<a href="https://biblicalmissiology.org/author/smorrison/" target="_self">Steve Morrison</a>

Steve Morrison

Steve Morrison is the author of two web sites. www.MuslimHope.com shows Muslims the great hope they have when they see what Islam really is, and follow the real Jesus. www.BibleQuery.org answers over 7,870 questions on the Bible, as well as material on church history, the Bible reliability, and responding to Bible critics. From these sites, he has answered about 3 to 4 emails per week for the last nine years. Material from these sites has been translated into Arabic, Chinese, Urdu, Indonesian, and Malaysian. Besides dialoging with Muslims in person, Steve has spoken on Christianity and Islam at a couple of universities. Steve has taught Christian missionaries on witnessing to Muslims at the Horizons training center in Boulder, Colorado. He has done 26 hours of cable TV shows on Islam, Hinduism, and other topics. He has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, is married with four children, and attends a Bible church.

6 Comments

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    Dear Steve:
    To dovetail your material from the book of Acts, might I direct your readers to the following excerpt from the conclusion of Gary Gilbert’s article?

    Like Romans and their backers, Christians were faced with a situation of trying to explain and legitimate the existence of their new community,one that to some outsiders seemed contrary to established tradition and to others included a class of humans belonging to a new superstition (Suetonius, Nero 16.2). Amid the various responses to this situation, Luke created
    “a book devoted to clarifying the Christian self-understanding.” Heaccomplished this goal in part by presenting Christians as the rightful heirs of the biblical promises and heritage of Israel.
    However, for Luke, Christians also had to understand themselves in relation to the Roman world. Just as he does with biblical traditions, Luke mines the heritage of Romefor the language and ideas that will contribute to the formation of a Chris-
    tian identity. Christians are acknowledged in Luke-Acts as those persons belonging to the true universal kingdom whose existence is expressed and authenticated through a list of nations. Their founder, Jesus, is the real savior who has brought peace to the world and whose rule has been validated through his ascension into heaven.

    p. 254
    Gary Gilbert, “Roman Propaganda and Christian Identity in the WorldView of Luke-Acts” in in Contextualizing Acts: Lukan Narrative and Greco-Roman Discourse, Edited byTodd Penner and Caroline Vander Stichele. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003)

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    Steve your readers may be interested in the following article:
    David Horrell,. “The label Christianos: 1 Peter 4:16 and the formation of Christian identity” Journal of Biblical Literature, 126 no 2 Sum 2007, p 361-381.

    This is the concluding few sentences from that article, that basically affirm what you have written:
    Moreover, 1 Peter marks a crucial point in the process whereby this hostile label
    comes to be borne with pride by insiders, later becoming their standard self-
    designation. This is but one example, yet a key one nonetheless, of the early Chris­
    tians struggling to reverse, at least in their own eyes, society’s verdict on them. And
    ironically, though unsurprising in the light of social-scientific studies of conflict, the
    very hostility that the label Χριστιανός/ Christianus represents, by focusing atten­
    tion precisely on this facet of the believers’ social identity, plays a significant role in
    fostering an emerging sense of Christian identity, making this label, for insider and
    outsider alike, the most salient designation of the followers of Jesus.

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    By the way, for the sake of clarification, it is to Jack Stone that my previous comment is directed.

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    Is there other biblical terminology found both in historical narrative and didactic passages that specifically addresses the church that you also find less than essential for the church today? Since all Scripture is breathed of God, and the passages that use the name “Christian” do so positively, I’ll use that name too.

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    Thanks for this extensive and thorough article. I appreciate your desire to preserve Biblical teaching. However, I disagree with your fundamental interpretation of 1 Peter 4:16. Allow me to explain.

    The command in 1 Peter 4:16 is a development of other Biblical teaching on God’s people bearing God’s name. In fact, I think it is a direct development of one of the 10 commandments: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7). I know there are several different interpretations of this passage, including seeing it as a command to not use God’s name as a swear word. However, a more appropriate translation, in my opinion, takes into account the Hebrew phrase translated “do not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” Woodenly translated, this phrase says, “do not lift up/bear the name of the Lord your God for no worthwhile purpose.” Other uses of the phrase “lift up/bear the name” in Exodus 28:12, 29 suggest “representation.” So, it seems Exodus 20:7 is commanding the people to represent God well since they bore his name. See also Isaiah 44:5, where people call themselves by the name of God: “This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s.”

    The people of Israel are required to bear the name in a worthy manner. Ezekiel 36:22-23 is helpful here: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” The Israelites failed to honor the name they bore, the name of God.

    But how did Israel profane God’s name? Were they called “Yahweh-ites” or something similar? No: their identity and reputation was intrinsically tied to the God of the OT, so that everyone knew who they represented. What they did as a people reflected on the reputation of God.

    In the New Testament, the origin of “Christian” might have been derogatory, with pagans perhaps calling the believers, “little Christs.” However, it stuck, and the name gradually grew into a self-designation of followers of Jesus, as you have thoroughly and extensively documented here. In the New Testament, it was still new and fresh enough that people heard it and immediately associated it with those who lived under the authority of and followed Jesus the Messiah.

    So what did Peter mean when he said the words, “if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name”? First of all, 1 Peter 4:15 suggests other names that believers should not be known by, “murderer,” “thief,” “meddler.” What name should you be known by? One that draws attention to who you follow. Also, if Peter was carrying on the OT precedent, where the people of God in some sense “bore” his name and in so doing carried his reputation, perhaps this is what he meant here. So, Peter is not saying, “rejoice that you are called by the word, Christian.” The name in and of itself was not the point. Instead, it was WHAT the name meant (supporter/follower of Christ) and WHO the name represented (the Messiah) that was important. Peter seems to be saying, “rejoice, because you bear the name of your Messiah and Lord.”

    Basically, it doesn’t seem that Peter was too concerned about the designation, “Christian.” What he was concerned about was who the name represented. Followers of Jesus bear his name – they represent him. This is how you glorify God in the midst of suffering.

    So, I take issue with your comment, “Even if you do not try to tell Muslims you are Muslim too, at least don’t tell them you are a Christian, but rather a follower of Jesus. It is true, in all senses, that you are a follower of Jesus. Some today say they follow Christ but do not want to be known as Christians. But are “stealth Christians” a witness? If you deny you are a Christian, you are denying you are the same as the early Christians. While you don’t have to say you are a Christian as the first thing out of your mouth, you must never deny that you are a Christian.” I think this is a misunderstanding of the nature of the passage and even the nature of people’s refusal to use the name, “Christian.” In the New Testament, the name “Christian” pointed to Jesus. Culture has changed quite a bit since the first century, and even by the time of Constantine, all would admit that “Christian” meant something different than it did in the first few centuries of the church.

    If today, the name “Christian” points to Western immorality, rampant hypocrisy and Crusader-like behavior, perhaps the name has been “skunked,” as some linguists say. Perhaps we should learn to use words that communicate the Biblical meaning, words that point to Jesus as our Master and Lord, the one we represent and whose name we bear. Perhaps such words don’t make people “stealth Christians” but rather contemporary believers attempting to represent Jesus well in the world.

    I understand the implications for tossing out the name, “Christian,” and I am not suggesting we never use it again or find completely new ways to identify ourselves. I respect the heritage of Christianity and the historical connections that being called by that name represents. All I am trying to say is that 1 Peter 4:16 does not mandate we use the specific name, Christian. Instead, Peter commends those who suffer for the sake of God’s name, Messiah.

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    Steve, this is a great article. Thank you for the research and for the strong biblically supported stand. Many today are throwing out everything that identifies with Christ. Yes there are problems with the name and some objections but this is whom we are and must celebrate our identity in Christ.

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