The word "Christian" is first used in Acts 11:26.

and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught a significant number of people. Now it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.

This obviously comes from the word "Christ", Χριστός, Christós, (meaning "anointed") which is a transliteration of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ). I have often heard it repeated that Christian means to be "Christ-like," but I am wondering if that is gramatically, syntactically and etymologically accurate. In Greek, does "Christian" actually mean Christ-like or something else? Is "Christ-like" a modern theological concept, or is it actually rooted in the grammar and syntax?

(N.b. It is only used again in the NT in Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16.)


2 Answers 2


The Greek word Χριστιανός, transliterated into English as Christianós, is derived from the Greek word Χριστός, transliterated into English as Christós, an adjective meaning “anointed,” which is often used in the Greek New Testament as a substantive meaning “anointed one.”

If Χριστός means “anointed (one),” what does Χριστιανός mean? The answer lies in the suffix -ανός which is actually the Greacized transliteration and equivalent of the Latin suffix -anus.

In Studies in Jewish and Christian History: Part Three, Elias Joseph Bickerman wrote,1

All these Greek terms, formed with the Latin suffix -ianus, exactly as the Latin words of the same derivation, express the idea that the men or things referred to, belong to the person to whose name the suffix is added. In Greek as in Latin the suffix -ianus is a substitute for the possessive genitive... The term Καισαριανοί corresponds to the ellipse Καίσαρος (Caesaris servus [“a slave of Caesar”]) in other documents. The “Christians” belong to Christ, they are οί τοῦ χριστοῦ [“those of Christ”] as Paul says.

For example, according to Lewis and Short, the Latin word Augustanus means “Of or belonging to an emperor.” Likewise, Christianus, the Latin equivalent of the Greek word Χριστιανός, means “Of or belonging to Christ.”

Christians are “those of Christ” (οἱ τοῦ Χριστοῦ) (i.e., “Christ’s);2 they belong to Christ, as his possessions, because Christians are “slaves of Jesus Christ” (δοῦλοι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ).3 Of course, this is why Jesus Christ is known as our “lord,” or Greek κύριος, literally “master” (as in slave-master). Therefore, the words Christianus and Χριστιανός imply slavery. For this reason, these words were applied to Christians by non-Christians as a derogatory epithet, for the condition of servitude (slavery) was ignominious. However, believers in Christ cherished the epithet because it was a honor to be slaves of Christ, unlike other masters.


Bickerman, Elias Joseph. Studies in Jewish and Christian History: Part Three. Leiden: Brill, 1986.4


1 p. 147
2 Gal. 5:24
3 Phil. 1:1
4 For original publication, see: Bickerman, Elias Joseph. “The Name of Christians.” Harvard Theological Review, 42.2: 1949 (109-124).


I agree with the above answer and to quote " In Greek as in Latin the suffix -ianus is a substitute for the possessive genitive.." But as the author goes on to explain that because 'ianus' is of the possessive genitive, he extrapolates it means we are His slaves and He is our Master. This is often spoken of and has a true ring to it - but may I also offer this view: Jesus said in John 15:15, "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you."
Yes, He is our Lord and Master and we are to yield to Him in our lives. But ALSO He has elevated us beyond that and into His lineage and family. So, still of the possessive genitive, but I believe this is a better 'belonging' that we are his sons and daughters!

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