How Christianity Started

Early usage

11:26 called Christians. The word “Christian” occurs three times in the New Testament: here, 26:28, and 1 Pet. 4:16. It means a person belonging to or following Christ. The name may have originated in the church, or it may at first have been a derogatory term used by outsiders.

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eter near Antakya, Turkey, in Antioch the disciples were called Christians .

The first recorded use of the term (or its cognates in other languages) is in the New Testament, in Acts 11:26, after Barnabas brought Saul (Paul) to Antioch where they taught the disciples for about a year, the text says: “[…] the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” The second mention of the term follows in Acts 26:28, where Herod Agrippa II replied to Paul the Apostle, “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” The third and final New Testament reference to the term is in 1 Peter 4:16, which exhorts believers: “Yet if [any man suffer] as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”

Kenneth Samuel Wuest holds that all three original New Testament verses’ usages reflect a derisive element in the term Christian to refer to followers of Christ who did not acknowledge the emperor of Rome.[9] The city of Antioch, where someone gave them the name Christians, had a reputation for coming up with such nicknames.[10] However Peter’s apparent endorsement of the term led to its being preferred over “Nazarenes” and the term Christianoi from 1 Peter becomes the standard term in the Early Church Fathers from Ignatius and Polycarp onwards.[11]

The earliest occurrences of the term in non-Christian literature include Josephus, referring to “the tribe of Christians, so named from him;”[12] Pliny the Younger in correspondence with Trajan; and Tacitus, writing near the end of the 1st century. In the Annals he relates that “by vulgar appellation [they were] commonly called Christians”[13] and identifies Christians as Nero‘s scapegoats for the Great Fire of Rome.[14]

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