Early Usage of The Word Christian
The first recorded use of the term (or its cognates in other languages) is in the New Testament, in Acts 11:26, which states "...in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians." The second mention of the term follows in Acts 26:28, where Herod Agrippa II replies to Paul the Apostle, "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" The third and final New Testament reference to the term is in 1 Peter 4:16, which exhorts believers, "...if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."
Another term for Christians which appears in the New Testament is "Nazarenes" which is used by the Jewish lawyer Tertullus in Acts 24. Tertullian (Against Marcion 4:8) records that "the Jews call us Nazarenes," while around 331 AD Eusebius records that Christ was called a Nazoraean from the name Nazareth, and that in earlier centuries "Christians," were once called "Nazarenes." The Hebrew equivalent of "Nazarenes", Notzrim, occurs in the Babylonian Talmud, and is still the modern Israeli Hebrew term for Christian.
All three original New Testament verses' usages reflect a derisive element in the term Christian to refer to followers of Christ who did not acknowledge the emperor of Rome. The town Antioch, which is said to have given them the name Christian, had a reputation for coming up with such nicknames. However Peter's apparent endorsement of the term led to its being preferred over "Nazarenes" and the term Christianoi from 1 Peter becomes the standard term in the Early Church Fathers from Ignatius and Polycarp onwards.
The earliest occurrences of the term in non-Christian literature include Josephus, referring to "the tribe of Christians, so named from him;" Pliny the Younger in correspondence with Trajan; and Tacitus, writing near the end of the 1st century. In the Annals he relates that "by vulgar appellation [they were] commonly called Christians" and identifies Christians as Nero's scapegoats for the Great Fire of Rome.
Modern Day Usage of The Word Christian
A wide range of beliefs and practices is found across the world among those who call themselves Christian. There is usually a consensus among many denominations about what defines a Christian, but disagreement does exist among some sects and denominations on a common definition of "Christianity." Philosopher Michael Martin, in his book The Case Against Christianity, evaluated three historical Christian creeds (the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed) to establish a set of basic assumptions which include belief in theism, the historicity of Jesus, the Incarnation, salvation through faith in Jesus, and Jesus as an ethical role model.
As the identification of the Messiah with Jesus is not accepted within Judaism, the Talmudic term for Christians in Hebrew is Notzrim ("Nazarenes"), originally derived from the fact that Jesus came from the village of Nazareth in Israel. However, Messianic Jews are referred to in modern Hebrew as יהודים משיחיים (Yehudim Meshihi'im).
In Arabic-speaking cultures, two words are commonly used for Christians: Nasrani (نصراني), plural "Nasara" (نصارى) is generally understood to be derived from Nazareth through the Syriac (Aramaic); Masihi (مسيحي) means followers of the Messiah.
Where there is a distinction, Nasrani refers to people from a Christian culture and Masihi means those with a religious faith in Jesus. In some countries Nasrani tends to be used generically for non-Muslim white people. Another Arabic word sometimes used for Christians, particularly in a political context, is Salibi (صليبي "Crusader") from salib (صليب "crucifix") which refers to Crusaders and has negative connotations.
The Syriac term Nasrani (Nazarene) has also been attached to the Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala, India. In the Indian subcontinent, Christians call themselves "Isaai" (Hindi: ईसाई, Urdu: عیسائی), and are also known by this term to adherents of other religions. This is related to the name they call Jesus, "Isa Masih".
In the past, the Malays used to call the Portuguese Serani from the Arabic Nasrani. Today the term Serani is used for the creole Christian community of Malaysia today.
The Chinese word is 基督徒 (pinyin: jīdū tú), literally "Christ follower." The two characters now pronounced Jīdū in Mandarin Chinese, were originally pronounced Ki-To in Cantonese as representation of Latin "Cristo." Likewise in Vietnam the same two characters read Cơ đốc, and a "follower of Christianity" is a tín đồ Cơ đốc giáo. In Japan, the term kirishitan (written in Edo period documents 吉利支丹, 切支丹, and in modern Japanese histories as キリシタン), from Portuguese cristão, referred to Roman Catholic Christians in the 16th and 17th centuries before the religion was banned by the Tokugawa shogunate. Today Christians are referred to in standard Japanese as Kuristo-kyo-to キリスト教徒, or the English-derived term kurisuchan クリスチャン. Korean still uses Kidok-kyo-do (written in hangul as 기독교도) for "Christian," though the Greek form Kurisudo 그리스도 has now replaced the old Sino-Korean Kidok for Christ himself.
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