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PaulS

Followers Of The Way?

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In a recent newsletter, Bishop Spong says:

 

The Christian Church was formed well after the death of Jesus, indeed some 50 to 60 years afterward. At the beginning of their life and history, the followers of Jesus continued to be what they had always been, members of the synagogues. Christianity began as a movement within the synagogue. They called themselves not“Christians” but “The Followers of the Way.” Jesus certainly did not found the church, despite the ecclesiastical propaganda of the ages.

 

I am just wondering what evidence may be known to make this assertion that early christians called themselves 'Followers of hte Way'? I have heard it discussed before by Marcus Borg, and it sounds right to me, but I am unaware if there is some documentation or other well-known archeological evidence to substantiate this?

 

Cheers

Paul

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Much of it ,I think, is based on the change in rhetoric of the early writings. Mark, Matthew, and Luke (the earliest gospels) use a much different language to describe Jesus than John which was written after the big split. The early letters attributed to Paul use much different language than the later letters that were probably written so some of Pauls students many years later. I suspect much of it is reading between the lines so to speak. Early Jesus is not spoken of as "The Christ" later he is.

 

steve

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I am just wondering what evidence may be known to make this assertion that early christians called themselves 'Followers of hte Way'? I have heard it discussed before by Marcus Borg, and it sounds right to me, but I am unaware if there is some documentation or other well-known archeological evidence to substantiate this?

 

Paul,

 

I have looked in several sources and could find very little. Apparently, the first attestation of this is in Acts 9:2 when Paul (the other one) was looking for Jewish heretics to persecute: "and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem."

 

The Early Christian Reader has this footnote to that passage: "It was common in popular philosophical circles to speak of a chosen life as a (or the) path or way. See Lucian, Menippus 4:Plutarch, Superstition 171E; see Did 1.1ff. This is the author's characteristic designation of 'Christians' -- a title he claims was first used for the at Antioch."

 

Then at Acts 11:26: ". . . it was at Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians."

 

George

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Thanks Steve & George,

 

My understanding is, that whilst Spong seems to take the side that 'followers of the Way' means something other than Jesus worship and a lot of what goes with fundamental christianity these days, that distinction can't really be drawn. In fact, those that followed the 'Way' of Jesus may well have done so because they believed he was either the incarnation of God or was the closest thing possible to being like God, and indeed may well have thought of Jesus' death as an atoning sacrfice, for all we know.

 

Paul

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Paul

I can't specifically speak to the way. But it all boils down to parsing (for me) the historical Jesus, the mythical Christ and the interpretation(s) thereof. I started down that path and Weyler's book The Jesus Sayings I found a great resource. Whether it is an accurate reflection is another matter. Anyway his punch line can be summed up here. It is (I think) a beautiful little poem based on what were, for Weyler, Jesus's historical words.I have to admit I was enamoured (and I suppose I still am) with these thoughts. So far so good.

 

But I was then asked why parse the words of the historical Jesus and the mythical Christ. Cannot there be insights into the cosmos and the human condition in history and myth? Is that not what we are looking for?

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I do think both history and myth can provide insights. I don't have any issue with 'truth' not neccessarily being historically accurate. As I have referenced before, it's like that story about the Indian storyteller who starts off with "Now, I don't know if this actually happened, but I know it is true".

 

In this case I was just trying to clarify that there isn't neccessarily anything controversial about early christians being called Followers of the Way. It seems, for all we know, they could have been the 'type' of Christians that I think Spong eludes to them not being.

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In this case I was just trying to clarify that there isn't neccessarily anything controversial about early christians being called Followers of the Way. It seems, for all we know, they could have been the 'type' of Christians that I think Spong eludes to them not being.

 

I suppose the controversial issue about Spong's statement may be that Jesus was not the founder of Christianity. I think that is partly correct. I don't think Jesus intended to start an independent religion. And, there is no doubt that his early followers were Jews in the synagogue (called followers of the Way).

 

But, any implication that Jesus is independent of Christianity, or the Christian church would exist without this person is, IMO, wrong. He was, I think, the founding basis for Christianity whether intended or not.

 

I suspect those who were called 'followers of the Way' were those who identified with Judaism and considered themselves Jews, but were followers of Jesus and subscribed to his interpretation of Torah. It is likely, IMO, that the term 'Christian' developed when they spit with the Jewish establishment and Gentiles began joining the movement. When they split completely with Judaism , a new identification would be expected in order to distinguish them from traditional Judaism.

 

Notice that Luke (in Acts) says that Antioch was where people were first called Christians. Antioch was a gentile city with a sizable Jewish community and Paul (the other Paul) had made several missionary trips there.

 

George

Edited by GeorgeW

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"Now, I don't know if this actually happened, but I know it is true".

I like the quote Paul.

Metaphorically it may be very apt and it points to Picasso's Art is lies quote.

It also could be an agnostic fundamentalist position as well.

 

The quote also points to the differences in what we mean when we use the words:

have faith, believe, know, think, suspect and probably a few others.

 

Anyway back on topic more or less.

End of the day it does not matter (to me) which group did what and when with regards to the Bible. What I need to do is divine what is a useful model for me of reality. Some people will take take the Bible hook line and sinker, others will throw it in the garbage. And then there are the rest of us.

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But, any implication that Jesus is independent of Christianity, or the Christian church would exist without this person is, IMO, wrong. He was, I think, the founding basis for Christianity whether intended or not.

 

I suspect those who were called 'followers of the Way' were those who identified with Judaism and considered themselves Jews, but were followers of Jesus and subscribed to his interpretation of Torah. It is likely, IMO, that the term 'Christian' developed when they spit with the Jewish establishment and Gentiles began joining the movement. When they split completely with Judaism , a new identification would be expected in order to distinguish them from traditional Judaism.

 

George

 

I agree that Christianity cannot be independent of Jesus. Yet. Currently being a Christian means to follow Jesus (at least to some extent). Maybe one day it will simply mean to follow The Way (as exampled by Jesus and numerous others). Perhaps eventually the focus will be less on the one person, and more on what his and other examples have taught us.

 

I too understand the followers of The Way to have been Jews in the synagogue. Nonetheless, they well could have been Jews who did believe that the Messiah and/or actual Son Of God had visited the earth to sacrifice himself for humankind as an atonement. I just think that Spong (perhaps Borg) have jumped a few steps if either thinks that being called a follower of The Way, conclusively means something different to what we regard as traditional Christianity (Son of God, atoning sacrifice, ressurection, etc).

 

Cheers

Paul

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I too understand the followers of The Way to have been Jews in the synagogue. Nonetheless, they well could have been Jews who I just think that Spong (perhaps Borg) have jumped a few steps if either thinks that being called a follower of The Way, conclusively means something different to what we regard as traditional Christianity (Son of God, atoning sacrifice, ressurection, etc).

 

I agree given how little is known about 'followers of the Way.'

 

But, since they were proto-Christians, we could, I think, reasonably assume that they would not have had all the trappings that traditional Christianity developed over time. A key point, is the diversity of early Christianity. It took awhile to work all the theological bugs out (and squish them in some cases).

 

George

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True, George. Clearly they didn't have a Pope, or grand Cathedrals, or organised politics, etc etc. Personally, I am convinced that humankind has distorted much good that could have come out of Christianity.

 

I do find it fascinating to learn about the many different 'types' of Christianity that existed in the early centuries. Nothing is as black and white as we're often taught, is it.

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I do find it fascinating to learn about the many different 'types' of Christianity that existed in the early centuries. Nothing is as black and white as we're often taught, is it.

 

Have you read Ehrman's Lost Christianities?

 

George

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I have, George, which was actually what was on my mind when I last posted. Thanks though.

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It is the interesting occupation of we humans to spend time analyzing things which cannot be understood or analyzed by a brain of our horsepower. Something happened in first century Palestine which caused a group of people to have an intense spiritual experience. The intensity of that experience was sufficient to cause those who experienced it directly to be able to impart it to others. All that was enough until we turned our dim lights on the matter and developed explanations and dogma which were apparently unnecesary to the earlier converts. All of this - Jesus' relationship to God, our relationship to God, the nature of the Trinity - is incapable of understanding or explanation with any degree of certainty as to correctness. Not that mystery was any deterrent to the skinning alive, burning at the stake and drownings by which theological disputes were resolved after the establishment of the Church.

 

I am unable to see the distinctions in our differences. I hereby declare everyone right.

 

Hollis

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Hollis,

 

Personally i think you make a most valid and applicable point.

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I sometimes watch a UK program about archaeological digs called Time Team. I like the idea of peeling back the layers to find what once was. I see this act of peeling back the layers as a useful parallel in relation to people or followers of the way. When the Time Team scrapes away a metre of earth to uncover a preserved Roman mosaic floor in the middle of a farmer's field, it's pretty amazing; however, its usefulness is scholarly rather than pragmatic. What was cannot be again. I find the examination of the early church similar. Indeed, I think the key difference (as exhibited in forums such as this) is that masses of people are beginning to scrape through the layers of inherited faith doctrines to understand their faith roots and then relate them in a much more meaningful way to the challenges of living in the present. I think a spiritual revolution may be unfolding in the wilderness.

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