Ebionites: Heretics or Messianic Jews?

We’ve been learning a little bit about the Ebionites courtesy of Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik’s book Jewish Believers in Jesus, and specifically Skarsaune’s chapter on the Ebionites.

Just who were these Jewish believers? What did they believe and why?

We will never (this side of the World to Come) know much about the Ebionites because they left us no writings and those who wrote about them were quite biased against them. We can only piece together a little about them. Skarsaune does a good job of getting down to what we can know.

In considering our sources on the Ebionites, all writers from the time of the church fathers, one major branch of evidence is the Irenaeus-Tertullian-Hippolytus-Pseudo-Tertullian branch. Skarsaune considers these writers as one branch since they all seem to rely more on Irenaeus’s initial description of the Ebionites than on any actual experiences they had themselves. In other words, Skarsaune makes a good case that Irenaeus created a stereotype and later writers simply added to it.

The following are the major passages about the Ebionites, which I will follow with a few comments:

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.2,

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2 Responses to Ebionites: Heretics or Messianic Jews?

  1. Peter says:


    i think you make a lot of insightful thoughts. there is no question as someone who is struggling through an understanding of torah-obedience that i have often heard from others that “its sinful to obey the law.” and other things.

    so i think that there is a likelihood that the Ebionites could have been misunderstood.


  2. judahgabriel says:

    Given that Messianics who are Torah-observant are often misunderstood by Christianity (I can’t count the times I’ve had to explain that I do not believe I’m righteous by my works!), it would not surprise me if the Ebionites were given a bad rap by Christendom of its day.

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