What is a Christian?
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 7 November 2011; Revised 2 December 2018
Sources: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (1995 Updated edition). Scripture quotations may be taken from different versions. Click here for abbreviations of Bible versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the author. Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the article.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Explanation of grammatical abbreviations and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here.
In a survey conducted more than 17 years ago over 75% of Americans identified themselves as Christian in terms of religious identification. Since most Americans are not church members, then survey respondents must be using a very indefinite definition. The United States has long been described as a Christian nation. (See my article Is America a Christian Nation?). Within Christianity the term "Christian" is broadly used to describe someone who has received Christian baptism, affirms a statement of faith akin to the Apostles Creed, is a member of a Christian congregation or is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings. More narrowly defined some groups exclude anyone who does not agree with their doctrine or does not conform to their code of conduct.
The origin of the label "Christian" may be traced to the Besekh where the word occurs only three times (Acts 11:26; 26:28 and 1Pet 4:16). Outside of these passages the label "Christian" does not appear consistently as a self-designation until the publication of the Didache, Chap. XII (c. 100) (Moseley 13). The Church Fathers, beginning in the second century, redefined the nature of being a follower of the Messiah, or Christ. The church fathers used "Christian" for self-identification as part of the Church's efforts to totally separate itself from Judaism and expunge the Jewish roots of the Christian faith (e.g., Ignatius, The Epistle to the Magnesians, Chap. X.). "Christian" meant someone who had been baptized into the Church according to the Church's ritual and who submitted to the Church's authority. Jews who trusted in Yeshua as Messiah and Savior were known as "Nazarene Christians" as in the apostolic era (Acts 24:2), but because they practiced circumcision the Catholic Church refused to consider them part of the Body of Messiah (Augustine, Anti-Donatist Writings, Book VII.1.)
Even though many Christian scholars speak of the apostles as having converted to Christianity or even of the apostle Paul as the father of Christianity, the label "Christian" never occurs in any of his writings. Paul routinely addressed the members of the congregations in the letters he wrote as "holy ones" or "brethren."
In order to define the term "Christian," then, we must begin with the three passages where the name is found.
First Called "Christian"
"19 Therefore those indeed having been scattered from the persecution having taken place upon Stephen passed through as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to none except only to traditional Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and of Cyrene, who having come into Antioch, were speaking also to the Hellenistic Jews, proclaiming the good news of the Lord Yeshua. 21 And the hand of ADONAI was with them; also a great number having believed turned to the Lord. 22 Now the report concerning them was heard in the ears of the congregation being in Jerusalem; and they sent Barnabas as far as Antioch, 23 who, having come, and having seen the grace of God, was joyful and began exhorting all to remain with the Lord with resolute purpose of heart: 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faithfulness. And a large crowd was added to the Lord. 25 Then he went to Tarsus to seek Saul; 26 and having found him, he brought him to Antioch. Now it happened indeed for a whole year they assembled them in the congregation, and taught a large crowd; also firstly called the disciples in Antioch, 'Messianics'. (Acts 11:19-26 BR)
See my word-for-word commentary on this passage of Scripture here.
19— After the martyrdom of Stephen disciples of Yeshua fled Jerusalem to avoid the wrath of their enemies and traveled into the Diaspora. Luke records that some of those who left became evangelists, sharing the good news of the Messiah wherever they went. Those who were the recipients of the Messianic message of those scattered from Jerusalem are identified as "traditional Jews" (Grk. Ioudaioi). 20— However, some of the evangelists, those originally from Cyprus and Cyrene, having brought the message of the Messiah into Antioch, decided to take the message also to Hellenistic Jews (Grk. Hellēnas).
Antioch, about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, was the capital of the Roman province of Syria and the third largest city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria, having a population of more than 500,000. From the beginning it was a bustling maritime city with its own seaport. Antioch was a cosmopolitan city with a mixed population, a melting pot of Western and Eastern cultures, where Greek and Roman traditions mingled with Semitic, Arab, and Persian influences. including a large number of Jewish inhabitants. By the first century their numbers have been estimated at between forty-five thousand and sixty thousand (Polhill 71). They engaged in commerce, enjoying the rights of citizenship in a free city (Ant. XII, 3:1; Wars VII, 3:3). As Luke records, Antioch became home to a vibrant Messianic congregation and the base of missionary operations for Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:1-3; 15:36-41; 18:22-23).
The majority of Bible versions render Grk. Hellēnas in verse 20 as "Greeks." The translation may rest on the assumption entrenched in Christian scholarship that the number of Gentile believers in the apostolic era greatly exceeded Jewish believers and Acts 10−11 tells the story of that change. The determination of superior Gentile numbers in early congregations has no biblical or historical evidence to support it, and the only census data provided is of Messianic Jews in Judea who numbered in the tens of thousands (Acts 21:20), which Stern extrapolated to equal as many as a million Messianic Jews worldwide (301).
My translation of "Hellenistic Jews" is supported by two Bible versions (ISV, MW). Also, John Gill, noted 18th century Christian commentator, stands almost alone among Christian scholars to interpret the term here as meaning Hellenistic Jews. The reasons for interpreting Hellēnas here as Hellenistic Jews (as detailed in my commentary on John 7:35) are as followed:
First, according to lexicon data Hellēn is not an term restricted to ethnic Greeks (or Hellenistic Gentiles in general). The Hellēnas certainly included Hellenistic Jews, that is, Jews who in varying degrees adopted cultural and lifestyle practices of Hellenism. For the disciples, all presumptively orthodox Jews who would not enter the house of an uncircumcised Gentile (Acts 10:28; 11:2), the Hellenistic Jews would have been the only Hellenists of whom they had any personal knowledge or even association.
Second, the hermeneutic Law of First Mention has relevance to this discussion, that is the first mention of a word governs its meaning thereafter. In the Besekh the first mention of Hellēnas is in John 7:35 where it is associated with the Diaspora. "Diaspora" is a term that only has relevance to Jews.
Third, when Yeshua and the apostles wished to refer unambiguously to bona fide non-Jew Gentiles they used the term ethnos (for Heb. goy-goyim, e.g., Matt 10:5; Rom 1:5). Paul uses ethnos in this manner 48 times in his letters.
Fourth, Hellenistic Jews are never called Ioudaioi and if the word Hellēnas does not include them then there is no reference to such Jews in the Bible. The Ioudaioi and Hellenas are frequently contrasted (Acts 14:1-2; 16:1, 3; 17:4-5; 18:4, 19:10, 17; 20:21; Rom 1:16; 2:9-10; 3:9; 10:12; 1Cor 1:22, 24; 10:32; Gal 3:28). For more discussion on the subject of the categories of Jews see my web article The Apostolic Community.
Fifth, for these orthodox Jews the Hellenistic Jews would be the only Hellenists of whom they would have any knowledge or even association.
Sixth, the church father Justin Martyr (110-165) in his Dialogue with Trypho (Chap.LXXX) lists seven Jewish groups, among whom he identifies Hellenists.
26— Identifying these Antioch believers as disciples means that they not only believed the apostolic message and trusted in Yeshua's atoning work for salvation, but they had surrendered their wills to live within the framework of God's commandments and were obedient to apostolic authority (e.g., Acts 2:42). They also committed themselves to developing a spiritual character and devoted themselves to the advancement of God's Kingdom among Jews and Gentiles (Acts 13:1-3, 52).
called Messianics: Grk. Christianoi, the pl. of Grk. Christianos, an adherent of one called "Christ," the Jewish Messiah. Christian versions translate the noun as "Christians." Stern has the singular "Messianic." The OJB has Ma'aminim HaMeshichiyim (Messianic Believers). The TLV has Christianoi with a marginal note that the noun corresponds to the Heb. M'shichim (Messianics), lit. "anointed ones."
The name was formed by adding ianos to Christos, the word for Messiah. In early times of the Roman Empire, the adjectival termination -ianos was widely applied to slaves belonging to the great households, but by the first century it had passed into regular use to denote the adherents of an individual or a party ("Christian," ISBE). The same meaning may be found in the Latin Christianus. The suffix ianus (pl. iani) was commonly used to designate followers of a particular leader or camp, or what might be considered partisans. Early historical documents speak of Caesariani and Pompeiani, that is, partisans of Julius Caesar and Pompey (e.g., Josephus, Ant. XIV, 7:4). The Herodiani or Herodians were partisans of King Herod (Matt 22:16).
Since Christianos is built on the title Christos, the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Anointed One or Messiah, then a Christianos would be a follower of this Jewish Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth. Thus, the label not only says something about whom they follow, but something about status and spiritual condition as well. Indeed, the universal experience of the ones who followed Yeshua is their anointing with the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 4:27; 10:28; 2Cor 1:21; 1Jn 2:27). Stern, reflecting the common assumption of scholars, interprets Christianos as referring to Gentiles (262), because of the assumption that Hellēnas in verse 20 above means "Greeks" or "Gentiles."
Stern's statement that first century Jewish believers preferred to be known as The Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22; cf. John 14:16; 2Pet 2:21) or Natzratim or Notzrim (Nazarenes, Acts 24:5) is misleading, because in context these labels identify the disciples as a sect of Judaism. The few occurrences of Christianos in the Besekh do not prove restricted usage to Gentiles. In fact, King Agrippa uses the term as a label Paul advocated (Acts 26:28) and Peter uses the term in writing to Messianic Jews in the Diaspora (1Pet 4:16). The fact that the verse here identifies the occasion of the first use of Christianos, written as it were at least 15 years after the fact, hints at widespread usage by the time of the writing, as the other two passages confirm.
Three sources of the name Christianos have been suggested by scholars (Polhill 73). First, some argue that the term originated with Roman officials of Antioch who saw these disciples as a political entity that posed some possible threat to Roman law and order. Second, some argue that pagan Gentiles contrived Christianos in order to mock the disciples because of the historical meaning of the ianos suffix. Third, some, as Matthew Henry, would say that the Christians themselves originated the name, suggesting that the Greek verb should be translated as "called themselves Christians." However, there is no pronoun "themselves" in the verse.
A fourth source, a variation of the third, is that the apostles actually came up with the name, because of the subject of the action in the verse is Barnabas and Saul (Clarke). Three specific actions are mentioned and all three verbs are aorist infinitives ("assembled," "taught" and "called"). The aorist tense generally describes a completed event. An infinitive is a verbal noun, which may express either the purpose or the result of the apostolic action. Taken together the three verbs describe a process, similar to a probationary system, in which the uninitiated Hellenists were brought together and introduced to good news (such as in Acts 13:14-41). The ones who responded favorably were then taught more intensively for a year until they could be deemed to be full disciples and Messianic. (Cf. Acts 18:11; 19:10; 20:31 for similar lengthy periods of instruction.)
The verb "assembled" especially emphasizes the Jewish setting. The Grk. verb sunagō is the basis for the noun sunagōgē, or synagogue. The verb sunagō occurs frequently in the LXX to describe the gathering of the Israelite people for worship or learning. While sunagō has its non-religious uses (such as in the harvest parables), whenever it occurs in a religious context it almost always has a Jewish setting (e.g., Matt 13:2; 22:41; 28:12; Luke 22:66; John 11:52; Acts 4:5, 27; 12:12; 13:44; 22:30).
Given the consistency in the grammatical forms of the verbs it makes reasonable sense that the ones who "assembled" and "taught" also "called" their graduates "Christians." Clarke concluded as much, that if the name was given by divine appointment, it is most likely that Saul and Barnabas were directed to give it. Saul, who had the Latin name Paul and was multi-lingual, could have coined the term himself, and if so, the mention of the name by King Agrippa in response to Paul's message is even more significant. The apostles would certainly have not given an incorrect name to these disciples. That name would be based on the identity of the Anointed One of Israel (Messiah) and Son of God.
Additional Note: Christian or Chrestian?
Some scholars suggest that "Christianos" in the New Testament may represent a textual correction of the Latin label Chrestianus, because Christ (Grk. Christos) was confused with Chrestos ("useful") from the Latin Chrestus, a slave name. The historical situation is alluded to in Acts 18:2 where Luke mentions that Jews had been expelled from Rome by Caesar Claudius (about A.D. 49). The cause of the expulsion is explained by the Roman historian Suetonius (c. 75-160 A.D.) who said, "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome" (Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Book V, 25:4).
There are also some Latin editions of The Annals of Imperial Rome (XV, 44) by Tacitus (56-117 AD), another Roman historian, that spells the name in the same manner as Suetonius and also refers to Chrestiani as the ones Nero blamed for the infamous fire (Gruber 141; ISBE). Polhill mentions that other ancient writers, as Pliny and Lucian, also use the spelling Chrestiani, "which betrays the Roman unfamiliarity with Christos" (72). However, it's important to remember that these histories were written long after the events, later than Luke's writings.
Scholars debate whether Suetonius was referring to "Christ" (Grk. Christos) or not. After all, Chrestus-Chrestos is a personal name and Christos is not. However, Tacitus clearly identifies Chrestus as one who suffered under Pontius Pilate. The mistaken use of Chrestus and Chrestiani continued, because both Justin Martyr (103-165 AD) in his First Apology (IV) and Tertullian (160-220 AD) in his Apology (III) protested being called "Chrestian." In the early fourth century Lactantius complained that ignorant non-believers were accustomed to refer to "Christ" as "Chrestus" (Divine Institutes, IV, 7:5). In the fifth century Paulus Orosius, in his History Against the Pagans, believed Suetonius spoke of Christ. Orosius quoted the above words from Suetonius' history and changed Chrestus to Christus (Book VII, 6.15) (Gruber 141).
Some uncorrected copies of Codex Sinaiticus (4th Cent.), which contains the entire New Testament, has Chrēstian in all three passages (BAG 895). Metzger says that Codex Bezae (6th cent.), supported by other Western witnesses, reads "Chreistianoi" in Acts 11:26 (344). It should be noted however, that only a small number of New Testament manuscripts have "Chrestian." Yet, John Dickie in the ISBE article says, "On the whole it seems probable that this designation, though bestowed in error, was the original one." Gruber attempts to make the case that the minority of MSS with Chrestian are more correct than the majority to assert that this is the true original name of Gentile disciples, while acknowledging that Christos was never mistakenly copied as Chrestos (139). These scholars ignore the reading of Christianos in Vaticanus, which is dated at the same time as Sinaiticus, but also the Didache, which is dated two centuries earlier, c. AD 100.
Little considered by scholars is that the Roman historians who wrote later than Luke may have deliberately changed the names Christos and Christianos out of prejudice and hatred of this religious faction that refused to bow down to Caesar. After all, the disciples spoke of being the douloi (lit. "slaves") of the Jewish Messiah (Acts 4:29; cf. Acts 2:18), who was the "slave" (Grk. pais) of God (Acts 3:13; 4:27). So, calling the Jewish Messiah by the slave-name Chrestos served to diminish his dignity. The probability of this explanation is reinforced upon consideration of the source of the original naming. In any event the fact that pagans incorrectly identified the name of the Messiah and his followers as reproduced in the Roman histories is annoying, but irrelevant. The earliest and majority of New Testament MSS have Christianos and that is all that matters.
Almost a Christian
"King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do." 28 Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." 29 And Paul said, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains." (Acts 26:27-29 NASB)
In Acts 26:28 King Agrippa used the term Christianos with the apostle Paul who was on trial, demonstrating its cultural acceptance as a useful label for devotees of the one called Christos who had been crucified under Pontius Pilate. Agrippa was a Jew and an expert in all matters of Jewish knowledge and custom (26:3). So, what did the term Christianos mean to him? At the very least a "Christian" was someone who believed the message of Paul. What was this message? First, the message could be summarized as fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Acts 26:6). Second, a Christian is one who turns from darkness to light, from the dominion of Satan to the Kingdom of God (26:18). Third, a Christian is one who repents and produces works of repentance (26:20). Fourth, a Christian is one who believes in the inspiration and authority of the Torah and the Prophets (26:22). Fifth, a Christian is one who understands that the Messiah had to suffer and believes that Yeshua rose from the dead (26:23).
At the end of the sermon Agrippa declared to Paul, "You are out of your mind." (26:24) and then gives his famous verdict on Paul's invitation to become a disciple. Agrippa the Jew was not saying, "almost you persuade me to become a Gentile (or Catholic or Protestant)." Instead, Agrippa the Jew responds with a sincere admission to Paul's message, the Jewish good news. So, he in effect says, "almost you persuade me to become Messianic." Such would have been a dangerous profession for Agrippa to make, because supporters of Caesar might well conclude that Agrippa was switching loyalty to a pretender to Caesar's throne.
Pride as a Christian
"if someone speaks, let him speak God's words; if someone serves, let him do so out of strength that God supplies; so that in everything God may be glorified through Yeshua the Messiah — to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen. 12 Dear friends, don't regard as strange the fiery ordeal occurring among you to test you, as if something extraordinary were happening to you. 13 Rather, to the extent that you share the fellowship of the Messiah's sufferings, rejoice; so that you will rejoice even more when his Sh'khinah is revealed. 14 If you are being insulted because you bear the name of the Messiah, how blessed you are! For the Spirit of the Sh'khinah, that is, the Spirit of God, is resting on you! 15 Let none of you suffer for being a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or a meddler in other people's affairs. 16 But if anyone suffers for being Messianic [Christianos], let him not be ashamed; but let him bring glory to God by the way he bears this name." (1Pet 4:11-16 CJB)
For Peter a Christianos is someone who serves in the name of the Messiah (v. 11), but then in verse 16 he then adds the dimension of suffering. The reference alludes to identification by adversaries of disciples and particularly as a convenient legal term for ruling authorities. Two important facts need to be considered, one from the biblical context, that his audience are primarily Messianic Jews, and the other from the historical context, that the suffering mentioned here is not specifically caused by the Roman government.
The first important fact is that the introduction to Peter's first letter implies that he is addressing primarily Messianic Jews (including Jewish proselytes who later accepted Yeshua), since he was "an apostle to the Circumcised" (Gal 2:7–8): "to the chosen ones [Grk. eklektos] who are living as aliens [Grk. parepidēmos] in the Diaspora [Grk. Diaspora]" (HNV). The HNV gives the most literal translation. Three specific points of identification indicate Peter's Jewish audience. (1) eklektos is used in the LXX for the descendants of Jacob and the nation of Israel with whom God made an eternal covenant (Num 11:28; Ps 89:3; 105:6, 43; 106:5). Most versions put "chosen" at the end of the verse or into the beginning of the second verse, but Peter actually begins his greeting by identifying their covenantal heritage.
(2) Parepidēmos means "staying as a resident foreigner" and thus "resident alien" or "sojourner." The word is only found three times in the New Testament (also Heb. 11:13; 1Pet 2:11) and only once in the LXX of Genesis 23:4 where Abraham describes himself as a sojourner in Canaan. In Heb 11:13 parepidēmos is used to refer to the patriarchal and Israelite heroes of faith listed there. In 1 Peter 2:11 the noun is set in contrast to the Gentiles mentioned in verse 12.
(3) Diaspora was the name given to the lands where the Jews were scattered from captivity in Babylon. Many Jews returned to Israel, but in the centuries before Yeshua many more migrated westward to Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, Italy and the islands of the Aegean (Tarn & Griffith 219). The Jewish historian Josephus quotes the Greek geographer Strabo as saying: "It is hard to find a place in the habitable earth that has not admitted this tribe of men, and is not possessed by them" (Antiquities of the Jews, XIV, 7:2). All of these settlements became the starting point for the apostles to proclaim the good news of the Messiah.
Stern points out, however, that Gentiles who did not convert to Judaism but trusted in the Jewish Messiah and joined with the Jewish believers are counted along with them, since by their trust such Gentiles have been grafted into Israel (Rom 11:17–24, Eph 2:11–16). What should be obvious is that the three points of identification in no way means "the Church," as opposed to "the Jews" as conceived today in Christianity.
The second important fact is that the instruction concerning suffering alludes to the Jewishness of the audience. The book of Acts records numerous incidents of open hostility by unbelieving Jews, particularly Judean leaders, against the Jewish apostles of the Messiah, but only four incidents of Gentile hostility. In 2 Corinthians 11:24 Paul says he received 39 lashes five times from unbelieving Jews. In his letter to the Hebrews Paul lists various sufferings experienced by Messianic Jews, such as public reproaches, imprisonment, and seizure of personal property (Heb 10:32-34). However, he reminds them they had not yet shed blood for their faith (Heb 12:4). Both Paul's letter to the Hebrews and Peter's first letter occurred well before Nero's persecution in which the two great apostles suffered martyrdom.
Having established the Jewish audience and context it may seem strange that Peter, rather than eschewing the name Christian, actually encourages the Jewish disciples to take pride in the name. After all, he probably knows the apostolic origin and the original meaning of the name. Given the Jewish context for the name Christian, one might reasonably wonder why some Jews who believe in Yeshua as their Savior choose to be known as Messianic Jews rather than Christians. Indeed, in the nineteenth century Jewish believers sometimes identified themselves as Hebrew Christians. This label served to emphasize Jewish heritage while associating with the Church. The designation "Messianic Jew" really came into vogue in the great revival among Jews that followed the Six-Day War in 1967. The preference for "Messianic Jew" is clarified by David Stern:
"'Messianic' comes from 'Messiah,' which has meaning to Jews; whereas the words 'Christ' and 'Christian' are not only alien to Jewish culture and religion but represent the banner under which the Jewish people experienced centuries of discrimination, persecution and murder. And although 'Hebrew' may have had an elegant ring in the nineteenth century, today it sounds quaint—no Jew today calls himself a 'Hebrew.'" (262)
These Jewish believers also prefer not to be known as Christian, since it can have an exclusive meaning in many denominations of Christianity and historically Christianity worked hard to separate itself from any taint of Judaism. For a Jew to call himself a Christian means turning his back on Moses and Torah and conforming to a particular denomination's position on what it means to be Christian.
So, what is a Christian? It is a great tragedy of history that this wonderful name coined by the Jewish apostles should be separated from its Jewish roots and revised, if not diluted, in its meaning. Most of those who identify themselves as "Christian" know little of the name's origin and its significance. While the word "Christian" occurs only three times in the New Testament its meaning is reflected in numerous other passages. Based on the foregoing analysis the principal elements of definition may be identified.
· Believer in Yeshua. A Christian, as demonstrated in the Antioch evangelism narrative is one who (1) believes in the Jewish good news that Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel and the fulfiller of covenantal promises, and (2) one who trusts in God for forgiveness of sins on the basis of Yeshua's atoning sacrifice.
· Disciple of Yeshua. A Christian, as indicated in the Antioch narrative, is a disciple of Yeshua. A Christian recognizes Yeshua as his Teacher in the ways of God and seeks to fulfill all that he commanded. A Christian also recognizes apostolic authority and treats their writings and instruction with respect and obedience.
· Servant of Yeshua. A Christian, as determined by the original meaning of the suffix of Christianos, is a "servant" of Yeshua. Followers of Yeshua are identified as "servants" (Grk. doulos) 22 times in the Besekh. The frequent usage of doulos in the Besekh for Yeshua's followers indicates His possession and absolute authority. A Christian is the property of Yeshua and He is the Christian's Master.
· Partisan for Yeshua. Unlike first century partisans who gave their allegiance to a political leader, a Christian is first an adherent or supporter of Yeshua, as well as the cause of the Great Commission to take the good news to the Jews first and then the nations of the world. This meaning of "Christian" may be found in the numerous passages that refer to "belonging to Messiah" or being "in Messiah." A Christian has an unbending spiritual and emotional allegiance, one that will not be compromised, even in the face of persecution or death. Yeshua is Lord and the soon-coming King!
· Messianic for Yeshua. A Christian, given that the name is built on the word Christos, the Greek translation of the Heb. Mashiach, Anointed One or Messiah, is by definition Messianic. That is, a Christian recognizes his status of being grafted into the Olive Tree of Israel (Romans 11) and admitted to citizenship in the Commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12), accepts the enduring nature of God's covenants with Israel, and supports efforts to bring the good news of Yeshua to all Jews and the nation of Israel. Moreover, the Messianic or Christian is anointed by the Holy Spirit for service. The truth is, we need more truly Messianic Christians.
In the winter of 2008 I taught a college-level course called Introduction to the Old Testament at the Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth, KS. One of my students was a Karaite Jew and he added much to our discussions of the Tanakh. After a few sessions, he interrupted my lecture to ask, "What kind of Christian are you? You're not like any Christian I've ever heard." He was puzzled because I demonstrated acceptance of Torah (Law of Moses) as authoritative Scripture and asserted that Yeshua had not canceled the Torah, contrary to the belief of many professed Christians. I replied, "Well, I guess you could say I'm a Messianic Christian." He nodded his head in complete understanding and was interested in learning more of the Messianic perspective.
You, the reader, should answer the question for yourself. What kind of Christian are you? Or, if you prefer not to use that name for yourself, how many of the characteristics listed above reflect your faith and life in Yeshua? For myself, I want to be like these Antioch Messianic Jewish Christians. To be this kind of New Testament Christian is a high calling.
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
Bruce: F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts. Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1954.
Clarke: Adam Clarke (1762-1832), Commentary on the Bible. Ed. Ralph Earle. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967.
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Flusser: David Flusser, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, Adama Books, 1987.
GNT: The Greek New Testament. Ed. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Bruce M. Metzger & Allen Wikgren. American Bible Society, 1966.
Gruber: Daniel Gruber, The Separation of Church and Faith, Volume 1: Copernicus and the Jews. Elijah Publishing, 2005.
Henry: Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Commentary on the Whole Bible. One vol. Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.
ISBE: John Dickie, "Christian." International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, ed., 1939. Website, 2011.
Longenecker: Richard N. Longenecker, The Acts of the Apostles. Expositor Bible Commentary, Vol. 9. Zondervan Reference Software, 1998.
Metzger: Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. German Bible Society, 1994.
Moseley: Ron Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. Lederer Books, 1996.
Polhill: John B. Polhill, Paul and His Letters. B&H Academic, 1999.
Schurer: Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. 4 vol. trans. Peter Christie. T&T Clark, 1885.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Tarn & Griffith: Sir William Tarn and G.T. Griffith, Hellenistic Civilization. 3rd Edition. Edward Arnold Publishers, Ltd., 1952.
Thayer: Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Harper & Brothers, 1889. online.
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