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Religion & Spirituality
New Testament

Why are Christians called Christians?


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October 01, 2014 6:10AM

According the Acts of the Apostles the followers of Jesus were first called Christians in the Roman Syrian provincial capital of Antioch. This statement is given in a context that places the first use of this name a few years after Jesus' death in Jerusalem. This name was probably given to the followers of Jesus by others, but accepted by them; they probably were called Nazarenes by their opponents in Judea. At first, the followers of Jesus called themselves, "followers of the Way" (Acts 9:2), meaning the way of Jesus.

The New Testament refers to gospel converts as "Christians" three times, and certainly the name is appropriate.

The name follows the Latin form Christ + the suffix ianus, in the sense of those who belong to Christ, like those who were devoted to Herod's cause were called Herodiani. It was probably first meant in a derogatory sense of those who had an obsessive devotion to Christ, with it being enthusiastically accepted in this sense by Jesus' followers.

Interestingly, it appears that the first two mentions were deliberately derogatory (Acts 11:26 and Acts 26:28), and the third mention is by the apostle Peter (1 Peter 4:16), urging the disciples not to be ashamed if they "suffer as a Christian;" more evidence that the name originally had a negative connotation.

Answer by Robert Hendrix

Since the Redeemer was born to Semitic parents, he would not have been given by them a Greek name ('Jesus' from the Greek Iesus or Iesous) but a Semitic name. Since the language of the Redeemer, his parents, and his disciples was Aramaic (a Semitic language), he was given an Aramaic/Hebrew name. That name sounded out is 'Yahushua.' We say 'Joshua.' The title he was given in his day was not from a Greek word (christos) but an Aramaic word, Mashiakh (Anointed One). We say 'Messiah.' His followers were not called 'Nazarenes' but Netzarim, "followers of the Way" (Acts 24:5, 12-14), referring to the word netzer in Isaiah 11:1-3, "... and a netzer (sprout) shall grow out of his sheresh (roots)." A place Messiah affirms this himself is John 15:5, "I am the Vine... ".

Acts 11:26, "... from that time the apostles in Antiochi were first called Kristyane." This indeed was a derogatory term, coined by gentiles (pagans) in the city of Antioch. Kristyane was a Greek term for 'Messianics,' and was never 'enthusiastically accepted' by those who called one another, rather, Netzari.

The term netzer is also the root word for the City of the Branch, Netzeret (Nazareth). John 18:5, "They said to him, 'Yah'shua, the Nasraya (Nazarean).' Yah'shua said to them, 'I am he.' " This designation serves as a reminder to his followers, not that he dwelled in Netzeret but that his 'dwelling' (the 'Spirit' of Mashiyakh) is within his people (the branches of John 15:5, Romans 11:16).