The word Christian is used 3 times in the bible. Two are from Luke listed below. And, the third from Peter in his first letter.

Acts 11:26 (KJV)

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.

Acts 26:28 (KJV)

Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

1 Peter 4:16 (KJV)

Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

From Strongs:

Χριστιανός Christianós, khris-tee-an-os'; from G5547; a Christian, i.e. follower of Christ:—Christian.

What does this word mean specifically as Luke uses it these two times? Is it different from how Peter uses it?


3 Answers 3


Grammatically, the Greek word "Christianos" is an adjective that is cognate with the noun Christos.

The Greek noun Christos is a title and is the equivalent of the Hebrew "Messiah" meaning "anointed one".

The adjectival ending, "ianos" giving "Christianos" means that a noun modified with such an adjective is like the noun "Christos". That is, something that is described as "Christianos" is like "Christos".

Therefore, a Christian is literally, "one who is like Christ". OK, that is the grammar and semantics. What does the Bible text suggest? See appendix below.

In Acts 11:26, the disciples and followers of Jesus were called "Christians" precisely because their lives and conduct was so centered and bound up with Christ. They seemed to do nothing but talk about Christ and their lives imitated His life.

APPENDIX - The Imitation of Christ

Essentially, the Bible tells converted Christians that they must behave in the same way as Jesus did. Indeed, Jesus’ final instruction to His disciples was to make more disciples (Matt 28:19) – disciples were imitators of their masters and thus became like their teacher (Luke 6:40).

Here is a sample of the huge amount of material available on this subject.

  • 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, 1 Cor 7:28, 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 baptized (Matt 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21, 22) and so should we be baptized, Matt 28:19, Acts 2:38, 10:48, 16:31, 22:16, Rom 6:1-9, etc.
  • Forgive as Jesus forgave. Matt 6:12, 14, 15, 18:35, Eph 4:32, Col 3:13.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 14:15, 15:10.
  • Abide in Christ as Christ abides in us. John 15:4.
  • Jesus is the “beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13) and Jesus is the beginning and end of our faith (Heb 12:2).
  • 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, 1 Peter 1:19) 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, Phil 2:14)
  • Jesus is the “firstborn” Luke 2:7, Rom 8:29, Col 1:15, 18, Heb 1:6, Rev 1:5, and we are to compose the church/assembly of the firstborn, Heb 12:23; see also Rom 8:23 & Rev 14:4 where we are also called first-fruits to God and the Lamb.
  • Jesus is our sacrifice of atonement and likened to a sacrificial lamb offered for us John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, Eph 5:2, 1 John 2:2, 4:10, Heb 10:10, 12, Rom 3:25, 1 Peter 1:19, etc. Similarly, the life of a Christian is lived sacrificially for Christ Rom 12:1, Phil 2:17, Heb 13:15.
  • Jesus, by His sacrifice on the cross, reconciled sinners to God (Rom 5:10, Col 2:16, 1:20, 22, 2 Cor 5:19), and we must also be involved in the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18, 19) as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20).

The Bible strongly emphasizes the imitation of Christ by the mechanism of beholding Christ (Phil 2:4, 5, Heb 12:2, 3, 1 Cor 2:16, Col 3:1-4, 2 Cor 3:18, Rom 13:14, John 17:17, Matt 6:19-33, 12:33-35, Rom 8:12-14; contrast 2 Kings 17:15, Ps 115:4-8, 135:15-18, Prov 10:24, 24:8, 9). “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) In fact, it is the imitation of Christ that gives Christians the title; “Christian” meaning, one who is like Christ.

The Imitation of Christ is absolutely essential to the process of Salvation (sometimes called, unbiblically, “Sanctification”). In addition to the above language, the Bible has numerous other ways to express this such as: “reflecting the Lord’s glory and being transformed into His likeness” (2 Cor 3:18), being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2), “follow after righteousness” (1 Tim 6:11), walking in the “newness of life” (Rom 6:4), “perfecting holiness” (2 Cor 7:1), “partaking in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), “growing up into Christ” (Eph 4:15), “pressing toward the mark” (Phil 3:12-15), “being built up in Christ” (Col 2:7), “becoming complete in all the will of God” (Col 4:12), “fighting the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12), “growing in grace” (2 Peter 3:18), plus many more. When the Wesleys emphasized this aspect of salvation, it was sometimes later called the holiness movement.

Perhaps the best description of the Christian life, Imitating Christ, is found in Rom 12:9-12, 17,

“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

But there is much more.

  • Jesus died to sin and was raised to a new life, never to die again. This is also the process of every sinner in Jesus will also die to sin (at baptism) and be raised to a new eternal life, free of sin. See Rom 6:8-11.
  • Jesus is our great high priest (Heb 4:14, 15, 7:26-28), so too, we are a holy nation of priests. 1 Peter 2:9.
  • Jesus is the chief corner-stone and we are also stones in the building. 1 Peter 2:4-6.
  • Jesus is the chief shepherd, and elders are to shepherd the flock as He would. 1 Peter 5:1-4.
  • We are to be conduits of Jesus’ “water of life”. John 4:13, 14.
  • The Levitical Laws are almost all set in the context of “I am the LORD”, essentially saying that, “This is who I am, do likewise”. See Lev 18 and 19 among many others.
  • Jesus is the promised “seed” (Gen 13:15, 24:7) of Abraham (Gal 3:16) and so are we (Gal 3:29, Rom 9:8).
  • After His ascension, Jesus was seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Ps 110:1, 5, Luke 22:69, Matt 26:64, Acts 2:33, 7:56, Rom 8:34, Eph 1:20, Col 3:1, Heb 1:3, 10:12, 12:2, 1 Peter 3:22), and so will we (Rev 3:21, see also Eph 2:6).
  • Jesus is “THE Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32, Mark 5:7, 8:28) and Christians are called “sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).

We are to be Jesus’ disciples (John 15:8) tasked with making more disciples (Matt 28:19). The word “disciple” is from the Greek literally meaning an apprentice craftsman (ie, student of a master) who learns by imitating the master. Thus, the imitation of Christ is built into the very language of the New Testament. Even the title, Christian” (Acts 11:26) means “one who is like Christ”.

Yet further: the Greek verb akolutheo, “I follow”, is used about 90 times in the New Testament and almost exclusively of Jesus’ followers. It literally means to follow along behind or walk in the footsteps of. Again, the same idea of imitating Jesus is clearly emphasized.

Following conversion, the imitation of Christ is the beginning of the Christian life, its end goal (1 John 3:2) and the center of focus for the Christian mind (1 Cor 2:16).


We have some etymological background from the accepted answer to a related question here. However, this question asks about understanding the word based on its history of first usage in New Testament literature, not the etymological or lexical meanings developed later through Church history.

Given that etymological background, there is no basis we can objectively define the word by because the word was created similarly to how Paul created the word θεόπνευστος (theopneustos).

2 Tim 3:16 (NASB)

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;

2 Tim 3:16 (Greek)

πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος πρὸς διδασκαλίαν, πρὸς ἐλεγμόν, πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν, πρὸς παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ,

When we examine created words like this, consulting experts only reviews their experienced guess; it's not objective.

Likely meaning from the historical setting

This created word has an obvious meaning: It uses the term "Christ" as a root with a suffix meaning "belonging to", with specific connotation of a slave-master relationship, albeit that Jesus was known as a good master. It's meaning was intended to be somewhat self-evident.

The term "Christ" means "messiah" and was known to be a title referencing Jesus at the time. This could have deeper ramifications for later study, that the Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26) saw themselves as belonging to the messiah, specifically that Jesus was the messiah. Christians believe that the messiah has already come, while other religions may still be waiting for the messiah. But, that touches on another topic beyond the scope of hermeneutics. Nonetheless, the meaning of the word does have such implications.

The fact that Agrippa used the term (Acts 26:28) establishes a kind of government recognition that the term isn't just some fringe term that didn't matter.

Meaning based on usage

The New Testament Church was well-connected. So, Peter's usage would have been very much in tune with with what the Church at Antioch understood.

Bear in mind, Luke explains in Acts 11 that this was a new term and where the term originated. That is a good narrative introduction. Later, King Agrippa uses it. Now, Peter does also.

Peter's use agrees and elaborates further.

Ramifications of the meaning

The term isn't defined by any New Testament literature, meaning it is a useful label to describe what people already understood.

So, the most clear definition would be: The people told about through entire Book of Acts.

In a literary interpretation method (hermeneutics), we could say that the word "Christian" is the main character of the Book of Acts. The collective "Christians" are dynamic, they change and learn, face challenges, overcome, continue after the story ends. We could make a similar argument, for example, that through all Star Trek series, the main character is the transporter device because it changes as a dynamic character and affects all other things. That may be a stretch for some people to imagine, but such ways of examining literature are at the heart of hermeneutics.

The Church is the main character in the Book of Acts, while Jesus is the main character in the Gospels. So, the term "Christian" is being defined as this main character in Acts: the Church.

Peter also uses the term as if everyone already knows its meaning. So, it is not exclusively used or defined by Luke; Luke merely records as a reporter how everyone else was already using the term.

Therefore, in Acts, we don't exactly get "Luke's" definition; we get everyone's definition, both the Church and the king's.

So, by cross-reference, we could examine the final statement of Mark.

Mark 16:17-18 (NASB)

17 These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

That doesn't limit the meaning, but it contributes to it and it agrees with some of the less mistakable events Luke records in Acts. Though, it is very brief and can't describe it all. A more thorough definition would need an entire book, which Luke wrote in the form of Acts.

What we know about Christians from Acts and Peter consistently

They belong to Jesus. (etymological)

They believe the Messiah already came. (etymological)

They are the new type of people that began to flourish and increase in number and face challenges and overcome et cetera after Jesus ascended. (based on usage)

What we don't know

We don't get anything like:

I say, this is what a Christian is, so start conforming...

This is what it means to be a Christian in my view...

We don't get any like that, supplying any sort of definition or any sort of obligation or matter of differing perspective.

What we do know for sure

The New Testament definition of Christian was universal and went without needing to be stated because it embodied the obvious life and lifestyle of the people it named.


A Christian is one who follows Christ.

Both Peter and Luke used it the same way with the understanding of how Jesus commanded his disciples.

What did Jesus mean when he said to "Follow me"?

Jesus gives details of what he expects of those who claim to be followers of him.

Matthew 16:23-25

Authorized (King James) Version

24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Matthew 10:37-39

Authorized (King James) Version

37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. 39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

Jesus says that to follow him takes precedence over everything in your life.

Matthew 8:21-22

Authorized (King James) Version

21 And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 22 But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

Luke 9 Authorized (King James) Version

57 And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. 58 And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. 59 And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 60 Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. 61 And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. 62 And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

Jesus is asked how one might inherit eternal life...Follow him

Mark 10:21-23, 28-31

21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. Blockquote 23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. 29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, 30 but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come Eternal Life. 31 But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.

The followers of Christ do not pursue wealth in this age. We have 1 Master.

Matthew 6:24

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Jesus says that the way is narrow and few find it. Few follow him.

Matthew 7:13-14

Authorized (King James) Version

13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.


Few will choose to follow Christ as he commands. This is why few find the gate in this age. Our Master is currently gathering his priesthood. These are the first fruits who "follow him where ever he goes."

Revelation 14:3-4

3 and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. 4 These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.

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