Jewish-Christian Gospels

The Jewish-Christian Gospels (JG) are, of the apocryphal literature, one of the most difficult for scholars to understand. Attestations from patristic sources and contradictory evidence makes the unerstanding of the JG scanty and confusing.

The testimony of Church Fathers hand down one JG, the Gospel of the Hebrews though refer to it in different names. The three possible are the Gospel of the Hebrews (GH), Gospel of the Nazaraeans (GN), and the Gospel of the Ebionites (GE). The number of possible JGs should not exceed three but there possibility of them each being the same text is also possible. The identification of several fragments is unclear and the possible relation to one another is also unclear.

References to the Jewish-Christian Gospels

Irenaeus speaks, somewhat unclear, of the Jewish-Christian body of Ebionites, who he says use the Gospel of Matthew only. He also points out that they do not accept the belief referring to a virgin birth. He gives no title but alludes to the distinction from what Catholic sources of Matthew contain: a virgin birth narrative.

Clement acknowledges that there is a ‘Gospel according to the Hebrews’ (see Stromta II, 9), which he quotes an apocryphal saying of Jesus. He does this twice but the second time quotes a longer version and does not provide his source (V, 14). Discoveries of the Gospel of Thomas at Nag Hammadi in 1945 have given scholars the conclusion that the second quote was likely not from GH. Clement does though acknowledge a GH that was well known in Egypt.

Origen, like Clement, quotes a ‘Gospel according to the Hebrews’ (see John II, 12) and also a second time without giving reference.

Eusebius knew of two JGs: the GH also mentioned by Clement and Origen, and an Aramaic gospel from which he and Hegesippus quote.

Epiphanius discusses the sects of Ebionites and Nararaeans at length. He knows of the GN from hearsay and with the GH is aware of little more than a title. The GE though, he knows and cites. He distinguishes three different entities of JG.

Jerome offers the most citations to the JGs and also the most confusing. I will not go into detail as the material and scholarly debate is long and difficult and not suitable for this site. For more information see the Schneemelcher source below.

Conclusion

The Gospel of the Hebrews is mentioned most often and was widely used among Jewish-Christian sects. There are syncretistic elements that show the heretical tradition and beliefs of the sects who use the GH. Scholars are still investigating which documents early Christian Jews and those of communities such as those at Qumran used.

The Gospel of the Ebionites is of heretical Jewish Christians, composed in Greek, of which Irenaeus knows of and Epiphanius quotes. It is missing essential aspects and narratives but is most similar to the canonical Matthew.

The Gospel of the Nazaraeans is a gospel read in a semitic speech (Aramaic) and is quoted and attested by Hegesippus, Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Jerome. It most resembles a version of the canonical gospel of Matthew.

Major sources:

The Fathers of the Church (writing from), provided by New Advent.
Cameron, Ron. The Other Gospels.