When Was the Term Christian First Used?

Christian cross sign on a field in the blue sky
Advertiser Disclosure: TheWitness.org earns commissions from qualifying purchases.

The term Christians are one of the few terms in English that carries so much weight. It’s a hefty title, but it’s worth noting that Jesus Christ never gave his disciples a label. The early Christians did not refer to themselves as Christians. Instead, the title ‘saints’ was most often used in the Bible.

However, it should be noted that the word saint (Hagios) carries slightly different meanings in the Greek tradition than it does in English today. In this setting, the Greek word Hagios means “anointed to God.” The idea that the word is written in the plural form throughout the New Testament indicates that the early Church saw itself as a community of individuals who worked and lived together for God’s sake.

So, when was the term Christian first used? How did it come about? Let’s find out:

Christian: Origin

The term was first used in the Book of Acts, stating, “The followers were first called Christians in Antioch.” [Book of Acts 11:26] There was no unique term for individuals who served Jesus Christ before this period other than supporters, disciples, and followers. As a result, this was the first time in Antioch’s history that believers of Christ were referred to as Christians.

Christianos is the initial Greek word for the term Christian, and it is derived from the Greek words Christ and tian. Here, Christ refers to as anointed, and tian refers to little. Consequently, the term Christian translates to ‘little anointed ones’.  Throughout his life, Jesus was referred to as the savior or messiah, which means ‘the anointed one’, and his believers are ‘little anointed ones’, as chosen by the Holy Spirit to reflect him in this world. Intriguingly, the term Christian appears in the Bible only three times. But how can one tell whether they’re Christian? Being a Christian is more about being a firm believer and having faith in God.

Christian: History

Across the history of humanity and even now, the development of a new title or label has been crucial, originating with Adam’s initial assignment of calling the animals. A name contains profound significance derived from life experiences that define reality in comprehending terms.

As mentioned above, the Jews referred to the early Church as Christians for the first time in Antioch. It wasn’t a term given to Christ’s followers by themselves; it was given to the believers by Antiochian society. Antioch was known as all the earth in one location since it included all of the world’s diversity and richness in one place, and the market served as its focal point. Antioch was built like typical towns: a round wall on the outside, a market in the middle, and the city’s interior enclosed in a fashion that separated distinct population groups.

When the Church arrived in Antioch, it began to dismantle the social divisions in a way that threw the society’s established categories into disarray. People from all walks of life, including Gentiles and Jews, were instantly gathered in one place. This set of individuals reframed the community in such an unusual fashion that it necessitated a new term.

What’s fascinating is that there were numerous diverse factions within the Jews that Antiochians never attempted to learn about or identify. However, they noticed something distinct in Christians. The name Christian was coined in response to the world’s recognition that something fresh and unprecedented was happening.

Use of The Term Christian

The term Christians used only on two other occasions in the New Testament, excluding Acts 11:26. In Acts 26:28, the word Christian is used by Agrippa, “You will soon persuade me to play the Christian.” [Acts 26:28]

In Peter 4:16, “Yet if any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” Each allusion focuses on the reality that those outside the faith recognized Christians as a unique group.

One of the ways the believers may know if they are Christians is by how they conduct their lives in this world. How does one go about living their life? What is the crux of the matter? What are the things that are most significant to them? What do they devote their time to?

“Therefore, if someone is in Christ, the new beginning has come: The old is gone, the new is here,” said the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17. This statement implies that current believers are not the same people they used to be as Christians.  Today, numerous Christians have difficulty anticipating new outcomes while continuing to live in the old way. When Jesus redeemed them, he made them new to live a life of justice and purity. One simple measure of being a Christian is how the believers walk and live.

Our Final Thoughts

There are different opinions on the question of when was the term Christian first used. Some people don’t like to be referred to as Christians, which translates to little anointed ones; they oppose the idea and call themselves Christ-follower instead of Christian because of the history of the word. But the teachings of Jesus Christ remind us that using the term ‘Christian’ has no real significance if you are not a true follower by heart.

As stated in John 13:35, “If you have love for one another, then everyone will know you are my followers.” Hence, this statement is the best to remind us that being a Christian is more about following the teaching of Jesus and loving each other. The literal meaning of the word Christian should not be of concern; the meaning and purpose it carries are far more important.