"Bible Christians"

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Thu Feb 23 06:05:44 UTC 2006

Proquest turns up over a thousand hits for "Bible Christian" going back to
the early 19th century. Of course, not all of them are real hits (lots of
"...read the Bible. Christians will...") and many are not used in exactly
the same sense as we would use "evangelical Christian" today. Here are the
earliest ones.

>From a funeral oration by Thomas T. Biddulph, printed in "The Christian
Observer," Feb. 1803, Vol. 2, Iss. 2, p. 105. (The speaker is British and
the funeral evidently in England, the publication from Boston.): "Our friend
was a practical, a Bible Christian. The whole circle of religious, social,
and domestic obligations had a due share of his regard."

>From "Authentic Memoirs of the Conversion of a Negro," in _The Evangelical
Intelligencer_, Dec. 1807, Vol. 1, Iss. 6, p. 255: "Reader, this Negro was
_a christian_; a Bible christian. He had not indeed the outward _form_ of
godliness, but he had the _power. [the "_" mark emphasis in the original;
"christian" is not capitalized.]

>From "London Paragraphs" in _The Atheneum; or, Spirit of the English
Magazines_, 15 Sep 1817, Vol. 1, Iss. 12 (from an obituary, evidently
originally printed in England): "Attached to no sect, his creed was the
Bible only, and his followers are designated 'Bible Christians.'"

The author of a letter titled "Locusts and Wild Honey" signed his or her
name as "A Bible Christian," in The National Recorder, 1 July 1820, Vol. 4,
Iss. 1, p. iii.

An article called "Common Sense Bible Christian, No. 4," in _Christian
Philanthropist_, 28 Jan 1823. The term doesn't appear in the article itself,
which is an argument that the doctrine of the trinity is false and
unsupported by Old Testament. (Evidently there was an earlier article about
the lack of evidence for the trinity in the New Testament.)

--Dave Wilton
  dave at wilton.net

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Geoffrey Nunberg
Sent: Tuesday, February 21, 2006 3:46 PM
Subject: "Bible Christians"

In an editorial in the Chicago Sun Times that appeared to on
12/31/04, Andrew Greely wrote:

"Patently I use the word "Christian" in an extended sense and not in
the sense of the Bible Christians for whom most of the rest of us who
follow Jesus of Nazareth are not really Christians, especially

I assume that Greely is using "Bible Christians" to mean
Evangelicals, Pentacostals, Charismatics, and the like. Does this use
of the term tend to be associated with Catholics nowadays, or is it
more general? (I note that there was a 1988 book called "Catholicism
and Fundamentalism - The Attack on 'Romanism' by 'Bible Christians,'"
which put the phrase in quotes.) Is it related to the early use of
the term for a Methodist denomination?

Also -- I know this is harder to answer -- does anyone have a sense
of how far back the modern, restricted sense of "Christian" that
Greely is alluding to goes? I mean the sense that the word seems to
have in  a phrase like "Christian singles," where the reference is
presumably to those who have accepted Jesus Christ and been born

Geoff Nunberg

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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