Sect of “The Way”, “The Nazarenes” & “Christians” : Names given to the Early Church

As followers of Christ, we are known as Christians around the world. But few Christians know that the believers in the first century were known by other names, as well as being called a sect amongst the prevalent beliefs of the time. Even though “Christianity” today, clearly differentiates between the Jews, and sometimes goes to the extent of having nothing to do with the Jewish people, the 1st Century believers moved about, mainly amongst the Jewish people. (Not to mention that the majority of the believer were Jewish). They worshiped at the Temple of Jerusalem, and attended the Synagogue on the Sabbath.

In this short study we will look into the 3 names which were used to refer to the believers in Christ, mentioned in the New Testament writings.

Christians
The term “Christian” is a Greek term (G5546 – Χριστιανός – Christianos) that means “Like The Anointed” or “Follower of The Anointed”. (Christ meant “The Anointed one”). Even though this name became the most popular term to refer to the “believers”, it is only mentioned thrice in the New Testament.

Act 11:26  and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Act 26:28  And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
1Pe 4:16  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

The Way
The name which was widely used for the believers, and is most unknown to Christians today would be the title “The Way”. Probably originating from Christ Himself, who called Himself “The Way”(Joh 14:6), this name was used widely in the Book of Acts. The below verses prove that they were known more widely as “the Way”, than the “Christians”, especially as Paul introduces himself as a follower of “the Way” to the Governor, and not as a “Christian”(Acts 24:14), even though they were known as “Christians” by Acts 11:26.

Act 9:2  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.
Act 19:9  But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.
Act 19:23  About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.
Act 24:14  But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets,
Act 24:22  But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.”

The Nazarenes
Another name which was used to refer to the early believers was “the Nazarenes”, originating from Yeshua, the Nazarene (Yeshua is Jesus’ true name) as seen in Mat 2:23.

Act 24:5  For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

The early believers were also known as a Sect
The word “Sect” meant “a group of people with somewhat different religious beliefs (typically regarded as heretical) from those of a larger group to which they belong”.

Act 28:22  But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
Act 24:14  But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets,
Act 24:5  For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

Conclusion
The point of this study is not to ask anyone to start calling themselves “The Way” or “The Nazarenes”, but to point all “Christians” to see how things were, and how they are today. The Early Church was firmly planted in and amongst Jews. The very people that Messiah came to save(Mat 15:24) are now discarded by the Christians as Strangers. The very body He wanted to unite, wants to clearly separate themselves from each other. “Judaism is for the Jews” and “Christianity is for the Gentiles” has outweighed the words of Yeshua who said “there shall be one Flock” (Joh 10:16) and the words of Paul who said “there are no more Jew or Greek” (Gal 3:28). 2000 years of separation from the roots of our faith, has made “Christianity” into a Religion which is far from “The Way” which was preached by a “Nazarene”. This is a call to start really reading the Scriptures with eyes and spirit wide open. We must know where we come from, to know where we are headed.

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45 thoughts on “Sect of “The Way”, “The Nazarenes” & “Christians” : Names given to the Early Church

  1. Pingback: Are We Spiritual Jews or Christians? | Burning Fire Shut Up In My Bones

  2. Pingback: 2000 years of Christianity : what happened? – Part I – 30AD – 300AD | Bible things in Bible ways

    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Dianne,

      I do not know whether any congregation has remained true to the original “Way” or “Nazarenes”. But there are many assemblies that are diligently seeking and going back to our roots. Keep reading and searching, and YHVH will guide you to the fellowship that you are meant to be part of.

      Be a Blessing to all around you

      Reply
    2. Patrick

      You’re probably loooking for the Messianic Jews. They’re more closer to “The Way”, or Nazarenes. They never call themselves Christians as that’s a gentile categorisation, mainly by the Greeks.

      Reply
      1. rameshdesilva Post author

        Yes. You could call Paul, Peter, James and all the other Apostles “Messianic Jews”, as they were Jews who believed in the Messiah! Be a blessing to all around You!

      2. Shofar

        Christian or crestianus is actually the name by which the followers of Serapis Crestus from Alexandria Epgypt were known by. The Jewish followers of The Way who fellowship side by side with other Jews every Sabbath (Sat) at synagogues were called Nazarenes by their own. The Romans and Greeks labeled them crestianus. Its hard to imagine any Jewish follower of Yeshua accepting willy neely that term given its known pagan connections.

  3. Tom S.

    Great article! I am a strong proponent of a return to the Jewish roots of Christian faith that was followed by “The Nazarene Sect” and “The Way” as described in the New Testament. Study of the text recorded in the literary works compiled in “The Ante-Nicene Fathers” which records the teachings of early Christians heavily influenced by Gentile Greek and Roman culture reveals that many branched off and combined Christianity with ancient Greek philosophy, gnosticism, and other pagan mystical beliefs. The Nazarene sect is recognized as late as the fourth or fifth centuries as a group who believed in Jesus as the Son of God but maintained adherence to the Torah. I have written several studies in connection with the beliefs of the early Christians in line with the idea that they were a Jewish sect that rejected the heresies of other Jewish sects as well as standing against beliefs that would go on to be embraced by Gentile Christians. Here is a link to one of them, there are links to two other related articles at the end of this one:
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/created-purpose-tom-s-?trk=prof-post

    Reply
    1. Shofar

      Problem is it was precisely the so called “church fathers” that twisted things around so badly that today any of those early followers of Yeshua would have a hard time recognizing believers in any church.
      The followers of Yeshua continued to attend synagogue at least till the Temple was destroyed. Case in point is Acts 15 were we see the recommendation for new converts to renounce all pagan connected rituals and attend synagogue every Sabbath to Torah.

      Reply
  4. Libby

    Thank you for this little study. I found it because I am studying what Jesus meant by calling Himself “the way (and the truth and the life)”. I appreciate the point you make by looking at these three early names for Jesus’ followers.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Has the Church replaced Israel? | Bible things in Bible ways

  6. Theresa unsell

    The Feast keepers located outside of Porterville, ca..keeps God feasts including the Sabbath. And follows closely what the Messiah intends for us…bibleexplorations.com….watch
    .learn.grow…shalom and many blessings

    Reply
  7. Michael

    Jesus true followers were called a “strict” sect. His father Jehovah God said, “you are my witnesses.” Now there’s a strict sect huh?

    Reply
      1. rameshdesilva Post author

        Dear Rylore,
        Some would call them a cult. They would refer to themselves a s a sect of Christianity. Actually Sect and cult are synonyms… so it is likely that the Pharisees saw “The Way” as a Cult as well. I do not agree with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I know that like every other denomination they have also become institutionalized. But we should not point fingers at others and their doctrines… rather try our best to correct ourselves

        Be a blessing to everyone around you!

      2. Shofar

        Jehovah witnesses dont follow Torah like Yeshua’s disciples did. They dont even keep Yahveh’s Sabbath and seven yearly feasts that Yah made during creation.

  8. Adamu Bunu

    I wonder if the original name of the early followers Jesus was Nazarene and it was after his death when Barnabas went to Antioch ( now Syria) where new name was given them as Christians. Even though those who first called them with such name were not believers of Jesus. So, till today the correct name of Jesus followers must be Nazarenes not Christians.

    Reply
    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Adamu,

      I believe Christian was a derogatory term used for the believers. This becomes a bit clearer when you read Peter’s letter where he says “when you suffer as a Christian”.

      I believe that they never labeled themselves anything. “Nazarene” was also a name given by others. “The Way” maybe the closest to a name we have. But throughout all believers believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The only difference between them and most other Jews of their day would have been that they believed Yeshua was Messiah!

      Be a blessing to everyone around you!

      Reply
  9. Shoshana

    The followers of Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, never called themselves christianus, which is the name the followers of Serapis Crestus were known by. Christ was one of Cesar’s titles, same as that of the sun deity Serapis Crestus. Both the followers of Cesar and Serapis Crestus were pagans practicing paganism.

    In contrast, the followers of the Jewish Messiah kept Torah the way Yeshua demonstrated rather than according to the religious teachings of men. After Rome destroyed the Temple the Roman dictatorship slowly took the reins of the assembly or kahal of Messiah, changing it into THEIR own religious organization, the Roman church. In fact what Rome created over the years was a syncretized political organization with elements from the real Jewish assembly of Yeshua and with many elements from the various pagan sects of the times. People have come to accept the false notion that there was such a thing as “early Christians” and that the Romanized “Jesus” came to establish His church 2000 ago rather than at Mount Zion when He handed Moses the Ten Commandments for His betrothed bride Israel. This Roman Jesus is in fact a Torah-less, anomia, or lawless Christ, not the real Jewish Messiah that kept Torah the correct way and in fact amplified it. With their new replacement church and Christ Rome was able to increase and cement much more control of their Empire.

    Reply
    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Shoshana,
      I agree with all that you say. And I am also a firm believer that Yeshua never changed the Law and that none of the disciples or even Paul broke the Law or taught against it. On the connection of the word Christ to the Roman Emperors and Serapis, can you provide Historical evidence to back your theory? Would be much appreciated.

      May you be a blessing to everyone around you!

      Reply
  10. Michael W Cuber

    Liked your research and the blog posts.
    The Truth cannot remain hidden, and a lot of people are rediscovering His Truth with the wealth of resources we have abailable today.
    Was studying on the Nazarenes, and found references to them in the Fourth, and Eleventh Centuries A.D.
    Also, the Coptics of Ethiopia have a very researchable history, and were clearly keeping Shabot, Kashroot, and Mosiac Law well into the Middle Ages.

    Keep up the Good Work!

    Shalom!

    Reply
  11. Pingback: Why Christians need to plead forgiveness from our Jewish brethren | Bible things in Bible ways

  12. Aaron Bixby

    Excellent I have been wrestling with similar ideas about the state of the church. I find differences between God’s plan for His People and what is actually happening in the Church. Blessings Brother Aaron Shabbat Shalom.

    Reply
    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Aaron,

      More and more people see the truth each day. Shabbat Shalom to you as well Brother!
      May you be a mighty blessing to everyone around you!
      Ramesh

      Reply
  13. Nicky

    I’m just wondering, but is the Law of Moses still required to follow? Or is it just the 10 commandments that needs to be followed?

    Reply
    1. Shoshana

      See Nicky technically is not really the “law of Moses” but Yahveh’s; it is Yah’s teachings for His people. Yeshua and His disciples followed it correctly and not according to traditions.

      Reply
  14. Pingback: How Just is our God? – of his glory

  15. Samuel Garcia

    And before all these were the name “Baptist” as named of John the Baptist.
    Also, while Christian is only mentioned 3 times, the fact that Peter uses it in a command to believers means it is the main way. The other words (Nazarene, that way, that sect) were used mostly to relate to enemies but never an actual command to other believers.

    Reply
    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Samuel,
      I don’t think that just because a denomination which started in the 1600s used the word “baptist”, it is a valid point to show that it originates from John the Baptist. A denomination started by a wondering Jew in the wilderness with nothing but clothes made of camel hair and eating locust & honey for sustenance, is far from the Baptist denomination of our day.

      On your point about Peter’s letter, I have tried to explain this, but I don’t think you have understood what I had written… Let me explain.
      In the end of 1Pet 4, Peter is speaking of suffering for the name of Christ… and he says, “1Pe 4:16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” I believe the word “Christian” had negative connotations rather than positive. To give you an example: it would be like the word Pharisee being used today. In the 1st century, it would be a normal word used by a sect, while today it has negative connotations. I believe it is the opposite for the word “Chirstian”. Today, it is regarded a normal word, while at that time it was not. Let me show how this would work – if I were to write you a letter today saying “Yet if any man suffer as a Pharisee, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” it is clear that I am speaking of how some see the receiver of the letter as a legalistic person, but to not be ashamed of the name – but to glorify God for it.

      Also Paul identified himself as part of “The Way” in Act 24:14. He did not call himself a Christian.

      Whether you believe it or disregard it, I leave it in your hands. But I do hope you understand my point of view.

      Be a blessing to everyone around you!

      Reply
      1. Shoshana

        Good points Rameshdesilva. May I also add John the “Baptist”, known as Yochanan was also a priest? He was a real priest unlike many of the ones serving as priest back then that were not even from Aaron’s line. He was doing what Jews have done for millennia, mikveh in living waters. Rather he was serving as a witness because during a mikvah nobody is supposed to touch you as I am sure you are aware. Today the church is so far removed they really dont understand much of what is written unless they start digging or unless Yahveh reveals it (still followed by ‘digging’ for confirmation).

    2. Shoshana

      Samuel, the word or rather misnomer “christian” is not always used in the translations of Peter’s letter. Here are four that don’t use it. The thing is even if it said so in the fragments of the original letter IT DOES NOT MAKE HALAKAH or law. Peter, Paul or whomever, including the replacement church founded by Rome, cannot make laws or have any authority to change Yahveh’s eternal commandments which is what the church has done for the most part.
      History conclusively proves that christians were the pagan followers of the god Serapis Crestus. It was first given to the Jewish followers of Yeshua in Antioch but that does not mean they considered themselves to be cristianus (christians). They must have been well aware that over 250 years earlier there were pagan sects such as the cristianus, also the followers of Dagon (fish emblem and fish hat), tau (pagan cross), Reifan (whose symbol is the 6 cornered star) and Ashtoreth (queen of heaven, otherwise Mary).
      The disciples lived surrounded by pagan customs, some of which had crept even into Judaism. That is the reason Yeshua said He came to pleiroo or fulfill His and Father’s Torah. To fulfill Torah was a Hebraism (idiom). When a rabbi said he fulfilled Torah he meant he gave it the correct explanation or interpretation and to destroy it men the opposite. Unfortunately the Nazarite sect of Judaism that did call themselves “followers of The Way” where hijacked by pagan Romans who chiseled away at the truth interpolating many pagan traditions such as changing Yah’s Sabbath and feasts that He established in CREATION for pagan ones, and yes, the name by which the followers of Yeshua were known by.

      CEB
      But don’t be ashamed if you suffer as one who belongs to Christ. Rather, honor God as you bear Christ’s name. Give honor to God,”
      CJB
      But if anyone suffers for being Messianic, let him not be ashamed; but let him bring glory to God by the way he bears this name.”
      ERV
      But if you suffer because you are a “Christ-follower,” don’t be ashamed. You should praise God for that name.”
      OJB
      But if any one of you suffers as a ma’amin b’Moshiach (believer in Moshiach), let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify Hashem by this Name.”

      Reply
  16. Vondo

    Thank you very much for your article, which brings out some very good points and much of it does lineup with historical information as well as scripture, but let’s not be confused as to the difference between what Y’shua was teaching and what the Pharisees were teaching. Judaism is very different then what was practiced as the Way.
    Judaism added to the Torah, which Yeshua was very much against, but what the early church practiced as the Way was grounded and solely rooted in the teachings of Y’shua which is the truth of Torah without the addition of the talmud or the oral law as they called it back then.
    As always, please don’t believe what I am telling you, study it for yourself. There is a vast difference between the Way and Judaism.

    Shalom shalom on your journey to the truth!

    Reply
    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Vondo,
      I think it is very clear that Yeshua did not agree with all Pharisees. It is a fact that He specifically called them out when they equated the Oral Law to God’s Law, or even put it before God’s Law, thereby making God’s Law of no effect. But we cannot generalize that all Pharisees were like that and that what the Jews believed was in someway against Yeshua’s teachings. I believe the majority has always been misled. It was such at that time… and it is such even today. We must acknowledge that He did not come to make a new congregation or a new religion, but to rightly teach God’s Ways to all

      Be a blessing to everyone around you!

      Reply
      1. Shoshana

        Absolutely! Yeshua did not come to start a new religion or congregation. He came to redeemed Hi own, cleaning house in the process, and to show The Way to correctly follow Torah.

        Technically there were 7 kinds of Phareesees in addition to Saducees, and Essenes with different views on how to follow Torah. Yeshua showed all the right way to do so.

  17. Joseph Bening Nkansah

    Please i am a Ghanaian called Joseph Bening Nkansah. I have a question: what were the old testament believers called?

    Reply
    1. rameshdesilva Post author

      Dear Brother Joseph,
      I did not understand your question fully. Do you mean what were they called in the 1st Century AD?
      Be a blessing to everyone around you!

      Reply
    2. Shofar

      The Tanach or Hebrew scriptures renamed “old” was written by Hebrews for Hebrews. The prophets and patriarchs were all Jews.

      Reply

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