revernaculation: “relationship with Jesus”

July 28, 2005 | 6 Comments

I have often heard someone say: “It’s not about religion, it’s about a relationship with Jesus.” In fact, I’ve probably said that myself more times than I can count. But I’m wondering if the phrase “relationship with Jesus” also needs to undergo a revernactulation.

The concept of a “relationship with God” or “relationship with Jesus” is not really in the New Testament as we understand. The best comparison that I have found is the concept that we know (γινώσκω) God . This can mean so much more than what we would describe as a relationship. It could also describe that we have come to a knowledge of him, or become aware of him.

Ultimately, I don’t think term relationship with Jesus is incorrect as much as it is incomplete. Far better would be for us to describe that we follow Jesus. This is the most common phrase that Jesus himself uses to describe how we are in relationship with him. It is consistently the call he offers to his disciples throughout the gospels: Matthew 4:19 (In Greek, it actually says “come after me”, but implies that they should follow, which is what 4:20 states that they did.), Mark 2:14, and John 1:43. In Matthew 10:38, this is the language Jesus uses to describe what kind of relationship he desires to have with anyone who chooses it. These are just a brief sampling. The phrase is used to describe the relationship of people to Jesus thorughout the Gospels.

“Follow Jesus” certainly implies that there is a relationship there, but it puts a proper perspective on the relationship. I am not just buddy buddy with Jesus. I am his disciple and he is Lord. I am not simply walking side by side with him through life, but I am struggling to follow as he leads the way to show me what it means to truly be human.

  • Good thoughts, John… I’ve been wondering lately if the saying should be: “We need a stronger relationship with religion.” This being said, what I mean is that quite possibly, the modern Western outlook on religion has become much too watered down — so much so that we desire worldly concepts (e.g., relationship) without forgoing Heavenly precepts (e.g., the Law).

    I’m shooting this off the cuff, so I’m sure it needs to be a little more thoroughly thought-out.

    Here’s an interesting commentary on the relationship aspect from 2001:
    http://hownow.brownpau.com/archives/2001/10/religion_relationship

    And yet another look from a few days ago:
    http://desertpastor.typepad.com/paradoxology/2005/07/the_religionrel.html

    (Something must be in the water.) 🙂

  • Whoops. Yes and no. “Knowing” Jesus, ginosko, is not where the idea comes from — in fact the Gnostics said no to relationship and yes to knowledge. Salvation comes from knowing the secret words and things.

    The whole relationship thing comes from “Faith” which is a whole different thing than belief. Belief has to do with propositions and true or false. But faith has to do with trust, as in a relationship. English has no word for it, but the Christians are called the Faith-ers, not the ‘belief-ers’. THAT’s where the relationship comes in.

    Followers and disciples is part of it, but the Christians might have moved away from that because of the excesses of the second century, when people took following him and imitating him like too seriously and began actively seeking to become martyrs and die as much like him as possible. We’re called to follow him in his attitudes and stuff, but not to imitate his actions — like calling twelve disciples to yourself and like that.

    He says the way to the father is “through me”, and open to all who “have faith in me” not to all who do as I do or act as I do. And much of what the first disciples do is counter to his example — he stayed in the villages, they go to the cities; he worked almost exclusively with Jews, they went to the Gentiles; he called himself the Son of Man, they can hardly decide what to call him; he spoke in parables, they speak plainly.

  • (D’oh. Once again my ignorance is proven by one of them darn scholars! But I’ll venture out with some more dialogue just to see how ignorant I can prove myself to be…)

    Conrad,
    I certainly understand the danger of creating a works based theology which could be reflected in an understanding that the more we do the exact things that Jesus did, the better off we are. I think you imply that danger in your response, and I agree.

    I appreciate your statement that faith and belief are not the same, and that there really is no Greek word for belief. I think it does create confusion when pistis is translated at both. My undergrad Greek professor, Paul McReynolds, chose to always translate pistis as ‘trust’ in his interlinear to try to alleviate some of this confusion, and I’ve found that to be helpful for me.

    I think that I’m a little less inclined to draw as clear of a distinction between “following” and “having faith in”. Josephus records that he called a group of rebels to repent (metanoia) and have faith (pistis) in him. Wasn’t his challenge to them that they should follow him? Would this show almost a parallel first century understanding of the concepts of “follow” and “have faith in”?

    Perhaps I’m reading more into what you are saying than you intended, but in our desire to state that we are saved through faith, isn’t it too easy to make that just a matter of the head/heart, and not of our actions? If those in the second century took the concept of following Jesus too far, perhaps we have done the same today with our concept of a relationship with Jesus. It is too easy for us to just make that a personal, inner matter where we just claim a relationship with him and therefore assume that all is as God intended for it to be.

  • Sorry… didn’t mean to come on that heavy. One of my least favourite things about my profession is that when you disagree about something, the dynamic isn’t like two people having a normal conversation but the professional talking to the amateur. I hate that. It’s worse live — I can’t act like a normal guy with my students until I get to know them really well, cuz if I say, ‘nah, that’s stupid’ like you just would sometimes talking to friends, they’re like devastated. Hmmm… I should probably blog about this.

    Anyway, on topic now, yes, your reply is absolutely right — the two definitely need to go together; ‘trust’ is a wonderful way of handling pistis; and just as the early martyrs went too far in one direction we can go too far in the other.

    So I think we’re agreed that paragraph 2 of your original post is incomplete: the concept of relationship with God and Jesus is all through the New Testament in the ‘trust’ business, yeah? Cuz that’s the paragraph that set me off, probably. Sentences like “X or Y is not really in the New Testament” are like a red cape, I’m afraid.

    If that’s the case, then the only place we differ at all is probably a chicken and egg question. You say that ‘follow Jesus’ is the main thing and relationship is one part of that; I think it’s better to say that relationship with Jesus is the main thing, and following him is a part of that. Following should be a natural consequence of trusting him seems a better way to put it. But in real life, the two should be so intertwined that it’s hard to say which is the main thing and which the subsidiary.

  • Gary

    I was reminded of this post today. In John 15, Jesus tells his disciples to “reamain in” him. As you’re thinking about revernaculating things, I wonder if in conjunction with the phrase “asking Jesus into your heart” one could parallel the idea of Jesus asking you into his heart….

  • Gordon Robbins

    Thankyou very much for this discussion. I see that this is an old blog entry, but it really helps me in the ‘here and now’. So much of the lingo and catch phrases of modern Christianity just leave me cold. I don’t think it’s as much boredom as it is the meanings of the words have been so clouded and reinterpreted that they cease to have any linkage with the original concepts behind them.
    That’s funny you mentioned Paul McReynolds. He was my Greek teacher at PCC years ago!