Today, there is a lot of confusion between what the New Testament actually says and, what Christianity pretends it teaches. Much of this confusion centers around the term “christian”, which today pretty-much means whatever some liar wants it to mean. Extreme liberals and extreme conservatives can both be heard referring to themselves as “christian”.
In the New Testament, Paul never once refers to himself as a “christian”, while at least five times he refers to himself as a follower of the “way”. The “way” was considered to be a revolutionary new “way” of life, centered on the true communism of sharing all things in common and distributing to each according to need, the opposite of both Roman, Greek and modern capitalist societies.
Unlike in the 21st Century, First Century followers of Jesus largely remained among the poor, Paul being among the very poorest of the poor. He was entrusted to carry the “purse” for the poor, donated by people who themselves were generally very poor.
The term “christian” appears to have originally been a derogatory term invented by outsiders, loosely comparable to the “N-word” in modern American society. According to Acts 11:26, the term was first used (apparently by Greek outsiders) in Antioch. When a Roman ruler says to Paul, “you almost persuade me to become a christian”, Paul replies, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:28–29).
Note that Paul seems to deliberately avoid using the term “christian” in his response, perhaps suspecting even then it was being used to place the followers of Jesus back under religious laws, rules and vain traditions, something Paul utterly opposed. No one knows for sure why Paul doesn’t use the term “christian” in his response to King Agrippa.
But we do know based on Romans, Galatians and other writings, that Paul strongly opposes forms of outward religion, insisting that those who have the spirit of Jesus within them, “are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14); (see also Galatians 5:10). Paul may have been adverse to referring to himself as a “christian” for similar reasons that people today resent being referred to by a racial or other derogatory term.
It appears being branded as a “christian” was eventually adopted as a badge of honor, signifying that one was willing to endure ridicule and ostracization from regular Jewish, Roman and Greek society, was willing to adopt a completely different type of lifestyle perhaps seemingly ‘strange’ to their First Century peers (as it would likewise appear very different today in the modern-day capitalist United States).
In particular, being a “christian” meant one was willing to remain among the poor and risk imprisonment and extreme forms of torture and execution, which could also apply to spouse, children, extended household and friends. The bad habit of seeking to accumulate more than we need seems to be as old as civilization itself, for as Ecclesiastes says, there “is nothing new under the sun” and as Paul writes, “the love of wealth is the root of all evil.”
It is perhaps worthy to note, that even as late as the events in Acts 19, followers of Jesus are not referred to as followers of Christianity, as if Jesus was ever viewed by his early followers as having come to establish a new religion. Rather in Acts 19:23 we find followers of Jesus, including Luke the author of Acts, viewing themselves as being followers of the “way”:
“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the way”. Also, towards the end of the record of his life, Paul refers to “this way” in Acts 22:4 and “the way” in Acts 24:14, indicating that many followers of Jesus considered themselves to be followers of the “way” until after the authors of the Bible had all passed on.
Suffice it to say, both Stephen and Paul in Acts insist that God does not live in temples made with hands, Paul in particular being utterly scornful of what today is commonly understood as “religion”. If when we hear the word “religion”, we think in our minds of dependence on God’s help to in turn, freely “love one another”, then the New Testament is indeed a highly religious collection.
However, if when we hear the word “religion”, we think in our minds of institutionalized religion, temples and church structures, priests and preachers parading around in garments differing in any way from how regular average people normally dress in their leisure and, an organization collecting huge sums for any reason other than helping the sick and poor, then the New Testament remains among the least religious body of works in the history of humanity.
While many people today call themselves Christians, the New Testament reference to “christian” is worlds different than modern day Christianity in all of its insidious extreme twisting of the New Testament reality. It is not that modern Christianity needs tweaking and correcting but rather, it is completely and entirely very much in the way of the true “sinners” and average people friendly message of Jesus.
Modern Christians can learn from the portrait of Jesus in the New Testament that, if it ain’t gladly heard and received by the sinners and average people of human society, it ain’t remotely correct. As the New Testament says, the common people “heard him gladly”.
Other than its use in Acts twice as noted, the word “christian” only appears one other time in the Bible: “Yet if anyone suffers as a christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:16). One should never confuse what it meant to be a christian at the time this was written, with well-fed and palatially housed televised frauds, clothed in clownish so-called ‘sacred’ attire and flying around in personal jets.
Meanwhile, such frauds extract large sums from well-meaning common people with false promises of a so-called “prosperity gospel”. And, rather than giving such sums to help widows, orphans and the poor, as both James and Jesus himself teach us to do, using them instead to live in opulent extravagance. Such liars truly personify biblical terms like “ungodly” and “hypocrite” in about the worst possible way imaginable.
Use of the term “christian” in the New Testament can be found in Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28 and I Peter 4:16. James may also refer to this word, but he does not do so directly. Even though the term originated as early as Acts 11, Luke, Paul and other followers of Jesus continue to refer to themselves as followers of the “way” through the end of Acts.
Be not deceived, for the word “Christianity” is not anywhere in the Bible. And there is zero historical or other evidence that Jesus is the founder of either Christianity or any other religion. Rather, as Jesus says in John 10:10, “the thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
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