As I’ve said in previous articles, I’m studying Acts in depth this year and wanted to share something from a verse many of us are likely very familiar with…
And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
Most importantly, it was in Antioch where the disciples of Jesus—a mixture of Jew and Gentile—were first “called Christians.” Who called them Christians? Who gave them the moniker? Did they call themselves that? Did Paul invent the name? Barnabus? Was it an epithet given to them by their enemies and skeptics of the resurrection? No and no. The name did not come from man, friend or foe.
The name came from God.
The phrase “called Christians” is interesting, particularly the word “called.” It’s is a common word that appears many times in New Testament translations, but there are in fact multiple words in the Greek rendered as such. One is “lego” which is typically used to name something, or to be identified by name. Another word is “kal-eho” which means to call someone to you, as with an invitation. This is the word typically used of Christians. We are the “called” of God, in the sense that we’ve answered the call (the invitation) from Christ and obeyed the Gospel (1 Peter 5:10).
Neither of those words, however, are used in this verse, though both could have been used.
If “lego” had been the word, then it would imply that the people named them “Christians” and that, over time, the name became synonymous with God’s people. That would be fine but for the fact that the Holy Spirit used a different word.
If “kal-eho” had been the word, it would have implied that the disciples invited those around them to call them “Christian” (as though they invented the term). While it is true that the disciples would invite people to wear the name, they did not invent the term; that is not the word used by the Holy Spirit here.
The word, as it appears in this text, is a form of “khray-mat-id’-zo,” which basically means “Divinely designated.” The Holy Spirit only uses this Greek word one other time in the New Testament where Paul talks about a woman cheating on her husband, and how God shall “call” her an adulterer (Romans 7:3). In other words, she is “called by God” an adulterer (the world around her may or may not put that label on it, but God does).
Here in this text, the word is GOD-CALLED. Ask me what my religion is, and I am supposed to respond “Christian.” What am I? Christian. Says who? Says God. According to the New Testament, a “Christian” is simply a disciple to Christ, added by Christ, to the church of Christ. We are not a “church of Christ-Christian.” We are Christian. We belong to the church of Christ, because Christ added us to it. We are part of the “church” (meaning, the called out) “of” (implying “ownership” as in “house of John”) “Christ” (the King who owns the called out ones).
A Christian is one who is a disciple to Christ. He is someone who sits at the feet of Jesus and learns from Him. However, not everyone who sits at His feet will obey Him. Thus, a Christian is not just a disciple. A Christian is a disciple who has been added by Christ (not joined, not voted on, not inherited it from mom and dad) to the church of Christ. A disciple to Christ becomes a Christian when he obeys the commands the Master gives. After trusting and obeying, the Lord adds the believer to the body of the saved, the bride of Christ, His church. We spiritually marry ourselves to Jesus and thus, Christ allows the saved person to wear His (our Husband’s) name: Christian.
To reject that name, or even to water it down to a hyphenated form, is spiritual adultery.