on Acts 11 :26
He brought him unto Antioch - As this city was the metropolis of Syria, and the third city for importance in the whole Roman empire, Rome and Alexandria alone being more eminent, Barnabas might think it expedient to have for his assistance a person of such eminent talents as Saul; and who was especially appointed by Christ to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. Saul appears also to have been a thorough master of the Greek tongue, and, consequently, the better qualified to explain the Gospel to the Greek philosophers, and to defend it against their cavils. Barnabas, also being a native of Cyprus, Acts 4:36, where the Greek language was spoken, was judged to be proper for this mission, perhaps on this account, as well as on account of his disinterestedness, holiness, and zeal.
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 favored 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.
on Acts 11 :26
That a whole year - Antioch was a city exceedingly important in its numbers, wealth, and influence. It was for this reason, probably, that they spent so long a time there, instead of traveling in other places. The attention of the apostles was early and chiefly directed to cities, as being places of influence and centers of power. Thus, Paul passed three years in the city of Ephesus, Acts 20:31. And thus he continued a year and a half at Corinth, Acts 18:11. It may be added that the first churches were founded in cities; and the most remarkable success attended the preaching of the gospel in large towns.
They assembled themselves ... - They came together for worship.
With the church - Margin, in the church. The Greek ἐν en will bear this construction; but there is no instance in the New Testament where the word "church" refers to the edifice in which a congregation worships. It evidently here means that Barnabas and Saul convened with the Christian assembly at proper times, through the space of a year, for the purposes of public worship.
And the disciples were called Christians ... - As this became the distinguishing name of the followers of Christ, it was worthy of record. The name was evidently given because they were the followers of Christ. But by whom, or with what views it was given, is not certainly known. Whether it was given by their enemies in derision, as the names Puritan, Quaker, Methodist, etc., have been; or whether the disciples assumed it themselves, or whether it was given by divine intimation, has been a matter of debate. That it was given in derision is not probable, for in the name "Christian" there was nothing dishonorable. To be the professed friends of the Messiah, or the Christ, was not with Jews a matter of reproach, for they all professed to be the friends of the Messiah. The cause of reproach with the disciples was that they regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah; and hence, when their enemies wished to speak of them with contempt, they would speak of them as Galileans Acts 2:7, or as Nazarenes Acts 24:5, "And a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." It is possible that the name might have been given to them as a mere appellation, without intending to convey by it any reproach. The Gentiles would probably use this name to distinguish them, and it might have become thus the common appellation. It is evident from the New Testament, I think, that it was not designed as a term of reproach. It occurs but twice elsewhere: Acts 26:28, "Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian"; 1 Peter 4:16, "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed." No certain argument can be drawn in regard to the source of the name from the word which is used here. The word used here, and translated "were called" - χρηματίζω chrēmatizō - means:
(1) To transact any business; to be employed in accomplishing anything, etc. This is its usual signification in the Greek writers.
(2) to be divinely admonished, to be instructed by a divine communication, etc., Matthew 2:12; Luke 2:26; Acts 10:22; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 11:7; Hebrews 12:25.
(3) to be named, or called, in any way, without a divine communication, Romans 7:3, "She shall be called an adulteress." It cannot be denied, however, that the most usual signification in the New Testament is that of a divine monition, or communication; and it is certainly possible that the name was given by Barnabas and Saul. I recline to the opinion, however, that it was given to them by the Gentiles who were there, simply as an appellation, without intending it as a name of reproach; and that it was readily assumed by the disciples as a name that would fitly designate them. If it had been assumed by them, or if Barnabas and Saul had conferred the name, the record would probably have been to this effect; not simply that they "were called," but that they took this name, or that it was given by the apostles. It is, however, of little consequence whence the name originated. It soon became a name of reproach, and has usually been in all ages since, by the wicked, the frivolous, the licentious, and the ungodly.
It is, however, an honored name - the most honorable appellation that can be conferred on a mortal. It suggests at once to a Christian the name of his great Redeemer; the idea of our intimate relation to him; and the thought that we receive him as our chosen Leader, the source of our blessings, the author of our salvation, the fountain of our joys. It is the distinguishing name of all the redeemed. It is not that we belong to this or that denomination; it is not that our names are connected with high and illustrious ancestors; it is not that they are recorded in the books of heraldry; it is not that they stand high in courts, and among the frivolous, the fashionable, and the rich, that true honor is conferred upon men. These are not the things that give distinction and speciality to the followers of the Redeemer. It is that they are "Christians." This is their special name; by this they are known; this at once suggests their character, their feelings, their doctrines, their hopes, their joys.
This binds them all together - a name which rises above every other appellation; which unites in one the inhabitants of distant nations and tribes of men; which connects the extremes of society, and places them in most important respects on a common level; and which is a bond to unite in one family all those who love the Lord Jesus, though dwelling in different climes, speaking different languages, engaged in different pursuits of life, and occupying distant graves at death. He who lives according to the import of this name is the most blessed and eminent of morals. This name shall be had in remembrance when the names of royalty shall be remembered no more, and when the appellations of nobility shall cease to amuse or to dazzle the world.
on Acts 11 :26
11:26 And the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch - Here it was that they first received this standing appellation. They were before termed Nazarenes and Galileans.