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Ebion (Greek: Εβιων) was the presumed eponymous founder of an early Christian group known as the Ebionites. The existent historical evidence indicates that the name "Ebionite" is derived from a Hebrew word, "ebion" (אביון) meaning "poor"[1][2] and thus not from someone's name. Ebion is generally seen today as a purely literary figure, whose reputed existence in antiquity was used to explain where the Ebionites got their inspiration. However, once he had been accepted as real, a small tradition developed around him that lasted in early learned Christian circles for a few centuries.

Ebion according to the church fathers[edit]

Tertullian is the first writer noted for mentioning Ebion, which he does a number of times, mainly related to the notion that Jesus was a man and not divine. As an example, Tertullian writes, if Jesus "were wholly the Son of a man, He should fail to be also the Son of God, and have nothing more than 'a Solomon' or 'a Jonas,'--as Ebion thought we ought to believe concerning Him."[3] In a text called "Against All Heresies", an anonymous work once attributed to Tertullian,[4] Ebion is referred to as the successor to Cerinthus. This places Ebion in the early 2nd century and as part of a particular heretical tradition. By the time Epiphanius wrote his text on heresies, "The Panarion", nearly a century after Tertullian, Ebion had received a birthplace, a hamlet called Cochabe in the district of Bashan, was thought to have travelled through Asia, and even come to Rome.[5]

Jerome believed that Ebion lived at the time of John the Apostle[6] and had been refuted by John for not believing Jesus existed before Mary.[7] He thought that Ebion translated the Old Testament himself[8] and refers to Ebion's baptism.[9]


  1. ^ Origen knew the etymology in the 3rd century, De Principiis, IV, 22.
  2. ^ See for example the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Ebionites.
  3. ^ Tertullian, De Carne Christi, 18.
  4. ^ See chapter 3 of the work. The author is referred to as Pseudo-Tertullian and the work is thought to be related to Hippolytus's lost "Syntagma".
  5. ^ Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 30.
  6. ^ Jerome, Dialogus Adversus Luciferianos, 23 & Matthew Prologue.
  7. ^ Jerome, e Viris Illustribus Liber Ad Dextrum, 9.
  8. ^ Jerome, In Epistolam Beati Pauli Ad Galatas, 3:13-14.
  9. ^ Jerome, Dialogus Adversus Luciferianos, 26.


  • Ebionites from the Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent.
  • Ebion from Wm Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
  • Patristic evidence for Jewish-Christian sects, By Albertus Frederik Johannes Klijn, G. J. Reinink, Leiden: Brill, 1973.