What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
– Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
People have been wondering where we got the name, The Way. The term is not new by any stretch. In fact, it is perhaps the earliest name by which the body of Christ was ever referred to. The term “denomination” we often use simply means to be set apart by a name. So in essence, there can never be a true non-denomination unless no name is used at all. But so many names affiliated with Westernized Christianity all carry so much baggage with them and we felt we needed to avoid the baggage. Part of our goal has been to get back to basics in many aspects; back to a simpler time.
On the night Jesus was betrayed, he met with his disciples to discuss the future, to encourage them, and to pray with them. In the book of John, chapter 14 we can read part of His message to them. During this conversation, he makes the following declaration:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
(John 14:6 ESV)
The wording spawned an idea. A direction to walk. A way that was different from the Jewish one the listeners had been most familiar with. It seems the followers of Jesus began to identify themselves as “followers of the Way” which identified them with this metaphor of Jesus himself and also identified them with this new direction to walk in. This movement actually made enough waves that the Romans began to identify “The Way” (Ortha in Aramaic) as just another sect of Judaism. To them it was a new Jewish party like the Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes. Prior to the conversion of the Gentiles in Acts 10, the followers of “The Way” would not even have a problem being identified as a Jewish sect. They were, after all, Jews following the way of a Jewish Messiah.
When Saul (who would later become Paul) was persecuting this movement, he was on his way to Damascus to seek approval for the arrest of members of “The Way”. Luke describes this in Acts 9:
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 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.
(Acts 9:1-2 ESV)
Notice the translators of the ESV chose to use a capital “W” in the word “Way”, implying it to be a proper noun. This comes from the historical implications that the group was being identified as those in “The Way”. The original Greek is ambiguous since the manuscripts use all capital letters. The NET, the NKJV, and others also choose to use this as a proper noun as well. The NET translators actually talk a little about it in their translation notes:
The expression “the way” in ancient religious literature refers at times to “the whole way of life from a moral and spiritual viewpoint” (BDAG 692 s. v. ὁδός 3. c), and it has been so used of Christianity and its teachings in the book of Acts.
Later in the book of Acts, the term is used again to express how the movement was actually garnering a lot of attention during that time. When the now apostle Paul was teaching in Ephesus it began to cause a stir over the course of about 2 years. The trouble started in the Jewish community.
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.
(Acts 19:9 ESV)
Again, many translators choose to capitalize the word because it is most likely an identifying term used for the movement. The KJV, uses the term “that way” instead. There is no article (the or that) in the original Greek. So the greater context of the movement being referred to as the Way is chosen by modern scholars.
After taking his teachings to the Gentiles, the local artisans were concerned because their work to build idols was being threatened by these teachings concerning this Way:
About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen
(Acts 19:23-24 ESV)
Once Paul was arrested, he was actually allowed to speak to his Hebrew captors and included this:
I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished
(Acts 22:4-5 ESV)
But then gives a slightly more definitive use of the term in his defense before Felix in Acts 24. In reference to his Jewish accusers he tells Felix:
Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 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
(Acts 24:13-14 ESV)
The word sect is the ancient Greek word heresis. This word is where we get the word heresy. In fact, the KJV uses the word heresy, which has evolved in English to mean a “false teaching”, but that was not the original Greek meaning. It means, a separation, a sect, or a party. At the end of Paul’s defense, Felix is said to have more knowledge about this sect:
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.”
(Acts 24:22 ESV)
These are just some examples of how the scriptures use this term, “the Way” to reference the followers of Jesus (The Way, Truth, and Life). The scriptures also teach, these followers were first called “Christians” at Antioch (Acts 11:26). However, the title did not necessarily stick at that time. Many believe the term was used in a derogatory manner at that time (much the way “Jesus Freak” would’ve been in the 1970s). The first account we have of a follower actually referring to himself as a Christian was Ignatius of Antioch in 100 AD.
Simply put, The Way is a metaphor that Jesus himself claimed for himself. We are simply choosing to identify ourselves like His early followers did, both by the one we follow and the direction He leads us in. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life… and no one comes to the Father except through Him. May He receive all glory and praise.