[Note: The following article is an excerpt from a commentary on Psalm 1 that I am preparing.]

Excursus: The Way

One of the earliest titles used to identify the Christian movement was “the way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), which is possibly derived from Christ’s use of the term for Himself (John 14:6). The name Christian began to be used first in Antioch (Acts 11:26) which many scholars have assumed to be meant as a derogatory name. However, when the Jews sought to deride the movement they called it “the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5), because it was questionable whether anything good could come out of Nazareth (John 1:46). Paul did not reject the name “Christian,” but wished others would be one as he was (Acts 26:28-29). Peter encouraged fellow believers to not be ashamed to suffer as a Christian (1 Peter 4:16). Josephus referred to “the tribe of Christians, so name from him [Jesus]”1)Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.64; in The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus the Jewish Historian (trans. William Whiston), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1960, 1981), p. 379 which obviously implies the name was based on the word “Christ,” and “Christians” were the followers of “Christ.” Similarly, Epicureans (Acts 17:18) were followers of Epicurus; and Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6, 15) were said to have been a cult started by Nicolas (Acts 6:5) according to Irenaeus2)Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.26.3; The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusettes:1886, fifth printing 2012), Vol. 1, p. 352 and Hippolytus.3)Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 7.24; The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusettes:1886, fifth printing 2012), Vol. 5, p. 115 Since the Semitic use of the word “way” can express the thought of following or imitating the course of someone’s life, following Christ as King would not bring shame to one if they were called a Christian.

Tertullian, speaking of the reign of Emperor Tiberius 14-37 A.D. “in whose days the Christian name made its entry into the world[.]”4)Tertullian, Apology, chap. 5; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA, 2012) Vol. 3, p 22 He is probably not implying the name “Christian” itself came into existence since Paul’s time in Antioch is most likely 40 A.D.5)see Andrew Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, Concordia Publishing House (St Louis, MO: 2011), p. 325 Pliny the Younger used the term “Christian,”6)Pliny the Youner, Epistle 96 as did Cornelius Tacitus mentioning that Nero, who reigned 54-68 A.D., persecuted those “called Christians.”7)Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals, 15.44.2-5 The Roman writer Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (ca. 70-ca. 140) published his work, Lives of the Caesars (De vita Caesarum) around 120 A.D., mentioned the emperor Claudius “banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.”8)Suetonius, The Divine Claudius, 25.4 Tertullian in 197 A.D. mentioned the Christian name being mispronounced. “But Christian, so far as the meaning of the word is concerned, is derived from anointing. Yes, and even when it is wrongly pronounced by you Chrestianus (for you do not even know accurately the name you hate), it comes from sweetness and benignity.”9)Tertullian, Apology, 3; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA, 2012) Vol. 3, p. 20 Lactantius mentioned similarly in 309 A.D., “But the meaning of this name must be set forth, on account of the error of the ignorant, who by the change of a letter are accustomed to call Him Chrestus.”10)Lactantius, The Divine Institute, 4.7; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA, 2012) Vol. 7, p. 106 At an earlier date, about 150 A.D., Justin Martyr made a word-play with the erroneous pronunciation. “For we are accused of being Christians, and to hate what is excellent (Chrestian) is unjust.”11)Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin, 4; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA, 2012) Vol. 1, p. 164 Thus it was unjust to hate Christians who were excellent according to the mispronounced name.

            Clement of Rome spoke of Christians as “we follow the way of truth, casting away from us all unrighteousness and iniquity,”12)Clement of Rome, First Epistle, 35; The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusettes:1886, fifth printing 2012), Vol. 1, p. 14 explaining, “[t]his is the way, beloved, in which we find our Saviour, even Jesus Christ[.]”13)Clement of Rome, First Epistle, 36; The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusettes:1886, fifth printing 2012), Vol. 1, p. 14 This way is contrasted to the false teachers which Peter spoke of who teach, “their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (2 Peter 2:2). Speaking of these apostates, Peter says, “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” (2 Peter 2:21). Clement further exhorts the church in Corinth “Although, therefore, many gates have been set open, yet this gate of righteousness is that gate in Christ by which blessed are all they that have entered in and have directed their way in holiness and righteousness, doing all things without disorder.”14)Clement of Rome, First Epistle, 48; The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusettes:1886, fifth printing 2012), Vol. 1, p. 18 Barnabas spoke of “the way of righteousness”15)The Epistle of Barnabas, 1; The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusettes:1886, fifth printing 2012), Vol. 1, p. 137 and Ignatius writing to the church of Ephesus about how they “love the way which led up to God.”16)Ignatius to the Ephesians, 9; The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusettes:1886, fifth printing 2012), Vol. 1, p. 53

            In ancient Jewish apocalyptic literature, the end times are described as a time when “the way of truth shall be hidden[.]”17)4 Ezra 5:1; The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 532 The Testament of Issachar similarly expresses, “Understand, my children, that in the last times your sons will abandon sincerity and align themselves with insatiable desire. Forsaking guilelessness, they will ally themselves with villainy. Abandoning the commands of the Lord, they ally themselves with Beliar.”18)The Testament of Issachar 6.1; The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 804 The Sibylline Oracles warn of being “misled as to good ways and righteous deeds.”19)Sibylline Oracle, 3.233; The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 367 In 1 Enoch has a series of Beatitudes fitting to the context of Psalm 1, begin with: “Blessed are all the righteous ones; blessed are those who walk in the street of righteousness[.]”20)1 Enoch 5:1; The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 60 Hence, righteousness is the way one ought to walk in.

            The book of Jubilees, Abraham gives a farewell testament to his children, commanding them “that they should guard the way of the Lord so that they might do righteousness[.]”21)Jubilees 20:2; The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 93 A further future generation is described as needing to be returned to “the way” by means of war.22)Jubilees 20:2; The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 101 The meaning of “the way” in the contexts is “the law and the Covenant” (Jubilees 23:19).23)Jubilees 20:2; The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1985), Vol. 2, p. 101 In Apocryphal works, Tobit is said to “have walked all the days of my life in the way of truth and justice, and I did many almsdeeds to my brethren, and my nation” (Tobit 1:3).24)The Apocrypha (ed. Manuel Komroff, Barnes & Noble Books (New York, NY: 1992), p. 71 These are all to imply what David meant when singing, “For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God” (2 Samuel 22:22).

            The Dead Sea corpus makes many such statements. The Community Rule scroll speaks of “the precepts in which the Master shall walk in”25)The Community Rule, 1QS IX 11; The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English (Trans. Geza Vermes), Penguin Classics (London, England: 1962, 2004, p. 111 which seems to be referring to “the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.”26)The Community Rule, 1QS IX 10; The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English (Trans. Geza Vermes), Penguin Classics (London, England: 1962, 2004, p. 110

He shall conceal the teaching of the Law from men of injustice, but shall impart true knowledge and righteous judgement to those who have chosen the Way. He shall guide them all in knowledge according to the spirit of each and according to the rule of the age, and shall thus instruct them in the mysteries of marvelous truth, so that in the midst of the men of the Community they will walk perfectly together in all that has been revealed to them. This is the time for the preparation of the way into the wilderness and he shall teach them to do all that is required at that time and to separate from all those who have not turned aside from all injustice.27)The Community Rule, 1QS IX 18-20; The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English (Trans. Geza Vermes), Penguin Classics (London, England: 1962, 2004, p. 111

This text indicates those being receptive to the truth offered by the apparently messianic figure(s), learn knowledge of the “way” in which they should walk and to separate from others not following this way. This same scroll states there is “no pity on all who depart from the way. I will offer no comfort to the smitten until their way becomes perfect.”28)The Community Rule, 1QS X 21; The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English (Trans. Geza Vermes), Penguin Classics (London, England: 1962, 2004, p. 114 Furthermore, God “will deliver my soul from the Pit and will direct my steps to the way.”29)The Community Rule, 1QS XI 13; The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English (Trans. Geza Vermes), Penguin Classics (London, England: 1962, 2004, p. 116

            The Damascus Document relates an interesting passage that holds a number of parallels to Psalm 1.

And God observed their deeds, that they sought Him with a whole heart, and He raised for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart. And he made known to the latter generations that which God had done to the later generation, the congregation of traitors, to those who departed from the way. This was the time of which it is written, Like a stubborn heifer thus was Israel stubborn (Hos. 4:16), when the Scoffer arose who shed over Israel the waters of lies. He caused them to wander in a pathless wilderness, laying low the everlasting heights, abolishing the ways of righteousness and removing the boundary with which the forefathers had marked out their inheritance, that he might call down on them the curses of His Covenant.30)The Damascus Document, CD I. 11-18; The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English (Trans. Geza Vermes), Penguin Classics (London, England: 1962, 2004, p. 129-130

In this text, God observed the “deeds” of men, which is synonymous with their “way.” God gives a teacher to guide them in the “way” of His own heart. This is clearly the Law which is also expressed as His Covenant, which anyone who turns from it is a traitor. The scoffer who drowns the faithful of the nation with lies is contrasted to the blessed man in Psalm 1 who is a fruitful tree planted by waters. Following these lies causes wandering without a path to follow having departed from the way.

            Understanding these basics of the Qumran community, their continuous message was “do not endure those who pervert the way.”31)Songs of the Holocaust of the Sabbath, 4Q400 fr. I. 10; The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English (Trans. Geza Vermes), Penguin Classics (London, England: 1962, 2004, p. 330 Another scroll reports the words of Moses: “When I have established the Covenant and commanded the way in which you should walk, appoint wise men whose work it shall be to expound to you and your children all these words of the Law.”32)The Words of Moses, 1Q22 II. 8; The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English (Trans. Geza Vermes), Penguin Classics (London, England: 1962, 2004, p. 575 Thus the “way” is equated with the Law, which is the Mosaic Covenant. Men who can study the words of the Law to teach it to the people was necessary to lead the nation in the right path. They were to meditate on the Law and separate from scoffers which were considered traitors of the nation since they attempted to cause the people to forsake the Covenant of God. This is the historical antecedent of the thought behind utilizing the term “the way” for Christians. They had a New Covenant, or Testament to walk in to express their relationship with the God they followed. That God Called Himself “The Way” (John 14:6).

print

References   [ + ]