Before I begin this writing please allow me to preface it with this qualifying statement: I do not suppose I’ll cover every aspect on the subject of “religion” vs “Christianity” to satisfy everyone who may read this as we all come from different backgrounds of life, and theological teaching whether that be in a formal seminary setting or, as it was with the early church, simply a life’s study of the Word (in their case the Old Covenant).
Either way I trust that this study will stimulate thought. My intention is to motivate those who are “Christian” in word only….and not “deed”……or worse, “lifestyle”, for God says, “…..be Holy even as I am Holy” (Lev. 11:45). I once heard from an old preacher, “What you give time to, you give power to.” I believe he was right.
I have heard several preachers/teachers use James 1:26-27 but never bothered to describe what the original intent of the writer was meant to convey in the Greek within the culture of the day. As a result we have many in Christendom today that at most interchange the words “religion” and “Christianity” without any understanding of the words, or at the very least are confused by those who do not interpret the Greek properly for people to understand.
I’ll make an effort to change that.
James 1:26-27 (KJV) says, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
The word “religion” appears only five times in all scripture, and the word “religious” appears only twice (KJV)…..all in the New Covenant (Acts, Galatians, and James). In fact in Acts 13:43 (Gr. 4576) and 26:5 and Gal. 1:13-14 (Gr. 2454) refer to the religious Jews of Jesus’ day and of the same group in the days of the early church.
Briefly let us look at “religion” in the Greek. The Strong’s Concordance number is 2356 when used in the book of James 1:26-27 and Acts 26:5. The Greek words translated “religion” in Gal. 1:13-14 uses 2454.
First let us examine Strong’s #2454 as used by Paul in Gal. 1:13-14.
– Transliteration: Ioudaismos
– Phonetic: ee-oo-dah-is-mos
1. the Jewish faith and worship [doesn’t sound like Christianity here, uh?],
religion of the Jews, Judaism
– Strong’s: From 2450; Judaism that is the Jewish faith and usages: – Jews’ religion.
As one can readily see, this is referring to the “religion” of the Jews. Keep in mind here that Paul is speaking to those who are coming into bondage again by coming under Jewish religion legalism. We’ll see these terms again during Part III of this study.
Let us now examine Strong’s #2356 as used in Acts 26:5, and James 1:26-27.
“Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify , that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5 KJV).
Again we see Paul is referring to the religion of the Jews (and in broader sense the “religion” of any who would take on the outward/inward aspects of methodology of the Jews of that day….which we’ll discus in Part III).
– Transliteration: Threskeia
– Phonetic: thrace-ki’ –ah
1. religious worship
a. esp. external, that which consists of ceremonies [did you notice “external”? Now, note the following:]
– Strong’s: From a derivative of 2357; ceremonial observance: – religion worshipping.
As we now revisit James 1:26-27 we can better understand what the apostle was attempting to say within the culture of the day.
“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Here, by definition, James is saying (in this instance) that “…man’s external’s, apart from faith, is vain.”; and that “Pure [Gr: 2513, cleansed by pruning] external’s by faith and ……” (please see Gal. 2:16).
So, “religion” as we know it, and use the term today, is NOT the implication given to us by Paul in Acts 26, and Gal. 1, and by James above. One must remember the audience James was directing his letter to: the “twelve tribes”….the Jews of the day.
In Part III we will further examine the word “religion” and it’s three parts: re-lig-ion,
and it’s relationship within the Jewish society of the day, Paul’s writing to the Galatians, and other places of scripture including the idea of the word “religion” as per Old Covenant vs New Covenant.