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The Name Christians
The first recorded use of the term Christians is found in the New Testament, in Acts 11:26, after Barnabas brought Saul (Paul) to Antioch where they taught the disciples for about a year. The verse says: “[…] the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” The first syllable of the word Christian is from the Greek Christos, “Christ,” while the ending is basically Latin.
The name Christian is mentioned only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). This name was not given by the Christians nor by the Jews to identify themselves but rather by the heathens. During the reign of the Roman emperor Julian, which was called the Apostate (363-363 AD), the population often used nicknames to characterize certain groups of people.
When the new Gentile converts joined the church at Antioch, none of the old names was proper for the whole cosmopolitan group. They were no longer all Nazarenes or Galileans or Greek Jews, and to the people in Antioch they appeared as a new group who did not acknowledge the emperor of Rome. Therefore, the hybrid word “Christians,” would appear to apply for them.
Christian tradition attributes the origin of the name to Euodius, the first bishop of Antioch. Ignatius, the person that succeeded Euodius as leader of the church in that region, used it regularly.
A Title of Honor
Though this name was first given in ridicule (Acts 11:26), it became a symbol of honor and a name proudly carried by the early believers (Act 26:28). At a later time, what had been at first a shame became a name in which to glory. The apostle Peter declared, “If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed” (1 Peter 4:16). In spite of the disrespect that was shown to Christians, they realized that to be honored by the Almighty was of greater value than to be honored by the people of this world. The Savior Himself also was treated unfairly for upholding the truth.
The earliest occurrences of the term in non-Christian literature include Josephus, referring to “the tribe of Christians, so named from him;” Pliny the Younger in correspondence with Trajan; and Tacitus, writing near the end of the 1st century. In the Annals, he relates that “by vulgar appellation [they were] commonly called Christians” and identifies Christians as Nero’s scapegoats for the Great Fire of Rome.
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