Was Jesus A Christian?
Folks, when we 21st-century people think Christian or use the word Christian or Christianity, the meaning of these words comes from fourth-century realities. Not those of Jesus’s day, the first century. The meanings of Christian and Christianity got shaped three centuries after the Jesus movement. Therefore whenever we apply these terms to Jesus or his immediate followers and their groups, we are guilty of anachronism. When we call somebody Christian, usually we mean a person who holds certain doctrines. Those doctrines were formulated in the 4th century or afterward. Christians are usually monotheists that accept the trinity of God and Christ’s double nature’s true God and true man right.
Many Christians today have been shaped by, if not except, a hierarchically structured organizational church. Folks, these realities grow out from Constantinian times 4th century. The familiar features of catholic and orthodox Christianity we know today grew out from the 4th century and not before.
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Therefore, to imagine Jesus as a Christian or the direct founder of Christianity or to think of Paul as a Jew who converted and became Christian and was the second founder of Christianity is simply wrong.
Scholars like Rosemary Radford Ruther explained this nearly a half-century ago. Why do so few Christians even have a clue about this? Jesus and his followers were not Christian. Jesus wasn’t called Christian either. Why?
Context group scholar john Elliott explains this was because of two reasons.
First, the Greek term christianos did not yet exist in the time of the pre-paschal Jesus.
The term originally meaning Christ lackey could never have been applied to Jesus, who his followers believed to be the messiah or Christ. During his ministry, none of Jesus’ followers were called christianoi Christ lackeys because this was before that nomenclature had been developed.
Christian does not appear until the latter half of the first century. It’s found in only two documents written at the very end of that century, both in the new testament, the book of acts and the first Peter. Even then, followers of Jesus did not call themselves christianoi. They were called that. what does that mean, and why is that important to know? Well, what we’re asking is, where does Christian come from?
Folks, it originated not as a term of self-identification but as an opprobrious label coined by outsiders to mock and demean and dehumanize the followers of the crucified Jesus Christ into being Christ’s lackeys, nothing people. Christ’s followers only gradually accepted it as an honorable self-designation. But that developed at a snail’s pace for us 21st-century people to use Christian or Christianity to identify Jesus and his earliest followers is anachronistic and problematic, and we need to stop doing this.
Historically, there was no Christianity before the 325 common eras. Really without the elaboration of official Christology and Trinitarian doctrine and ecclesial practice, you cannot have Christianity. Christianity implies these essential features of belief in behavior that should be obvious.
I mean, unless you want to say that Christian can mean anything, saying Christian can mean anything, Christianity can be anything, and believing anything is basically to say it’s nothing right. When you say Christian or Christianity, you mean something specific, don’t you, okay. So let’s get specific.
When you call anyone living before the 4th century a Christian, you erroneously presuppose that Christianity existed back then as a religion independent of Israel. Such a claim would be baseless, folks. And yet spurious familiarity keeps millions of Christians insisting that Jesus founded Christianity, that his disciples were the earliest Christians, and that paul converted to Christianity. Why does this error persist?
Well, two groups primarily are to blame the first group we have to blame are the academics and the people in church authority. We gotta blame academic immobility and laziness, homeless preachers, catechists, Sunday school teachers, so-called apologists, theologians, bible translators, and commentators who are partly responsible for this glaring historical distortion. And if any of you belong to those groups and want to repent of something missed lent you, you want to do some real metanoia work.
Okay, here’s something for you to look at stop calling first-century Jesus and friends Christians. The Jesus movement was comprised of Israelites, not Christians, so call them Israelite followers of the way or messianic or Jesus group members but never Christians. But I don’t want to give academics and church authority people and authorities and religion teachers the sole blame for this. We have to also blame ourselves, folks.
We also have to blame popular imagination and pooled ignorance of Christians and other 21st century people. How many 21st century Christians and Jews mistakenly believed that as soon as Jesus was born, Christianity was a functioning religion up and running with mary as the first worshipping member, but Mary wasn’t a Christian, and neither was Jesus? You cannot find Christianity in the new testament, and with good reason. It didn’t exist in the first-century common era. We don’t see Christianity in Ignatius of Antioch. By the way, did he die in 108, or was it 140? See, it’s difficult to tell because we can’t trust yuzibius, the patron saint of fundamentalist, who writes about his death around 108.
We can’t trust his dating, but Ignacius of Antioch didn’t use the term in the letters whenever he died. He used another Greek term, christianismus, which translates into Christianism. You see it in his letter to the Magnesians, his letter to the Romans, and his to the Philadelphians. This Christianism of Ignatius, perhaps a term he coined himself, means something like the customs of christ lackeys. He’s not talking about 4th-century Christian doctrine and practice. He’s not talking about the Nicene Creed. Those weren’t realities of his day, yet Jesus and his disciples’ paul and the evangelist, later on, we’re in no sense Christians during their lifetimes. The concept of Christianity did not yet exist.
So how could they be Christians every time we apply the term Christian to these people, we misconstrue the social scene and muck up into religious dialogue.
As John Elliott rightly says about the current conversation between synagogue and church, he’s talking about beautiful inter-religious dialogue between Jews and Christians synagogue and church. The current conversation between synagogue and church bogs down in a morass of false assumptions regarding pedigrees and polemics.
But wait a minute, isn’t it true that in the new testament weren’t the followers of Jesus called Christians? therefore we have the word Christian there, so there were Christians, right that’s just if they were called passive voice were called western people have an extreme difficulty understanding the passive voice what does the passive voice mean they didn’t call themselves that other people their enemies called them that they were called indicates the passive voice other people enemies called him that. Yes, in our English Bible translations, we read the term Christian or Christians in three verses.
Still, more importantly, these new testament people were insultingly labeled by other folks as outsiders, not insiders. Let’s take a moment to think about this carefully. As I just said, in the late 20’s common era, the term Christians did not yet exist.
Even if it had the meaning of Christians, Christ lackey would have excluded its application to Jesus himself because he was thought to be by his followers the messiah the Christos the Christ himself beside the followers of Jesus in that earliest post-resurrection Jesus groups honored Jesus why would anybody honoring Jesus use an insulting slur intended to degrade Jesus and his disciples to dehumanize Jesus and his disciples. The nomenclature christianoi evolved slowly into being an honorific, but that process had barely begun to start in the first century.
Therefore every time modern people classify believers of Jesus from the first three centuries common era as Christians, it is always incorrect.
Again the term christianos is seen only three times in the new testament, and it is always found in the passive voice and only two writings from the latter third of the first century.
Acts and first Peter acts chapter 11 verse 26 for a whole year they met with the Jesus group assembly and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called passive voice were first called by other people were first called Cristiano’s christ lackeys.
Acts chapter 26 verse 28 Then Agrippa said to paul you will soon persuade me to play the christ lackey. It’s not something a grip wants to do right.
First Peter chapter 4 verse 16 but whoever is made to suffer as a christianos why would you be suffering is that isn’t that a great thing to be a Christian. Oh, it’s christ lackey, but whoever is made to suffer as a christ lackey should not be ashamed but glorify the God of the name.
Listen, folks, that verse would never have been written if the author and the people he’s writing to his audience didn’t think that Cristianos was an insult, a shameful, degrading term to be called. That’s why the verse exists, folks.
As John Elliott explains, Christian is a greek term with a borrowed Latin ending, the suffix anus. As time passed, Latin-speaking or Latin-influenced circles began using christ not as a title which originally was Jesus the Christ Jesus, the messiah, but rather like it was part of Jesus’ proper name. You see this in Spanish Jesus christ one name, right.
This gave origin to Christianity because when you add the Latin suffix pianos to the now proper name christ, it means a partisan, an adherent, or a client of christ. You see these kinds of formulations in the new testament, for example, Herediano the Herodians, a partisan of Herod or a client of Herod. But it took a while before christ became Jesus’s last name, and it took a much longer time for the messiah Jesus’ followers to accept christianoi as their own honorable self-designation.
Originally it was a terrible label coined by outsiders to demean and dehumanize the foolish followers of this crucified disgrace. All this helps Americans better understand how christianos in the late 1st century, a slur with grotesque opprobrium, slowly evolved through different contexts into an honorific self-designation, especially under emperor Constantine.
Today Christian and Christianity imply many beliefs and behaviors that simply could not exist without many theologically evolved Christological and trinitarian doctrines and ecclesial practices. My brothers and sisters, this took time centuries of time Christian and Christianity just didn’t exist in Jesus’ day or that of the generations that followed his.
Before people start jumping to conclusions, none of this disproves Christianity, invalidates Christianity, or shows its beliefs and practices to be false. All it does is help demonstrate the evolution of such. If there is continuity between Christians today and the Jesus movement, as many Christians hold, there must be continuity within the development.
So what to do for starters, please avoid using the term Christian Christians and Christianity whenever identifying Jesus and his earliest followers. Can you do that? I think you can? When referring to followers of Jesus in the first and second centuries or third century after the death of Jesus, why not use the name Christian only in those instances when the primary sources do so.
For the new testament, that’s mostly on the insulting lips of outsiders. Again, we can call the early new testament followers of Jesus messianic, or we could employ those various identifiers that Jesus’ followers used to identify themselves like Israelites’ disciples’ holy ones, children of God, brothers, sisters, household of God, or family of god brotherhood and sisterhood Israel of God the way the new creation the body of Christ and many more.