Literal Christians

I’m gonna rant a little.  About these:

You often hear that the word “Christian” literally means things like “little Christ” or “baby Christ” or “Christ’s one.”  This is usually followed by some kind of (usually very good and true) devotional about how Christians are supposed to be like little copies of Jesus in the world.

That’s all very nice, except it’s not true.  A Christian is a Christ-ian (even if we usually say something like “Chrishchin”), and  adding “-ian” or “-an” to a word doesn’t mean “little” or “baby” or anything.  It doesn’t really mean anything at all- it just connects something with a concept in a vague way.  An “Americ-an” isn’t a “little America,” and a “Roman-ian” isn’t a “baby Romania,” they’re just people from America or Romania.  A “comed-ian” isn’t a miniature comedy, but someone who performs comedy.  So a “Christ-ian” is someone who’s connected with Christ in some way.

That’s the origin.  Of course, the actual meaning is much more powerful.  I’m not a comedian for being vaguely associated with comedies (e.g. by watching them), and you’re not a Christian because of any old connection you have with Jesus.  The origin/etymology/”literal meaning” of a word doesn’t decide what it actually means.

On the other hand, it’s really very nice that “Christian” has such a vague etymology.  It doesn’t define for itself how it’s associated with Christ- just like we don’t define for ourselves what commitment to Christ entails.  Jesus defines it for us, and we accept His terms.

(That’s the problem, by the way, with alternative terms like “follower of Jesus.”  We don’t have the right to define what it means to be a Christ-ian.  Our identity is not found in following Jesus, but in the fact that Jesus followed our sin all the way to the cross.  Our following comes after.)

So even the vagueness of the word “Christian” allows for some very helpful reflection.  But that’s an application based on the etymology of the word, not some hidden meaning unknown to the world until I wrote this blog post.  Just like it’s wrong to think that you can replace “Christian” with “follower of Jesus” and expect them to mean the same thing, it’s wrong to think that the very real truth and power of the word “Christian” is locked up in its etymology and not its actual meaning, i.e. a relationship with Christ that takes whatever form He wills.


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