The Disciples Were Called Christians First In Antioch (Acts 11:26)
But Was It Their Idea?
Probably not, even though it seems an appropriate title derived from the word “Christ” which appears hundreds of times in the New Testament and is the Hellenised title of the Messiah who they followed. The word “Christian” is comparatively rare, appearing only three times (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16) and is therefore unlikely to have been their usual name.
They were sometimes referred to as “The Way”, although this was also not their preferred name, but more likely a term of abuse given to them by others, for example in Acts 24:14.
But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets.
It is possible that the term “Christian” was also given to them as a term of abuse, although they gladly adopted it for themselves because they were happy to accept suffering and abuse in the name of Yeshua (Jesus).
The two most popular names that they normally called themselves were “Disciples” and “Saints”.
The word “Disciple” (mathetos in Greek) means one who is trained or taught, and appears 31 times in the book of Acts, starting with Acts 1:15.
And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples…
The Hebrew equivalent is “talmid”, which means a student who follows a Rabbi.
The word “Saint” (hagios in Greek) means set apart or separated, and appears 62 times in the New Testament, most commonly in the letters of Paul. The Hebrew equivalent is “kadosh” which has the same meaning. The word “Saint” has subsequently been distorted to mean a state of holiness which very few can attain, but in New Testament times it was a regular title for those who believed in Yeshua.
The origin of the term “Christian” is given in Acts 11:25-26 as follows:
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the term “Christian” is that it gradually came to mean “Not Jewish”. The very early Disciples would not have suspected that this was going to happen, because in Hebrew, or in the Hebraised Greek that they normally spoke at that time, it would have sounded more like “Messianic”, as in the Jewish New Testament translated by David Stern:
Also it was in Antioch that the talmidim for the first time were called “Messianic”.
Words can be dangerous, as this one is for the Jewish believers in Yeshua today. If they call themselves “Christians”, or if they even confess that they believe in Yeshua, they are considered to be no longer Jewish and are deprived of the right to immigrate to Israel. If they call themselves “Messianic” instead of “Christian” they are accused of misrepresentation, in spite of the fact that “Christian” is merely a Hellenised version of “Messianic”, just as “Kristos” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Moshiach”.