The Gospel of the Ebionites: Lost Scriptures


One of the books that didn’t make it into the New Testament was The Gospel of the Ebionites. The Ebionites were a group of early Jewish Christians scattered throughout the Mediterranean. Most early Christians broke away from Judaism. However, this sect combined Judaism and Christianity, creating some stark differences from other early Christians.

The Gospel of the Ebionites has been lost to history. Thus, the only portions of it that we know about are quotes from early Christian writers. Moreover, these quotes give us insight because they are placed in a proper historical context. However, this can be a negative point of the author was unfriendly towards them.

Most of the surviving quotes come from Epiphanius. He does seem to disagree with them. At one point he accuses them of “chopping off the genealogies of Matthew”. This indicates their Gospel was believed to be based on the existing 4 Gospels of the New Testament.

This notion is strengthened by a quote he cites regarding the baptism of Jesus. The Gospel of the Ebionites appears to harmonize the 4 different existing accounts as follows.

When he came up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, descending and entering him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased. Today I have given you birth.’

Immediately a great light enlightened the place. When John saw this, he said to him, ‘Who are you Lord?’ Yet again a voice came from heaven to him, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’

Epiphanius Panarion 30

Discerning Theology from The Gospel of the Ebionites.

It’s interesting to note that the Ebionites did not believe that Jesus was God. Hence, the lower case references to Jesus while the Holy Spirit receives upper case treatment. Moreover, the reference to the baptism giving birth to the upper case “Son”. This, combine with the exclusion of the genealogy, shows an attempt to tie Jesus to God at his baptism.

Furthermore, it is noteworthy that the Ebionites were vegetarians. As believers in following the Law of the Torah, they almost had to be. Most meat available for purchase at that time had been sacrificed to idols. Thus they could not eat it. Moreover, this required them to paint John the Baptist and Jesus likewise. The way they accomplish this with Jesus is not that interesting. It follows.

The Gospel of the Ebionites

The disciples: “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover lamb?”

Jesus: “I have no desire to eat the meat of this Passover lamb with you.”

Epiphanius, Panarion

John the Baptist gets more creative treatment, however. The Gospels say he ate locusts and honey. The Gospel of the Ebionites records his diet thusly.

John wore a garment of camel hair and a leather belt around his waist. And his food was wild honey that tasted like manna, like a cake cooked in oil.

Epiphanius, Panarion

Honey pancakes is much more appealing than locusts. You have to give them that.

These are the only quotes from The Gospel of the Ebionites that interested me. However, there are a few more surviving clips. If you are interested in reading all of them, pick up Lost Scriptures by Bart Ehrman. He documents this lost gospel, as well as others that were left out of the cannon.

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