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:

Augustine?

No!

Aquinas?

No!

Luther?

No!

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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