Jun 072009

Adapted from the chapter “Al-Masih in the Qur’an” in the book The Mystery of the Messiah: The Messiahship of Jesus in the Qur’an, New Testament, Old Testament, and Other Sources

The Qur’an does not use the title “Christ” to call Jesus’ followers “Christians.” Christians are not named after the title “Messiah” but are called Nasara or “Nazarenes.” This Qur’anic title does not presume that Jesus was a Nazarene. It is derived from a particular historical event in which Jesus called on his companions for “support” or nasr in Arabic (this is discussed in more detail in The Mystery Of The Historical Jesus: The Messiah in the Qur’an, the Bible, and Historical Sources, 2007: 224-229):

But when Jesus perceived disbelief on their part, he said: “Who are my ansar (supporters) in the cause of Allah?” The companions said: “We are Allah’s ansar. We believe in Allah, and do you bear witness that we are Muslims.” (3.52)
O you who believe! Be Allah’s ansar (supporters), as Jesus son of Mary said to the companions: “Who are my ansar (supporters) in the cause of Allah?” The companions said: “We are Allah’s ansar (supporters).” Then a party of the Children of Israel believed and a party disbelieved, therefore we aided those who believed against their enemy, so they became the ones that prevailed (61.14).
Like the Qur’an, and contrary to what many think, the term Christianos or “Christian” is never used in the Gospels. Furthermore, it appears only three times in the New Testament — twice in Acts and once in the First Epistle of Peter. The first mention in Acts is particularly significant: “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). This visit of the apostles Paul and Barnabas to Antioch occurred around 45 CE. This suggests that it was well after Jesus had gone that his disciplesor any of his followers started to be known as “Christians.”

The term is then used twice to refer to any follower of the Christ, which is what it ultimately came to mean. In its second occurrence in Acts (26:28), King Agrippa II argues with Paul for trying to convert him to a “Christian.” In the third and last appearance of the term in the New Testament, the follower of the Christ is reminded not to be ashamed of suffering as a “Christian” and to glorify God for bearing such a name (1 Peter 4:16).

It may be suggested that it was Paul and Barnabas who introduced this term in Antioch. One argument against this view is that Paul never uses the term in his letters, preferring to call fellow Christians adelphos (brothers) and adelphen (sisters). This may indicate that the term was introduced by non-Christians, which could explain Acts’ anonymous attribution of the coining of the term. If that is the case, it is doubtful that the term was first applied to Christ’s disciples and then to all his followers, as non-Christians would not have differentiated between the two.


 Copyright © 2009 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

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