The Disciples Were First Called Christians

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Acts 11:26 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the congregation[1] and taught quite a crowd;[2] and in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

The Latinized Greek term Christianos (Christian) appears only in Acts 11:26; 26:28, and 1 Pet. 4:16 in the Greek New Testament, which was a designation by the Gentiles for those who followed Jesus Christ, to make a distinction between them and the Jews, as they were not Grecian Jews. Of course, the Jews used the Greek term Χριστος [Christos, Messiah] because they believed in the coming of the Messiah, so they would have never referred to the followers of Jesus as Christianos. The Jews referred to the followers of Jesus as the Galileans or Nazarenes. Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) reads, “The disciples also were divinely called first in Antioch Christians.” This suggests that God had something to do with their being called Christianos (Christian). However, when we look at over fifty other translations, we find “first called” not “divinely called.” Why do we find such a difference? The Greek verb chrematisai in this text is generally rendered simply as “were called.”

Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) was published in 1862. When we look at older literature, we can see how YLT came to their rendering, “The disciples also were divinely called first in Antioch Christians.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, in its Greek dictionary (1890, p. 78), defines chrematisai as “to utter an oracle . . . i.e. divinely intimate.” Edward Robinson’s Greek and English Lexicon (1885, p. 786) says it means, “Spoken in respect to a divine response, oracle, declaration, to give response, to speak as an oracle, to warn from God.” Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (1889, p. 671): “to give a divine command or admonition, to teach from heaven … to be divinely commanded, admonished, instructed … to be the mouthpiece of divine revelations, to promulge the commands of God.” Thomas Scott in his Explanatory Notes on this text (1832, Vol. III, p. 419) says: “The word implies that this was done by divine revelation: for it has generally this signification in the New Testament, and is rendered ‘warned from God’ or ‘warned of God,’ even when there is no word for GOD in the Greek.” Concerning Acts 11:26, Clarke’s Commentary says: “The word [chrematisai] in our common text, which we translate were called, signifies in the New Testament, to appoint, warn, or nominate, by Divine direction. In this sense, the word is used, Matt. ii. 12 . . . If, therefore, the name was given by Divine appointment, it is most likely that Saul and Barnabas were directed to give it; and that, therefore, the name Christian is from God.”

A lexicon is simply a dictionary that alphabetically lists words and their meanings, e.g. of an ancient language, i.e., Hebrew-English or Greek-English. When the BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature), contains Greek words, it give us all of the meanings as to the words use at that time (early Christianity). Looking at our English word “hand,” it has over 20 different meanings, depending on the context. “Hand” can mean what we have at the end of our arm, a pointer on a clock, the cards dealt to a player in a card game (a losing hand) and a round of applause (a big hand for our next contestant). It can also mean power (your future is in your own hands), a member of the crew of a vessel (Attention, all hands!), as well as about another twenty meanings. The word “hand” standing alone has no meaning, as it lacks context. Yes, we would have to assume the primary meaning if we lacked context, namely, what we have at the end of our arm, the human hand.

The same holds true with the Greek verb chrematisai in our Greek-English Lexicon BDAG (p. 1090, 3rd edition). It contains two means (1) impart a divine message, make known a divine injunction/warning (Active Heb. 12:25; Passive Matt 2:22) and (2)  to take/bear a name/title (as so and so), to go under the name of, act., but freq. rendered as pass. in Engl. tr.: be called/named, be identified as … (Rom 7:3; Ac 11:26) The question is, what is our context?

Excursion: John B. Polhill

In all three instances [Christianos] is a term used by outsiders to designate Christians. Evidently the term was not originally used by Christians of themselves. They preferred terms like “believers, disciples, brothers.” The first extensive usage by a Christian writer to designate fellow believers was by Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, around the turn of the second century. The term (Christianoi) consists of the Greek word for Christ/Messiah (Christos) with the Latin ending ianus, meaning belonging to, identified by. Examples of similar formations are Herodianoi, partisans of Herod, and Augustianoi, the zealotic followers of Nero.[3] The term was often used by Roman writers to designate followers of Christ.[4] The early usage in Antioch is perhaps indicative of two things. For one, it is the sort of term Gentiles would have used and perhaps reflects the success of Antioch’s Gentile mission. Gentiles were dubbing their fellow Gentiles who became followers of Christ “Christians.” Second, it reflects that Christianity was beginning to have an identity of its own and no longer was viewed as a totally Jewish entity. Again, the success among Gentiles would have hastened this process in Antioch. (Polhill 2001, 274)

The Christians actually referred to themselves as disciples (a learner, a pupil, Acts 6:1), believers (Ac 2:44), brothers (Ac 10:23), holy ones (Ac 9:13), and the Way (Ac 9:2). They also referred to themselves as the chosen ones (Col 3:12), slaves to God and slaves of Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:22; Phil 1:1) the church of God and those who call upon the Lord. (Ac 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:22. These designations carried with them doctrinal meaning and were used within the Christian congregations. Those outside of Christianity mainly referred to them as the Way (Ac 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4), and enemies of the church called them the sect of the Nazarenes or simply as this sect. (Ac 24:5; 28:22) The name Christianos was used as early as 44 C.E., just eleven years after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. We see it again around 58 C.E., in the city of Caesarea, being used by King Herod Agrippa II himself, who said to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”—Ac 26:28.

Paul said of the Corinthian Christian congregation,[5] “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” (2 Cor. 11:2) All Christians should have an intense or strong desire to do everything within their power to assist fellow Christians to remain exclusive in their faith to God and obedient to Christ. Paul was comparing the spiritual brothers to a virgin (pure and clean) to Christ, as his potential bride. Paul was jealously protecting them so that they may remain pure for Christ. Paul demonstrated his zeal for them by way of his many lengthy letters to them and other first century Christians and congregations. Paul also said to the Ephesian Christians, “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body.” (Eph. 5:23) The only wife that Jesus Christ has is his relationship with the Christian congregation. Christ is the head of the church, which obligates him to care for its members with the decisions that he makes for them.

Galatians 3:26-28 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are of Christ, then you are of Abraham’s seed,[6] heirs according to promise.

Colossians 3:11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

11 where there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

 

 

 

As to being “one in Christ Jesus,” Max Anders writes, “Having explained the vertical change that grace brought, now Paul shows its horizontal effect when he states you are all one in Christ. In Christ, human distinctions lose their significance. Regardless of race, profession, or gender, all who come to Christ must come the same way—through faith and repentance. As a result, with all distinctions erased, all believers are united in Christ. This does not mean that all distinctions are erased on the human level. A slave was still a slave in the eyes of Rome, but not in the eyes of God.”[7]

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[1] Gr ekklesia (“assembly;” “congregation, i.e., of Christians”)

[2] The words “a great many people” of (ESV) is not in the Greek text but are implied.

[3] Most commentators are in agreement that the term was first applied to Christians by outsiders. For an opposing view, which sees it as first used by Christians as a self-designation, see H. B. Mattingly, “The Origin of the Name Christiani,” JTS 9 (1958): 26–37; E. J. Bickerman, “The Name of Christians,” HTR 42 (1949): 109–24; C. Spicq, “Ce que signifie le titre de Chretien,” ST 15 (1961): 68–78.

[4] Cf. Josephus, Antiquities 18.64; Tacitus, Annals 15.44; Pliny, Epistles 10.96–97; Lucian, Alexander 25.38.

[5] In the Greek New Testament, the Greek word ecclesia is rendered as “congregation” throughout this publication. In almost all Bibles, it is rendered “church,” but its actual meaning is “congregation.” This does not mean that we will not use the more common term of “church.” Ecclesia is generally used in a collective sense (1 Cor. 12:28), and at other times it refers to a specific group in some city or home.―Acts 8:1; Romans 8:5

[6] I.e., descendants or offspring

[7] (Anders, Holman New Testament Commentary: vol. 8, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians 1999, 40)

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