Jesus Was Not a “Biblical Christian”

Jesus Was Not a “Biblical Christian” July 19, 2011

Today on Twitter, Chris Blackstone went out on a limb and said that persons who practice polyamory are not Christians.  When I pressed him about what he meant, he said that they may be “self-identified Xians, but def not Biblical Xians.”

Well, that got me thinking.  Of course, the phrase “biblical Christian” does not occur in the Bible.  Indeed, the word “biblical” does not occur therein.

Then I searched the database at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, which is the largest treasury of Christian documents that I know.  I searched the phrase “biblical Christian,” and guess when the first use of that phrase took place:







Adolf Wuttke?

Ding, ding, ding, ding!

That’s right, in Adolf Wuttke’s 1874 volume, Christian Ethics, he writes,

Although the scientific treatment of the subject-matter of ethics in the earlier and (in the main) Biblical moralists of the nineteenth century, may be regarded as relatively feeble, yet they have this not to be despised significancy, that in an age almost entirely estranged from Biblical Christianity they kept alive the consciousness of this estrangement, and faithfully held fast to the indestructible bases of Christian Ethics.

A couple decades later, Adolf von Harnack’s 1896 book, The History of Dogma, Volume III is the second CCEL use of the phrase “biblical Christianity,” in this sentence:

Not to speak of its uncultured adherents, the earliest literary defenders of Modalism were markedly monotheistic, and had a real interest in Biblical Christianity.

A Google Books search shows that there are other, earlier uses, like in the the Baptist Record and Biblical Respository, which exhorts, “A true Biblical Christian must be a true Biblical student.” “Biblical Christians,” the Record goes on to despair, “are scarce.”  Indeed.

But, as the CCEL search attests, using the word “biblical” as a qualifier of “Christian” or “Christianity” was unknown prior to the 19th century.  As I’ve argued elsewhere, it was only in the modern era, after the Enlightenment, that words like “truth” began taking qualifiers.  Same goes for “Christian.”

And, of course, it’s well known that Jesus was not a Christian, and certainly not a biblical one.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that if we were to ask Jesus’ opponents, one of their main criticisms of him would have been, “He’s not a biblical Jew!”  For Jesus, as we know, fulfilled the Law — and in a way that was most unexpected to his peers.  They didn’t read the Torah and the Prophets the same way that he did — or Paul did, for that matter.  Questions of interpretation divided Jesus and the Jews, and they sadly divide us today.

But I submit to Chris Blackstone, there’s no difference between a Christian and a biblical Christian.  Saying that someone is a “biblical Christian” is tantamount to saying that they believe in “true truth.”

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  • Well said Tony.

  • Douglas Koch

    Would it be acceptible to use the term Godliness that does occur in the Bible. It would refer seem to be a Biblical term that would reference the goal of Christian behavior.

  • Yes indeed. Perhaps a little redundant. But I have a feeling that @chrisblackstone wouldn’t care what you call them – evangelical Christians, biblical Christians, true Christians, real Christians, born-again Christians, etc. It seems to me that his point was to distinguish between nominal Christians and . . . non-nominal Christians. Call them what you will. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Augustine preferred the idea of “members of the invisible (true? biblical? evangelical? I think we all get the point) church.” So while @chrisblackstone ‘s phrase may not be steeped in church tradition, the idea certainly is.

    • I’m going to look at some Augustine tonight, Aaron, to see if I can find his preferred phrase.

    • My memory of Augustine isn’t worth betting on, but isn’t part of the point of said distinction to emphasize the invisible-ness?

      That would seem to run contrary to Chris’ point above.

      Could be wrong though and welcome correction.

  • If it weren’t for the internet and people like you Tony, this kind of info would never see the light of day for the average person. Thanks for the education.

  • Douglas Koch

    … And Godliness not only occurs in the Bible, Old and New Testament and Apocrypha, the Apostolic Fathers and throughout Church History. It may be that Biblical Christianity was coined from Christ our model.

  • Well since we are celebrating redundancy I am a christical Christian. The bible is not our focus, but Christ is it’s focus. Good post I actually briefly touched on this idea myself today


  • It’s like Fred Clarke over at Slacktivist calls them: RTC (Real True Christian), a sarcastic term denoting all of those wacky people who don’t think women should be subservient, that gays are inherently broken, or that dinosaur bones are a red herring.

    Good on ya, Tony.

  • John L.

    So, you’re into polyamory?

    • Not personally.

      • Korey

        Neither am I, personally. Are you considering any posts on why you are not? Surely anyone past puberty has considered it (whether or not it was called polyamory at the time)

  • Jimmy Doyle


    Of course, polygamy (in terms of a man having multiple wives, not a woman having multiple husbands) is biblical.

    [pointless point made, now back to more important things…like making sure my clothing is of only one type of material. It’s hard being biblical, but I sure feel better about myself.]

    • 🙂 I want to “like” this comment. Happy day to you, sir.

  • Chuck

    Obviously there had to be somebody practicing polygamy or why else would 1st Timothy 3:2 list being “the husband of one wife” among the requirements for being a bishop?

  • The Canon of Scripture, allows for polygamy, but not for the leader of a congregation. The leader is to be the husband of one wife.

    My best guess is that this is to prevent a pastor or bishop from creating for themselves a harem.

  • Actually, polygamy was illegal in the Roman Empire, which had a problem of a chronic shortage of women. Paul’s references to “one wife” were probably referring to what we would call “serial monogamy”.

  • JoeyS

    In the very least polyamory is extra-biblical. I’m trying to pin-point why I’m more uncomfortable with it than even terms like polygamy. My first exposure to polyamory was a woman who revealed that she had multiple lovers of both genders. Is there something sacred, that we can attain from scripture, about limiting loving relationships to two? My intuition says yes, but that’s not exactly empirical.

  • Anyone noticed the the qualifier “gospel Christian” creeping up in some circles as well? I’ve seen it a couple times in the past week or so on various blogs. Up to this point, I’m assuming that it’s a tribal marker of the gospel coalition crowd.

  • KimG

    good heavens you all. How about not hovering over the meaning of someone’s translation of someone’s translation of someone’s translation of biblical writings and go on out and practice being that which you are called to be… A love of neighbor and self and God.

  • Michael Harnois

    I’m much more comfortable with polyamory than I am with people who believe their brand of Christianity is superior to all others because they are personally more virtuous…

    • Amanda N

      Well said.

  • Gary L Lake Dillensnyder

    to use *biblical* as a defining adjective to being *Christian* is to create an oxymoron…and it might even be considered idolatrous in nature. as the term *biblical* is tossed around it would seem that is often is used to claim a superior form of *Christianity* while at the same time attesting to a reality that the *bible* becomes (in such a context) not only an adjective modifier but an adjective *equalizer*…thus making the *bible* or the *biblical* of equal standing with God (i.e. Jesus). unless this modern form of *gnosticism* is revealed as the problem it is, one is quick to elevate the *bible* or, at the very least one’s own *read* of the bible as being truth, authoritatively so. suchauthority, i would suggest, belongs to God and God alone…the bible and biblical this or that is but a resource in the divine/human relationship, not the thing that makes the relationship possible/workable/real. just saying…the use of *biblical* as an adjective is not all that helpful and probably misleading.

  • Dora

    Thank you!
    Of course polyamory is “Biblical”, it’s in the bible.
    Injustice is biblical as is justice. There are examples of both in the bible.
    I find it very annoying when people equate “Biblical” with righteous or sanctified.
    Thanks for pointing out the “true truth!” 😉

  • From Webster’s dictionary. Biblical: Of or in the Bible. Or in accord with the Bible.
    Under the meaning of biblical, Jesus was a Biblical Christian, because his name, Jesus and Christ( where we get the word Christian) is in the Bible. And he lived in accord with the word of God as written in the Old Testament which covers half of what we call the Bible. And he is the focus in the 1st half and second half of the Bible, or the New testament. He encouraged his followers to follow the word of God, which the jews of his day stopped doing, opting for traditions and rituals instead of actually following God. Even Jesus said I have come not to avlosih the law but to fulfill it.
    I am a biblical Christian, and grateful to God for making me one.

    • Clifford, God made you a biblical Christian? How did that happen?

  • God, by his grace made me a Biblical Christian on the day that I reached the bottom and was struggling with my life, and called him for help. from then on I believed in his son, and his word, the Bible.
    Now in John it says that in the beggining was the word, and the word was with God and the word is God He existed in the beginning with God (John 1:1-2). That was our Lord Jesus Christ, which is what biblical Christianity is, Jesus Christ. It was NOT created by man, it was a gift from God to man, and thus has existed forever.

  • Good post.

    I’d like to add:

    Polygamy and Polyandry are wrong.

  • Brendan Pieters

    Actually, I think there’s room in our Christianity for the phrase “Biblical Christian,” in that it denotes a Christian who belongs to a Bible-centered church. Many of us, though we believe in the centrality of Scripture, don’t go to a Bible-centered church. My church, Holy Trinity Episcopal, certainly believes in Scripture (we read three selections and a Psalm every Sunday), but I wouldn’t call us Bible-centered.

    As with many things we do, being in the company of Christ means we shouldn’t be the ones holding the hammer and nails to crucify our brothers and sisters.

  • Linda

    So what is a Christian? and what is the truth?

  • Linda,
    A Christian in simple terms is a Christ one, one who belongs to Christ, which comes by accepting the pardon of sin he bore for us on the cross. It is as simple as that. It is only man that want’s to complicate things just to magnify ourselves. Well guess what, no matter how much we try we will never be at God’s level because of sin, which keeps us apart from God. Only by letting God work in our hearts and accepting Christ can we ever be pardoned for the sins and be acceptable to God. Calling oneself a Christian may fool man, but it will not fool God. And to think so would be the height of arrogance on our part.

  • When I speak of man’s arrogance, nothing illiustrates this better then polling man for an approval rating on God. As if somehow God needs us to carry out what he want’s . The sheer arrogance and stupidity is glaring. If you are in a church that put’s man at the same level as God, then get out and go to a church that preaches and abides by the word of God. It is the only truth we need. The warning of not doing so comes in letters written to the seven churches in Asia Minor in the Book Of Revelation. The stern warning comes in the words “I know your works”

  • Christ said it is by your love for one another that they shall know you as my disciples (John 13: 34-35). That is the way you can tell a who is or is not a Christian, no matter their proclamation. Speaking of proclamation. Have you noticed, out of the many who claim to be Christians, few are willing to tell others that they are Christians, prefering to use man made names like, Lutherian, Methodist, Congregationalist, Episcopalians, Baptists, etc, even to go so far as to call themselves Jesus followers? There is nothing wrong to do so, but I wonder why are they ashamed to call themselves what they are, Christians?. Jesus said “Those who are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels(Mark8:38). if you are a Christian, stand up for Christ and do not be ashamed to tell the world I am a Christian. Everyone else proclaim they are something or another, but Christians can’t? Why not?

  • A Christian= One who believes in Biblical Christianity (Jesus as the savior) no matter the denomination?

  • I believe what Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but by me” I would say that makes me a Biblical Christian because I believe in the true thruth, Jesus Christ. I am not going to shy away from calling myself a Biblical Christian even if it offends man and the world. I am not here to get along with the world but to do God’s will and further God’s kingdom. And there is a difference, for those who ask, about furthering the church and furtheirng God’s kingdom

  • With the contraceptive mandate to the Catholic church it proves that Obama is not a Christian and that Christian liberal/progressive is an oxymoron. When they try to force Christians to violate God’s command (Thou Shall Not Murder) then they are not Christian.

    • darthsidious

      blahblahblah, death panels, mandatory abortion, blahblah.

  • To call yourself a Biblical Christian in the age we live in is crazy, if it was not for our love for Jesus. The last thing a person would want to call ones self is a Biblical Christian, with all the mocking, ridicule, and attacks one must endure with that label. But most of us who do call ourselves Biblical Christians are willing to do so because we love Jesus and want to obey God. This not make us better or any less of a sinner then anyone who is not a Biblical Christian, but that we know that we are saved by grace in faith in Jesus.

  • If there are no Biblical Christians because it was made up in the 19th century. Then there should be no Lutherans, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Anglicans, etc etc because they to are made up?

  • Biblical Christians= A definition of Christian according to the Bible.

  • Here is something really radical to mull over. What if only Biblical Christians are saved per Matthew 7:13-14. called the narrow gate gospel?

  • Addendum to above post. Biblical Christians can be found in all churches and denominations. They are the ones who put Christ first, who work to grow the kingdom not man made churches, whose only desire is to please God not any human be he the pope, pastor, etc. These are the marks of a Biblical Christian.

  • To those who give no thought to calling themselves a Biblical Christian. If you call yourself that can you live calling yourself that for eternity and the be judged by it. I’m perfectly comfortable calling myself a Biblical Christian and to live and be judged by it.

  • Casey


    Francis Schaeffer would wholeheartedly agree with your last phrase, and so would I.

    Did you intend this to be such a tight reference to Schaeffer?

    Just curious.

  • Let’s see there is no “gay Christians”, liberal Christians, conservative Christians, emergent Christians, etc in the Bible either so I guess by the authors definition these do not exist either. All the attempts to get people to be like and equal to one another will only drive Christians toward the Fundamentalist camp. Is that what you want? Oh forgive me I forgot there is no Fundamentalists Christians in the Bible either so Christians can’t go there for refuge

  • While we are trying to be politically correct here the label “right-wing” to define Fundamentalists was not what these Christians were called in the 19th century when the movement was founded. No “right-wing” can be found in the book that Fundamentalism was founded on. So if we want to be correct and percise then let it apply everywhere. Don’t be hypocrites. And no one says that only certain people can define what is or is not.

  • To all those who call themselves Christians but are not ( Christian in name only) beware of the consequences of your action. You must ask yourself can you face God’s judgement, and eternity by calling yourself something you are not? I leave that for you to mull over. As for me I am what God has made me, a Christian, A Christ one or belonging to Christ.
    But we may not have to wait that long because there is coming a time even before God’s judgement that will define who is or is not a Christian. I’m talking about outright persecution for those who dare to call themselves Christians. Even in America such persecution will come, we are not immune. As Jesus said “If they persecute you know that they have persecuted me first. If they persecuted me so too will they will persecute you”. If Jesus who was and is God was not immune from persecution what chances do you think we as ordinary Christians have of avioding the same fate as our Lord? The great winnowing is coming

  • the religious and political left are so egar to make everyone the same they have resorted to dictating terms that is appropriate and what terms are not for everyone. As if we need their permission to do so. Who gave them the power to decide for everyone? So to the left, both religious and political I am a BIBLICAL CHRISTIAN. Like it or don’t like it I don’t care.

  • Biblical Christianity and Biblical Christians have a long history of not being liked from the time of Jesus to know, no matter what the name of the belief system or it’s followers. The Roman Empire tried and failed, the Roman Catholic Church tried and failed(Waldesians,Hugenots, Puritans,Pilgrims, Calvinists, etc), Communism has failed ( China,Russia, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea), and now Islam is failing(Iran, etc). Biblical Christianity and it’s followers are not liked because it is God’s eternal truth and not subject to man’s interpertations or whim

  • I hope those who call themselves Christians realize that heaven will be 24/7 worship of Jesus.There will be no parties, sex,or other things of the flesh. So before calling yourself a Christian ask yourself if you are accepting of whats coming for you when you go to heaven. And will you be happy there?