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This a fascinating question. Very much like asking, who was the first human, first scientist, first lawyer or first anything, when you think about it. Seriously.

The First Christians
The First Christians

For some endeavors or accomplishments, we can develop a precise answer. Thus we know that Yuri Gagarin was the “first person in space,” Neil Armstrong was the “first person to set foot on the moon,” and John Kennedy was the “first Roman Catholic to be elected President Of the United States.” All these feats and people existed in a time when their “firsts” could be recognized because it was well known that no one else had done the same thing previously.

But as we broaden the criteria from a particular accomplishment to a general category or system of thought, determining who is “first” gets a bit more edgy.

Oddly enough, scientists and Christians have something to share, here, and I may be the the “first” to have published it -and guess what, YOU folks may be the first to read about it. You may express your appreciation by a landslide of upvotes and pizza delivery.

WHO was the first scientist? And I mean “scientist” by that name. I’m not talking about ancient smart guys who were possessed of what we call a “scientific” mind or way of doing things. I’m talking about people who are identified by the word, “scientist.”

To answer that question, we must know when the very word itself was first created. Who first uttered “scientist” as an actual word? We actually know who that is: Englishman William Whewell, who was an Anglican priest, a polymath, theologian and writer. A very bright guy, he lived during the years that interest in science was beginning to grip the pubic mind (late 18th and early 19th century).

During those years, he wrote a review of a popular book about science, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences. The book itself covered all the different kinds of “science” there was at the time, and what they shared in common. And in Bill’s review of the book, he suggested –AS A JOKE– that all the practitioners be lumped together under the single word, “scientist.” The joke was this: back in Bill’s day, the scientific thinkers were all broadly classified under the category of “natural philosophy.” That was awkward. So Bill, recognizing that all those who produced different kinds of art were called artists, suggested that all those who do different kinds of science be called scientists. Bill wrote his review anonymously, so escaped any notice for coining the term.

But the term actually gained some traction, and in 1840 Bill finally published the idea as a serious suggestion. It caught on.

And that brings us to the early Christians (believe it, or not). The early followers of Jesus were known as Jews, because that is what most of them actually were. They thought of themselves in that way. They believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of a Messiah who would come to establish God’s kingdom on earth. But mainstream Jews weren’t having it. In their opinion, while Jesus was a great teacher, he was NOT the Messiah. And so, those Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah became a small sect within the Jewish tradition. The question was, “what do we (the “regular” Jews) call this band of misguided idiots who are engaged in the worst possibly heresy to the point of blasphemy?

The answer: “Christians,” meaning the idiots who believe that Jesus is the Christ. It was a term of derision and disrespect. But the small band of believers said, “Fine with us, then we will BE Christians. So nyah, nyah nyah.”

There probably is no “first one,” since all the believers became Christians “instantly” by the label which came into common use. The very same thing that happened with all the natural philosophers of William Whewell’s day, who became “scientists” when the term was commonly applied to them.

The take-away, here, is that Christianity, by that name, is NOT something that was founded by Jesus. Jesus didn’t care what you called it, he was more interested in getting people to love God and love each other; and he held out a promise of salvation and a place in heaven. But he wasn’t passing out ID cards with “Christian” stamped on them. Likewise, there was no one in particular who preached a gospel of science and named all the believers as scientists. Someone came up with a name long after the philosophers were doing science -and the name stuck.

Some Biblical scholars believe the first Christians were the 11 Apostles (students of Jesus) who professed belief in him as the Son of God upon meeting him after his Resurrection. There were also other followers who came to believe at that same time, including Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the 500 present at the Ascension.

John Geare Author:
John Geare is the Managing Partner at The Great Scale Model Train Show in Charlottesville, Virginia Area. John have worked in various careers over the years, including wholesale distribution, broadcasting, education, insurance, information systems, the skilled trades, web site development, editing, typesetting, business systems development, e-commerce, trade show operation and retail trade, among others. Connect to John via his email at jsgeare@gsmts.com.

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