Ebionites (Heb. ebyonim, poor people), a party in the early Christian church. The name was first assumed by such Christians as held to Jewish opinions and practices. After the Christianity which savored of Judaism had come to be regarded by the church as a heresy, the name, in its Greek form, was applied to the members of the party by their opponents, and they themselves adopted that of Nazarenes. The doctrine of the Ebionites was a mixture of Judaism and Christianity. While they accepted the Old Testament in its integrity, they rejected the New Testament, substituting a gospel based upon the facts in the Gospel of Matthew. This was known to the primitive Christians as the "Gospel of the Hebrews."
The Ebionites denied the divinity of Christ, retained the practice of circumcision while observing the rites of baptism and the Lord's supper, kept the seventh day of the week, and conformed in many things to the ascetic discipline of the Essenes. Their opinions were afterward somewhat modified, and they were divided particularly in their dogma concerning the birth of Jesus and the method of his union with God. As Epiphanius represents them, they believed that Jesus was the incarnation of an exalted superangelic spirit, who came to republish the law which Moses had published before, and which was the law of right and truth given to the original Adam. They were opposed to the doctrine of priestly and monastic celibacy. They interpreted literally the Hebrew prophecies in regard to the Messiah's kingdom, and expected that material reign of Christ which Isaiah describes. Ebionites were found in Palestine and Syria down to the end of the 4th century. They began about that time to come into frequent collision with the Catholics, and soon disappeared from history.