Origin of the Name “Christian”

Shabbat Moments With the Rebbe

A Service of the Biblical Research Institute’s
International Messianic Community of Faith (IMCF)
Copyright © BRI 1984, 2012 All Rights Reserved Worldwide

[1] The earliest disciples of Our Lord Yeshua were simply called “Christians” by the pagan world around them. This same appellation may well have been expressed by Jews as “Messianists.” Certainly, among the pagans it was intended to be a derogatory designation that was not in any way meant to be friendly, but an outright jest or epithet. It appears to have been coined around the year 44 CE. How often is this term “Christian” located in the Messianic Scriptures?

[2] Were the earliest disciples of Yeshua known by another name, other than “Christian”?

[3] What names were the first followers of Yeshua known by as explicated in the apostolic writings?

[4] Did the primitive disciples see themselves cast in a different light? Did they take to themselves a more fitting identification?

[5] Is there an authentic alternative rendering to the common text in Acts 11.26 as normally utilised by the Christian church?

[1] It appears three times.

“And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch [in Syria]” (Acts 11.26).

“Then [King] Agrippa said to Shaul, Almost you persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26.28).

On the third textual occasion we would do well to consider carefully what the Ruach HaKodesh inspired Peter to pen. “If you be reproached for the name of Mashiach [Christos in Greek, meaning ‘Christian’ – a term of reproach] joyful are you for [BECAUSE] the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you! On their part he is evil spoken of: but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer [in gaol] as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed – but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Pet 4.14-16).

“Many denominational commentaries give the source of the name (Christian) as originating with the unbelievers or heathens in Antioch” (Conybeare and Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, 100). The name “Christian” was “coined by the pagan slang” of “the citizens of Antioch” (James Moffatt, A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, I, 316). The name “Christian” was first given to the worshippers of Jesus by the Gentiles” (Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 672). “Christian” is “the name given to the disciples by pagan gentiles at Antioch” (G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 484).

The statement made by Peter in 1 Pet 4.14-16 is an indication that the Ruach HaKodesh considered the designation “Christian” to have been the HIGHEST AWARD human beings can be afforded during their sojourn upon Earth. It appears this is no longer the case because of the ill-repute Christians have brought upon this name historically for two millennia.

[2] The followers of Yeshua were also known as “Nazarenes.”

“For we [opponents of Paul] have found this man to be a pestilent fellow, seditious, stirring up treason among all the Jews throughout the Diaspora, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24.5).

In Acts 28.22 the Nazarenes are simply referred to as “this sect” — a recognition that at this late date in Shaul’s life the Jewish religious leaders continued to recognise that the Messianic Jews were a legitimate movement within the Judaisms of the late Second Temple Period.

[3] They were known variously as “the believers in the Lord,” “disciples,” “brethren” (Acts 5.14; 15.10; 6.3), “slaves to God” (Rom 6.22), “slaves of Mashiach Yeshua” (Phil 1.1), “chosen [elect] ones” (Col 3.12), “faithful ones” (1 Tim 4.12), “holy ones” (Acts 9.13), and “Community of God” (Acts 20.28) among others.

[4] The Messianic Jewish and Gentile believers called themselves “The Way.” Remember, that Luke is writing Acts and it is his designation for the Messianic disciples.

“And Shaul yet breathing out threatenings and slaughterings against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues that if he found any of The Way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9.1,2).

“This man [Apollos] was instructed in The Way of the Lord; and being fervent in the Spirit, he spoke and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of [the Essene] John” (Acts 18.25).

“He [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Prisca had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him The Way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18.26).

“Many were hardened and believed not but spoke evil of The Way before the multitude…” (Acts 19.9).

“At that same time there arose no small stir about The Way” (Acts 19.23).

“I persecuted This Way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (Acts22.4).

“But this I [Shaul] confess unto you, that after The Way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things that are written in the Torah and in the Prophets” (Acts 24.14).

We must not forget that the Essenes of Qumran called themselves by the exact same name — “The Way” and “The Way of Righteousness.” Most of the original converts to the Messianic Party of Yeshua came from among the Essene sectarians.

[5] As it now appears Acts 11.26 usually reads: “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch [in Syria]”
(Acts 11.26).

However, based on the meaning of the Greek chrematizo, which always means a “divine call” in sacred Scripture (Jer 25.30; 26.2; LXX 32.30; 37.2; Mt 2.12,22; Lk 2.26; Acts 10.22; 11.26; Rom 7.3; Heb 8.5; 11.7; 12.25) Young translates the text more accurately as “the disciples also were divinely called first in Antioch Christians” (Young’s Literal Translation).

There are now a total of 107 Teaching Examinations available on the private BRI/IMCF International Internet Yeshiva Discussion Board for those who are actual financially-supporting members of the IMCF. BRI Teaching Examinations are a form of ongoing biblical education provided by Messianic Jewish Rebbe, Dr Les Aron Gosling.