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Bible Gemz 1587 - What does the term "Christian" mean and how was it used by those in Antioch? (Acts 11:26)

February 18, 2019


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.) (Acts 11:26)


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


(ASV)   the disciples were called Christians first 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. 

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


I am still using a number of translations to illustrate what is happening between the translations. 


The hint that comes through in the text before us is that the disciples (if we go with the literal meaning of the word used [μαθητὰς - mathetas] were first called Christians at Antioch as a result of the teaching Barnabas and Saul gave them. Clearly these two moved all over the city during the year they were there teaching the Antiochans all about Christ and what it meant to become His disciples or followers. To the point where these disciples become known as Christians, Christ-followers or Christianoi. Notice also how the emphasis in the translations keeps switching. What is it that is in focus? What is it that is being given the focus of happening first. It could be > Antioch < or it could be > Christian <. Notice the word order and placement of Antioch. Literally its being called first in Antioch . . . The place Antioch has been brought forward and placed after the [πρώτον – proton] and therefore by placing it directly after the word “first” the inference is that what is in focus is that it happened first in Antioch. Or because Greek uses the first and last positions in the sentence to give something prominence, then the significance of what happened first is given to > Christian < because it is last in the sentence.  


Notice also the word used to describe the disciples (the literal choice) varies as well. Some translations have different words in the subject slot.  disciples / the Lord’s followers / followers of the Lord Jesus / believers. These are choices the translators make in the process of translation. Why, because the word clearly used in the sentence is [μαθητὰς – mathetas] meaning disciples. But these other variations are used too. Why is that? Simply because through the early chapters of the book of Acts Luke switches the description for Jesus band of men with different words - hence the variation here.


Of further significance is the significance of this word Christian. There is difference of opinion among the commentators as to why the word Christian is used and by whom (as we looked at in the last Gemz). The options are:

1) Christian is used as an adjective similar to the pattern of Herodianus (followers of Herod) or Caesarianus (followers of Caesar). The use of Christianous here is similar to a Latin adjective even though it is in the Greek language.

2) Christian is being used as a title related to name Christ. There is difference of opinion here among the experts.

3) that the use of Christian is meant to be a term of ridicule, evidence of the wit of the people of Antioch and their notoriety for inventing names of derision

4) the Antiochans mistook the name Christ, meant to mirror the Hebrew Messiah, as being a personal name of the man they followed and they turned it into a party name. 

5) Christ is being used as denoting one who is a follower of Christ. The significance seen is that these followers of Christ are different. The more the Antiochans understanding the teaching the more they recognise these ones are different and "move to the beat of a different drum”.  

6) the teaching about Christ became so widespread over the course of the year that people associated the disciples with the teaching – so it was the distinction of being a learner in Christ that was in focus.


However you see it, the term Christian has become synonymous with one who follows the teaching of Christ. To the point where the degree or authenticity of your following is used to test the quality of who you are. If you are not following closely and doing everything the world see as being Christian then you are labelled as a hypocrite. Hypocrite is also a Greek word which was used for the theatre and the role of play acting a part.  


You make up your own mind as to how the Antiochans were using this term. I will tell you in the next Gemz what I think. 



Jesus Christ – a proper name, right? Wrong, Christos is the Greek translation for Messiah. The Anointed One. It is not His family name. It is who He is The Long Awaited Messiah. 


What has God called you to do? Don't wait until you're successful... Start now by saying you are what you want to become. Bob Gass 


Often we call upon God to ease our pain without wanting Him to change our character. A R Bernard


A vision is not just a picture of what could be, it's a call within to become something more! Rick Godwin


It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.  W.C. Fields





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