James 2:14, The Ebionite Church and the Judaizers, Part II of II
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
//Yesterday, I introduced an offshoot of Christianity called the Ebionites. This church did not ascribe divinity to Jesus, nor did they believe in the virgin birth. They focused on a works-based mission, like today’s verse from the epistle of James. Who were these guys, really, and how did they stray so far from Christianity?
We have no writings from them–we have only later writings rejecting and refuting their views–so we don’t know for sure who they were, how they originated, or what they really taught. You may be familiar with Justin Martyr’s debate with Trypho, a Jew, in the middle of the second century. Justin acknowledges those who call themselves Christians yet do not view Jesus as God. This fits the Ebionites.
It is certain that the Ebionites stemmed from Jewish Christianity, probably as an offshoot of the Jerusalem church. They were probably the remnants of the church which escaped from the city just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and they were probably the “Judaizers” whom Paul vehemently opposed.
Of course, we all know the leader of that first Jerusalem church. It was the brother of Jesus himself: James the Just.
Some critical scholars, such as A. T. Robinson in Redating the New Testament, propose that the book of James, attributed to the brother of Jesus, actually was penned by his very hand. It does indeed mirror Ebionite thinking, unmystical, ethical and practical, teaching a works-based salvation. Just like the Ebionites. Little surprise that this epistle has gained few followers, even in today’s time. Many Orthodox Christians have questioned whether it is Christian at all, for, as Luther explained (who used to tear it from the Bible whenever he found it), it advocates merely goodness and self-restraint and teaches nothing of justification by faith.
The Ebionites were no more popular than the brother of Jesus who probably founded their church. They survived in any numbers only into the second century, when they were deemed heretical, roundly denounced by Irenaeus as little different from the Jews, and appear to have dissipated over time.