A rose by any other name
by Robert Randle
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Let me start at the onset to dispel any expectation of enlightening Shakespearean prose, rhyme or poetry. What this has to do with is: I had written an article several years ago about what name should believers use in the Church, and I am more than a little convinced that perhaps we should consider how the name Christian came about, at least from a historically Jewish/Aramaic identity and religious perspective. While some will contend that “Christ/Christian” identifies us with our Lord and Savior, but the thing is we need to keep in mind that this name has been handed down to us from non-Jewish (for the most part), Western-European Ecclesiastical Church Fathers and Bible theologians, and not from the early disciples and Apostles, or the Scriptures, for that matter. Let’s start at the beginning for a brief overview.
Matthew 2: 23
And He went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene (Heb. Nats’riy).”
Mark 14: 67
When she saw Peter warming himself [by the fire], she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene (Heb. Nats’riy), Jesus,” she said.
Mark 16: 6a
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene (Heb. Yahoshuah ha Nats’riy), who was crucified.”
Acts 11: 26
The disciples were first called “Messianic believers” (Heb. M’shiychiyiym) at Antioch.
NOTE: The Greek translation of the last part of the verse as the word “Christian,” but reading from verse 19, the context seems to suggest that these evangelizing brothers from the region of Judea, who initially spread the word of the Messiah to Jews only, some of them went among the Greeks, but it is doubtful they would have come up with the word “Christian.” Not only that, but this area was not in Western or Northern Europe, but in Syria (the Middle East).
1 Peter 4: 16
However, if you suffer as a “Messianic believer” (Heb. M’shiychiyiym), do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
Acts 22: 8
“Who are you Lord? I asked. “‘I am Jesus the Nazarene (Heb. Yahoshua ha Nats’ riy), whom you are persecuting.’”
Acts 24: 5b
He [Apostle Paul] is a ringleader of the Nazarene “sect” (Heb. kath ha Nats’riym)
NOTE: Did the Apostle Paul say that he was a Christian? Reading further in Acts 24: 14a, he states: “I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way (Heb. ha Derekh), which they call a sect.” This appears to be associated with the Nazarenes (Netzari) or those who are associated with a belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the Jewish Messiah or Moshiyach.
Acts 26: 28
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think in such a short time you can persuade me to be a ‘Nazarene/Netzari’” [not Christian; except according to the Greek translators].
NOTE: Why is this unlikely that “Christian” was used? In the same chapter at verse 8, the Apostle Paul mentions that he formerly lived as a Pharisee, the strictest “sect” of the Jewish religion. In the previous two chapters another [new] “sect” was mentioned, namely that of the Nazarene’s. It is to this group (Nazarene/Netzari) who follow in the Way (ha Derekh) of Jesus of Nazareth (Yahoshua Nazaret) that the Apostle Paul belonged. The Greek translation tries to reconcile the principles of Jewish thought and belief by using a derivative word “Christ” (Gr. Christos; “Anointed”); thus extending it out as Christian (Gr. “ianos” is a suffix that was originally applied to that of a ‘slave’).
The word “Christian” (Gr. ‘Christianos,’ so it seems, has the denotation or connotation in ancient times to mean an “anointed slave.” A far better usage of a more scripturally appropriate term, then, is to be found in the following: The Hebrew word for Nazareth has the meaning of “branch” which is quite appropriate. Jesus (Yahoshua) is referred to in John 15:2, 5 as the vine (Heb. Ha Gefen) and the disciples as the branches (Heb. Ha sariygiym). In the earlier passages the Hebrew root “riy/riym” is associated with the word for Nazareth/Nazarene, as well as Messianic believer, so instead of using a convenient Greek derivative word (“Christianos”) why not instead use the Hebrew one that that attaches itself to the birthplace, person, and destiny (Messiah/Mashiyach) whereby those who believe in the Jewish Messiah and Son of God are called Nazarenes or Netzari (Heb. Nats’riym)?
Final Thought: This study is not meant to suggest that every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ should abandon the name Christian, using Hebrew names and terminology instead. But it does serve as an interesting background check into the original Hebraic mindset of belief in the long-awaited Jewish Messiah (Moshiyach), and the likelihood that these followers would more closely identify themselves with a more culturally, religiously, and socially relevant name than that adopted by the Gentiles [Greek/Latin Bible translators]. Not only that, in Acts 26: 14-15 the Apostle Paul mentions that the risen Jesus (Heb. Yahoshua) spoke to him from heaven in the native tongue of Hebrew; not Greek or Latin. Why did he mention this particular point, and not simply that the Lord spoke to him from heaven? It would seem, then, that language does matter and the first Jewish disciples and God-fearing Gentiles who believed in Jesus the Messiah from Nazareth (Heb. Yahoshua ha Mashiyach Nazaret) in all probability did not call themselves by the Greek term for “Christians” but rather, used the Hebrew Nats’riym (Nazarenes/Netzari) or M’shiychiyiym (Messianic believers).
The Orthodox Jewish Bible Fourth Edition. AFII International Publishers. New York, N.Y. 2002
Stern, David, H. Jewish New Testament. Jewish New Testament Publications. Clarksville, MD. 1989
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