We don’t have much information on the Gospel of the Ebionites (quoted in Epiphanius’ Panarion: 30.13.1-8, 30.14.5, 30.16.4-5, and 30.22.4). These are some of my notes on the fragmentary version available to us:
- The Ebionites used Matthew’s Gospel exclusively. It was argued that Matthew’s Gospel was written in Hebrew. This seems to correspond to a claim made by Papias. Of course, as noted above, what we have is from Epiphanius, so it is impossible to know whether his understanding of the Ebionites blurs our understanding.
- Epiphanius claims that the Ebionites’ version of Matthew was mutilated.
- It contains first person language from Jesus describing his choice of disciples. Matthew is addressed directly. This seems to be a common literary function beginning with the Gospel of John to validate the witness of a document.
- It mentions John the Baptist, saying he baptized Pharisees and all of Jerusalem. Since the Ebionites were a vegetarian sect it seems that they may have altered the tradition that he ate locusts (ἀκρίς) saying he ate cake (ενκρις) that tasted like manna. John is presented as being from the lineage of Aaron, son of Zecharias and Elizabeth, which corresponds to Luke’s Gospel. If it is true that the Ebionites accepted one Gospel then the question arises whether they received this tradition about John independently from a similar source, or if it is something about Luke’s Gospel they knew and accepted. The description of Jesus’ baptism sounds like Luke’s Gospel, even depicted the descending dove as being “like” a dove, and including a direct address from God to Jesus at his baptism. The Matthean version is included two, with God making a general statement about Jesus, so if it is true that the Ebionites used Matthew only it is quite curious that there seems to be familiarity with the tradition found in Luke.
- In this Gospel John does ask Jesus to baptize him. So we have no evidence that the Ebionites exalted John over Jesus. Rather, like the canonical Gospels, if Epiphanius’ quotations are reliable, we have Jesus exalted over John.
- This Gospel is adoptionistic. Jesus is born of a “seed of man”, therefore, he had a real human father. He was chosen to be Son of God at his baptism. Jesus is preexistent as one of the archangels. In fact, he is depicted as the greatest of archangels. This differs from Logos Christology, but I do notice a curious similarity in that Justin Martyr, when discussing Jesus as the preexistent Logos, describes OT theophanies, including “Angel of the Lord” theophanies, as Jesus. So there is an interesting connection there.
- There is a quotation where Jesus says, “I came to destroy sacrifices, and if you don’t cease from sacrificing, the wrath (of God) will not cease from you.” If this Gospel is rooted in a Jewish community this is likely a post-70 theological reflection upon the destruction of the Temple.
- The last quotation has Jesus and his disciples discussing eating the flesh of the Passover.