Saturday, June 21, 2008

Answering the abominable heresy of the (Neo-)Ebionites

The weekly meditation that I have posted last week on Is. 9 and the Messianic implications it has seems to have attracted the attention of a Swedish (Neo)-Ebionite Anders Branderud, who calls himself a Netzarim. Since there has been a lot of interest in all things Jewish in recent times, I think that this issue should be addressed in a bid to head off Judaizing influences which have the potential to place deluded people under the anathema of God (Gal. 1:8-9)

Historically, the emergence of the Ebionite heresy is rather hard to trace. What we can know however with the aid of Scripture is that it must have came from the Judaizing party first reproved in the Council of Jerusalem (Act 15: 1-29) which had tried to press the observance of the Law according to the Judaist understanding of the Law. Later on, when they prove recalcitrant, the Apostle Paul rebuked and condemned them and their teachings in the entire epistle to the Galatians, nothing that the Judaizing party ought to emasculate (castrate) themselves since they boast so much in their flesh and in circumcision (Gal. 5:12), noting that 'for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery' (Gal. 5:1). The Judaizers probably still persist as a group historically as the Ebionites, and slander and attack Paul as an apostate plus reject his writings as Scripture because it did not square with their unbiblical understanding of the Law plus the fact that Paul was their most outspoken critic.

As a historical movement, the Ebionites have been virtually eliminated from the word scene due to persecution from both Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles detest them since they were Jews, Christians rightly denounce them as heretics, and the non-Christian Jews detest them because they claim to follow Jesus whom they regarded as a false prophet. In other words, their position placed them in no-man's land, as being similar to an 'almost Christian" — hated by the World, rejected by God and excommunicated from the Church. As such, they have mostly gone extinct. Their initial persistence however have caused a backlash as the Church then denounced all things Jewish, of which the harsh rhetoric used would unwittingly provide fuel for future anti-Semitism which is always prevalent in the hearts of the Gentiles.

The recent interest in all things Jewish have however resurrected the Ebionite heresy from the grave. Similar to the ancient Ebionites, these Neo-Ebionites claim to follow "Rabbi Yeshua" while rejecting Christianity. One such group is the "Netzarim", who are self-styled "Restored Nazerene Jews of Israel". They most certainly are Jews, but they create an ahistorical "Yeshua" of their own making and claim to follow him. In reality, they follow a mere figment of their imagination and are totally deluded. Let's face it, either you be a unbelieving Jew who denies Jesus, of you follow Jesus as your Messiah. Such a "half-way" position is totally untenable historically, not to mention logically and scripturally.

As stated, one way to address such nonsense is to read up on the facts of history. The texts of the New Testament are historically beyond refute as to their credibility and reliability, having have superior manuscript evidence as proof. In fact, one of the earliest manuscript papyri were dated to around the turn of the second century AD [Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Zondervan Publishers, 1998, Grand Rapids, MI), p. 61-62], far too little time for the NT texts to be corrupted. Therefore, it is simply impossible to claim to believe in "Rabbi Jesus" while rejecting all the evidences of Jesus Christ and of the Christian faith based upon Him based upon the facts of history. You can disagree with the New Testament if you so wish, but don't claim to follow Jesus when you actually don't!

This Neo-Ebionite site has manged to distort historical documentation even by misquoting the words of Eusebius, an early Church father. In his work The Church History of Eusebius, which is found in the collation NPNF (Nicene Post-Nicene Fathers) (available online on CCEL here). From here, we can compare the distortions of the Neo-Ebionites with the truth.

The Neo-Ebionites first claim that the charge of the Jerusalem church was given to James the Just, giving EH II, XXIII.4 as their reference. What of course it didn't say was that James confessed Christ as the Messiah.

12. The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and cried out to him and said: ‘Thou just one, in whom we ought all to have confidence, forasmuch as the people are led astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.’

13. And he answered with a loud voice, ‘Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven. (Eusebius, Church History of Eusebius, Book II, Chapter XXIII: The Matyrdom of James, who was called the brother of the Lord, NPNF2-01, source)

Next, they claim that the original disciples of Jesus called the Netzarim excised Saul, thereafter referred exclusively as Paul, and judged him as an apostate, quoting EH, III, xxvii, 4. Checking with the original source shows that Eusebius was talking about the Ebionite heretics here, and therefore the "Netzarim" showed themselves to be Neo-Ebionites in fact. The footnotes in this text (made by the editors) sure looks interesting.

4. These men, moreover, thought that it was necessary to reject all the epistles of the apostle, whom they called an apostate from the law;830 and they used only the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews831 and made small account of the rest.

830 This is mentioned by Irenæus (I. 26. 2) and by Origen (Cont. Cels. V. 65 and Hom. in Jer. XVIII. 12). It was a general characteristic of the sect of the Ebionites as known to the Fathers, from the time of Origen on, and but a continuation of the enmity to Paul shown by the Judaizers during his lifetime. But their relations to Paul and to the Jewish law fell more and more into the background, as remarked above, as their Christological heresy came into greater prominence over against the developed Christology of the Catholic Church (cf. e.g. the accounts of Tertullian and of Hippolytus with that of Irenæus). The “these” (οὗτοι δὲ) here would seem to refer only to the second class of Ebionites; but we know from the very nature of the case, as well as from the accounts of others, that this conduct was true as well of the first, and Eusebius, although he may have been referring only to the second, cannot have intended to exclude the first class in making the statement.

831 Eusebius is the first to tell us that the Ebionites used the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Irenæus (Adv. Hær. I. 26. 2, III. 11. 7) says that they used the Gospel of Matthew, and the fact that he mentions no difference between it and the canonical Matthew shows that, so far as he knew, they were the same. But according to Eusebius, Jerome, and Epiphanius the Gospel according to the Hebrews was used by the Ebionites, and, as seen above (chap. 25, note 18), this Gospel cannot have been identical with the canonical Matthew. Either, therefore, the Gospel used by the Ebionites in the time of Irenæus, and called by him simply the Gospel of Matthew, was something different from the canonical Matthew, or else the Ebionites had given up the Gospel of Matthew for another and a different gospel (for the Gospel of the Hebrews cannot have been an outgrowth of the canonical Matthew, as has been already seen, chap. 25, note 24). The former is much more probable, and the difficulty may be most simply explained by supposing that the Gospel according to the Hebrews is identical with the so-called Hebrew Gospel of Matthew (see chap. 24, note 5), or at least that it passed among the earliest Jewish Christians under Matthew’s name, and that Irenæus, who was personally acquainted with the sect, simply hearing that they used a Gospel of Matthew, naturally supposed it to be identical with the canonical Gospel. In the time of Jerome a Hebrew “Gospel according to the Hebrews” was used by the “Nazarenes and Ebionites” as the Gospel of Matthew (cf. in Matt. XII. 13; Contra Pelag. III. 2). Jerome refrains from expressing his own judgment as to its authorship, but that he did not consider it in its existing form identical with the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is clear from his words in de vir. ill. chap. 3, taken in connection with the fact that he himself translated it into Greek and Latin, as he states in chap. 2. Epiphanius (Hær. XXIX. 9) says that the Nazarenes still preserved the original Hebrew Matthew in full, while the Ebionites (XXX. 13) had a Gospel of Matthew “not complete, but spurious and mutilated”; and elsewhere (XXX. 3) he says that the Ebionites used the Gospel of Matthew and called it the “Gospel according to the Hebrews.” It is thus evident that he meant to distinguish the Gospel of the Ebionites from that of the Nazarenes, i.e. the Gospel according to the Hebrews from the original Hebrew Matthew. So, likewise. Eusebius’ treatment of the Gospel according to the Hebrews and of the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew clearly indicates that he considered them two different gospels (cf. e.g. his mention of the former in chap. 25 and in Bk. IV. chap. 22, and his mention of the latter in chap. 24, and in Bk. IV. chap. 10). Of course he knew that the former was not identical with the canonical Matthew, and hence, naturally supposing that the Hebrew Matthew agreed with the canonical Matthew, he could not do otherwise than make a distinction between the Gospel according to the Hebrews and the Hebrew Matthew, and he must therefore make the change which he did in Irenæus’ statement in mentioning the Gospel used by the Ebionites, as he knew them. Moreover, as we learn from Bk. VI. chap. 17, the Ebionite Symmachus had written against the Gospel of Matthew (of course the canonical Gospel), and this fact would only confirm Eusebius in his opinion that Irenæus was mistaken, and that the Ebionites did not use the Gospel of Matthew. But none of these facts militate against the assumption that the Gospel of the Hebrews in its original form was identical with the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, or at least passed originally under his name among Jewish Christians. For it is by no means certain that the original Hebrew Matthew agreed with the canonical Matthew, and, therefore, lack of resemblance between the Gospel according to the Hebrews and the canonical Matthew is no argument against its identity with the Hebrew Matthew. Moreover, it is quite conceivable that, in the course of time, the original Gospel according to the Hebrews underwent alterations, especially since it was in the hands of a sect which was growing constantly more heretical, and that, therefore, its resemblance to the canonical Matthew may have been even less in the time of Eusebius and Jerome than at the beginning. It is possible that the Gospel of Matthew, which Jerome claims to have seen in the library at Cæsarea (de vir. ill. chap. 3), may have been an earlier, and hence less corrupt, copy of the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Since the writing of this note, Handmann’s work on the Gospel according to the Hebrews (Das Hebräer-Evangelium, von Rudolf Handmann. Von Gebhardt and Harnack’s Texte und Untersuchungen, Bd. V. Heft 3) has come into my hands, and I find that he denies that that Gospel is to be in any way identified with the traditional Hebrew Matthew, or that it bore the name of Matthew. The reasons which he gives, however, are practically the same as those referred to in this note, and, as already shown, do not prove that the two were not originally identical. Handmann holds that the Gospel among the Jewish Christians was called simply “the Gospel,” or some general name of the kind, and that it received from others the name “Gospel according to the Hebrews,” because it was used by them. This may well be, but does not militate at all against the existence of a tradition among the Jewish Christians that Matthew was the author of their only gospel. Handmann makes the Gospel according to the Hebrews a second independent source of the Synoptic Gospels alongside of the “Ur-Marcus,” (a theory which, if accepted, would go far to establish its identity with the Hebrew Matthew), and even goes so far as to suggest that it is to be identified with the λόγια of Papias (cf. the writer’s notice of Handmann’s book, in the Presbyterian Review, July, 1889). For the literature on this Gospel, see chap. 25, note 24. I find that Resch in his Agrapha emphasizes the apocryphal character of the Gospel in its original form, and makes it later than and in part dependent upon our Matthew, but I am unable to agree with him.

This immediately alerts us to the subjectivity of these "Netzarim", since it is a fact that the Ebionites were thrown out of the Church early in its history and as such have no legitimate claim to historical continuity with the teachings of Jesus, being opposed by all the Apostle even and anathemized by God Himself through His Word (Gal. 1:8-9).

Historical revisionism sure runs rampant in such circles, with even the destruction of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews from that area being used as "proof" of Christianity being a Hellenic and thus false religion. Nevermind the historical fact that the Jews had rebelled against Roman rule under the leadership of the false messiah Bar-Cocheba (Eusebius, Church History of Eusebius, Book IV, Chapter VI: The Last Siege of the Jews under Adrian, NPNF2-01, source), and therefore they get what they justly deserve (As if the Roman Empire was going to lie down and allow one of its own provinces to revolt!). It is a fact that the Jews were a rebellious people, and although they have a reason to be, the suppression and expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem was done for political reasons rather than any religious consideration. Noting that Christians everywhere were being persecuted during that period, the Neo-Ebionites showed themselves long on assertion but short on logical rational thinking, as if the Roman Empire was going to do the bidding of Christians who they were actively persecuting! Sheer idiocy!

On the Law

Theologically, the entire thrust of the argument against Christianity by these Neo-Ebionites is that Christianity is "anti-Torah". Such shows their Legalistic slant, and proves once for all that they do not even understand their own Scriptures, distorting the teachings of the Old Testament to be one of legalistic law-keeping, whereas it was never meant to teach such a perversion. We can of course look at the New Testament to see the correct understanding between Law and grace, of which the best presentation is found in Romans and Galatians. However, a quick glance of the Old Testament would show that to be the case also.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Ps. 51:16-17)

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith (Hab. 2:4)

Besides these two overt texts, we can see the grace of God apart from the Law in the narrative episodes of Israel's history. When Israel was saved from Egypt in the Exodus, was it because they were righteous? No, for it is written:

Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you [Israel] this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people (Deut. 9:6)

Therefore, Israel's salvation from Egypt was totally of grace. Even in the giving of the Law, we can see that the way of salvation is still by grace. For in Deut. 27-28, God had through symbolisms showed forth the Law and its attendent blessings and curses as both sides of the same coin through half of Israel pronouncing the blessings on Mount Gerazim and the other half proclaim the curses opposite them on Mount Ebal (Deut. 11:29). The symmetrical nature of these two can be seen when comparing the first and second part of Deut. 28. Yet, God has pronounced that they will experience both and after their destruction and dispersal among the nations, they will be saved again (Deut. 30:5). Such salvation would be by grace and that alone, for we can see that God will work to change them (Deut. 30:6) so that they will turn to Him. Also, in Ez 36:22-27, this new heart is given by God alone and it is based on grace not on Law, for as verse 22 says

It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. (Ez. 36:22b)

From all of this therefore, we can see that salvation even in the Old Testament is by grace not by Law at any point in history. The Law was given only to Israel after they were saved (from Egypt). And therefore, the Law was to serve not unto salvation but as a rule for the people of God, and is therefore to be evaluated accordingly. The rabbinic Jews from before Jesus' time up till now have therefore distorted the message in their own Torah and as such are living everyday under the wrath of YHWH whom they claim to follow. The Neo-Ebionites therefore, having follow the Legalistic works-righteousness of rabbinic Judaism, are similarly distorting the true message of the Torah and are thus under the condemnation of God for it.

Christianity therefore is the true message of God and an extension of Abrahamic Jewish religion. Far from Christianity being "anti-Torah", it is the Judaism that rejects Christ and believes in works-righteousness that is in actual fact "anti-Torah"! For they substituted the commands of God for the traditions of Man (Mk. 7:9), as the fathers the Pharisees did before them.

In conclusion, to unbelieving Jews and the Neo-Ebionites, hear the Word of YHWH:

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (Jn. 8:42-47)

Repent therefore, and believe in the true Messiah, Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of God, for the forgiveness of sins. Repent of your wickedness in blaspheming God and of thinking that your works and the observance of the Law can earn you merit in the eyes of God, while God Himself has said that your righteous acts are as polluted garment (Is. 64:6). All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), Jews and Greeks alike (Rom. 3:9), and are therefore under the fiery wrath of God. Only God can save you now, and in this He has provided a way through belief in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior (Rom. 10:9-13). Repent therefore of your sins and receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, such that you will be imputed the righteousness of God and saved by Him. Amen.


yongchun said...

Eh Daniel, "the grace of Gd"?

Daniel C said...

Ouch... typo error.... Sry.