The Significance of Acts 11:26 for the Church at Antioch and Today -- By: Stephen J. Strauss

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 168:671 (Jul 2011)
Article: The Significance of Acts 11:26 for the Church at Antioch and Today
Author: Stephen J. Strauss

The Significance of Acts 11:26 for the Church at Antioch and Today

Stephen J. Strauss

Stephen J. Strauss is Professor of World Mission and Intercultural Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

Church leaders face a never-ending array of models for nurturing their churches and reaching their communities. Should they be seeker-centered, purpose-driven, missional, emerging, or none of these, or wait for the “next new thing” to come along? Mission agencies confront vast geographic regions and people groups still little touched with the gospel. Which approaches are the most effective for stimulating church-planting movements? How can church and mission leaders sort through the array of ideas and truly impact their communities and the world with the gospel?

The Book of Acts provides some helpful models for building dynamic churches and mission movements. One of those models is the church at Antioch. Luke often used geography to advance his story line and develop his message and theology,1 and one of his important geographic markers is the city of Antioch. Antioch is mentioned seventeen times in Acts and only twice in the rest of the New Testament. The Antioch story includes the first use of the word ἐκκλεσία in Acts other than to describe the Jerusalem church.

Antioch seems to take the role of Luke’s “second Jerusalem,” the new “mother church”2 for the Pauline Gentile mission, and the place where Gentiles following Jesus became the standard for the future growth of the church. One of the crucial identifying markers of the Antioch church is stated in Acts 11:26, “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

This article explores why the disciples were called “Christians” in Antioch and suggests what this detail contributes to Luke’s larger theology and the message of Luke-Acts. The article then proposes some implications for contemporary church life and missiology.

Why Were Disciples Called Christians in Antioch?

To understand why the followers of Jesus were called “Christians,” four questions must be answered. Who first turned to the Lord in Antioch? What is the significance of the rather unique word χρηματίζειν? What is the significance of the word Χριστιανοίς (“Christians”)? What does the immediate context contribute to an understanding of the historical background?

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