.

"the fruit of the intercourse of a man with Mary." (Eusebius, HE III 27)

"these are the twofold sect of Ebionites, who either acknowledge with us that Jesus was born of a virgin, ..." (Origen, Contra celsus, v. 61).

"did not deny that the Lord was born of a virgin and of the Holy Spirit." (Eusebius, HE III 27)

Muslims believe in the virgin birth, so it seems that Ebionite 2's beliefs are in accord with Muslim beliefs. However, in talking about the virgin birth believing Ebionites, Origen pressed the point that they "acknowledge with us" implying that they believe like the Christians: the agent of the virgin birth was the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, we would expect a reasonable disagreement from Origen. The passage from Eusebius confirms that the Holy Spirit is the agent.

In Islam, the Holy Spirit is the Angel Gabriel.

Gospel according to the Hebrews ? "they used only the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews" (Eusebius, HE III 27) rejected all Gospels accounts, whether in the Bible, or the Gospel of the Hebrews
epistles of apostles ? rejected them rejected them
resurrection ? "... like us, they celebrated the Lord's days as a memorial of the resurrection of the Saviour" (Eusebius, HE III 27) The celebration of the Lord's day is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified, but it only appeared so until the Jews. Jesus was "raised" up to Allah. Thus, Islam does not teach the Resurrection of Jesus as a past event, but the ascension of Jesus to Allah. Muslims believe that he will come again and then die and be resurrected.

However, even if the Nazarenes or the Ebionites were the "true Christians" a.k.a. "true Muslims", we are also in another area of theological problem: that "Pauline heresy" should have totally triumphed over the "true Christians" backed by Allah, eliminating them without a trace. Not only that, the Qur'an did say specifically that the real believers did prevailed, and it seems that neither the Nazarenes (even if they were heretic) nor the Ebionites ever prevailed against the rest of orthodox Christianity.


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