A Series of Answers to Common Questions

Sam Shamoun


The terms Islam and Muslims are found all throughout the Quran (cf. 2:130-133; 3:19-20, 67, 84-85; 5:3; 22:78), indicating that these are revealed names from God unlike the terms Christianity and Christian(s). These words are man-made expressions used to denote the faith of those who profess belief in Jesus Christ in accord with the teachings of the NT. Why do Christians accept such names when the Bible nowhere uses such terms? Why do Christians call themselves such when the Bible never expressly states that this is the name which God and/or Christ gave to their followers? In other words, why are Christians using a name that is based on human tradition and not on revelation?


In the first place, it really doesn’t matter what the Quran claims about the origin of the words Islam and Muslims since one must first prove that it is a book from the true God. Muslims who assume that these terms are revealed names are really begging the question since they have assumed that the Quran is divine revelation, but have failed to prove their case thus far.

Secondly, why is it necessary to show that the name Christian(s) is a divinely revealed name? What makes Muslims think that they can impose their understanding upon the Christian faith and that Christians must meet their criteria? Christianity is not Islam and the two religions are not identical in their understandings of revelation.

For instance, the Muslim view of revelation is that the Quran was sent down ("tanzil") directly from heaven, untouched in any way by the messenger which was then dictated to Muhammad. The biblical understanding of inspiration is different, i.e. God working with and through his people. God can even inspire unbelievers to speak his truth and to bring about his purposes (cf. Numbers 24:1-3; John 11:49-52).

Furthermore, the Bible teaches that God works out everything according to his sovereign purposes (cf. Proverbs 16:4; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11). What this means is that even if the naming of Christ’s followers as Christians wasn’t directly revealed by God it still didn’t happen apart from God’s purposes or against his intentions. Their being named such could have only happened if God had intended and purposed it beforehand.

This leads me to my next point. It is not correct to assume that the word Christian(s) is a man-made title, as opposed to a divinely revealed name, since there is plenty of evidence from the NT itself to prove that such is not the case.

For instance, the Lord Jesus anticipates a time in which his followers would carry his name, that kind acts would be shown to those who believe in him on account of their bearing the name of their Lord:

"For I tell you the truth, whoever gives you a cup of water because you bear Christ’s name will never lose his reward." Mark 9:41 New English Bible (NET)

"For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward." NASB

Not long after that, we see how God moved people to start identifying Christ’s followers as Christians:

"and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." Acts 11:26

This basically fulfills the words of Christ. What makes this text rather significant is that it uses the passive voice, i.e. "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch," which may suggest that it was God who named them such. This position becomes all the more probable when we look at the immediate context which refers to prophets whom the Lord Jesus had raised up for the Churches:

"During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul." Acts 11:27-30

Hence, the use of the passive voice may actually be implying that God/Christ named the believers Christians by revealing it through his prophets that were functioning in the early Church (cf. Acts 13:1-3; 15:32; 21:9-11; 1 Corinthians 12:28-31; Ephesians 2:20, 3:5, 4:11). As one Bible expositor noted:

And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
It is evident they had the name Christians from CHRIST their master; as the Platonists and Pythagoreans had their name from their masters, Plato and Pythagoras. Now, as these had their name from those great masters because they attended their teaching, and credited their doctrines, so the disciples were called Christians because they took Christ for their teacher, crediting his doctrines, and following the rule of life laid down by him. It has been a question, by whom was this name given to the disciples? Some think THEY ASSUMED IT; others, that the inhabitants of Antioch gave it to them; and others, THAT IT WAS GIVEN BY SAUL AND BARNABAS. THIS LATER OPINION IS FAVOURED BY THE CODEX BEZAE, which reads the 25th and 26th verses thus: And hearing that Saul was at Tarsus, he departed, seeking for him; and having found him, he besought him to come to Antioch; who, when they were come, assembled with the Church a whole year, and instructed a great number; and there they first called the disciples at Antioch Christians.

The word χρηματισαι in our common text, which we translate were called, signifies in the New Testament, to appoint, warn, or nominate, BY DIVINE DIRECTION. In this sense, the word is used, Matthew 2:12; ; Luke 2:26; and in the preceding chapter of this book, Acts 10:22. If, therefore, THE NAME WAS GIVEN BY DIVINE APPOINTMENT, it as most likely that Saul and Barnabas WERE DIRECTED TO GIVE IT; and that, therefore, the name Christian IS FROM GOD, as well as that grace and holiness which are so essentially required and implied in the character. Before this time. the Jewish converts were simply called, among themselves, disciples, i.e. scholars; believers, saints, the Church, or assembly; and, by their enemies, Nazarenes, Galileans, the men of this way or sect; and perhaps lay other names which are not come down to us. They considered themselves as one family; and hence the appellation of brethren was frequent among them. It was the design of God to make all who believed of one heart and one soul, that they might consider him as their Father, and live and love like children of the same household. A Christian, therefore, is the highest character which any human being can bear upon earth; and to receive it from God, as those appear to have done-how glorious the title! It is however worthy of remark that this name occurs in only three places in the New Testament: here, and in Acts 26:28, and in ; 1 Peter 4:16. (The Adam Clarke Commentary; source; capital and underline emphasis ours)

Matthew Henry, the late Bible commentator, concurred with Clarke:

(2.) What honour was now put upon the church at Antioch: There the disciples were first called Christians; it is probable they called themselves so, incorporated themselves by that title, whether by some solemn act of the church or ministers, or whether this name insensibly obtained there by its being frequently used in their praying and preaching, we are not told; but it should seem that two such great men as Paul and Barnabas continuing there so long, being exceedingly followed, and meeting with no opposition, Christian assemblies made a greater figure there than any where, and became more considerable, which was the reason of their being called Christians first there, which, if there were to be a mother-church to rule over all other churches, would give Antioch a better title to the honour than Rome can pretend to. Hitherto those who gave up their names to Christ were called disciples, learners, scholars, trained up under him, in order to their being employed by him; but henceforward they were called Christians. [1.] Thus the reproachful names which their enemies had hitherto branded them with would, perhaps, be superseded and disused. They called them Nazarenes (Acts 24:5), the men of that way, that by-way, which had no name; and thus they prejudiced people against them. To remove the prejudice, they gave themselves a name which their enemies could not but say was proper. [2.] Thus those who before their conversion had been distinguished by the names of Jews and Gentiles might after their conversion be called by one and the same name, which would help them to forget their former dividing names, and prevent their bringing their former marks of distinction, and with them the seeds of contention, into the church. Let not one say, "I was a Jew;" nor the other, "I was a Gentile;" when both the one and the other must now say, "I am a Christian." [3.] Thus they studied to do honour to their Master, and showed that they were not ashamed to own their relation to him, but gloried in it; as the scholars of Plato called themselves Platonists, and so the scholars of other great men. They took their denomination not from the name of his person, Jesus, but of his office, Christ-anointed, so putting their creed into their names, that Jesus is the Christ; and they were willing all the world should know that this is the truth they will live and die by. Their enemies will turn this name to their reproach, and impute it to them as their crime, but they will glory in it: If this be to be vile, I will be yet more vile. [4.] Thus they now owned their dependence upon Christ, and their receivings from him; not only that they believed in him who is the anointed, but that through him they themselves had the anointing, 1 John 2:20,27. And God is said to have anointed us in Christ, 2 Corinthians 1:21. [5.] Thus they laid upon themselves, and all that should ever profess that name, a strong and lasting obligation to submit to the laws of Christ, to follow the example of Christ, and to devote themselves entirely to the honour of Christ--to be to him for a name and a praise. Are we Christians? Then we ought to think, and speak, and act, in every thing as becomes Christians, and to do nothing to the reproach of that worthy name by which we are called; that that may not be said to us which Alexander said to a soldier of his own name that was noted for a coward, Aut nomen, aut mores muta--Either change thy name or mend thy manners. And as we must look upon ourselves as Christians, and carry ourselves accordingly, so we must look upon others as Christians, and carry ourselves towards them accordingly. A Christian, though not in every thing of our mind, should be loved and respected for his sake whose name he bears, because he belongs to Christ. [6.] Thus the scripture was fulfilled, for so it was written (Isaiah 62:2) concerning the gospel-church, Thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name. And it is said to the corrupt and degenerate church of the Jews, The Lord God shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name, Isaiah 65:15. (Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible; source; underline emphasis ours)

The late exegete John Gill provides evidence from a patristic father that the name Christians was employed by a Christian bishop of Syria:

and the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch;
before they were called among themselves, the disciples, brethren, believers, the church… and by others the Nazarenes, and Galilaeans: whether this name of Christians, which comes from Christ, and signifies anointed ones, was given by their enemies, or their friends, by others, or themselves, is not certain, though it is most likely the latter; and it may be they hit upon this general appellation, upon the union of the Jews and Gentiles in one Gospel church state, and so happily buried the distinction of Jews and Gentiles, or those of the circumcision that believed, and those of the uncircumcision. Luke is particular in relating the affairs of this church, he being himself a native of this place. John of Antioch
F15 gives an account of this matter in these words;

“at the beginning of the reign of Claudius Caesar, ten years after Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, was ascended up into heaven, Evodus, the first after the Apostle Peter, being chosen bishop of Antioch, the great city of Syria, became a patriarch, and under him they were called Christians: for this same bishop, Evodus, conferring with them, put this name upon them, whereas before the Christians were called Nazarenes and Galilaeans.”

F15 Apud Gregory's Notes… p. 155. (The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible; source; underline emphasis ours)

More on the point of the name being divinely appointed a little later.

Moreover, the Apostles like Paul were eager to persuade individuals to become Christian:

"Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’" Acts 26:28-29

Peter, one of Christ’s closest companions, exhorted believers to rejoice at the fact that they were suffering for being Christians:

"If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." 1 Peter 4:14-16

This leads me to another point. Christ specifically told his disciples that they would be given authority to speak on matters which would be binding upon all true believers:

"‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’" Matthew 16:15-19

"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Matthew 18:18

The Lord also stated that the Holy Spirit would reveal new things to them which they would then pass on to the Churches:

"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." John 16:12-13

"Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’" John 20:21-23

The Apostles themselves claimed that they were speaking by the authority of Christ, passing on the instructions which they had received from the Holy Spirit:

"This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words." 1 Corinthians 2:13

"since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you… This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down." 2 Corinthians 13:3, 10

"Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power." Ephesians 3:2-7

"For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus… Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit." 1 Thessalonians 4:2, 8

"Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles." 2 Peter 3:1-2

What the foregoing texts imply is that even if Christ had never hinted that there would be a time in which his followers would bear his name, Peter’s statement to believers that they should rejoice for bearing the title Christian would be sufficient in and of itself to demonstrate that this is in fact a divinely revealed name. Seeing that the Lord Jesus personally gave the disciples like Peter the authority to speak on issues which he himself may have not addressed while on earth indicates that Peter’s use of the term Christians actually came from God. It was God who bestowed it upon the followers of Christ through his inspired spokespersons and agents. It didn’t originate from Peter, or the other Apostles, but was revealed to and through them to the Churches.

To put it simply, the word Christian is not a man-made title but an inspired name which God bestowed upon all true believers. It is divine, not human, in origin.

Unless stated otherwise all scriptural quotations taken from the New International Version (NIV) of the Holy Bible.

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