Jack Kilmon jkilmon at
Tue May 25 10:15:54 EDT 1999

Michael Abernathy wrote:

Denny Diehl asked about the word Christian and after reading the
responses, I thought I'd throw in my two
First, on the meaning of the word Christian itself.  Jim West gave you a
pretty standard answer on the
meaning of the word; however, I am not certain that is correct.  I am
not a Latin scholar so if any of you can
give me better information on this I will be glad to hear it.  Years
ago, I researched this Latin ending at a small
mid-west Bible college.  I could find only one reference that studied
the historical usage of the word and
documented the time for each usage.  That work (sorry I don't remember
the source) claimed that the word
was not used as a diminutive until the late third or early fourth
century A.D.  In the first century, the author
claimed the meaning, "belonging to, slave of," or "follower of."

The term, first used in Antioch in the 60's was used by non-Jews to
refer to the non-Jewish
members of the sect.  It is not Latin, but Greek.  The first usage of it
in Xian writing appears
to be by Luke in Acts (c. 95CE) and Luke appears also to have been
Antiochene.  Tacitus,
writing within a decade of Luke, uses the term when discussing the
Neronian persecution
(c. 64CE) and we can only guess whether he was using a term common at
the end of the
century to retroject to 64CE or whether the term was from a source of
Tacitus' that was
earlier.  Was it a derisive term?  I think it was at first.  It does not
appear to have become
an "official" self-designation among non-Jewish sectarians until well
into the 2nd century.

XRISTIANOI, in the derogatory sense could have meant "a buncha little
Christ people."
The diminutive might be negotiable from an orthographic position...Jim
West can probably
address that further.


The question of whether or not Christian was derogatory is bound up with
the interpretation of
chrêmatizein.  CHRMATIZW can mean "to take and bear a title or name," or
"to be called," or "to change or
be changed" (Liddell & Scott), or "transact business" or "to give a
divine command or admonition"

The word appears only 9 times in the NT with the closest usage to Acts
11:26 at Romans 7:3.
In this case, XRHMATISAI is undoubtedly (they) "were called" IMO.

In the past several commentators took the position that the name
Christian was given by God.  For example,
Calvin wrote, "After this he adds that such a godly alliance was blessed
by God. For it was no ordinary
honor that the sacred name of Christians originated."  (Compare Mt.
2:12, 22; Acts 10:22; Heb. 8:5, 11:7).
Note that Lampe's Patristic Greek Lexicon gives as the primary meaning
"utter a message of God."  I'm not
really certain if the shift in interpretation came from theological or
linguistic grounds.  Perhaps someone else
can shed some light on this.

I think this is obviously a theological interpretation and certainly not
a linguistic one.  The usage
of the Greek XRISTOS to translate <Heb>m$yx or <Aram>m$yx) by either
Paul or earlier
Hellenistic members of the Jerusalem Assembly of believers is
straightforward and just a
small extension to describe followers of XRISTOS.  XRISTAIOI would have
been what
I would have expected, however, which makes me coast along with Jim West
on the
original etymology of XRISTIANOI.

Just my two


taybutheh d'maran yeshua masheecha am kulkon

Jack Kilmon
jkilmon at

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