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Bible Gemz 1586 - Antioch - where the believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-30)

February 18, 2019


Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen's death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. 

However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. 

The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord. 

When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 

When he arrived and saw this evidence of God's blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. 

Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord. 

Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. 

When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.) 

During this time some prophets traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch. 

One of them named Agabus stood up in one of the meetings and predicted by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. (This was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius.) 

So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could. 

This they did, entrusting their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem. (Acts 11:19-30)



Notice the enigmatic little statement - (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.) Notice that it is bracketed, like an afterthought. "Oh by the way, it was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians." There are many words around to describe Christians. Some are positive . . . some are negative . . . some are darn right derogatory . . . some are deserved . . . some are appropriate . . . some are revealing and some are exactly the term to use. Notice the journey we have been on in terms of who we are as Christians. We are indeed believers but there is a whole lot more to that term than meets the eye. We are disciples or we ought to be – a disciple is simply a learner. One who is in the process of being schooled. That’s you. You became part of God’s training camp the moment you agreed to follow Christ. You are a follower, a follower of Christ. Take up your cross and follow me He said. Oh if only you knew what that meant when you signed up. Well you should have known because the warning is all over the Bible. You should also have known because at the moment you accepted Christ as Lord you ought to have been told the significance of being a follower of Christ. Unfortunately the way it is put in some circles is: "Come to Jesus and all your problems will be gone." No hang on a moment. I think it’s more a case of "come unto Me and take My yoke upon you and learn of Me.” Come to Me and things will get harder before they get better. That is the reality of coming to Jesus. Jesus said the world will hate you, spitefully use you, spit upon you and seek to do you harm, simply because you name the name of Jesus as Lord. Look what happened to the early Christians. Persecuted, thrown to the lions, burned at the stake. 


Do you think that has changed? Life is better now and no one practices such barbarism. Think again. There is more persecution of Christians today than ever there has been. Now they are shot, crucified on the walls of their churches or burned within the church if they refuse to deny Christ. Mass murdered in their beds as those who oppose to their stand for Christ seek to do them ill. No sorry, there is no such thing as "come to gentle Jesus, meek and mild and all your troubles will be gone". That is not what a Christian is. The reason the early Christians were persecuted by the Romans and killed was not because they worshipped Christ. They could do that anytime they liked as long as they first worshipped Caesar. Caesar first then you could add whatever religion you wanted to add. The ancient world was very syncretistic. Add any faith and mix it all up together. Make sure you have covered all the bases with any belief that might be out there. Who knows you might miss one. No the reason the early Christians were killed in shocking ways and persecuted was because they refused to worship any other than Christ. The claim of Christianity is exclusive: 

Jesus said "I am the way the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” John 14:6   


"There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

Many times through the Gemz I have picked this concept apart and explained it. Just why Jesus can be called the only Saviour of the World. I don’t intend to do that again on this occasion but I do want to look at the significance of this bracketed statement here in Acts 11:26. 


These believers who are now called Christian for the first time. Exactly what does that mean? It is puzzling (enigmatic) if we really look at it. 

There are a number of aspects to this statement. Hang on to your hat. If you don’t have one, go and buy one. 


These believers were first called Christians in Antioch. 


χρηματίσαι  τε   πρώτον ἐν ᾿Αντιοχείᾳ τοὺς μαθητὰς Χριστιανούς

Were called         the        first          in         Antioch         the         disciples        Christian


(ABP)   [were treated first in Antioch the disciples as Christians]. 

(AMP)   and in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. 

(ASV)   the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. 

(BBE)   the disciples were first given the name of Christians in Antioch. 

(CEV)   There in Antioch the Lord's followers were first called Christians. 

(ERV)   It was in Antioch that the followers of the Lord Jesus were called "Christ-followers" for the first time. 

(ESV) And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. 

(GNB)   It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians. 

(GW)  The disciples were called Christians for the first time in the city of Antioch. 

(ISV)  It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. 

(KJV)  And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

(LITV)  And the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. 

(MSG)  It was in Antioch that the disciples were for the first time called Christians. 

(NASB)  and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. 

(NLT)  (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.) 

(TLV)  Now it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christianoi.” 

(WEBA)  The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. 

(YLT)   the disciples also were divinely called first in Antioch Christians.


I have clipped for you a number of translations to illustrate what is happening and what is important here. 


The first thing to notice for today is that only the APB and the NLT bracket this verse, all other translations have no brackets, including the Greek New Testament. Should this verse be bracketed as an after thought? Should it be considered as an editor's note inferring that it is not in the main line of the text but perhaps could be relegated to a footnote at the bottom of the page? No I don’t think so. 


The second thing to note in today’s Gemz is that the verb in all translations is passive. The believers, disciples, learners, followers of Jesus, the Lord’s followers, were called Christians first in Antioch.  

These disciples didn't call themselves Christians. Others called them Christians. The first word in the Greek part of the sentence above is from the root [chrematizo] which means to bear a name, to be called something. It could be a title, it could be a descriptive term by which someone is called in order to explain who they are. But the important fact to note here is that the disciples didn't come up with the name themselves, they were called it by others. Others gave them the name not they themselves. 


Which of course leads to another question: who were the people who named the disciples or believers Christian? It was not likely to be Jewish leaders who named them Christian because they despised the name Christ because they considered Him a pretend Messiah. It was not likely to have Jewish origins at all. No it is most likely that those who first called the believers “Christian" were the Gentiles of Antioch. 


Take some time to ponder on these things before we move on. 



Mystery is another name for our ignorance: if we were omniscient all would be perfectly plain.


The invisible thing called a good name is made up of the breath of numbers that speak well of you. Emiliano Zapata


In many cultures names are meant to describe us, our character, our habits, our nature and what we are likely to become. 


It’s not what you call yourself that’s a measure of your success. It's what others see in you. Ian 


If your past keeps calling ... Don't Answer … It has nothing NEW to say! Arthavina



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