Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 26, 1958
NUMBER 9, PAGE 9a-10a

"Christian Church" -- Still A Scriptural Term

Bob Haddow, Temple City, California

In the Gospel Guardian of several weeks ago, Luther Martin attempts reply to my article, "CHRISTIAN CHURCH" — A SCRIPTURAL TERM, which appeared in the same issue. This further reply is deemed necessary, for Brother Martin has made some insuperable blunders which need pointing out for the sake of TRUTH. Credit is due Charles C. Adams for helping to formulate the material for this article.

Let it be understood that I am not defending a sectarian use of the phrase "Christian church," no more than I would defend the sectarian use of the term "church of Christ." I am merely affirming that the phrase "Christian church" is Scriptural terminology, in the correct understanding of that concept, and that it is identical in meaning to "church of Christ."

The Issue

Brother Martin heartily affirms my statement: '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.' Let the reader ponder this admission and understand that the whole issue is reduced to testing this proposition as it relates to the phrase, "Christian church."

Causes Division

Brother Martin asserts that to use "Christian church" creates division and strife. This will not only be news to many but will be recognized as the same special pleading issuing from every other overly scrupulous brother among us who seeks to bind his opinions as law. The term "Christian church" abounds in the writings of the early Restoration movement. Did Campbell and other stalwarts "create division and strife"? If Brother Martin chooses to withdraw fellowship from persons merely because they use the phrase "Christian church," let him understand that this is his doing and not theirs. Moreover, if I prove that "Christian church" is a Scriptural term, he has no right to object to it; then if a division exists over this, Brother Martin is one of those who has made it!


Brother Martin's use of the Greek noun, "Christianos," is irrelevant. The English, "Christian," is derived from "Christianos," which is derived from "Christos.' The English, "Christian," trans-literates Greek, "Christianos." This is all true but beside the point. The English, "Christian," is an adjective as well as a noun, and, as such, it can legitimately translate original, Greek adjective expressions.

Brother Martin's contention that the English, "Christian," can only be used as a noun, and that it can only be used to translate the word from which it was derived, is as ridiculous as it is naive. This assumption is based on no known linguistic principle. Indeed, it is manifestly false, as any philologist would testify. Hundreds of derivatives evolve new uses and become much more general than their original prototypes. Others become narrower. This is called "generalization" and "specialization" in language studies. Words often take on new meanings and new functions in the new language (in this case, English). "Christian," but the Greek, "Christianos") was used as a noun in the original, Greek New Testament. "Christian" is today an adjective, as well as a noun, and we use it as such in our religious instruction. In the same issue of the Guardian, below Brother Martin's article, there appears an announcement of a lecture program on "The Christian Home." Page 16 carries an advertisement suggesting reading a book about support of "Christian colleges." I wonder if Brother Martin ever refers to the "life in Christ" as the "Christian life," or the "gospel of Christ" as the "Christian gospel."

Mark this, the issue is not with "Christianos" but with "Christian." They are two different words entirely. One is Greek; the other English. They are different in spelling, language, alphabet, sound, and scope of function.

"En Christo"

Brother Martin mistakenly asserts that my reasoning would justify the terms "Baptist Church," "Methodist Church," etc. I deny that! Will Brother Martin inform us of the location of the New Testament Greek equivalent for the adjective "Baptist" or "Methodist" which, in turn, modifies "ekklesia" (church)? I am contending that our adjective, "Christian," is the equivalent of the Greek, adjective phrase, "en Christo," in Gal. 1:22, which, in turn, modifies "ekklesias" (churches). Brother Martin attempts to give my reason for using "Christian church," but it seems he can't even get this straight. "En Christo," in Gal. 1:22, does not refer to a child of God, nor did I say it did. "En Christo" modifies "ekklesias," in this verse.

Also beside the point is the argument that if "Christian" will translate "en Christo" in one place, it must be able to in all places. Or conversely, if it will not translate "en Christo" everywhere, it can't anywhere. Any expression in any language is likely to have more than one meaning and/or function. Hence it is entirely possible that a word in another language may translate it in one context and not in another. "En Christo" is a good example. We would call it a "prepositional phrase." As such it can function as an adjective or an adverb and would be variously described as an "adjective phrase" or an "adverbial phrase." In several instances cited by Brother Martin, "en Christo" is used adverbially. Of course, one wouldn't expect an adjective (Christian) to translate an adverbial phrase, Luther Martin to the contrary notwithstanding!

Likewise, Brother Martin wonders why the translators do not 'use "Christian" everywhere "en Christo" is used. The answer is that it doesn't always fit grammatically. Furthermore, a translator does not have to use one expression for a given Greek term or phrase without variation. Often in a language as versatile as English, lie has more than one possibility, each acceptable. If he has any love for language he may use them all in the course of his work. Suppose he comes to 1 Thess. 4:16. He can translate "the dead in Christ" or "the Christian dead." If he chooses the latter, he isn't liable to the wild critics for not using "Christian" every time he can. He is at perfect liberty to use any of several acceptable renditions.

Brother Martin objects to Goodspeed's use of "Christian" in translation. You are not, of course, bound to accept his use of the word in every place. You commend his use of it in Gal. 1:22 because it fits the meaning in that place, not because Edgar J. Goodspeed used it. Hence you are free to accept or reject any other use of the word on the same basis. The meaning is the thing, even as Brother Martin has admitted!

It is in this connection that Brother Martin criticizes Goodspeed for not translating "literally." Anyone who has had experience with translation work of any kind (or who has read about it) knows that literal translation is often impossible and misleading, awkward and difficult to read. Furthermore, literal translation is not necessary to render the meaning. When anyone insists on literal rendition, he betrays his own ignorance. If the meaning is best conveyed by word for word rendition, let it be so. If it can be conveyed equally well by free translation, who can reasonably object? Brother Martin should read the prefaces to the various translations. The vaunted scholars of the American Revision (1901) say of a number of cited examples: "The conception of the writer is not really reproduced by a literal translation." "In both these groups of cases we have everywhere adopted the idiomatic English, rather than the slavishly literal, rendering." If Brother Martin prefers the "literal," he may have it, if he can find it. There is no literal "word for word" translation that I know of. But he has no right to make a law forbidding idiomatic, free translations. As long as the meaning is preserved, any translation is acceptable.

"Thayer Admits"

In bold type letters, Brother Martin says, "Thayer Admits That 'Christian' Is A Paraphrase, In Gal. I:22!" Again, he says, "But, Thayer calls it a `paraphrasis'." What a blunder all of this is. Not only does Thayer say nothing that Brother Martin credits him with saying (nor did I in my article), but Martin didn't even have the right word under discussion AS QUOTED IN MY ARTICLE!!! Will Brother Martin plead careless reading or poor eyesight? Neither one will inspire confidence in his scholarship.

The word Thayer used is periphrasis, not "paraphrase" or "paraphrasis" (whatever that is). Moreover, "en Christo" is the periphrasis for Christian, not that Christian is the periphrasis as Martin tried to make out. On page 211 of "Thayer's Lexicon," in discussing "en Christo," he says, "Finally, it serves as a periphrasis for Christian (whether person or thing)," and cites Gal. 1:22 as an example (among others). 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 Judea which are in Christ," may be translated in shorter form: "Christian churches of Judea."

All of this is further confirmed by Thayer on page 196, under "ekklesia." On Gal. 1:22, he says, "joined to Christ, i.e. Christian assemblies, in contrast with those of the Jews." What are Christian assemblies but Christian churches? Other scholarly works give identical testimony. The International Critical Commentary, Galatians volume, comments on Gal. 1:22 and "ekklesias en Christo' in particular: "The expression characterizes the churches referred to as Christian as distinguished from Jewish." Similar testimony from other scholarly works could be multiplied many times over, but it would prove no more.

This is not to say that "Christian churches" is the only accurate translation or that it is better than any other. Nor can this term be said to be my "preferred church name" as Brother Martin falsely asserts. I have no "preferred church name" among any Scriptural expressions. I took issue with Brother Martin because he said the expression "Christian church" was not Scriptural terminology. Often there are many equally acceptable renditions of a passage in translation. "Churches in Christ," "churches which are in Christ," "churches of Christ," "Christian churches" — they all convey the meaning — they show that the assemblies referred to are Christian assemblies. Thus, "Christian churches" (assemblies, congregations) is a correct translation in Gal. 1:22 and is just as good as the others because it conveys the original idea.