The Name of Christ

By Richard F. Nichols

Originally published in
The Christian Informer

THE NAME CHRISTIAN IS DERIVED FROM THE TITLE, CHRIST. The term Christ is translated from the Greek word kristos, which means anointed. Ho kristos, is "the Christ" or "the anointed one." Since the term Christian is derived from the term Christ, which means anointed, may not all who wear this name scripturally, or who are scripturally entitled to it, be regarded as the anointed people of God?

Under the Old Covenant, all the priests were anointed with holy oil. Under the new covenant, all the people of God's covenant are regarded as priests. Peter says: "You are a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, by Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 2:9). Then may we not say these spiritual priests are anointed? Their name, Christian, indicated that they are. And so they should ever be considered. To this holy anointing the apostle John refers, when he says: "You have an unction, and ye know all things" (1 John 2:20). The word unction is krisma, that with which any one is anointed, an anointing.

Now, there was a very great sacredness attached to anointing, under the Old Testament dispensation. When Saul was seeking the life of David, the Scripture says, having heard that "David had hid himself in the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon," he marched his army of "three thousand chosen men," into the wilderness of Zeph, and pitched his tent "in the hill Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon." Being wearied with the march, he and his army lay down to rest, leaving Abner, his captain, to keep guard; but he also fell into a deep sleep.


David, seeing their position and condition, from the hill, took Abishai, and went even unto Saul. There he lay, wrapped up in deep sleep, and there lay round about him his entire army in the same state. "Then Abishai said to David, God hath delivered thine enemy into thy hand this day; therefore let me smite him I pray thee, with the spear, even to the earth at once." "And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not, for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?" They took Saul's spear, and the cruse of water from his head, and left him to sleep on. Thus, notwithstanding Saul was anointed without a direct warrant from God, and though he had been pursuing David for a long time, fully bent upon his death, yet even when David had him completely in his power, he would not touch him, just because he had been anointed." Addressing Saul afterward, he said, "The Lord delivered thee into my hand today, but I would not stretch forth my hand against the Lord's anointed" (1 Samuel 26:3-23).

This passage contains a very important lesson, which all would do well to study; but we have merely referred to it to show how sacred this anointing was regarded. Hence God said, "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm" (1 Chronicles 16:22). Then, if Christians are God's anointed ones, as their name teaches, O how sacred must they be to Him! If His ancient people, who were only a shadow of Christians, were as dear to God as the apple of His eye, what must be His tender care for those who are His true people according to the stipulations of the new and better covenant? Who, in the light of this truth, would be reluctant to be a Christian?


The name "Christian" is a name of distinction. It is intended to distinguish those who wear it from all other people. Indeed, this is the only use we have for names: We use proper names for the purpose of distinguishing one person or thing from another person or thing. Doubtless this is the reason why the Lord, in the beginning, permitted our common ancestor, Adam, to give names to all the cattle, and fowls of the air, and beasts of the field. This was done, so that for all time, every kind of living creature might be distinguished by name.


The same thing is true in regard to organizations among men. Whether the organization be political, fraternal, charitable, or religious, it must have a name. When men speak or write of it they refer to its name. The name distinguishes it from all other organizations. If one is familiar with the group, the mere mention of the name calls to mind its nature and functions. Now when Christ's new church was set up, there were very many religious organizations, sects, and parties in the world, and each of these had its respective name; naturally, therefore, it was necessary that the Lord's new church should also have its name.

Ancient names usually expressed some quality, or circumstances connected with the persons or things to which they were applied. Adam means earthly, red; Moses, taken out of water; Herod, the glory of the skin; Pharisee, separatist, etc. How natural, then, that the people of this new church, established by Christ, should be called Christians. Such a name would understandably distinguish them from all other religious people on earth, both then and now. By this significant title, the purity of their hearts and lives might be expressed, and they pointed out as the anointed children of God.

The term Christian indicates that those who bear it are the property of Christ. It implies that they are not their own, but that they belong to Christ, being bought with his precious blood. Peter, in giving directions to the elders, says they should not discharge their duties "for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:3). In this passage, the church of Christ is called the heritage of God.


The term which is here rendered heritage, is kleeros, which occurs some thirteen times in the New Testament. It is translated in the King James Version, lot eight times, part twice, inheritance twice, and heritage once—namely, in the Scripture just quoted. This word literally means a lot. James McKnight, in his note on this verse, says, "the word kleeros, properly signifies a lot. Because the land of Caanan was divided among the Israelites by lot, the word came to signify an heritage. Wherefore, believers being God's people, or portion, the different churches, or congregations for worship, are called here God's heritage. In process of time, the name kleeros, clergy, was appropriated to the ministers of the gospel, because, being considered as the successors of the Levitical priests, they were regarded as God's lot, or portion."

Yes, dear friend, that is the way this term became the exclusive title of preachers. At the beginning, it was not so! The Lord's people is his portion, over whom these elders were not to act as lords; for the apostle says, "not as being lords over God's heritage," God's lot, or clergy. Every true and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ belongs to the clergy or heritage. It is very presumptuous of certain men to appropriate the term clergy to themselves, to the exclusion of the great body of God's heritage. There is no other name ever applied to God's people which avoids ambiguity like the name Christian.

Nevertheless, we fear that all who claim this name, do not always consider this truth as they should. Do you, Christian reader, when you call yourself a Christian—or when you speak of yourself as belonging to the church of Christ—appreciate the fact that you are not your own—that you are the property of the Lord—and therefore, that you ought to "glorify him in you body and spirit, which are His?


The name Christian is a catholic name, intended to cover all of God's people, everywhere. The term catholic means universal. The church of Christ is catholic in the sense that it is the body to which all of God's people are to belong. Jesus told his apostles, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them... And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). Hence, this new body of people were to be catholic or universal in that it contained men of all nations. But it never wore the title "universal or catholic church," nor were its people ever called "catholics."


When a Jew was baptized into this body, he left his former religious name on the other side of the baptismal water, and arose on the Lord's side of the line that separated those that serve the Lord from them that serve Him not, bearing the name Christian.

The name Christian is patronymic, in the sense that it is derived from Christ, the builder of the church (Matthew 16:18). He is the author of the religion of the New Testament (Hebrews 12:2). All patronymic names have a commemorative influence. As long as towns and cities are called Washington, the name of "the father of the nation," will never be forgotten.


As long as there is a religious denomination called the Lutherans,just that long the name of Martin Luther will be handed down to posterity. If all the records of the sayings and doings of Martin Luther be buried in oblivion, still his name would be repeated and remembered every time the name of that religious body is called. Those who follow him and wear his name would remember Luther, promote his cause, and perpetuate his remembrance to others.

So, the name Christian carries the name of Christ in its own bosom, and as long as there is a people on earth called by that name, the author and finisher of the Christian's life of faith can never be forgotten.

While discussing the name of God's people with one who belonged to the "Jehovah's Witness" organization we were told "the name Christian stinks". We were shocked at such blasphemy, and immediately shamed the man. When you reflect on the beliefs of such a person you can understand why this would come out of his mouth. He has no special respect for Christ, and therefore has no regard for the name, Christian, which above all other terms honors Christ.


This cannot be said of any other religious name. The name Episcopalian refers to the bishops. The name Presbyterian would remind one of aged persons, or elders, as shepherds of the flock. The name Methodist would suggest the idea of a body of persons who work by a method. But not one of these terms ever directs one's thoughts toward Christ, nor gives honor to the Son of the living God. These terms, of course, are of men's design, are not used in the Scriptures to name God's people, and therefore, should not be used by anyone who desires to follow Christ today.

Even the Scriptural designations—brethren, saints, disciples—without some appendage, (as disciples of Christ, etc.), do not carry the same impact. These are Scriptural terms, and no Christian should hesitate to use them, but the pronunciation of these names does not so directly lift the thoughts to Christ, as the simple name, Christian. No wonder an apostle of Christ would say, "If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name" (1 Peter 4:16 ASV).