Acts 11:26b

So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Did the disciples first called themselves Christians at Antioch? Or did the unbelievers first call the disciples Christians?

  • 1
    χρηματίσαι is aorist infinitive and in a passive form. Thus, one would expect it to be others calling Christians by that nomenclature. I cannot see any grammatical justification for supposing the Christians called themselves by that description. Usually, and I speak also personally, one confesses the name of Jesus Christ himself, not the membership of an entitled group.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 19:07

2 Answers 2


The i in Christian is a diminutive like saying little christs. Most likely it came from the Greek Gentiles as a insult, like the use of Moonies today. Later Christians adopted the term.

At the time that believers got the appellation Christians, it was common for the Greeks to give satirical nicknames to particular groups. So those loyal to the Roman General Pompey were dubbed “Pompeians,” and the followers of General Sulla were called “Sullanians.” Those who publicly and enthusiastically praised the emperor Nero Augustus received the name Augustinians, meaning “of the party of Augustus.” To the Greeks, it was all a fun word game and a verbally dismissive gesture. Then a new group cropped up in Antioch; since they were characterized by behavior and speech centered on Christ, the Greeks called them “Christians,” or “those of the party of Christ.” -- https://www.gotquestions.org/meaning-of-Christian.html

If the Gospel of Luke and Act was written to defend Paul and Christianity on trial in Rome, that might explain mention of "called Christians" if that's the term Rome used.

How possible is it that the Gospel of Luke and Acts were written for Paul’s defense?


The best explanation I have seen is given by Ellicott who says this:

(26) The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.—The term for “were called” is not the word usually so rendered. Better, perhaps, got the name of Christians. The Emperor Julian (Misopog., p. 344) notes the tendency to invent nicknames, as a form of satire, as characteristic of the population of Antioch in his time, and the same tone of persiflage seems to have prevailed on the first appearance of the new faith. The origin of a name which was afterwards to be so mighty in the history of the world is a subject full of interest. In its form it was essentially Latin, after the pattern of the Pompeiani, Sullani, and other party-names; and so far it would seem to have grown out of the contact of the new society with the Romans stationed at Antioch, who, learning that its members acknowledged the Christos as their head, gave them the name of Christiani. In the Gospels, it is true, however (Matthew 22:16, et al.), we find the analogous term of Herodiani, but there, also, we may legitimately trace the influence of Roman associations. As used in the New Testament, we note

  • (1) that the disciples never use it of themselves. They keep to such terms as the “brethren” (Acts 15:1), and the “saints” (Acts 9:13), and “those of the way” (Acts 9:2).
  • (2) That the hostile Jews use the more scornful term of “Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).
  • (3) That the term Christianus is used as a neutral and sufficiently respectful word by Agrippa in Acts 26:23, and at a somewhat later date, when it had obviously gained a wider currency, as that which brought with it the danger of suffering and persecution (1 Peter 4:16).

It was natural that a name first given by outsiders should soon be accepted by believers as a title in which to glory. Tradition ascribes its origin to Euodius, the first Bishop of Antioch (Bingham, Ant. II. i. § 4), and Ignatius, his successor, uses it frequently, and forms from it the hardly less important word of Christianismos, as opposed to Judaismos (Philadelph. c. 6), and as expressing the whole system of faith and life which we know as “Christianity.” It may be worth while to note that another ecclesiastical term, hardly less important in the history of Christendom, seems also to have originated at Antioch, and that we may trace to it the name of Catholic as well as Christian (Ignatius, Smyrn. c. 8). We learn from Tertullian (Apol. c. 3) that the name was often wrongly pronounced as Chrestiani, and its meaning not understood. Even the name of Christos was pronounced and explained as Chrestos (= good). The Christians, on their side, accepted the mistake as a nomen et omen, an unconscious witness on the part of the heathen that they were good and worthy in their lives, that their Lord was “good and gracious (1 Peter 2:3).

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