"I propose that the far more plausible scenario is that the Jewish followers of Jesus never heard of the claim for his divinity and that it was the pagans, who were so familiar with the concept of a “man-god,” who inserted this concept into the Christian thought process."
This point I have already covered in my previous paper: http://answering-judaism.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/examination-of-early-church-history-by.html
Now onto some of the church father quotes.
"The writings of the early Church Fathers lend validity to this version of history. Irenaus, Eusebius, Epiphanius and Origen all describe the Jewish followers of Jesus as people who rejected the belief in the divinity of Jesus."
The particular Jewish group that our Rabbinic friend focuses on is the Ebionite sect, a group of Jewish Christians that flourished in the second century. However, there isn't evidence that their teachings go back to the first century. Also, We don't have their original writings today or copies even, but what we do know about them is based of the quotations of their books which can be found in such books as in Panarion, or their position is mentioned when addressing their points.
"“They use the gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the Law. . . . they practice circumcision, persevere in those customs which are enjoined by the Law, and are so Judaic in their style of life that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God. ” [Refutation of All Heresies, 1.26.2]"
Irenaeus is quoted here. What he is describing in his letter is the practises of the Ebionites. However, he is not indicating whether or not the Ebionites go back to the apostles. Irenaeus points out that the Ebionites held Matthew to be authoritative, which is ironic considering their denial of the virgin birth and the fact that Mary herself even said in the Gospel of Luke.
"Luke 1:29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
Thus refuting one the claims that the Ebionites put foward.
“God, then, was made man, and the Lord did Himself save us, giving us the token of the Virgin. But not as some allege, among those now presuming to expound the Scripture, [thus:] “Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bring forth a son,” [Isa. 7. 14] as Theodotion the Ephesian has interpreted, and Aquila of Pontus. Both Jewish proselytes. The Ebionites, following these, assert that He was begotten by Joseph; thus destroying, as far as in them lies, such a marvellous dispensation of God, and setting aside the testimony of the prophets which proceeded from God.”
Here the Ebionites assertions about Jesus are mentioned and what they teach, more or less the same scenario as in the section above.
(Philip Schaff, Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martin and Irenaeus (Edited Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson) Vol. 1 Ch. 21 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.iv.xxii.html.)
"Eusebius in 325 CE wrote of the Ebionites, in Ecclesiastical History 3.27:
Chapter XXVII. The Heresy of the Ebionites.
1 The evil demon, however, being unable to tear certain others from their allegiance to the Christ of God, yet found them susceptible in a different direction, and so brought them over to his own purposes. The ancients quite properly called these men Ebionites, because they held poor and mean opinions concerning Christ.
2 For they considered him a plain and common man, who was justified only because of his superior virtue, and who was the fruit of the intercourse of a man with Mary. In their opinion the observance of the ceremonial law was altogether necessary, on the ground that they could not be saved by faith in Christ alone and by a corresponding life.
3 There were others, however, besides them, that were of the same name, but avoided the strange and absurd beliefs of the former, and did not deny that the Lord was born of a virgin and of the Holy Spirit. But nevertheless, inasmuch as they also refused to acknowledge that he pre-existed, being God, Word, and Wisdom, they turned aside into the impiety of the former, especially when they, like them, endeavoured to observe strictly the bodily worship of the law.
4 These men, moreover, thought that it was necessary to reject all the epistles of the apostle, whom they called an apostate from the law; and they used only the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews and made small account of the rest.
5 The Sabbath and the rest of the discipline of the Jews they observed just like them, but at the same time, like us, they celebrated the Lord’s days as a memorial of the resurrection of the Saviour.
6 Wherefore, in consequence of such a course they received the name of Ebionites, which signified the poverty of their understanding. For this is the name by which a poor man is called among the Hebrews."
Eusebius mentions the Ebionites here in the letter and describes their customs and like Irenaeus, records their rejection of Paul along with the customs. The apostles themselves accepted Paul and deemed him to be reliable and trustworthy, which I address in my responses to Yisroel Blumenthal:
There is another article I have done on Acts 21, which Blumenthal has responded to and Lord Willing I shall respond back, so stay tuned for that.
But the fact the apostles accepted Paul as a genuine apostle, exposes the Ebionites as heretics for refusing to acknowledge him as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
Epiphanius, who lived in the third century, writes of the Ebionites:
“They declare that he (Paul) was a Greek… He went up to Jerusalem, they say, and when he had spent some time there, he was seized with a passion to marry the daughter of the priest. For this reason he became a proselyte and was circumcised. Then, when he failed to get the girl, he flew into a rage and wrote against circumcision and against the sabbath and the Law.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30.16. 6- 9.)
This was a nasty rumour that had been spread by the Ebionites long after his death. Furthermore, in the same source that was penned by Epiphanius, he says that the Ebionites had several heresies in their ranks, which he notes here in his letter http://www.masseiana.org/panarion_bk1.htm:
"3:1 And at first, as I said, Ebion declared that Christ is the offspring of a man, that is, of Joseph. For a while now, however, various of his followers have been giving conflicting accounts of Christ, as though they have decided on something untenable and impossible themselves.
3:2 But I think it may be since they were joined by Elxai—the false prophet I mentioned earlier in the tracts called 'Sampsaeans,' 'Ossenes' and 'Elkasaites'—that they tell an imaginary story about Christ and the Holy Spirit as he did.
3:311 For some of them even say that Adam is Christ—the man who was formed first and infused with God’s breath.12
3:4 But others among them say that he is from above; created before all things, a spirit, both higher than the angels and Lord of all; and that he is called Christ, the heir of the world there.13 But he comes here when he chooses,14 as he came in Adam and appeared to the patriarchs clothed with Adam's body. And in the last days the same Christ who had come to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, came and donned Adam's body, and appeared to men, was crucified, rose and ascended.
3:6 But again, when they choose to, they say, 'No! The Spirit—that is, the Christ—came to him and put on the man called Jesus.'15 And they get all giddy from making different suppositions about him at different times.
3:7 They too accept the Gospel according to Matthew. Like the Cerinthians and Merinthians, they too use it alone. They call it, 'According to the Hebrews,' and it is true to say that only Matthew expounded and preached the Gospel in the Hebrew language and alphabet16 in the New Testament.
3:8 But some may already have replied that the Gospel of John too, translated from Greek to Hebrew, is in the Jewish treasuries, I mean the treasuries at Tiberias, and is stored there secretly, as certain Jewish converts have described to me in detail.3:9 And not only that, but it is said that the book of the Acts of the Apostles, also translated from Greek to Hebrew, is there in the treasuries, so that the Jews who have read it, the ones who told me about it, have been converted to Christ from this."
These heresies were never endorsed by the apostles themselves and the Gospel of John deals a severe blow especially in light of what it teaches and I speak on John 1:1* here in these papers:
Despite the fact that he himself denies that the Gospel of John teaches the Deity of Christ in his article on the Trinity, Tovia Singer himself in a debate with Michael Brown said:
"Anybody who embraces John 1, thinking that God came down in the form of anything whether it's a cottage cheese sandwich or Jesus, THAT PERSON IS WORSHIPING IDOLATRY and when that person does that, HE LOSES HIS ETERNITY"
Now maybe I might have misunderstood Tovia's point, I wouldn't mind clarification if I misunderstood his point.
"Origen had this to say about these groups who he condemns as heretics:
“Let it be admitted, moreover, that there are some who accept Jesus and who boast on their account of being Christians, and yet would regulate their lives, like the Jewish multitude, in accordance with the Jewish law, and these are the twofold sect of the Ebionites, who either acknowledge with us that Jesus was born of a Virgin, or deny this, and maintain that He was begotten like other human beings.” (Contra Celsum 5:6)
“For there are certain heretical sects which do not receive the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, as the two sects of Ebionites, and those who are termed Encritites” (Contra Celsum 5:65)"
Not much to say on Origen here, but he also records some of the beliefs of the Ebionites. But here is the problem with every church Father quoted, They do not indicate that the Ebionites go back to the first century, nor are they a proof that the early Christians, they themselves Jews, denied the Deity of Yeshua, in light of what I have already brought to the table.
Also, Keith Thompson makes the following observation in his article which has been of great help here tremendously http://www.answering-islam.org/authors/thompson/paul-historical.html:
"Although Muslim apologists like Nadir Ahmed, whom I debated on this issue years ago, assert that the Ebionite testimony is 1st century testimony, scholars like Dr. Ron Cameron date the gospel of the Ebionites to the mid 2nd century. In his work The Other Gospels: Non-canonical Gospel Texts Dr. Cameron states:
“The Gospel of the Ebionites was composed sometime after the Gospel of Matthew and Luke and before the first reference to it in the writings of Irenaeus (toward the end of the second century). A date of composition in the middle of the second century, when several other gospel harmonies were also being written, is most likely.”(42)
Cameron also notes that the Ebionites were “a group of Greek-speaking Jewish Christians who were prominent through out the second and third centuries.”(43) Dr. Geoffrey W. Bromily notes that the Ebionites were “flourishing in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th cents. A.D.”(44) In the same work Dr. Bromily also dates the Gospel of the Ebionites to the 2nd century. In his work Apocryphal Gospels: an Introduction Dr. Hans Josef Klauck states that the gospel of the Ebionites was “composed most probably in the mid-second century.”(45) It must be stressed that it is widely acknowledged that there is no firm historical material proving that the Ebionite sect itself dates to the 1st century. Dr. Bart Ehrman has offered some speculation on this issue, however. Because he feels that some of their beliefs are somewhat similar to those of the 1st century Galatians that Paul was in opposition to, that maybe the Ebionites are the physical and spiritual descendents of the Galatians.(46) However, Ehrman doesn’t attempt to trace such a line of descent with any meaningful historical evidence. One Muslim apologist, Sami Zaatari, feels that this speculation from Ehrman is enough to prove that “the Ebionites do have a foundation even during the time of Paul.”(47) However, Ehrman himself is not even sure if there were Ebionites at the time when Paul disputed with the Galatians in the 1st century since he says things like, “… if these (Christian) Jews were in existence before the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 CE…”(48) The fact is that there just is no real solid evidence tracing the Ebionite tribes to the 1st century. They emerged in the 2nd century and so therefore their assertions about Paul not being a true Apostle are merely late opinions far removed from the time of the Apostles. The evidence shows that it wasn’t until Paul was already dead when their fanciful distortions about him emerged.
As we can see, it is very clear that the Ebionites do not go back to the time of the apostles themselves, thus they do not demonstrate the point that my Rabbinic friend is trying to assert.
"What emerges from the writings of these early Churchmen is that those followers of Jesus who considered themselves Jewish did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. Some of them did not believe in the “virgin birth”.
On the other hand, there is no record of any early followers of Jesus who identified themselves as Jews who clearly subscribed to the belief in his alleged divinity.
It is obvious and natural that the pagan followers of Jesus would have had no problem seeing him as a god. The fact that the Arian position was so popular in early Christianity can only be attributed to the monotheism of the Jewish followers of Jesus, who despite their small numbers had the stamp of authenticity on their side."
The previous article already covers the subject as to whether or not the disciples held to the divinity of Yeshua: http://answering-judaism.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/examination-of-early-church-history-by.html
What is funny is that the Arians themselves were not from Jewish backgrounds only, some did come from GENTILE PAGAN backgrounds as well. So this idea that the Gentiles invented the divinity of Christ is quite frankly absurd. The assumption by our Rabbinic friend is that Gentiles were responsible for introducing the Deity of Christ into the Christian mindset. That is problematic in light of the fact as mentioned before and mentioned now that:
1. The apostles prayed to Jesus
2. Paul himself prayed to Jesus
3. Jesus encouraged prayer to himself
4. John himself made it clear Jesus was God
and this is a new point
5. What does my Rabbinic friend do with the following references from the book of Revelation?:
Jesus himself claims Funnily enough, claims to be the Alpha and Omega or the First and the Last in the book of Revelation 1:13-18, as well as Revelation 22:12-16.
"Revelation 1:12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”"
Contexually there is no doubt that Jesus is idenified as the Alpha and Omega. And Yes I am aware that in Revelation The Father is identified as Jesus' God and what Revelation says regarding this issue. The First and the last or the Alpha and Omega is a title of Ha Shem ALONE, yet Jesus not only possesses the title, he relates to the Father as his God, because he is still the God Man in heaven, Is there two Gods? No, One God is what scripture tells us in the Shema which Jesus quotes. The only way to look at Revelation is in light of of a Trinitarian context. That there is ONE God, in THREE Persons. Also, if you doubt the First and the Last is applied to Jesus, Read Revelation 2:
"8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.".
I am convinced that Revelation was written by John the apostle, who was exiled rather than killed. But disputing authorship is not going to get us anywhere. Assuming it's the apostle John, He is told by Jesus in a vision he is the Alpha and Omega. It is clear indication as well that John the Apostle was convinced Yeshua was and is his God.
The NT is one of the evidences as a historical document that does show the Jews who believed in Jesus, specifically the apostles, held to his deity. My Rabbinic friend can say "Well that's the NT you can't use that as historical evidence", but that's irresponsible and shallow. As Keith Thompson notes in his article:
"Some Muslims may object and assert that one can not use the Bible to prove Paul. However, such a surface level objection is based on ignorance since, again, the New Testament is a collection of valuable early historical documents, many of which speak directly to this issue. To discard the 1st century documents that are in the Bible and not include them in our study would be to neglect the earliest sources we have concerning this issue. That method would essentially be to irresponsibly throw away important data, which no serious historian or researcher would ever do. If historical sources don’t count then we can’t know anything about history."
Since my rabbinic friend is using the church fathers as historical documentation, and he even says at the beginning of his paper:
"Let us step back and examine this claim from a historical perspective.
There are certain aspects of history which are difficult for us to ascertain from where we stand today. However, there are other aspects of history which are well known and easily verifiable.
The verifiable elements of early Christian history are; that the early followers of Jesus were Jews, that Paul was the one who brought a Christian message to the Gentile world, and that when the Council of Nicea was convened there was a strong contingent of followers of Jesus who believed that he was not divine."
Then by his own criteria, he must include the NT as part of the historical documentation that he seeks to look at. If the Church Fathers are good enough to examine early Jewish beliefs, the same courtesy is to be extended to the NT by default.
I hope I have addressed the arguments to the best of my ability and I thank you for taking the time to read.
*10th of February 2020. See the following information on John 1:1: https://catholicnick.blogspot.com/2010/06/jws-are-correct-about-john-11-jesus-is.html. It is very important regarding the Jehovah's Witnesses arguments regarding John 1:1.