Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Label ...: 1 Peter 4:16 and the Formation of Christian Identity

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Label ...: 1 Peter 4:16 and the Formation of Christian Identity

Article excerpt

(ProQuest-CSA LLC: ... denotes Greek characters omitted (or Cyrillic characters omitted.))

It is perhaps surprising that NT scholars have not devoted more attention in recent years to the origin and significance of the term ..., given its eventual significance as the definitive label for the movement that began around Jesus of Nazareth.1 One obvious reason for this comparative neglect is the rarity of the term in the NT itself; it occurs only three times, in Acts 11:26; 26:28; and 1 Pet 4:16, becoming more frequent only later, notably in Ignatius, Polycarp, and Diognetus.2 Another reason is perhaps the sense that there is little to say, or at least little new to say, since the pertinent features of the word's etymology are well established. In this essay, however, I shall suggest that, despite the paucity of references, there is indeed considerable insight to be gained from examining this label and its significance, particularly when analysis is enriched with social-scientific resources relating to the possible reactions to negative labels in relation to social identity. I shall also argue, more specifically, that the reference in 1 Pet 4:16 is-despite the greater focus of attention on Acts 11:26-especially valuable with regard to illuminating the origin and significance of the term, and, indeed, that this text represents the earliest witness to the crucial process whereby the term was transformed from a hostile label applied by outsiders to a proudly claimed self-designation.

I. THE ORIGINS OF THE TERM

It has been long and uncontroversially established that the word ... is a Latinism, the ending ... being a Grecized form of the Latin -ianus.3 Generally, the formations derive from a proper name or title and denote the followers, supporters, adherents, or partisans of a person, as in Brutianus, Augustianus, Caesarianus, and so on.4 The basic sense conveyed by the suffix is that of "belonging to."5 The context could define the relation of dependence or allegiance more precisely, to include clients, slaves, and so on, as well as the more common sense of political or military support.6

Most scholars agree that the designation originated with outsiders, not the Christians themselves.7 More difficult to determine is whether the name was most likely coined by general members of the populace, as many suggest, or by Roman authorities, as Erik Peterson and Justin Taylor argue.8 A decision on this matter depends to some extent on the likely place of origin (on which see below), but we shall assume for the moment that Luke's statement that the term was first used in Antioch is correct. There are a number of reasons that may favor an origin among members of the Roman administration. First is the etymology of the word, which suggests an "origin within Latin-speaking circles."9 This is not a decisive support for the argument, given both the presence in Antioch of a considerable number of Romans/Italians, traders, and the like,10 and the awareness of Latin terms and forms among the wider populace. It remains highly plausible, however, that a new term of Latin formation would originate in the encounter between Romans and the followers of Christ. second is the use of the term ... the verb Luke uses in Acts 11:26, to refer to official or juridical designation rather than to informal naming, an argument developed especially by Peterson.11 Similarly, Luke's use of ... Peterson argues, also conveys a legal or juristic sense, as in legal documents where it indicates that something is now being recorded that will henceforth have force (Peterson suggests the German word "erstmalig ... im Sinne einer die Zukunft bestimmenden Norm").12 It remains open to question whether these words need always or necessarily convey such legal or juristic nuances, so the arguments are again less than decisive, but a probable case begins to mount. Third is the general point, developed by Taylor, that "in the non-Christian first-century sources, the names Christ and Christian are invariably associated with public disorders and crimes. …

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