Why Can’t Some Believers “bear that name” of CHRISTIAN?

When we look into the history of the term Christian we see within the term itself an abundance of significant Bible doctrine. It is a descriptive term of a New Testament believer as old as the scriptures. Yet, today it is misunderstood.

The Greek word for “Christian” is “christianos.”1 The first part, “christos,” means “anointed one” and was understood by the Jews to refer to the Messiah.2 The second part of the word, “-ianos,” is a very important descriptive suffix widely used throughout the Roman empire. This suffix was originally used of slaves belonging to the great households. This suffix “-ianos” had began to be used to denote the adherents of an individual or a group.3 It is seen in names of groups such as the “Caesarians”, the “Herodians,” “Pompeianians.”4 “Christian” then denotes, “the nature and mission of the followers of Christ, the divine-human prophet, priest, and king.” says church historian Philip Schaff and author of the eight volumes “History of the Christian Church”5

The original use of the term “Christian” is recorded in Acts 11:26, by Luke, the historian and author of the book of Acts. It occurs in the city of Antioch which according to the ancient historian Eusebius (b.260 AD), was Luke’s hometown.6 The account of the first use of the name “Christian” is surrounded by evidence of the motive for its origin. No portion of scripture explicitly says or implicitly leads us to believe it was originally a term of ridicule and derision. The teaching that the term “Christian” was first used as a negative label is seen in commentators over the last century, or so, but when one actually studies it is clear that their statements have always been prefaced with phrases like “all probability,” “likely,”7 “evidently,”8 or, “probably.”9 In other words, when a person says, “the term Christian was first used as an insult” they are saying definitively what the scholars say is not absolute but possible.

Acts 11:25-26 says, “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” The title “Christian” in this context is a result of the teaching Saul (Paul) brought to Antioch. Paul’s teaching ultimately receives the burden for responsibility for the name “Christian.” The term “were called” literally means “to transact business.” As in “ to transact business under a particular name” and be known by that name.10 The believers saw themselves in Christ and the world saw them acting for Him. It was realized they were more than followers of the Way, a sect (Ac.24:14) of believers still under a form of Jewish law and identified with Judiasm. (Ac.9:2).

Paul taught:
1) The Jewish age had passed and they were no longer under the Jewish law. They were a community of Jews & Gentiles in Christ. (Eph.2: 14;3:8-9) A new name was in order!
2) The responsibility of a disciple was to follow Christ (“Christian”) and His example of fulfilling God’s will for His life in time. Christ suffered before the resurrection leaving us an example (1Pt.2:21). We are members of his kingdom but the cross always comes before the crown (Ph. 3:10; Col.1:24; Mt.4:8; 16:24;19:24) which is not here, yet.
3) They proclaimed Christ to an unsaved city. (2 Cor.5:18-21) If the pagan’s did name them “Christians” they would have done so only after the Christians had realized it first and made it known.

Pagans would not originally have used “the anointed ones”11 (from the Jewish term for Messiah) to refer to a group of Jews and Gentiles without someone explaining it to them first. “Christian” requires explanation by those who heard Paul. The result “a great number” of Antioch-ians became Christ-ians. Emperor Julian ordered believers to be called “Galileans”, not the glorious name “Christian.”12 We need to correctly identify Christ to know ourselves. Clement (180 AD) said: “When they receive a true description of what a Christian is, hopefully the philosophers will condemn their own stupidity.”13

Bibliography: 1– Greek interlinear Text, 21st Edition of Novum Testament 2– Strong Expanded Dictionary, p. 1458 3– International Standard Encyclopedia, p. 621 4– The IVP Bible Background, p.354 5– History of the Christian Church, Schaff, vol. 1, p. 279. 6– The Church History of Eusebius, p. 136. 7– Tyndale NT Comm., Acts, Marshall, p. 203 8– Vincent’s Word Studies of the NT, vol. 1, p. 507 9– NIV Comm. On the NT, 1 Peter, by Davids, p. 169. 10-NIV Comm. On the NT. Acts. By Bruce, p. 228. 11– Theophilus to Autolycus,” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 2, p. 92. 12–NT for Eng Readers, Alford, p. 729 13– Dict. Of Early Christian Beliefs, p. 141.