RSS

We were Called Christians First in Antioch!

11 Mar

This graffiti can be found on a plaster wall in Palatine, Rome. It reads: "Alexamenos worships [his] god"

This graffiti can be found on a plaster wall near the Palatine Hill in Rome. It reads: “Alexamenos worships [his] god”

Did you ever wonder how we got our name Christian? I have several nicknames and I know how I received each one. Some of the reasons are quite funny, while others are a bit embarrassing. Some were used for a short period of time, and others I am known by to this day. Nevertheless, all of them are mine, and I know the reason why and by whom I had been called by each name that was used to identify me. So, since we had begun to be known as followers of the Way or Nazarenes, how is it we finally became known as Christian? Who gave us this name and why, and can we know?

To be honest, the Scriptures do not say why we are called Christian or who began referring to us by this name, but it does tell us we became known as Christians first in Antioch. I think this gives us clues for the why and also the who that are involved in how we have become known. First of all, we need to understand that it was probably meant to be a derogatory remark. The early Christian graffiti shown above seems to imply this is so. In fact, the Scriptures never show that we ever described ourselves as Christian in the early decades of the Jesus movement. We didn’t begin doing so until sometime in the 2nd century CE. There are only three references in the New Testament that describes us in this manner. Two are in Acts and the third is in the first epistle of Peter. Notice:

Acts 11:26 KJV  And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

Acts 26:28 KJV  Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

1 Peter 4:16 KJV  Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

Acts 11 shows that non-Christians referred to us by the name Christian, while Acts 26 has King Agrippa referring to the Jewish sect as Christian. Again, it was other people or non-Christians referring to us by this name. Finally, Peter says, “if any of you suffer persecution as a Christian…” In other words, other people were identifying us by this name and in a quite negative manner. Therefore, is seems that Scriptures are clear that the term Christian, which identifies the followers of Christ, was at first derogatory and used by non-Christians to identify the followers of Jesus. If this is so, the reference to our being called Christian first in Antioch (Acts 11:26) implies the term was used by non-Christians and in an unflattering manner.

Secondly, we see that, if we were referred to by the name Christian first in Antioch, it was a term that was quickly picked up by others, even important people like King Agrippa who fancied himself a worshiper of the true God in Judaism. In other words, the term was not simply neighborhood slang, used to identify the followers of Jesus. It was used by the important people in Antioch. Otherwise, how could we have ever come to be known by this name in Caesarea and, in fact, all over the Roman Empire? People who used it were important people who travelled often and referred to us by this name wherever they went.

Notice the timeline of this reference to the followers of Jesus. It comes to us in chapter 11 of Acts. The chapter begins with Peter having to explain why he entered a Gentile’s home and ate with him. This was Cornelius, the first Gentile baptized as a follower of Jesus who was not compelled to be circumcised by those in Judea. This was big news, and notice that Cornelius’ band was stationed at Caesarea just south of Ptolemias where Petronius, the Roman governor of Syria waited for his reply from Caligula, who had ordered him to set up his image in the Temple at Jerusalem. Rome and Jerusalem were at the brink of war, and “…the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26)!

Remember that the term Christ-ian comes is the Graecized manner of referring to Messianics, or followers of the Messiah. This had reference to the Jewish claim that a King would rise who would free them from the bonds of their enemies. Antioch was the capital city of the eastern frontier province of Syria. Today, American secret service agents keep a watchful eye on those they consider might harm our country. Don’t you think the Roman government at Syria had been keeping a watchful eye upon this Jewish sect who preached about a new Kingdom of God, whose Lord and King was the Messiah, Jesus?

The Jews and Rome were at the brink of war, and only a few years before this Jesus, the founder of this sect of the Jews, had been executed (as far as Rome was concerned) as a political agitator. However, the Roman government’s continued investigative activity had reckoned this particular Jewish sect as politically innocuous, due to its idea that the Kingdom of God was spiritually defined and were opposed to using external force against any government. On the contrary, they preached to “render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” and that included taxes. Therefore, although it was a Messianic movement within Judaism, it was not a threat to Caesar.

In order to differentiate this body of believers (who also had recently been accumulating a considerable number of gentile followers) from other Jewish sects, the Roman officials were probably the first to begin referring to the followers of Jesus as Christ-ian. Remembering that the believers in Antioch spoke Greek and any reference to Jesus as the Messiah would be used in its Greek form, Christ. The suffix “ian” is actually Latin, implying that it was the Roman officials who first took the Greek, Christ, and added a Latin ending to the term and began referring to the followers of Christ as Christian!

Advertisements
 
8 Comments

Posted by on March 11, 2011 in Acts of the Apostles, Chronology

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

8 responses to “We were Called Christians First in Antioch!

  1. ComeSeeAG

    October 14, 2014 at 11:52

    Ed,
    Please speak to the thought of the disciples being called Christians being instructed by God based upon the use of the word chrematizo, which has both meaning to speak as a divine oracle and to receive a title or be called. I have always heard that this was used as a derogatory term as well, how are we arriving at this conclusion?

    Thanks for your input.

     
    • Eddie

      October 16, 2014 at 18:10

      Greetings A.G. and thanks for reading by blog and for taking the time to leave a few thoughts of your own.

      The Greek word chrematizo (G5537) is used about 8 times in the New Testament (Matthew 2:12; Luke 2:26; Acts 10:22; 11:26; Romans 7:3; and Hebrews 8:5; 11:7; 12:25). Although it is often used for God speaking to someone, it doesn’t always have that kind of use. Thayer says it was used to transact business, especially public affairs. He also says it is used “to give a response to those consulting an oracle, to give a divine command or admonition, to teach from heaven.” Finally, he says it was used of one taking a name for himself from his business.

      I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit influenced those giving us this name, but it was not the name we chose. It was a name given us by unbelievers, and by implication of what we can see in history, it was not intended to be complimentary. Notice the ancient graffiti used to refer to Jesus. It has a human body with the head of a donkey. The term, it seems (as I said in my blog-post), was first used by Romans. While the word is Greek the ending (ian) is Roman. The time for the Acts 11 reference occurs about the time Caligula intended to place an image of himself in the Temple at Jerusalem. The Romans in Antioch would have wanted to know the intent of the believers at Antioch–would they make trouble for Rome if a war erupted between Rome and the Jews? At this time we were considered a part of Judaism, both by Rome and by the Jewish authorities. So, our intentions had to be defined. The fact that the authorities didn’t refer to us by our chosen name (Followers of the Way) implies they thought our beliefs were a bit odd–our Messiah and Leader was a criminal whom Rome executed. One could imagine the smirk on the faces of the unbelieving authorities as they referred to us as Christian. There is absolutely nothing that could be pointed to that would lead us to believe the term was **not** meant derogatorily.

       
  2. Eric

    March 21, 2014 at 10:00

    I was under the impression that the slang term also meant “little Christs.” Have you seen any reference to this?

     
    • Eddie

      March 21, 2014 at 10:14

      Hi Eric, and thanks for reading. Although the idea of ‘little Christs’ coming out of the word Christian, to express the believer’s desire to imitate Christ is a reasonable thought, there is no support for that idea surrounding the giving of the name in the Bible. It implies a derogatory title for those who followed an executed criminal.

       
  3. Jennifer

    October 12, 2011 at 18:06

    Yes this is an interesting study. I am a Jew ,a messianic Jew. If you study the Jewish Roots of the ( Christian )Faith .I believe your eyes will be opened. I was raised Orthodox Jewish. I came to Faith when I read in The Tanach Jer. 31:31 That G-d gave the Ha B”rit Ha Dashha ( The New Testament to the Jewish people . Hmmmmmmmm Then I read when Rabbi Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) sent out the 12 Jewish disciples, Mat. 10:5 he told them Only go to Jews ! Not Gentiles Hmmmmmmm
    Mat.15 Rabbi Meshiah Yeshua told a woman that the Father in Heaven Only sent Me to the Jewish people . Hmmmmmmmmmmm sounds pretty Jewish. The Gentiles were not saved until years after the Jews started the (Church) Assembly in Jerusalem. Acts 10 was the 1st Gentile saved,,,a Roman. The book of Jacob in the N.T. ,,note: wrongly named (james) by gentiles in Rome , was written to the Jewish people . The book of Hebrews was written to the Jewish people. After we die we will live in a Jewish city The New Jerusalem. The Saviour is a Jewish Rabbi. Only two men in the history of the world ever walked on water ,,,,Two Jews,,, The wisest man in the world was Solomon a Jew,,,the strongest man in the world who ever lived Samson ,,,a Jew . Hmmmmmmmmm
    Sounds pretty Jewish. I became a believer …………. John 1:49 I am retired as well and loveing it. G-d loves the Jew and Gentile both need a Jewish Rabbi to get to heaven ,He’s the only way !
    Baruch HaBa B’Shem Adoni Baruch B’Shem Yeshua
    Jennifer

     
    • Ed Bromfield

      October 13, 2011 at 17:19

      Greetings Jennifer, and welcome to my blog. I don’t often get Jewish people commenting, but it has occurred, and I always feel especially honored when this occurs.

      Yes this is an interesting study. I am a Jew ,a messianic Jew. If you study the Jewish Roots of the ( Christian )Faith .I believe your eyes will be opened. I was raised Orthodox Jewish. I came to Faith when I read in The Tanach Jer. 31:31 That G-d gave the Ha B”rit Ha Dashha ( The New Testament to the Jewish people . Hmmmmmmmm Then I read when Rabbi Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) sent out the 12 Jewish disciples, Mat. 10:5 he told them Only go to Jews ! Not Gentiles Hmmmmmmm

      Congratulations, you are truly in the minority. Most orthodox Jews still reject Jesus as their Savior. I praise God for your coming to the faith.

      What are your thoughts on Luke 9:51-52 or John 4:1-43 or Matthew 28:19-20?

      Mat.15 Rabbi Meshiah Yeshua told a woman that the Father in Heaven Only sent Me to the Jewish people . Hmmmmmmmmmmm sounds pretty Jewish. The Gentiles were not saved until years after the Jews started the (Church) Assembly in Jerusalem. Acts 10 was the 1st Gentile saved,,,a Roman. The book of Jacob in the N.T. ,,note: wrongly named (james) by gentiles in Rome , was written to the Jewish people . The book of Hebrews was written to the Jewish people. After we die we will live in a Jewish city The New Jerusalem. The Saviour is a Jewish Rabbi. Only two men in the history of the world ever walked on water ,,,,Two Jews,,, The wisest man in the world was Solomon a Jew,,,the strongest man in the world who ever lived Samson ,,,a Jew . Hmmmmmmmmm

      What are your thoughts on Galatians 3:28 or Colossians 3:11?

      Sounds pretty Jewish. I became a believer …………. John 1:49 I am retired as well and loveing it. G-d loves the Jew and Gentile both need a Jewish Rabbi to get to heaven ,He’s the only way !

      Baruch HaBa B’Shem Adoni Baruch B’Shem Yeshua

      Jennifer

      By Jewish Rabbi, do you mean Jesus? If so, we agree.

       
  4. Paul

    May 16, 2011 at 15:32

    Fantastic thanks for the insight.. I believe the first folks born of water and spirit (John 3:5) were known as “people of the name” (Acts 15:14) as they were baptised in his “Jesus” name, first at Jerusalem Acts 2 and then later the gentiles Acts 10 etc.

    Many thanks for this insight.
    The Lord bless you.

     
    • Ed Bromfield

      October 13, 2011 at 17:26

      Sorry Paul, I must have approved your comment, but never really got around to thanking your for your kind words. This occurs from time to time because I’ve been interrupted. I always feel badly when I should have responded and never did. Thank you for your encouragement, and may the Lord bless you too! :-)

      Eddie

       

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: