Acts 11:26

Mountains, clouds, trees, and fields at sunset in Vermont.

Saturday, 12 November 2022

And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. Acts 11:26

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen).

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The previous verse showed that Barnabas had departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. Now, the narrative continues with, “And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.”

Remembering that Saul (Paul) was sent out of Jerusalem by the apostles, Tarsus was not the place where he otherwise would have been. They may have said something like, “When things have quieted down, we will send for you.” As such, he remained in Tarsus. Being a tent maker, he could pull up stakes without any trouble and move on in a moment.

Therefore, once Barnabas had come and told him of the work being done in Antioch, Saul would have been in full agreement to join him and return with him. It might seem odd that Paul would just drop everything and head off to Antioch, but the matter makes complete sense when it is looked at from this perspective. With that understood, it next says, “So it was that for a whole year.”

Again, being a tent maker meant that Saul could work anywhere. Being a Roman, he could travel with complete freedom, and he had nothing restraining him. And so, to leave Tarsus and move for an entire year to Antioch would be as simple as going on a five-day vacation. With the size of the city and the large number of people there, it would be a great place to continue with both evangelism and discipleship.

And more, at some point during that year, it is likely that the events of Acts 10 and 11 took place, and so even if it was only Greek-speaking Jews that were told about Jesus to start with, eventually it would become known that the Gentiles had also been converted, receiving the Holy Spirit. As such, it next says that during this year “they assembled with the church.”

Rather than “with,” the preposition is “in.” However, this does not mean a particular building. That is not the sense or meaning of the word “church.” The word simply means “an assembly.” It refers to the people, not an edifice. Translating the word as “assembly” gives a more literal sense. As such, it would read, “they gathered together in the assembly.” In this gathering, they “taught a great many people.”

One can see that Saul immediately became a leader in the instruction of the people. His background as a Pharisee would have made him unusually suited to such a position. He had all of the theology of the Scriptures carefully sorted out in his mind so that when Christ came, and when he had put his biases against Christ away, he could clearly see how Jesus was the fulfillment of everything that had been spoken of.

His instruction would have been an invaluable part of the growth and maturity of the assembly at Antioch. His depth of understanding may have been the exact reason Barnabas specifically traveled to find him. Barnabas may have had questions arise that he wasn’t suited to answer. When such an occasion came about, he may have said, “I know just the guy to answer this.” It is all speculation, but it fits with the narrative. With this noted, it next says, “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

The word translated as “called,” chrématizó, is not a usual word for naming someone. It gives the sense of transacting business or making an answer. HELPS Word Studies defines it as “‘a legal agreement for transacting business’ – properly, to admonish on the basis of a valid standard (what has true worth).” To get the sense of its meaning, Paul uses it in Romans 7 when referring to an adulterous wife –

“So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.” Romans 7:3

As such, the word “designated” gives the appropriate sense. Hence, “And the disciples were first designated as Christians in Antioch.” The word “Christian” simply means a follower of Christ. With this understanding, it is often held that Luke means that the term was used as a sort of pejorative, such as, “Look at those stupid ‘Christians.’”

Hence, the idea is that the term is one which was only considered lowly and derogatory, even disgracefully when used by others. This is an unfounded claim. Seeing the three uses of the word will clarify what the intent is –

“And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Acts 11:26
“Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian.’” Acts 26:28
“Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” 1 Peter 4:16

There is nothing to suggest that the term here is used exclusively by those outside of the body of believers. It is simply a statement of fact. Just as today a Presbyterian is identified as such, and just as a Baptist is identified as such. It is true that those outside may have used the term in a negative way – “Look at those holy-roller ‘Christians’ over there.” However, to a believer in the Greek-speaking world, the name is the only logical and proper title.

The word Christos is transliterated into “Christ,” and it has the same meaning as Messiah. Both mean “Anointed One.” As the majority of believers moved from Hebrew-speaking to Greek-speaking Jews, and even Gentiles, such as would be the case in Antioch, the title “Christian,” or “Christ-follower,” would naturally and gladly be used. There would be no hint of derision, but only a welcome bearing of the word.

For those on the outside who were not at enmity with the believers, it would be a name to be used without either derision or exaltation. And for those who disliked believers, it would probably have been a title of derision. This is how any name is given. For a family – “Those ‘Garretts’ are a bunch of yahoos.” For a nationality, “I really respect those ‘Americans.’” For a type of car – “A ‘Ford?’ No way Jose! That means ‘Found On Road, Dead.’ I would never own a ‘Ford!’”

The use of the word would bear either a positive or negative stress based on who was using it. To understand this even more clearly, one can think of the word used today that has the Hebrew equivalent, Messianic. With the increase in Jewish believers since the 1960s, the term “Christian,” which has been used as a pejorative by the Jewish people for the past two millennia, is no longer a suitable word to identify oneself with among the Jews. Therefore, to remove any negative connotations, the term “Messianic” has been adopted.

This word bears the same meaning as “Christian,” but being in the Hebrew language, it does not carry with it the same negative connotation by most. And yet, there are times when it is used negatively, such as, “Those ‘Messianics’ are nothing but trouble.” Despite this, it is a term used by believing Jews as a badge of honor.

Life application: The word “church” in Scripture does not mean a building. Far too often, however, that is exactly what comes up in our modern thinking – both within the body and by those outside of it. But the church is a body of believers that meets together, not a building. Hence, one can be in a church while on the beach, while in a gymnasium, or even attending online with others. The church is comprised of those who are gathering.

Remembering this will help us to have our focus on the One who has brought about the gathering in the first place. We are not going to a building to hear certain music, to see a fancy light show, or to have “the best latte” in town. We attend a church gathering to hear the word explained, to find comfort in fellowship, and – above all – to honor the Lord Jesus who has brought us together unto Himself. As such, we are Christians, followers of Christ, who are gathered to worship the crucified and resurrected Lord of all.

Most glorious and gracious heavenly Father, thank You that we can bear the title of Christian because we are followers of Christ Jesus. There is no greater honor than this. Help us to never be ashamed of this title and to never be afraid to avow that it applies to us. Even in this world where it is becoming a title to be rallied against, may we gladly bear the reproach of the world for the sake of our Lord. Help us to stand firm in this. Amen.