Christian (Χριστιανός), the name given to those who believe Jesus to be the Messiah (Ac 11:26). Commentators and critics are not agreed whether the followers of Christ gave this appellation to themselves, or whether it was bestowed on them by others. Neither view appears to be wholly true or wholly false. Such titles do not usually originate in any arbitrary way, nor do they spring from a single party, but rather arise from a conventional assent to their appropriateness. It was, indeed, the interest of the Christians to have some name which might not, like the Jewish ones (Nazarenes or Galilaeans), imply reproach. And though the terms brethren, the faithful, elect, saints, believers, disciples, or the Church, might suffice among themselves, yet none of them were sufficiently definite for an appellation, and might perhaps be thought to savor of vanity. They would therefore be not disinclined to adopt one, especially for exoteric use. Yet the necessity was not so great as to stimulate them to do this very soon; whereas the people at large, in having to speak of this new sect, would soon need some distinctive appellation; and what so distinctive as one formed from the name of its founder? It is therefore most likely to have been suggested by the Gentile inhabitants of Antioch, and to have early come into general use by a sort of common consent. (See Conybeare and Howson's Life and Epistles of St. Paul, 1 119.)
There is no reason to think with some that the name "Christians" was given in absolute derision. When used by Agrippa (Ac 26:28), there is no proof that it was a term of reproach; had the intended derision, he might have employed the term Nazarene, which was in frequent use among the Jews, and has continued current in the East, wherever the Arabic language is spoken, to the present day. The early adoption of it by the Christians themselves, and the manner in which they employ it, are sufficient to dispel all idea of this nature (1Pe 4:16). The only reproach connected with the name would be the inevitable one arising from the profession of faith implied in it. Neither is the view of others more probable, that it was a name imposed by divine appointment. The term χρηματίζω (translated "called" in the passage first quoted), usually relied upon to sustain this view, has other significations than that of an oracular response, and is fairly capable of the meaning assigned to it in our version.
"This world-famous name (William of Tyre, 4:9) occurs but three times in the New Testament (Ac 11:26; Ac 26:28; 1Pe 4:16). In the first of these passages we are informed that it arose in the city of Antioch, during the year spent there in preaching by Paul and Barnabas, A.D. 34. Both Suidas (2:3930, a, ed. Gaisford) and Malalas (Chronograph. 10) say that the name was first used in the episcopate of Evodius at Antioch, who is said to have been appointed by the apostle Peter as his successor (Jerome, Chronic. p. 429). That Evodius actually invented the name (Malalas, 1. c.) is an assertion which may be disregarded as safely as the mediaeval fiction that it was adopted at a council held for the purpose.
"The name itself was only contemptuous in the mouths of those who regarded with contempt him from whom it was derived; and as it was a universal practice to name political, religious, or philosophical societies from the name of their founders (as Pythagoreans, Epicureans, Apollonii, Caesariani, Vitelliani, etc.), it was advantageous rather than otherwise for the Christians to adopt a title which was not necessarily offensive, and which bore witness to their love and worship of their master; a name intrinsically degrading — such as the witty Antiochenes, notorious in the ancient world for their propensity to bestow nicknames, might easily have discovered (Philost. Vit. Apol. 3:16; Zosim. 3:11; Ammon. Marcell. 22; Procop. Bell. Pers. 2:8) — would certainly have retarded the progress of the new religion; and as we see, even in modern times, that it is the tendency of rival sects to brand each other with derisive epithets, it is natural to suppose that the name 'Christians' resulted rather from philosophical indifference than from theological hatred. The Latinized form of the word — Greek in form, Latin in termination — is not indeed a conclusive proof that it emanated from the Romans, because such terminations had already been familiarized throughout the East by the Roman dominion; but it is precisely the kind of name which would have been bestowed by the haughty and disdainful spirit of victorious Rome, which is so often marked in early Christian history (Joh 18:31; Ac 22:24; Ac 25:19; Ac 18:14). That the disciples should have been called from 'Christus,' a word implying the office, and not from 'Jesus,' the name of our blessed Lord, leads us to infer that the former word was most frequently on their lips, 'which harmonizes with the most important fact, that in the epistles he is usually called, not 'Jesus,' but 'Christ' (Lactant. Div. Instit. 4:7). In later times, when the features of the 'exitiabilis superstitio' were better known, because of its ever-widening progress (Tacit. Ann. 15:44), this indifferentism was superseded by a hatred against the name as intense as the Christian love for it, and for this reason the emperor Julian 'countenanced, and perhaps enjoined, the use of the less honorable appellation of Galilaeans' (Gibbon, 5:312, ed. Milman; Greg. Nazarene, Orat. 3:81). Yet, as Tertullian, in an interesting passage, points out, the name so detested was harmless in every sense, for it merely called them by the office of their master, and that office merely implied one set apart by solemn unction (Apolog. 3).
"It appears that, by a widely prevalent error, the Christians were generally called Chrestiani (Χρηστιανοί, Sueton. Nero, 16; Claud. 25) and their founder Chrestus (q. d. χρηστός, excellent), a mistake which is very easily accounted for (Lactant. Instit. Div. 4:7), and one which the Christians were the less inclined to regret, because it implied their true and ideal character (Clem. Alex. Stron. II, 4:18; Tert. Apol. 100:3). SEE CHRESTIANS. The explanation of the name Christian, as referring to the 'unction from the Holy One,' although supported by the authority of Theophilus Antiochenus (A.D. 170), 'who lived not long after the death of John' (ad Autolyc. 1:12), can only be regarded as an adaptation or an after-thought (see Jeremiah Taylor, Disc. of Confirm. § 3).
"The adoption of the name marks a very important epoch in the history of the Church; the period when it had emerged, even in the Gentile observation, from its Jewish environment, and had enrolled followers who continued Gentiles in every respect, and who differed widely from the Jewish proselytes. 'It expressed the memorable fact that a community consisting primarily of Jews, and directed exclusively by them, could not be denoted by that name, or by any name among them. To the disciples it signified that they were witnesses for a king, and a king whom all nations would be brought in due time to acknowledge' (Maurice. Eccl. Hist. p. 79). See Buddeus, De origine, dignitate et usu nominis Christians (Jen. 1711; also his Miscell. Sacr. 1:280 sq.); Wetstenii Nov. Test. in Acts 11; Zeller, Bibl. Wörterb. s.v. Christen, etc." (Kitto, s. v).
To be denominated Christian was, in the estimation of the confessors and martyrs, their highest honor. This is illustrated in the narrative which Eusebius has copied from an ancient record, of one Sanctus of Vienna, who endured all the inhuman tortures which art could inflict. His tormentors hoped, by the continuance and severity of his pains, to extort from him some acknowledgment which might implicate him; but he withstood them with unflinching fortitude, neither disclosing to them his name, nor his native land, nor his condition in life, whether freeman or slave. To all their interrogatories he only replied, Christianus sum; affirming that his name, his country, and his kindred all were included in this. Of the same import was the deportment of the martyr Lucian, as related by Chrysostom. To every question he replied, "I am a Christian." "'Of What country are you?" "I am a Christian." "What is your occupation?" "I am a Christian." "Who are your parents?" "I am a Christian." — Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes bk. 1, ch. 1.