The name “Ebionite” is derived from the Hebrew. In the Old Testament the word poor implied humility, suffering for righteousness’ sake.
The sect was a logical development from the Judaizers of Paul’s day. It kept the entire Mosaic law with special attention to circumcision and the Sabbath, and revered Jerusalem as if it were the abode of God. Their failure was to realize that all this pointed to something better, for Christ undertakes a spiritual and true circumcision in the heart of His people (Colossians 2:11), and He Himself is the sabbath rest for all those who trust Him for salvation and eternal life (Hebrews 4; Matthew 11:28-30). Christ Himself spoke about the true worship in saying that neither on Mount Gerazim nor in Jerusalem is God to be worshipped, as in a locality, for God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:20-24).
Jesus was regarded as the last and greatest of the prophets. Indeed He is a prophet, to which all the prophets pointed and by whose Spirit they spoke. But to limit Jesus to a prophetic role only is degrading and far from the whole truth.
Jesus was also regarded as the natural son of Joseph and Mary, but not as the eternal Son of God. This heresy alone cuts the Ebionites from biblical salvation, for it denies the Incarnation, without which no redemption could be accomplished on behalf of God’s elect. Again, if Jesus were the natural son of Joseph and Mary, he would inevitably be a sinner, since he would have been begotten by natural generation from Adam, the covenant-breaker.
Ireneus, who wrote a polemic against the Ebionites says concerning their beliefs: “After his baptism Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove,” but departed from Him before the crucifixion. Jesus died and rose again, but Christ remained impassible, being by nature spiritual. It is evident, then, that the Ebionites were adoptionists, believing that the Christ is different from the earthly Jesus, which is theological nonsense and in no way can be defended from Scripture.
Only the Gospel of Matthew was used by the Ebionites, and Paul was rejected as an apostate from the Law (Eusebius iii.27). Such a truncated canon of Scripture is unlawful and brings upon such professors the anathema of God (Revelation 22:19).