First Called Christians

Those who had been scattered by the persecution
that arose because of Stephen
went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch,
preaching the word to no one but Jews.
There were some Cypriots and Cyrenians among them, however,
who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks as well,
proclaiming the Lord Jesus.
The hand of the Lord was with them
and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
The news about them reached the ears of the Church in Jerusalem,
and they sent Barnabas to go to Antioch.
When he arrived and saw the grace of God,
he rejoiced and encouraged them all
to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart,
for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.
And a large number of people was added to the Lord.
Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul,
and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch.
For a whole year they met with the Church
and taught a large number of people,
and it was in Antioch that the disciples
were first called Christians.
(Acts 11:19-26)

Scripture Study

11:19 Phoenicia … Cyprus … Antioch: Three centers of Christian presence outside the land of Israel—Phoenicia, a territory northwest of Galilee; Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean; and Antioch, a prominent city in Syria.

11:20 Cyrene: A city on the northern shore of Africa (in modern Libya).

11:22 Jerusalem: As when the first conversions were reported in Samaria (8:14), Jerusalem sent delegates to Antioch to ensure this new missionary development was the work of God. The enthusiasm of Barnabas confirms that it was (11:23–24).

11:25 look for Saul: He had returned to his home in Tarsus since the Jewish Hellenists in Jerusalem were plotting against his life (9:28–30). He is now summoned to assume teaching responsibilities in the Antioch Church.

11:26 Christians: This new title for the disciples of Jesus Christ is elsewhere used at 26:28 and 1 Pet 4:16 in the NT; “Christians” is first applied to the members of the community at Antioch because the Gentile members of the community enable it to stand out clearly from Judaism.

Scripture Reflection

The acclamation of Jesus as Lord shows that from the very beginning the young Christian communities knew that he had dominion over all mankind and was not just the Messiah of one nation. While we do not exactly know who first began to describe the disciples as “Christians,” the fact that they were given a name shows that everyone recognized them as an identifiable group. The name also suggests that the term Christos—Messiah, Anointed—is no longer regarded simply as a messianic title, but also as a proper name.

Some Fathers of the Church see this name as further indication that people do not become disciples of the Lord through human causes. St Athanasius said: “Although the holy apostles were our teachers and have given us the Gospel of the Savior, it is not from them that we have taken our name: we are Christians through Christ and it is for him that we are called in this way.”

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.