Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 21, 1957
NUMBER 29, PAGE 6-7b

"Christian Church" - - A Scriptural Term!

Bob Haddow, Temple City, California

The Gospel Guardian of September 12, 1957, carries an article by Luther W. Martin denying that the term "Christian church" is scriptural. Believing that his article contains definite fallacies, I wish to set forth what I believe to be the truth of the matter. The credit for the bulk of this article must go to Charles C. Adams who wrote on this subject several years ago.

The basic fallacy in Brother Martin's article is centered in his failure to recognize that the English word Christian is both a noun and an adjective. In the expression "Christian church," the word is used as an adjective, very clearly modifying a noun, church. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the adjective "Christian:" "2. of or pertaining to Christ or the religion based on Christ's teaching." I am certain there is rather general agreement among my readers that "church of Christ" is a scriptural term. Although it is not actually mentioned with the word "church" in singular form, this form may be deduced from numerous expressions. "Christian," as an adjective, refers to anything of Christ or pertaining to Christ. (See definition above.) Therefore, "church of Christ" and "Christian church" are equivalent terms. In the first a prepositional phrase is used; in the second, an adjective. The phrase and the adjective have identical meanings.

Three modern translations use the expression "Christian churches." Weymouth, The New Testament In Modern Speech, Gal. 1:22 — "But to the Christian churches in Judaea I was personally unknown." James Moffatt, The New Testament, Gal. 1:22 — "Personally I was quite unknown to the Christian churches of Judaea." Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Goodspeed Parallel New Testament, Gal. 1:22 — "I was still personally unknown to the Christian churches of Judaea."

The above translations are substantiated by a Greek scholar, no less than Joseph Henry Thayer in his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. On page 211 he discusses the Greek expression "en Christo.": "Finally, it serves as a periphrasis for Christian (whether person or thing) . .. hai ekklesiai hai en Christo. Gal. 1:22." A "periphrasis" is a "use of a longer phrasing in place of a possible shorter expression." Thayer is saying that the word "Christian" is a shorter possible expression of "en Christo," in Christ. The phraseology. "churches in Judaea which are in Christ," may be translated in shorter form: "Christian churches of Judaea." Thayer gives several examples of this use of "Christian." Note that "Christian" may translate "en Christo" whether person or thing.

I do not comprehend how the above testimony can be swept away by prejudice or so-called logic.

Objections Considered

1. The word "Christian" only refers to persons in the New Testament. One may say that the apostles only used the word "Christian" to refer to people, believers in Christ, members of the church. One obvious fact gives the key to the destruction of this contention. The apostles did not use the word "Christian" at all, for they did not speak English. They employed the term "Christianos," a Greek word from which our English word "Christian" is derived. The Greek word is a noun and refers only to people. The English word is both a noun and an adjective and may be applied to people and things. Our English word "Christian," as a noun, accurately translates the Greek word "Christianos." As an adjective, "Christian" accurately translates other Greek expressions modifying nouns. Thus Weymouth, Moffatt, and Goodspeed utilize "Christian churches." Thayer says that "en Christo" is a periphrasis for "Christian," "whether person or thing." We often use "Christian" as an adjective in speaking of Christian life, Christian religion, Christian love, etc. Thayer mentions some of these. "Christian" is an adjective and may be used to translate any Greek expression whose meaning it accurately depicts.

2. "Christian church" indicates that the church belongs to its members, to Christians, say some. This is not true, for it overlooks a simple discrimination that anyone familiar with words should be able to make. Such an assertion assumes that the only meaning of Christian is "of or pertaining to a Christian or Christians." This is one meaning; however, the word also means "of or pertaining to Christ." Anything "of Christ" or "pertaining to Christ" may be modified by the adjective "Christian." The use of the term does not necessarily indicate that the thing modified belongs to a Christian or Christians. So the argument disintegrates.

I have heard many complain that "Christian church" implies that the church is "of Christians." This argument is identical with the one discussed in the foregoing paragraph. What, I ask, is so objectional in the expression, "church of Christians?" Have they not read: Rom. 16:4. "the churches of the Gentiles;" 1 Cor. 14:33, "churches of the saints;" Rev. 3:14, "church of the Laodiceans," and many other such. Who were these "Gentiles," "saints," and "Laodiceans" if they were not Christians?

3. The term "Christian church" is unscriptural it is further objected. The weight of this objection should be weighed by proper understanding of "scriptural" and "unscriptural." This rebuttal would be true if the King James and American Revised translations were considered to be the only scriptures. There are, however, many excellent translations of the works of the apostles and prophets. At least three of these English forms of the scriptures employ the term "Christian churches." We are far too version bound. It may have been excusable in a less enlightened age for people to consider one or two translations as divine, and only their expressions as scriptural. In such an atmosphere John Smith could be condemned for expressions from "The Living Oracles" diverse from those of the King James translation.

Any English equivalent for apostolic terminology is scriptural. Any English words or group of words which express the same ideas as those intended by the writers of the New Testament in their Greek. are scriptural. Who presumes to further limit our concept of "scriptural" and "unscriptural?" "Christian church" is just as scriptural as "church of Christ," because it accurately expresses in English, Greek terms applied to the church. A fair examination of the meaning of the adjective "Christian" substantiates this, Goodspeed, Moffatt, and Weymouth add their testimony. Thayer, sometimes called "the prince of lexicographers," authorizes such translation. What more needs to be said?