Acts 11:26 - It was in Antioch that the disciples were first given the name of “Christians”.

Disciples and Christians are both accusative masculine plural. If the disciples are the subject of the sentence wouldn't it be a different case? Were the disciples called "Christians" or were they called "disciple Christians"?

  • Welcome to BHSX. Many thanks for this very good and provocative question.
    – user25930
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 21:05

5 Answers 5


When the subject of the infinitive is not the same as the main verb, it is accusative. When there are two accusative nouns, the subject is usually the first noun. See the quote from Porter’s grammar below:

  1. Subject of the Infinitive

The subject of an infinitive is usually the same as the subject of the main verb if there is no further specification. See, for example, Mt. 2.2: ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ (we have come to worship him). In instances where the subject of an infinitive is different from the subject of the main verb, the subject of the infinitive is normally specified using an item in the accusative case. See, for example, Jn 6.10: ποιήσατε τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἀναπεσεῖν (make the men sit down). This is often called an accusative of respect, though it must be realized that it serves the function of the subject of the infinitive construction.

Determining the subject of an infinitive when two elements are found in the accusative case—and each stands as a plausible subject of the infinitive construction—can clearly present a problem. But recent research indicates that in infinitive constructions in the NT where two items are found in the accusative, in the overwhelming majority of instances the subject precedes the object. 1 Cor. 7.10–11: γυναῖκα ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς μὴ χωρισθῆναι—ἐὰν δὲ καὶ χωρισθῇ, μενέτω ἄγαμος ἢ τῷ ἀνδρὶ καταλλαγήτω—καὶ ἄνδρα γυναῖκα μὴ ἀφιέναι (a woman is not to be separated from [her] husband—but if she might be separated, let her remain unmarried or let her be reconciled to the husband—and a husband is not to send away a wife); 2 Cor. 2.13: μὴ εὑρεῖν με Τίτον τὸν ἀδελφόν μου (I did not find Titus my brother).

The few instances where the rule is not followed can be explained. In a few of these the subject is an interrogative pronoun (Mt. 16.13, 15; Mk 8.27, 29; Lk. 9.18, 20; Acts 2.12; 13.25; 17.20). More importantly, in a couple of instances it is clear that the author has altered the word order for the sake of emphasis (see Chapter 20 on word order and clause structure). For example, Jn 1.48: πρὸ τοῦ σε Φίλιππον φωνῆσαι (before Philip called you), where σε is displaced to the front because of emphasis placed upon Jesus’ knowledge of Nathaniel, who has just asked Jesus, ‘How do you know me?’ This rule helps to establish the understanding of several potentially ambiguous clauses, such as Phil. 1.7: διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμᾶς (because I have you in my heart). Although several commentators opt for the Philippians having Paul in their heart, Paul is probably the subject, as reflected in the translation above.3

Porter, S. E. (1999). Idioms of the Greek New Testament (pp. 202–203). Sheffield: JSOT.


This is an excellent question!! Acts 11:26 cannot be divorced from the previous several verses of which it is a conclusion. The previous verses can be summarized as:

  • v19: The disciples spoke the Word (ie, taught about Jesus)
  • v20: The disciples proclaimed the Lord Jesus
  • v21: The disciples had the "hand of the Lord" with them and many turned to the Lord
  • v22: This situation became well-known so that representatives from Jerusalem were sent to investigate the disciples' work of preaching and proclaiming Jesus
  • v23: The investigators were impressed and encourage them to continue in the grace of God and remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion
  • v24: The disciple Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and a great many people were brought to the Lord
  • v25: The Disciples were so busy teaching and proclaiming Jesus that they sent for Paul to help
  • v26: After Paul arrived, they taught for a whole year and met with large crowds proclaiming Christ

Is it any wonder that the disciples were called "Christians"?

Here is my translation of Acts 11:26b, "and to call first in Antioch the disciples, 'Christians' ". Both "disciples" and "Christians" are accusative with the implied subject of the verb "to call" being "people generally". In good English this must be rendered as most versions do, something like, "In Antioch, the disciples were first called Christians." That is just to accommodate the strictures of both languages to make the sense clear.

The force of this remark cannot be missed. The Greek word, "Christianos" is, strictly speaking, noun made out of an adjective meaning, "one who is like Christ". In view of the verse Acts 11:19-26 it is not surprising that the disciples were labeled "Christians" as they spoke like Christ, proclaimed Christ, preached Christ, acted like Christ and called others to follow Christ.

Their other name, disciples, in the Greek is "mathetes" - students/pupils of Christ as well. That is, they were fulfilling Christ's instruction of Matt 28:19 - go and make disciples - students of Christ that will then go and make more students of Christ.

Lastly, notice that it was not the disciples who took the title of "Christian" on themselves - it was the populace generally who gave them this high title after observing them. (Would that this were more commonly the case!!)

NOTE: The last phrase cannot be "disciples Christians" or "students Christians" as this would make "disciples" an adjective and not a noun. When both are accusative nouns, we have the sense that most English versions correctly give.

Acts 11:26 is part of a large body of teaching in the NT about what is generally known as "The Imitation of Christ". Here is a sample:

  • Made like God. Gen 1:26, 27, 9:6, Eph 4:20-24, 1 John 3:2. Note that this means that one of the purposes of salvation is to restore the likeness of God in humans that sin has erased.
  • Walk as Jesus walked. 1 John 2:6.
  • Jesus was led by the Spirit Matt 4:1. The Christian must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5) by receiving the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38) and walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:25, John 6:63, Phil 3:3, John 4:24). In fact the whole life of Christian is to put aside the “psychical” mind and live by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14, 1 Cor 15:44-46, Gal 5:17, Jude 19, John 6:63, 1 Peter 3:18).
  • Love as Jesus loved. John 13:34, 35, 15:12, 1 John 4:8, 11, 19, Eph 5:1, 2.
  • Lay down life for friends. John 15:13, Eph 5:2.
  • Jesus’ suffering leaves us an example. John 16:33, 2 Tim 1:4, Heb 13:12, 13, 1 Peter 2:21.
  • Because Jesus was persecuted, so are His followers. John 15:20, 21.
  • Conformed to the likeness of the Son. Rom 8:29.
  • Transforming our will and bodies to conform to God’s will. Rom 12:1, 2.
  • Jesus was baptised (Matt 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21, 22) and so should we be baptised, Matt 28:19, Acts 2:38, 10:48, 16:31, 22:16, Rom 6:1-9, etc.
  • Forgive as Jesus forgave. Matt 6:12, Eph 4:32.
  • Be imitators of God. Eph 5:1.
  • Be holy as Jesus is holy. Lev 11:44, 45, 1 Peter 1:15, 16.
  • Be pure as He is pure. 1 John 3:3.
  • Partakers of the divine nature. 2 Peter 1:4.
  • We are being changed into Christ’s glory (= reputation). 2 Cor 3:18.
  • Pray as Jesus prayed. Luke 11:1.
  • We are to have the mind of Christ. Phil 2:5, 1 Cor 2:16.
  • Be kind because God is kind. Luke 6:34, 35.
  • Be merciful because God is merciful. Luke 6:36.
  • Be servants to others as Jesus was. John 13:15-17, 1 Peter 4:11b, Matt 20:24-28.
  • Be patient as Jesus was patient. 1 Tim 1:16.
  • Talk/speak as Jesus speaks. 1 Peter 4:11a.
  • Be “perfect” (= mature and generous to enemies) as the Father is. Matt 5:48.
  • Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved His people and gave Himself for her. Eph 5:25.
  • Keep the commandments as Jesus kept the commandments. John 15:10.
  • Abide in Christ as Christ abides in us. John 15:4.
  • We are co-heirs with Christ of glory. Rom 8:17.
  • Jesus gave his all and we must give up all things for Him. Rom 8:32.
  • Jesus is called the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7) and so are His followers (John 10:1-18, 21:15-17)
  • Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17) and so should we (John 13:14-17)
  • Jesus is the light of the world (John 1:4, 9, 8:12, 9:5) and so are we (Matt 5:14-16)
  • I think, though that with Jesus and others of that time, being a disciple meant much more: * [Luke 14:27 KJV] 27 "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple."* So I think it is more appropriate, given their "works" (if I may use that word!) that you pointed out that they were more "disciples" (follower) than "students" or "pupils". I think there is in most scriptural uses obvious sacred and prophet meaning in how they use the word.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 22:14
  • See also: * [Act 5:36-37 KJV] 36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. 37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, [even] as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.*
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 22:15
  • 1
    @Ruminator I fully agree but I was dealing with the passage in Acts 11. I strongly agree that being a Christian involves a life's dedication of works like Christ. I will update the answer to reflect this.
    – user25930
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 22:18

I have no formal education in Greek, but I'm going to suggest, at risk of being embarressed, that the infinitive is used as a gerund here (a verbal phrase serving the function of a noun), which would explain the accusatives.

Acts 11:26 (NA28)

καὶ εὑρὼν ἤγαγεν εἰς Ἀντιόχειαν. ἐγένετο δὲ αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐνιαυτὸν ὅλον συναχθῆναι ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ καὶ διδάξαι ὄχλον ἱκανόν, χρηματίσαι τε πρώτως ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ τοὺς μαθητὰς Χριστιανούς

I would translate this verse more or less conservatively as follows:

and on finding him, he brought him to Antioch. It was at Antioch also (having gathered in the assembly and taught a sizable throng there for a year) that the disciples were first called 'Christians.'

Namely, "to call a disciple Christian" or "that they were called Christians" or "calling disciples Christians" is one verbal 'noun.' It's the implied subject. It's what "happened" or "was" (ἐγένετο).

As such, "the disciples" and "[the name/term] Christian" are merely accidental to the implied subject (i.e. accusative).

Again, I'm probably wrong.

  • That sounds like what I've done here... or have I misread you? Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 13:32
  • Perhaps it's informal or at worst colloquial to omit a 'having' on every instance of participle following the first one connected by conjunctions, but that's how I intended "taught" (as "having taught;" i.e., 'having gathered and taught'). But I see your point about omitting the pronoun. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 23:00

Acts 11:26b

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

μαθητὰς (mathētas)
Noun - Accusative Masculine Plural
Strong's Greek 3101: A learner, disciple, pupil. From manthano; a learner, i.e. Pupil.

were first called
χρηματίσαι (chrēmatisai)
Verb - Aorist Infinitive Active
Strong's Greek 5537: From chrema; to utter an oracle, i.e. Divinely intimate; by implication, to constitute a firm for business, i.e. bear as a title.

Χριστιανούς (Christianous)
Noun - Accusative Masculine Plural
Strong's Greek 5546: A Christian. From Christos; a Christian, i.e. Follower of Christ.

To simplify it a bit, in English we say:
We-call them-disciples Christians.
Them-disciples we-call Christians.

Who were first called Christians?

The disciples.

The verb χρηματίσαι is an infinitive. In Greek (as in English), the subject of an infinitive is in the accusative case. The subject here is disciples.


In Acts 11:26 what were the disciples called in Antioch?

The disciples were by Divine providence first called "Christians" in Antioch.

ΠΡΑΞΕΙΣ ΤΩΝ ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΩΝ 11:26 1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament (WHNU)

26 και ευρων ηγαγεν εις αντιοχειαν εγενετο δε αυτοις και ενιαυτον ολον συναχθηναι εν τη εκκλησια και διδαξαι οχλον ικανον χρηματισαι τε πρωτως εν αντιοχεια τους μαθητας χριστιανους

χρηματισαι = krimatisai= divine

Acts 11:26 (YLT)

26 And having found him, he brought him to Antioch, and it came to pass that they a whole year did assemble together in the assembly, and taught a great multitude, the disciples also were divinely called first in Antioch Christians.

The name apparently gained widespread acceptance, so that when Paul appeared before King Herod Agrippa II, about 58 C.E., Agrippa knew who the Christians were.

Acts 26:28 (NET Bible)

28 Agrippa said to Paul, “In such a short time are you persuading me to become a Christian?”

Peter wrote his first letter (about 64 C.E.) to Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire. By then, the name Christian seems to have been widespread, distinctive, and specific.

1 Peter 4:16 (NET Bible)

16 But if you suffer as a Christian,[a] do not be ashamed, but glorify[b] God that you bear such a name.[c]

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