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Christianity and Etymology: The Origins, Development and Meaning of the Term Christian

The term Christian has a long history rooted in the life Jesus Christ. However, several cultures and languages have contributed to the development of this term, as well as its diffusion throughout the world.

The Etymology of the Term Christian

The term “Christian” is derived from the name Christ. While it is generally associated with Jesus Christ, one of the central figures of the Christian faith, it has also been used to refer to other individuals.

In this Christian context, the term Christian referred to the earliest disciples of Jesus. The term Christian means “belonging to Christ” and is derived from the Greek noun kristos, which means “anointed one”. This Greek term is a translation of the Hebrew mashiah or “Messiah”. The term mashiah is in turn derived from khriein which means “to anoint” or “to rub”. Christ, which is written in Latin as christus and in Old English as crist, became the preferred form of address for < a href="/nazareth.html">Nazareth, Jesus of Nazareth, and overtook other terms of description for Jesus, such as the Old English term haeland, meaning “healer”.

In the Bible, the first known use of the term is found in the New Testament. Specifically, the term Christians appears in Acts 11:26 in which it refers to Jesus’ closest followers: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch”. The term is also found in the New Testament in Acts 26: 28, where it is used in reference to the spiritual ministry of Paul in spreading the word of Jesus: “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’” The term also appears in 1 Peter 4:16, where it is used as an affirmation of religious devotion: “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”

Furthermore, the title Christ was considered to be a proper name in Old English, however it was not regularly capitalized until the 1600s. The pronunciation of the word featured a long “i” due to Irish missionary work that occurred in England during the seventh and eighth centuries.

The term Christianity, meaning the “religion of Christ” dates from circa 1303. In Hebrew, Christians are referred to as Nazarenes (Notzri), as Jesus was from the province of Nazareth.


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