Christian was first used as an English word in 1526 originated from the Latin word christianus. In 1779 it was borrowed from cretin the French word crétin, medieval inhabitants of remote Alpine valleys used the word synonymously as one would use the word human. Because of the lack of iodine in their diets many people in remote areas of Switzerland contracted severe thyroid diseases including goiters and congenital idiocy. Deserving of pity the local Priests referred to these unfortunates as Christians, or as in, 'at least they are human'

Beginning as a struggle to shape and define their identity and faith the first Christians were a diverse group of early followers. First called Christian in Antioch 1 the word appears in Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:14-16

The origin of the word remains obscure and is composed of the word Christ, meaning annointed one in Greek and the ending designating partisans of or followers of. Jews initially referred to the earliest followers as the sect of the Nazarenes and seemingly thought of Christians as a Jewish group outside of those who didn't accept Jesus as the Messiah.

It is implausible that the followers of Jesus originated the term among the first Christians because most referred to themselves as saints 2 3 4, the Way 5 6, brothers7 8 9, and frequently throughout the Gospels as well as the New Testament as disciples 10 11.

The term was used as a mocking remark by Agrippa in Acts 26:28; as an admonishment in 1 Peter 4:14-16 and apparently in disparagement of the small sect of first followers. The ancient historians of Rome also used the term this way. In Annals 15:6 Tacitus refers to the Christians as people despised for their evil deeds and in Lives of the Caesars Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus calls them a new and evil supersition.

If it was used as a term of ridicule and scorn for the first followers of Jesus in Antioch, most likely Roman officials coined the word to differentiate the Christian group from Judaism. It has also been conjectured by biblical scholars that Christian was used to designate the Christian movement hostile toward Agrippa. Regardless as to where the term began it is agreed upon by most scholars that it was first use was as a pejorative. However, by the end of the first century of the common era the expressed acceptance of the word among Christians is seen as a comforting sign of God's glory.12 13 14


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The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993