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Jesus— Man but not God? The Ebionite Heresy | Theology Matters

  • February 2006 Issue
Practical Theology

The Scriptures declare that there is one mediator between God and men, “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Many who heard the gospel in the first century had no trouble accepting this. For them, the major stumbling block to the gospel was the church’s insistence that Jesus Christ was also God (John 1:1; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1). This prompted some to accept that Jesus was a human messiah but to reject His claim to deity.

The Ebionite doctrine, one of the earliest heresies of the church, arose within early Jewish Christianity. The name by which this group was known may have been derived from its founder. Others have suggested that it alluded to the group’s ascetic tendencies. Some Ebionite groups were friendly towards Gentile Christians while others were hostile.

Interestingly, Ebionism may have been prompted by good motives: a desire to safeguard the foundational affirmation of Judaism that God is one (Deut. 6:4; cf. Mark 12:29, 32; James 2:19). The Ebionites believed that Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary and was elected to be the son of God. They emphasized strict obedience to the Mosaic Law and preached a gospel of human effort.

Why Theology Matters

Although no one today claims to practice Ebionism, some of its elements can still be seen in those who make a distinction between the “historical” and the biblical Jesus and who claim that His message was primarily one of moralism. One contemporary group, The Jesus Seminar, for example, is comprised of scholars that have met since 1985 and passed judgment on the authenticity of the statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospels based on popular vote. They say that Jesus did not claim to be God or even the Messiah.


For a critique of the findings of the Jesus Seminar read Jesus Under Fire by Michael Wilkins (Zondervan).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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