A word denoting a follower of Jesus as the Messiah or Christ. It originated, according to Acts xi. 26, in Antioch, the Syrian capital, where, shortly after the failure of the Hellenistic movement in Jerusalem (ib. viii. 1, xi. 19), the doctrine of the risen Christ was propagated among the non-Jewish population, and where the first important church of the Christians was established by Barnabas and Paul about the year 44. This early origin of the name has been questioned by F. C. Baur ("Paulus, der Apostel Jesu Christi," i. 103), Lipsius ("Ueber den Ursprung des Christennamens," 1873), Hausrath ("Neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte," ii. 392), and Weizsäcker ("Apostolisches Zeitalter," p. 90), but is upheld by Keim ("Aus dem Urchristenthum," pp. 171-181). Josephus, in the well-known passage concerning Jesus ("Ant." xviii. 3, § 3; not all of which is spurious), speaks of the "tribe of Christians" as still existing.

It is certain that except in Acts xi. 26, xxvi. 28, and I Peter iv. 16—passages referring to the persecution of Christians in Rome—the name occurs nowhere in the New Testament or in the early Christian literature. In all probability it owes its origin to a Roman or Latin-speaking population. The fact that the early Christians met for worship in the name of Christ and called themselves those "of Christ" (I Cor. i. 12) induced the pagans to regard them as the partizan followers of a leader of that name. Hence they coined the name "Christiani" for them, as a nickname after the example of "Cæsarians" or "Pompeians." Unfamiliar with the name "Christus," the pagans pronounced the name also "Chrestos" (Χρηστός), and spoke of the Christians as "Chrestiani" (Tertullian, "Apologia," p. 3; Justin, "Apologia," i. 4; compare Suetonius, "Claudius," p. 25: "Judæos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit"; Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 3, 449, is wrong in taking Chrestos for a special agitator in Rome).

The name came into general use among the Christians themselves during the second century, when it became endeared to them all the more because it entailed persecution and martyrdom (I Peter iv. 16; Luke iv. 22; Tacitus, "Hist." xv. 44; Suetonius, "Nero," p. 16; Pliny, "Epistles," x. 96; Ignatius, "Epistles to the Magnesians," p. 4; and elsewhere). They continued, however, to call one another also "the brethren" (Acts ix. 30, xi. 1; Rom. xvi. 14; Gal. i. 2), "the saints" (Acts ix. 13, 32; xxvi. 10; Rom. xii. 13, xvi. 15; Heb. vi. 10), "believers" or "faithful ones" (Acts x. 45; I Tim. iv. 3), "the elect" (Matt. xxiv. 22, 24; Mark xiii. 20-22; I Peter i. 1, 2), and in the earlier time also "the disciples" (Acts ix. 26, xiii. 5.2, xx. 30).

To the Jews, to whom the reported appearance of the Messiah was a matter of frequent occurrence in those times, when the good tidings of redemption from the domination of Rome were constantly expected (Josephus, "Ant." xvii. 10, §§ 6, 7; xviii. 4, § 1; xx. 5, § 1), the word "Christian" had no specific meaning; and when the followers of Jesus of Nazareth began to teach a "way" different from that of the mother-synagogue (Acts ix. 2; xviii. 25; xix. 9, 23; xxii. 4; xxiv. 14, 22), they received the name of "the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts xxiv. 5, xxviii. 22; in Hebrew, "Noẓerim").

  • Hastings, Dict. Bibl. s.v.;
  • Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. s.v.