Christianity’s relationship with Judaism remained a matter of debate in the late first and early second centuries. One group known as the “Ebionites” echoed Jewish ideas at a number of points, especially in their understanding of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. The term “Ebionite” is thought to derive from the Hebrew word Ebyonim (“the Poor”), perhaps originally applied to early Christians because they came from lower social groups and tended to be socially deprived. Ebionitism was an attempt to use ideas that were inher- ited from the Jewish context within which early Christianity emerged, and use these to explore and express the significance of Jesus of Nazareth.
The origins of such a trend can be seen inside the New Testament itself, in that the gospels record attempts to make sense of Jesus which are drawn from contemporary Judaism – such as interpreting Jesus of Nazareth as a second Elijah, a new Jewish prophet, or a High Priest of Israel. On this approach, Jesus of Nazareth was a human being who was singled out for divine favor by being possessed by the Holy Spirit, in a manner similar to, yet more intensive than, the calling of a Hebrew prophet. In the end, Christians discarded this approach as inadequate. Yet it remains an important early witness to the existence of Christian communities that saw Judaism as having continuing utility and significance for the church.
Precisely the opposite approach was advocated in the middle of the second century by Marcion of Sinope, a wealthy Christian in Rome. By this time, Christianity had gained a significant following in the imperial capital. Marcion wanted to bring about a fundamental change to the way in which the church positioned itself in relation to Judaism. Christianity ought to sever all its links with Judaism, and should have nothing to do with its God, beliefs, or rituals. A clean break was necessary. The god of the Old Testament was a war-god, who had nothing to do with the Christian god.