The Nazarenes, an early Judeo-Christian sect, thrived during the years 30-80 C.E, the same period as the Ebionites, and are believed to have been amongst the earliest followers of Jesus. In fact, many scholars assert that both the Ebionites and the Nazarenes comprised one larger movement that did not officially split until the late second century C.E., when the Gentile Roman Church deemed the Ebionites to be heretical. According to them, the Ebionites were not legitimate Christians because they rejected Paul, Jesus’ divinity and the "virgin birth," and practiced a more rigid adherence to Judaic laws. The Nazarenes, on the other hand, were looked upon more favorably as they accepted Paul and – to some extent – Jesus’ divinity.
The term "Nazarene" is used several times in reference to Jesus himself in the canonical Gospels of Matthew, John and Luke, as well is in the Acts of the Apostles, leading some to believe that Jesus himself was a Nazarene. In contrast, the term is used in the Gospel of Mark strictly in reference to Jesus’ place of birth; in other words, because Jesus grew up in Nazareth. In any case, linguists have rendered its exact translation problematic; therefore, scholars have yet to give the term a precise definition.
Indeed, the word "Christian" did not come into wide circulation amongst followers of Christ until Roman and Hellenistic cultural circles adopted it. Theologically speaking, the term has its origins with the apostle Simon Peter. According to the Acts of the Apostles (11: 26), St. Peter first used the term as a way of naming converters to the religion of Antioch (or what is now Antakya, Turkey). Nevertheless, there appears to have been some followers who preferred to call themselves Nazarenes.
According to the heresiologist Epiphaius (writing in 370 C.E.), the Nazarenes did not follow a "high" cristology (Christian orthodoxy), as they still followed certain aspects of the Torah. Writing during the same period, Jerome is even more critical of the Nazarenes, stating that though they accept Jesus as the son of God, as well his resurrection, "desiring to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other." This form of reasoning is what was most likely responsible for the eventual persecution of all early Judeo-Christian sects by the fifth century.
The Gospel of the Nazarenes, which modern scholars have argued was a continuation of the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, has all but disappeared. What is known of the text is what has survived in the writings of Clement, Jerome, Origin and Cyril of Jerusalem.