Re: Christian

From: Mary Pendergraft (
Date: Tue May 25 1999 - 10:03:12 EDT

> Michael Abernathy wrote:
> Denny Diehl asked about the word Christian and after reading the
> responses, I thought I'd throw in my two cents.
> First, on the meaning of the word Christian itself. Jim West gave you
> a pretty standard answer on the meaning of the word; however, I am not
> certain that is correct. I am not a Latin scholar so if any of you
> can give me better information on this I will be glad to hear it.
> Years ago, I researched this Latin ending at a small mid-west Bible
> college. I could find only one reference that studied the historical
> usage of the word and documented the time for each usage. That work
> (sorry I don't remember the source) claimed that the word was not used
> as a diminutive until the late third or early fourth century A.D. In
> the first century, the author claimed the meaning, "belonging to,
> slave of," or "follower of."

Mike Abernathy is right, of course, that the word, XRISTIANOI, has an
adjectival ending -ianus that is originally Latin, not native to Greek.
Commentators often draw comparisons with Latin patronymics (names
deriving from one's father's name--for instance, when Aemilius Paullus
was adopted by P. Cornelius Scipio he became "P. Cornelius Scipio
_Aemilianus_". Similarly, "Caesarianus" apparently can mean a political
supporter of Caesar or a member of the imperial household--slaves and

F. F. Bruce, among others, notes that here, Acts 26.28, and 1 Peter
4:16, the term is always put in the mouths of non-Christians. That
observation suggests first, that "Christos" was heard by others not as a
title but as a name, and next, as others have pointed out, that it
wasn't originally a name Christians gave to themselves.

And, finally, here is the entry from Lewis and Short (from Perseus)

"ChristiČnus, a, um, adj. [Christus], Christian: fides, Cod. Just. 16,
8, 18: lex, ib. 16, 8, 13: religio, ib. 9, 40, 16.--Hence, subst.,
a Christian, Tac. A. 15, 44; Suet. Ner. 16; Plin. Ep. 10, 97;
very frequent in the Church fathers.--Absol., a Christian clergyman,
Cod. Th. 5, 5, 2; 12, 1, 50.--Sup.: Christianissimus, the most
Christian, Hier. Ep. 57, 12: princeps, Ambros. Ep. 1, 1.-- Adv.:
ChristiČnź, in a Christian manner or spirit: regere, Aug. Ep. 89."


Mary Pendergraft
Associate Professor of Greek and Latin
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem NC 27109-7343

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