Adoptionist and Ebionite notes

Steven Avery

PBF threads on Ebionite, Adoptionist late beliefs (non-Apostolic), denial of Virgin Birth and snipping the Bible

John Gresham Machen (1881- 1937)

The Virgin Birth of Christ (1930)
by J. Gresham Machen

The Ebionite deniers of the virgin birth have never been traced back to primitive times, and it has never been shown that they were at heart Christians at all. - p. 393

1. The external attestation. The New Testament account of the birth of Jesus and of related events is contained in Luke 1:5–2 (with Luke 3:23–38) and in Matt. 1, 2. This account is therefore contained in two of the New Testament books, whose attestation is so strong as to make it practically impossible that they were written after the close of the first century, and exceedingly probable that they were written very much earlier. Nor is there any external evidence really worth considering to show that these Gospels did not originally contain the accounts of the birth. These accounts appear in all the Greek manuscripts, in all the ancient versions and in the Diatessaron of Tatian (omitting the genealogies). It is true that Cerinthus and Carpocrates and a class of Jewish Christians did not believe in the virgin birth, and did not accept those portions of the Gospels which supported that doctrine; but it is pretty evident that their action was motived by dogmatic rather than historical considerations. Even if it is held that heresy in the early Church was, inmost cases, a tenacious holding to the ancient simplicity in the face of the developing theology of the Church, yet this does not affect the narrower textual question now under discussion. It may be perfectly true, for example, that a certain class of Ebionites were not mistaken in regarding the natural birth of Christ as the correct original belief; yet it is evident that their omission of the openingchapters of Matthew and Luke was not textually justified. Perhaps the Ebionites were right in refusing to assert that the virgin birth was fact; in any case, there is no good reason to suppose that they were right in omitting the account of that supposed fact from their copies of the first and third Gospels.1

We conclude, then, that there is no external evidence of any account to show that the Gospel of Luke ever existed without the first two chapters.

And in view of the undisputed unity of style and diction between 1:18–2:23 and the rest of the Gospel—a unity far too perfect to be explained as due merely to a common redactor—we may safely agree finally with J. Weiss when he declares that there never were forms of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke without theinfancy narratives.59

For the Ebionites mentioned by Irenaeus mayhave used some gospel which has been lost; or they may have adapted the canonical Matthew to their peculiar doctrines in some suchway as Marcion adapted Luke.

A careful literary criticism does, we think, in an extraordinarily decisive way, show that thebelief in the virgin birth is an integral part of the Palestinian narrative underlying Lk. 1:5–2:52; and this fact has an important bearingupon the ultimate historical question as to the origin of the belief.


Note: Machem was a liberal, talks of redactors, interpolator, before 80 AD, and the Gentile Theophilus. And had their purification include Joseph.

6 It is not true that Jewish-Christians, on account of the examples of Isaac, Samson and Samuel, etc., would already be expecting something like a virgin birth,so that the Septuagint translation of Isaiah, even though not very convincing, would still be able to supply a strong enough impulse tolead to the definite formulation of the doctrine as we find it in Matt. 1 and Luke 1. For the step from a birth by promise, such as that ofIsaac, to a birth without human father, such as that of Jesus, is by no means an "easy step," as is often asserted, but involvespractically the whole of the mystery. The conception by means of an extraordinary power given to men is quite in accord with theworkings of God in Providence—though it may exceed them in degree—whereas it is just the exclusion of the human agency thatgives the miracle of the virgin birth that peculiar character which is so difficult to explain. Such cases as Isaac and Samson do notreally go very far in explaining the origin of the unique idea as reflected in the narratives of Matthew and Luke. To bridge the gap isespecially hard upon Jewish ground. (continues)
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Steven Avery

By Professor James Orr, D. D.
United Free Church College, Glasgow, Scotland

We know, indeed, that a section of the early Jewish Christians—the Ebionites, as they are commonly called—possessed a Gospel based on Matthew from which the chapters on the nativity were absent. But this was not the real Gospel of Matthew: it was at best a mutilated and corrupted form of it. The genuine Gospel, as the manuscripts attest, always had these chapters.
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Steven Avery

Good Question...
...are the Nazarenes and Ebionites the only TRUE "Christians"?
Glenn Miller

7. The Ebionite issue, as a much later controvery, cannot with confidence even be linked to the controversies in the first century, as Robinson points out [BTE:86]:

[This, of course, means that for someone to assert continuity between mid/late 2nd century Ebionism and mid 1st century controversies requires proof and argument, not simple assumption.]

Steven Avery

Theodore Letis

The issue of the virgin birth had been raised in a serious manner by John Williams in his A Free Enquiry into the Authenticity of the First and Second Chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel (London, 1771). The work was originally published anonymously, but by the second edition in 1789, now “corrected, improved, and much enlarged,” Williams was the acknowledged author. Williams’s argument was that Matthew wrote his original edition in Hebrew (Syrio-chaldaic) and that this edition did not contain the geneology found in the later Greek edition. Hence, the only explicit teaching of the virgin birth was a later addition. To call the section into question was not motivated by a desire to undermine the dogma of the virgin birth. Rather

[T]he chief reason why I contend for an original Syro-chaldaic Gospel by St. Matthew is that unbelievers object to the contents of the first and second chapters of that gospel in our present Greek copies; and it must be owned, that they are the most difficult and discordant parts in all the New Testament.27

Moreover, The author of this publication hath only to add, that he is a Christian upon principle; that he believes in a divine revelation; and that his sole design in writing, is to clear the sacred volume from inconsistencies and difficulties.28Hence, Williams is no sceptic, but like Newton and Priestley, a believer, motivated by an apologetic concern.

27 Williams, Free Enquiry, pp. 42-43.

A Free Enquiry into the authenticity of the first and second chapters St. Matthew's Gospel - 2nd edition
John Williams

Steven Avery

Theodore Letis on Priestley p. 34
Charles C. Hennell Sara Hennell
- Hannell p. 47 typo

Evanson missing
Syro-Chaldaic is not Hebrew

In volume four of this series (in 1784), under the pseudonym Ebionita, Priestley first raised the issue of the spuriousness of Matthew’s account of the virgin birth, in an article titled: “Observations on the Miraculous Conception”—two years before he addressed it in his History of the Early Opinions Concerning Jesus Christ.33 ... So far as I can tell this is the first modern major piece of historical research to explicitly denounce the dogma of the virgin birth based on the argument that it had been interpolated into the text by a later hand than that of the author.

Hennell the first to point out how Mark was missing virgin birth, resurrection ,ascension in modern milieu

Steven Avery

Bowyer gave a brief justification for considering conjectures in the preface to his second edition. He begins by noting that cor-ruptions have made their way into the text and cites Wettstein’s remarks regarding the intrusion of I Tim. 3:16 and the comma Johanneum.17 These and most interpolations he believed to have originated as marginal glosses. He then poses the question: But what shall we do for want of older MSS. which might give us the true readings before corruptions crept in? Shall we sometimes trust to versions which are older than any MSS. now remaining? Too precarious, I fear...18

Hannell, under the direct inspiration of Priestley’s conjectural dismissal of the virgin birth (which in turn had been given its rationale based on the phenomenon of the comma Johanneum and secondarily by other such variants such as I Tim. 3:16),45 Hannell took Priestley’s direction toward naturalism further than Priestley himself felt it necessary to do. In so doing Hennell properly introduced the higher critical method to England as a direct development of the lower criticism. In his words:

45 I have not, up to this point, drawn attention to Priestley's judgement on I Tim. 3:16. In his Notes on all the Books of Scripture for the Use of the Pulpit and Private Families (4 vols., 1804), vol. iv, p. 178, we read: “According to the pointing of some MSS. it may be rendered, The mystery of godliness is the pillar and founda-tion of the faith, and without doubt it is great, &c. There is little doubt but that the reading which our english [sic] translators followed, is a corrupt one; and that instead of the word God, the apostle wrote what we render who, saying he who was manifested in the flesh, that is Jesus Christ.”