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is still preserved-is preserved among them,—is preserved, obviously, as it was written from the beginning.*
Irenæus, while he is uniformly silent about the Esseans, has nowhere applied the name of Nazarenes to the Jewish believers. The reason seems to have been, that he knew this to be the appellation by which the first Christian societies in Palestine and Syria, with Jesus at their head, were distinguished. Common decency, therefore, restrained him at that early period, from branding the Jewish converts as heretics, under a denomination, which they had, in common with Christ and his apostles. Irenæus calls them Ebionites, a contemptuous term expressive of their poverty, not of their peculiar principles as the followers of Jesus. The Saviour preached the gospel to the poor. The poor, and not the rich, in general received it. The son of God himself, became poor, that is, became an Ebionite. 2 Cor. viii. 9. and in common with his followers, incurred that reproach: 2 Cor. vi. 10. Such too of the early converts as were rich, sold their property, and thus voluntarily, however reproachful the name, and painful the task, became Ebionites. Thus says their eloquent apologist, Philo; and thus allows their malicious adversary, Epiphanius. Vol. i. p. 141. "They call themselves poor, because in the days of the apostles, they sold their possessions, and laid them
Est vero penes illos evangelium secundum Matthæum, Hebraice scriptum, et quidem absolutissimum. Hoc enim certissime, prout Hebraicis literis initio scriptum est, in hodiernum tempus usque conservant, Epiph. Vol. i. p. 124.
at the feet of the apostles." Origen explains the term, and to his great dishonour, concurs in the reproach attached to it. "Celsus," says he, "was ignorant that the Jews who believed in Jesus, did not forsake their paternal rites, but persisted in them, thus bearing in their own name the poverty of their religion. For Ebion means poor, in the Jewish language, and other Jews give the name of Ebionites to those who received Jesus as the Christ."*
The first authors of the term, it seems, were the Jews, who persecuted our Lord and his followers; and it was natural in enemies to apply a name, which degraded the converts, only in a political point of view. But surely, it little became their brethren among the Gentiles, to borrow this term, and apply it with the same indiscriminate bigotry and hatred. This is an instance of unfair dealings, precisely similar to their omission of the early Jewish converts, under the name and character of Esseans, so honourably delineated by Philo and Josephus.
But let us hear the testimony which the fathers bear to the opinions of the Ebionites, respecting Christ. "They," says Irenæus, "who are called Ebionites, agree that the world was made by God; but differ from Cerinthus and Carpocrates in their opinion respecting our Lord. They use only the gospel according to Matthew, and accuse the apostle Paul as an apostate from the law." Iren. p. 102. Tertullian in his book,
* See Origen against Celsus, beginning of the second Book.
De carne Christi, speaking of the Jewish believers, apparently under the collective name of Ebion, has words to this effect. "He made
Jesus a mere man, of the race of David, and not also the son of God." To the same effect
writes Epiphanius. Hæres. 30. “Ebion, first determined that Christ was of the seed of man, that is, of Joseph." And Eusebius, writing about the Ebionites, H. E. Lib. iii. 21, adds to the same purpose. "They think him a man, and only a man, brought into being by the legitimate union of Joseph and Mary."
As the Ebionites considered Jesus a man, the son of a man, and born at Nazareth; it follows of course that the introductory chapters were not in the original gospel of Matthew used by them. And indeed, Epiphanius explicitly acknowledges that that gospel began at the third. But it may be said, that the Nazarenes and Ebionites were not the same, the former being the great body of the Jewish Christians, the latter only a sect which an intemperate zeal for the law of Moses had separated into a distinct society. This has been said, but said without truth. The term Ebion was first applied by the refractory Jews to those among them, who believed in Jesus; and whom could they intend to mark by this reproach? The Christians, no doubt, in opposition to the Jews. And this is not only acknowledged but asserted in the
*The identity of the Nazarenes and the Ebionites is proved by Dr. Priestley, Early Opinions, Vol. iii. c. 8. p.
above passage of Origen. The term Ebionite, is characteristic of the Apostolic believers, who as Philo relates, and Epiphanius expressly admits, having sold their property, thus became poor. The name as expressing poverty, and not ritual zeal or heresy, could not have been applied to the first heretics among the Jews. These were judaizing zealots from among the priests, the Scribes and Pharisees, and therefore, raised by their rank above the reproach of
Irenæus combats the Ebionites, without pre
* Paul represents the Jewish believers together with the apostles, as vilified under the appellation of poor, the sense of Ebion. "As unknown, though well known; as deceivers yet true: as dying, and behold, we live; as severely treated, yet not destroyed; as sullen, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich." That this was a term of reproach, appropriated to the followers of Jesus, appears evident, from the circumstance of the writer subjoining another clause, in order to explain the meaning of it; "as See also Rom. having nothing, yet possessing all things.”
xv. 26. Gal. ii. 10. James ii. 2, 3, 4. In 2 Cor. viii. 9. "Ye know The same author has these remarkable words, the kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich, he on your account, lived poor, that in his poverty ye might be made rich." he lived poor, or continued επτώχευσε, poor; the verb does not imply a change of condition, but continuance in a state of poverty. Schleusner very properly renders the clause, Vestrum causa in deteriori conditione vixit. It is observable, moreover, that Jesus is represented as still rich while he continued poor, TTWXEUTE,
λourios wv being poor, in a literal, and rich in a metaphorical sense-poor in condition, rich in power and grace. The same contrast is made above; "as poor making many rick.”
suming to intimate that they were a people distinct from the orthodox believers. To make this distinction, he had the strongest motive that can well be conceived. For the sentiments of the Ebionites being opposite to his own respecting the person and birth of Christ, and being also the sentiments of a people, who had the best opportunity to know the truth, and every motive to embrace it, no argument could be so likely to invalidate their authority, as to oppose to them the opinion of the more orthodox Jewish believers, separated from these converts under the name of Nazarenes. But Irenæus,
while he labours to refute the Ebionites, has not done this. He has omitted them, though celebrated by Philo and Josephus, and though capable by the weight of their name and character, to silence any subordinate sect, however respectable among the Jews.
There is another circumstance which betrays the great embarrassment, which Irenæus felt on this subject. "Those," says he, "who are called Ebionites, agree that the world was made by God, but they entertain not the opinion of Cerinthus and Carpocrates, respecting Christ." Here, the writer does not say what their opinion was. He felt that he would be bringing a cloud over the orthodox faith, by only stating that the Jewish believers rejected the doctrines of our Lords' divinity and miraculous birth, and had not the two first chapters in the gospel according to Matthew, used by them. He therefore, gives only a negative account of their tenets; though when he comes to refute them, he could no longer conceal, that they believed in the simple