WHERE DOES THE WORD CHRISTIAN COMES FROM
The Christian name was given to the followers of Christ by the people of Antioch in Syria. Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: 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.” (Act 11:25-26)
The believers in Jerusalem had sent Saul to his home in Tarsus when his preaching threatened his life. Tarsus is about 85 miles northwest of Antioch as the Crow flies across the Gulf of Armenia. It’s about 120 miles by land, going around the gulf. Travelling on foot will take about four days. If Barnabas had a horse or a donkey or a cart, the time would have been reduced by a few hours. Barnabas was probably gone almost a fortnight ago.
Since Antioch’s ministry was so successful, Barnabas may have needed help. He knew that Saul was near Tarsus, so he went there to bring Saul back to Antioch with him. Saul had proved himself to be a powerful preacher, and Barnabas was fully aware of his abilities. With Saul’s help, Barnabas and the other preachers of Antioch reached a large crowd. The town of Antioch would have noticed that. But, as a cosmopolitan city that was tolerant of the multitude of Hellenistic Jews living there, they would have considered Christianity a sect of Jews and would have accepted them. At this particular time, we don’t know of any persecution of Christians, although the persecution eventually arose there. The church grew exponentially there.
In the 1,189 chapters of the Bible, the word “Christian” was used three times. We find this word in Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16. How much do you think you’ve heard “Christian” in your lifetime? Many of us have heard that word on a regular basis since we were little children. Others may have heard it used more often than not only after they became adults. In any case, the word “Christian” is widely used by people. What does that mean?
From the orthography of the word “Christian,” it would seem that it must have something to do with “Christ.” The word “Jesus,” which in the Greek language is similar to the Hebrew language word “Messiah” (John 1:41), means The Anointed One. The prophecy of Psalm 2:2 foretold that the rulers of the earth would rise up “…against the Lord, and against his anointed,” In the New Testament, we read on one occasion when the disciples of Jesus quoted that verse when they prayed, saying that the rulers of men were gathered together “…against the Lord, and against his Christ” (Acts 4:26).
How is it that the word “Christian” is connected to Christ, the One whom God the Father saved with the Holy Spirit and power? (Acts 10:38). The term “Christian” is obtained from the Greek word Χριστινόςthat literally means “a follower of Christ.” Let the meaning stick with you. Today, many people use the term “Christian” to refer to anyone who believes in the Deity of Jesus. That usage is not in line with Bible teaching. Hear me out. Yeah, every New Testament Christian claims that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God. He called his disciples “believers” – They are obedient believers, subjecting themselves to Christ’s instruction.. Still, we read in the Bible that those who in the first century believed in Him did not confess Him (John 12:42,43). Those who refuse to acknowledge the Jesus cannot be saved (Matthew 10:32,33; Romans 10:10). Christians believe in Jesus, imitate him and follow him.
In some cases, modern-day English language dictionaries are correct in defining biblical terms. In contrast, in other instances, these dictionaries provide interpretations of Bible words that are corrupted by human-made doctrines or practices and differ from the original usage in the Scriptures of those terms. Here’s how one 21st-century dictionary describes the word “Christian”: “a person professing belief in Jesus as the Christ, or in religion based on Jesus’ teachings” The Bible definition of “Christian” is more than accepting that Jesus was God in the flesh – it involves imitating and obeying Him. Remember: the meaning of the words of the New Testament is not decided by modern-day dictionaries or how those words are actually being used by the people of our time.
1 Peter 4:16 says, “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” In this regard, Peter speaks of “house of God: ” (4:17), “the righteous” (4:18), and “flock of God” (5:2). Both “the house of God” and “the flock of God” refer to the church that Jesus bought with His blood. (1 Timothy 3:15; Acts 20:28). We can see from these references in 1 Peter 4:16;5:2 that one who is a Christian is one who has obeyed the gospel and is, therefore, part of the church of God. Yes, the Lord has added the saved to His church (Acts 2:47). Such people are called therighteous.
What about one who refuses to follow the gospel? He was not rescued yet, meaning he’s lost. The Lord didn’t add him to His church. He is not even in God’s family. He is also not part of the group defined by the Bible as “Christians.” Some people are members of different denominations. None of them is the church we hear about in the Bible. Centred on biblical teaching, we cannot refer to anyone outside the blood-bought church of our Lord as “a Christian.” Jesus, whom Christians worship, is the Head of His Church (Ephesians 5:23). Let us not profane the noble word ‘Christian’ in respect to those who have not yet obeyed the gospel!
A few English words hold just as much baggage as the word ‘Christian’. It is, to be sure, a loaded mark, but what is odd is that Jesus never actually gave His followers a name. The early church has never called itself Christians. In the Bible, the most commonly used title was “saints.”
The Greek word for saints is hagios, meaning “consecrated to God, holy, sacred, godly.” It’s always used in the plural “saints. “This represents not only the entity but the relation with a community of individual set aside for the Kingdom of God.
Starting with Adam’s first task of naming the animals, it is important to create a new name or title in human history, and even today a name is rooted in a profound sense derived from interactions that help describe truth in the language we understand.
For the first time in Antioch, the early church was named “Christians” by the powers-that-be (Acts 11:26). It wasn’t a name the disciples of Jesus gave themselves — it was a name the community in Antioch gave them. But why a new name for the group of Christ-followers? Why were they not easily lumped in with all the other forms of Jewish religion, from the viewpoint of outsiders? A certain cultural background may be helpful. Antioch was called “the whole world in one location,” where you could see all the abundance and complexity of the world in one place. And their centre was the marketplace. Antioch was built like most of that day’s cities: a circular outside wall, a downtown marketplace, with the city’s interior walled in a way that separated various classes of people from each other.
The church came to Antioch and began to break down the hierarchical walls in a way that would disrupt the current divisions in society. People from all over the city, Jews and Gentiles alike gathered unexpectedly. This group of people had a revolutionary and groundbreaking way of redefining society, so much so that a new word was needed to categorize what was happening in the world.
What’s noteworthy here is that within Judaism, there were so many off-shooting branches that the Antiochians never tried to know or categorize differently. Yet they saw something different in Christians. The word “Christian” stems from the fact that something new and unheard of was happening around the world.
It is also believed that these powers that be had offered the word “Christian” somewhat flippantly a kind of derogatory wave of the hand to those “poor Christians.” Historically, the ending “-ian” means “belonging to the party of, ” so “Christians” means those of the party of Jesus.
According to Acts 11:26 the term “Christians” is used in the New Testament only two other times: in Acts 26:28 (by Agrippa, an unbelieving King who applied the name he knew as an outsider) and 1 Peter 4:16 (in the sense of being persecuted in a larger society under the label). In each comparison, the focus inherent in the original Greek is that Christians were regarded as a distinct group by people from outside the faith.
In Galatians 2:11-17, we can see how central to the definition of what it meant to be a follower of Christ was the diversity of Antioch’s situation.
Peter, who had lived side by side with Jews and Gentiles, broke the community’s unity in choosing to withdraw from the Gentiles in a kowtow to a group of conservative Jews who had come to the city. Peter was “afraid” of what that group would think or do (vs 12). It inspired other Jewish faithful to do the same, and step away from their non-Jewish friends. Peter has a record of trying to turn his heart to what he believed was real. This was a no different case. Paul confronts Peter on this and publicly admonishes him to set the record straight (vs 14), pointing out the hypocrisy in his conduct. It was unfair to call Peter out in public, but it was at stake for the Gentile Christians’ future. The Gentiles that Peter withdrew from received the message loud and clear that they were second-class in some way, clearly out of line with the gospel.
Faith brings peace where there is discord, where there’s bleeding, healing. The racial division Peter caused among the people indicated that after all, the church was no different from the rest of the world and gave other people a reason to ask, “So what?” to another belief system. Division along racial lines is wrong; it is an affront to the Evangelium itself and betrays its definitive distinguishing feature in the world.
In addition, Paul reaffirmed the integrity of the community, the centrality and sufficiency of Jesus, and the unique position of all called Christians in modern society.He has taken the world’s social divisions seriously — and so should we. Are we living up to that name? Look at our towns like Antioch? Do our Churches do that?
Are we defying categories in the world? Can we show the world a vision of a community where there is no division of social, economic, racial, or gender (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:10-11)? Or are we serving as divisional instigators?
Maybe this is why you hear some Christians turning from that name, giving rise to phrases like “I am a follower of Christ, not a Christian,” because they no longer like what it means to be Christian from the perspective of the world.
Ancient Antiochians may have given us the name because of the radical inclusiveness of early Christians, but today it is up to us to keep that reputation alive because the label “Christian” is always redefining based on the reputation that we get from it.
According to John 13:35, Jesus says the world gets a vote on how they’ll know we’re His: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”
And today, it is up to us to recover that distinction, once again defying the world’s perspective.