We know of several groups and individuals from the first three centuries of Christianity who were known, or at least thought, to support an “adoptionistic” Christology, one that said that Christ was not by nature a divine being but was, instead, a fully and completely human being, one who had been “adopted” by God to be his son (and therefore divine for *that* reason). He was the Son of God, then, by adoption or election, not by nature. He did not pre-exist his birth, and his birth was normal – his parents had sexual relations and he was the offspring. But later God made him his own son.
When I say that some persons were known or thought to hold some such view, I mean that in many instances it is difficult (impossible, actually) to show that they really did hold such views. All we have, in virtually every case (not quite) are what their proto-orthodox opponents said about them. In other words, we have to take their enemies’ word for it. That is not usually a safe guide to a person’s views, as we realize all so well from the political realm (if instead of Jesus’ birth you’re interested in Obama’s, I’m not sure the best source is Donald Trump….)
Very roughly speaking, we know of two major groups that were believed to promote an adoptionistic Christology in the second and third centuries. One of the groups was Jewish and the other gentile.
The Jewish group (which may have been a variety of groups) goes by various names, but is sometimes simply called the Ebionites. We actually don’t know…
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