How and when was the word "Christian" first used? The term 'Christian' was used to describe a follwer of Christ in terms of the world, from the world’s point of view. The pagans at Antioch called the apostles "Christians" first (Acts 11:26; 26:28) and used it derogatorily because the apostles didn’t follow the commercial world of the pagans. "Christian" is an adjective, not a noun. The substance is not in the word "Christian", the substance is in the heart of the man it is attempting to describe, and which the pagan user cannot see.
Christ never called himself a Christian, Christ never called his followers Christians. The apostles never called each other Christians. Christ never used an adjective to describe himself. So how are we to identify ourselves then? The disciples called each other, "brethren", "disciples", "apostles", "servants", "believers", "followers", "the faithful", "the elect", "the called", and "saints." We can also identify ourselves as "bondservants" of Christ.
The servants of Christ belong to the kingdom of God. If you do not belong to a certain kingdom, you are labeled or named by that kingdom to be of another kingdom. For example, people in the continent (kingdom) of North America call those from the continent (kingdom) of South America, South Americans; from Asia, Asians; from Africa, Africans; from Europe, Europeans. But South Americans don’t call themselves South Americans, Asians don’t call themselves Asians. Africans don’t call themselves Africans, and Europeans don’t call themselves Europeans. Do North Americans call themselves North Americans? When you introduce yourself to somebody, do you say, "Hi! I’m a North American!" No, you don’t, because those from the same kingdom no not place labels on themselves or others. If you are a constituent of a Kingdom, you do not name one in the same Kingdom any thing; but you call them according to the relation between the two of you (brother, sister, mother, father, workman, labourer, minister, bishop, deacon, etc). And who establishes the relation? The Lawgiver (Isaiah 33:22, James 4:12).
The term "Christian" was imposed upon the servants of Christ by Christ’s enemies living outside the Kingdom of God, to label those living in the Kingdom of God. Servants of Christ should not call themselves Christians, since this would imply that we are not from the Kingdom of God. Just like someone in Asia would not call themselves ‘Asians’, those living in Christ should not call themselves ‘Christians,’ because it would give the impression to others that you are from a different kingdom.
1 John 4:5, "They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world…"
As scripture says, those who are of the world speak of the world, and use the words of the world. By using the words of the world, or by using the words of another kingdom, you identify yourself as being of that kingdom. And, since the word "Christian" is a term of the world, it might be best to use the words of God to describe us.
"Christian: A follower of the religion of Christ [Note carefully that Christ never started a religion - John 7:16]. It is probable that the name Christian, like that of Nazarenes and Galileans, was given to the disciples of our Lord in reproach or contempt. What confirms this opinion is, that the people of Antioch in Syria, Acts 11:26, where they were first called Christians observed by Zosimus, Procopius, and Zonaras, to have been remarkable for their scurrilous jesting. Some have indeed thought that this name was given by the disciples to themselves; others, that it was imposed on them by divine authority; in either of which cases we should have met with it in the subsequent history of the Acts, and in the Apostolic Epistles, all of which were written some years after; whereas it is found but in two more places in the New Testament, Acts 26:28, where a Jew is the speaker, and in 1 Peter 4:16, where reference appears to be made to the name as imposed on them by their enemies. The word used, Acts 11:26, signifies simply to be called or named, and when Doddridge and a few others take to imply a divine appointment, they disregard the usus loquendi [established acceptation of the term] which gives no support to that opinion. The words Tacitus, when speaking of the Christians persecuted by Nero, are remarkable, ‘vulgus Christianos appellabat,’ ‘the vulgar call them Christians.’ Epiphanius says, that they were called Jesseans, either from Jesse, the father of David, or, which is much more probable, from the name of Jesus, whose disciples they were. They were denominated Christians, A. D. 42 or 43; and though the name was first given reproachfully, they gloried in it, as expressing their adherence to Christ, and they soon generally accepted it." Richard Watson, Watson’s Bible Dictionary (1832), p. 233.
"Cristianos, Christian: a word formally not after the Greek but after the Roman manner, denoting attachment to or adherents to Christ. Only occurs as used by others of them, not by Christians of themselves. Tacitus (A.D. 96) says (Annals 15, 44), ‘The vulgar call them Christians. The author or origin of this denomination, Christus, had, in the reign of Tiberius been executed by the procurator, Pontius Pilate.’" Ethelbert William Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance of the English and Greek New Testament (1908), p. 152.
"This name (Christian) occurs but three times in the New Testament, and is never used by Christians of themselves, only as spoken by or coming from those without the church. The general names by which the early Christians called themselves were ‘brethren,’ ‘disciples,’ ‘believers,’ and ‘saints.’ The presumption is that the name ‘Christian’ was originated by the heathen." Thomas W. Doane, Bible Myths (1882), page 567, note 3.
"The name (Christian) given by the Greeks or Romans, probably in reproach, to the followers of Jesus. It was first used at Antioch." Easton’s Bible Dictionary.
"Egypt, which you commanded to me, my dearest Servianus, I have found to be wholly fickle and inconsistent, and continually wafted about every breath of fame. The worshippers of Serapis (here) are called Christians, and those who are devoted to the god Serapis (I find), call themselves Bishops of Christ." The Emperor Adrian to Servianus, written A.D. 134.
If you go to Zodhiates Word Studies, he tells you that when they were called Christians at Antioch, using the word ‘crematezo,’ it was a "divine warning." In other words, be forewarned, avoid this word and the use of it. And that’s what the apostles did. You will never read any of these New Testament writers using the term ‘christian’ to describe themselves.
What about 1 Peter 4:16?
1 Peter 4:16, "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf."
First of all, keep in mind this is the one and only place in the entire scripture this word is used by any man of God. Secondly, Peter did not label the followers of Christ a "Christian" in the passage. Read it again, very carefully. He said they were to be "as a Christian." This is very important. The word as means "like or similar to," but it does not mean one is that word. For example:
When someone is "as" something else, it does not mean one is that something. It means we are similar, in some way, to that name, but we are not literally that name. You see, the heathens are the ones who called the followers of Christ "Christians" (Acts 11:26; 26:28). When Peter was referring to the title "Christian, " it is in the context of suffering, and is in reference to the name as imposed upon them by their enemies, because our enemies want us to suffer.
- Genesis 49:9, "...he couched as a lion," does not mean Judah was a lion when he couched!
- Exodus 15:5, "...they sank into the bottom as a stone," does not mean they were a stone when they sank.
- Matthew 17:20, "...If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed," does not mean faith is a mustard seed.
- Matthew 23:37, "...gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens," does not mean God's children were chickens.
- Ephesians 5:25, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ," does not mean husbands are Christ when they love their wives.
- 1 Peter 4:16, "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian," does not mean man is a Christian when they suffer.
What about Isaiah 62:2?
Isaiah 62:2, "...and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name."
Does not the word "Christian" fulfil this verse?
If you read this verse in context, and read two verses further, you will actually see what this "new name" is that God will call them.
Isaiah 62:4, "Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah..."
Hephzibah means "pleasure." This is the "new name" referred to in verse 2. This is the context. It is not referring to the name "Christian." In scripture, a name refers to ones "character."
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