Thursday, December 27, 2007

The "Little Christ" Hogwash

I don’t know whether anyone’s tried to tell you that the word “Christian” means “Little Christ.” I’ve heard this from several. Several of the pastors who have tried to set me straight about our objective as Christians. Our objective to be like Christ.

But it is apparently false. This understanding of the word Christian is apparently false.

Having no idea myself, I looked it up this evening in one of Zondervan’s Understanding the Bible reference series: Zondervan’s Bible Dictionary.

It says that the word Christian is derived from the Greek, Christianos. Further it says, “The Latin termination –ianos, widely used throughout the [Roman] empire, often designated the slaves of the one with whose name it was compounded.”

“Slaves,” not “children” or “followers” or “friends” or “companions” or “colleagues” or “brothers.”


A name that was applied first in Antioch, if Acts is correct, by non-Christians to followers of the Way. A name that stuck and was adopted by Christians themselves.

Which suggests to me that the first Christians did not imagine themselves to be little Christs.

They did not act as if they were in any way diminutive copies or duplicates of Christ. They did not behave as if they were in any sense equal to or roughly equivalent to or approximately the same as Jesus.

No. They acted like Christ’s slaves would act. Like people who didn’t have anything remotely resembling the social or political or spiritual standing of their master.


lindsay said...

I've actually heard a pastor say it means "baby Christ," implying we are baby Christs.

mark said...

Hi there,

You're right, it doesn't mean 'little Christ'! I've heard that for years, but just had the same revelation myself tonight whilst looking twice at the word on a page and wondering how on earth it could mean that (and found this blog in the fallout of that!). However, whilst it doesn't mean 'little', the 'ianos' definitely can refer beyond slavery to being of the household of, or of the party/following of. "Partisans" or "Followers" is therefore a good definition.

IVP's New Bible Dictionary was interesting too:

The formation seems to be Latin, where plural nouns ending in -iani may denote the soldiers of a particular general (e.g. Galbiani, Galba’s men, Tacitus, Hist. 1. 51), and hence partisans of an individual. Both elements are combined in the quasi-military Augustiani (see below). In the late 1st century AD at least, Caesariani was used of Caesar’s slaves and clients, and in the Gospels we meet the Herodianoi, who may have been partisans or clients of Herod (*Herodians).

Christian(o)i, therefore, may have originally been thought of as ‘soldiers of Christus’ (Souter), or ‘the household of Christus’ (Bickerman), or ‘the partisans of Christus’ (Peterson). H. B. Mattingly has recently given an ingenious turn to the latter interpretation by suggesting that Christiani, by an Antiochene joke, was modelled on Augustiani, the organized brigade of chanting devotees who led the public adulation of Nero Augustus; both the enthusiasm of the believers and the ludicrous homage of the imperial cheer-leaders being satirized by the implicit comparison with each other. But the name ‘Christian’ may well be older than the institution of the Augustiani.



Anonymous said...

Hello Mark,

Thank you for that wonderful comment. I can certainly understand Fartisans or Followers.

I think we all ought to keep in mind that this word is not necessarily defining. It is more a linguistic convenience.

Metaphors are very handy. But we need to watch out that our metaphors don't determine our meanings and our understandings for us. I'm thinking in particular of shallow metaphors. These would be metaphors where the resemblance asserted is slight.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I mean Partisans. I hate it when that happens.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for this update, I'm in the middle of writing a sermon at the moment and I almost included the Christians = little Christs bit in it but wanted to verify it myself before using it. Thanks for writing about the truth on this issue.

Bill Elkington said...

John, thanks for the encouragement. God speed with your sermon. Bill

Cece said...

I agree with the others - you are right.

"Little Christians" does leave an open door to allow us to be not fully committed or to let us "slide" on some scriptural commands.

I like "slave" because we were bought with a price, we are not our own and we need to be doing the work of the Father and unlike a free person who does their own will, we need to seek God's will and set ours aside. Tough thing to do and we cannot even do that on our own power!

We not only can do all things in Christ, but we cannot do anything - especially, God's will, without God's help.

Mike said...

I agree Cece, just remember that Christ doesn't call us servant but friend
for the servant does not know what his master is doing,; but He has called us friends, for all that He has heard from the Father, Christ has made known to us.

Anonymous said...

Our relationship to God is so complex that we cannot descibe it in one word, let alone words themselves. We are slaves, friends, sons and daughters, and so much more. We dont deserve any of it. Praise the Lord for His work on the cross...

Cece said...

To the July 29 post...

You're right..

One word cannot describe it!

Joel Halpin said...

"Little Christs" is a reference from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. In context, he is describing the mission of the Church. His purpose is not in defining the individual Christian, but the purpose of the overall church. The name "little Christs" is a metaphor for being like Christ and CS Lewis says that if we are not drawing people to be like Christ, we are not fulfilling the purpose of the Church.

Bob said...

Much ado about nothing? Followers of Christ were designated by some in Antioch as 'Christians'. The sole authority for believers is the Word of God, the Bible. According to the Word, born again people have the Holy Spirit. That is the essence of being born again - having the Spirit of God within. The indwelling Spirit is the only absolute evidence of being a child of God. Isn't that what the Word teaches? "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His." The clear intent of scripture is that new believers, babes in Christ, are to be progressively conformed to the image of Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit in them. As believers mature there will be the indelible signs of change toward Christ's likeness. What then is wrong with reminding ourselves that it pleases the Father when our lives take on the characteristics of Christ? Our 'character' is the only thing that we will take out of this world. He wills to make it like His own. I think our country would be well served if more of us professing Christians were constrained by the realization that our lives should bear witness to our profession. Thinking of oneself as a "Little Christ" should bless a heart and amplify the desire for a consistent Christ-like life, don't you think?

Bill said...

Bob, thanks for your comment! There is much in it that I agree with. I do, however, object to pastors who don't know what they are talking about, particularly when it comes to something basic like this. If a pastor hasn't looked up what the word "Christian" means, he/she may not worthy to be anyone's pastor.

I also find people who want me to be like God to lead me in the wrong direction. Jesus did not ask me to be like him or a diminutive duplicate of him. He asked me to pay attention to the Holy Spirit and do what it leads me to do. I and the Holy Spirit, I and Jesus, are different and distincly different orders of being. "Be led by the Holy Spirit" and "be like God" are two distinctly different commands. The latter command appears not only to be impossible but potentially evil in intent or in its effect or both. This is why I go on and on about it. (I have moved this blog to:

Erin Flew said...

Thanks for doing the research. I'm revising a small group curriculum I wrote a few years back, and I had repeated this oft-told saying. Decided to check it out and find out if it were true this time.

Anonymous said...

I, too, appreciate your openness and passion for the truth. I certainly agree with the vast majority of your comments and those of your readers. Also, I recognize this blog entry is dated and many comments have been made since your original post. However, I'm burdened with your tone towards pastors and about what Christ has asked us to do. In fact, His longest message recorded for us in the Sermon on the Mount, He is prescribing what it means to live the transformed life as a true follower. We are to "be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect." We are to be "imitators of Christ as beloved children." Christ cannot be duplicated or replicated, for there is only One begotten Son, full of grace and truth! I agree with Bob in that if more "professing Christians were constrained by the realization that our lives should bear witness to our profession. Thinking of oneself as a "Little Christ" should bless a heart and amplify the desire for a consistent Christ-like life, don't you think?" He's on the mark. Christ love ought to compel us towards being like Him and serving His purpose. We do not need to be caught in semantics and as all have said, "one word" does not define us. Love ought to characterize us at all time as God is love. Let's love in deed and truth. Pray for brothers to handle accurately the Word of Truth and I appreciate your heart to expose proper exegesis. God bless you

Bruce Robinson said...

Back in 2010-JUN, Bob said: "The sole authority for believers is the Word of God, the Bible."

If one accepts this belief then one would still believe in a stationary flat Earth, and we would still have human slavery.

I think that a more historically accurate statement would say that believers draw their beliefs from Scripture, church tradition, personal experience, and the findings of science.

Although this represents reality, it highlights a main problem: what to do when the bible and church tradition conflict with science and personal experience. And that is why we have so many unresolved conflicts with regards to human sexuality.

Steve Woodworth said...

There was no distinguishing between slaves and other household members in the greco-roman world. A son, a daughter and a slave were all the same under the authority of the patriarch. The "ianos" can be as suitable for brother or sister as it is for slave.

Anonymous said...

Sorry my friend, but from reading your statements you seem biased. therefore no matter what people told you would not have listened. The definition of Christian is many things, such as children of God (Romans 8:16) Disciples of God (Acts 9:1) Friends of God (john 15:14) Heirs of God (Romans 8:17) Members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5) not slave, servant yes, I love to consider myself a servant of God. You see the difference between servant and salve is a servant willing obeys his master.... If you wanted something its best to go straight to the source.

Anonymous said...

One word, my friend: etymology. The "ianos" ending in Greek is a diminutive, which appears that the term was originally used in a derogatory sense. Have you ever wondered why the term only appears three times in the New Testament? It does not appear as if it became popular until way after the close of the canon.

What's more scary is reading how people are changing their sermon/workshop notes based on what you have said. Talk about the blind leading the blind!

Anonymous said...

The new "Christians" in Antioch were Gentiles. They were called "Christians" by the Jewish believing community.

It was in a derogatory way. Whether or not you want to call them slaves of Christ or Little Christs is missing the point.

You are misinterpreting Little Christ as people actually believing they are Christ or believed as being Christ.

My son is a lot like me, he tries to be like me, following in my footsteps. My family members often call him a little mini-me. I'm sure most of you can relate.

So to make my point, the word "Christian" may not mean Little Christ in definition, but they could have very well been referenced to by the Jews as Little Christs.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, 2 Corinthians chapter 3 verse 18 states "we are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Sounds like a "little Christ" to me.


Gary Lyles said...

I just heard this today and I have heard it repeated many, many times. I was wondering, does anyone know where this originated? I mean, this definition as "little Christs." Who started that?

Anonymous said...

I'm running across something quite different. See: [PDF]Cretin-Crestin-Christian-Natural
And: CHRISTIAN Lew White-Fossilized Customs
Also: Should we call ourselves a Christian?

Kelly said...

It does mean little Christ- be holy as I am holy Jesus said....BE Christ like, Christian first appearing in the book of Acts, be like me----> said Christ. Believers are not "the Christ" they are little Christs! Yes, it means slave if Christ to, when you finally figure out this life is not all a game we're down here playing yet Christ and His love for us is real you get upgraded to a bond slave for Christ.

Bond slaves can't be bought, aren't trying to trick you, love passionately, know whom they serve.

I Kelly Vela am a Christian, a little Christ, a bondslave of Christ.

Laurence Martins said...

dont even know how i ended up there, but check out the scope of the term that translated as "servant/slave"

diakonos: a servant, minister
Original Word: διάκονος, οῦ, ὁ, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine; Noun, Masculine
Transliteration: diakonos
Phonetic Spelling: (dee-ak'-on-os)
Short Definition: a waiter, servant, administrator
Definition: a waiter, servant; then of any one who performs any service, an administrator.
HELPS Word-studies
1249 diákonos (from 1223 /diá, "thoroughly" and konis, "dust") – properly, "thoroughly raise up dust by moving in a hurry, and so to minister" (WP, 1, 162); ministry (sacred service).

1249 /diákonos ("ministry") in the NT usually refers to the Lord inspiring His servants to carry out His plan for His people – i.e. as His "minister" (like a deacon serving Him in a local church).

[A. T. Robertson, "1249 (diákonos) properly means 'to kick up dust,' as one running an errand." 1249 (diákonos) is the root of the English terms, "diaconate, deacon."

This root (diakon-) is "probably connected with the verb diōkō, 'to hasten after, pursue' (perhaps originally said of a runner)" (Vine, Unger, White, NT, 147).]

--now "slave"

1401 doúlos (a masculine noun of uncertain derivation) – properly, someone who belongs to another; a bond-slave, without any ownership rights of their own. Ironically, 1401 /doúlos ("bond-slave") is used with the highest dignity in the NT – namely, of believers who willingly live under Christ's authority as His devoted followers.

NAS Exhaustive Concordance
Word Origin
of uncertain derivation
a slave
NASB Translation
bond-servant (11), bond-servants (12), bondslave (3), bondslaves (8), both men and women (8), servants (1), slave (58), slave's (1), slaves (39).

Thayer's Greek Lexicon
STRONGS NT 1401: δοῦλος

δοῦλος, δούλη, δοῦλον (derived by most from δέω, to tie, bind; by some from ΔΑΛΩ, to ensnare, capture ((?) others besides; cf. Vanicek, p. 322)); serving, subject to: παρεστήσατε τά μέλη ὑμῶν δοῦλα τῇ ἀκαθαρσία, Romans 6:19. Then substantively, ἡ δούλη, a female slave, bondmaid, handmaid: τοῦ Θεοῦ, τοῦ κυρίου, one who worships God and submits to him, Acts 2:18 (from Joel 2:29 ()); Luke 1:38, 48. ὁ δοῦλος, the Sept. for עֶבֶד;

δοῦλος τίνος, devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interests: Matthew 20:27; Mark 10:44; strenuously laboring for another's salvation...

the answer to your issue is==let's hug it out... ;o)