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This article is about Christian people. For other uses, see Christian (disambiguation).

A Christian (About this sound pronunciation ) is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. "Christian" derives from the Koine Greek word Christós (Χριστός), a translation of the Biblical Hebrew term mashiach.[1]

There are diverse interpretations of Christianity which sometimes conflict.[2][3] However, "Whatever else they might disagree about, Christians are at least united in believing that Jesus has a unique significance.”[2] The term "Christian" is also used adjectivally to describe anything associated with Christianity, or in a proverbial sense "all that is noble, and good, and Christ-like."[4] It is also used as a label to identify people who associate with the cultural aspects of Christianity, irrespective of personal religious beliefs or practices.[5]


The Greek word Χριστιανός (Christianos), meaning "follower of Christ", comes from Χριστός (Christos), meaning "anointed one",[6] with an adjectival ending borrowed from Latin to denote adhering to, or even belonging to, as in slave ownership.[7] In the Greek Septuagint, christos was used to translate the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Mašíaḥ, messiah), meaning "[one who is] anointed."[8] In other European languages, equivalent words to Christian are likewise derived from the Greek, such as Chrétien in French and Cristiano in Spanish.

Early usage

The first recorded use of the term (or its cognates in other languages) is in the New Testament, in Acts 11:26, after Barnabas brought Saul (Paul) to Antioch where they taught the disciples for about a year, the text says: "[...] the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." The second mention of the term follows in Acts 26:28, where Herod Agrippa II replied to Paul the Apostle, "Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." The third and final New Testament reference to the term is in 1 Peter 4:16, which exhorts believers: "Yet if [any man suffer] as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf."

Kenneth Samuel Wuest holds that all three original New Testament verses' usages reflect a derisive element in the term Christian to refer to followers of Christ who did not acknowledge the emperor of Rome.[9] The city of Antioch, where someone gave them the name Christians, had a reputation for coming up with such nicknames.[10] However Peter's apparent endorsement of the term led to its being preferred over "Nazarenes" and the term Christianoi from 1 Peter becomes the standard term in the Early Church Fathers from Ignatius and Polycarp onwards.[11]

The earliest occurrences of the term in non-Christian literature include Josephus, referring to "the tribe of Christians, so named from him;"[12] Pliny the Younger in correspondence with Trajan; and Tacitus, writing near the end of the 1st century. In the Annals he relates that "by vulgar appellation [they were] commonly called Christians"[13] and identifies Christians as Nero's scapegoats for the Great Fire of Rome.[14]


Another term for Christians which appears in the New Testament is "Nazarenes" which is used by the Jewish lawyer Tertullus in Acts 24. Tertullian (Against Marcion 4:8) records that "the Jews call us Nazarenes," while around 331 AD Eusebius records that Christ was called a Nazoraean from the name Nazareth, and that in earlier centuries "Christians," were once called "Nazarenes."[15] The Hebrew equivalent of "Nazarenes", Notzrim, occurs in the Babylonian Talmud, and is still the modern Israeli Hebrew term for Christian.

Modern usage

The cross and Ichthys symbols, two symbols often used by Christians to represent their religion.

A wide range of beliefs and practices is found across the world among those who call themselves Christian. There is usually a consensus among many denominations about what defines a Christian, but disagreement does exist among some sects and denominations on a common definition of "Christianity." Philosopher Michael Martin, in his book The Case Against Christianity, evaluated three historical Christian creeds (the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed) to establish a set of basic assumptions which include belief in theism, the historicity of Jesus, the Incarnation, salvation through faith in Jesus, and Jesus as an ethical role model.[16]

Hebrew terms

As the identification of the Messiah with Jesus is not accepted within Judaism, the Talmudic term for Christians in Hebrew is Notzrim ("Nazarenes"), originally derived from the fact that Jesus came from the village of Nazareth in Israel.[17] However, Messianic Jews are referred to in modern Hebrew as יהודים משיחיים (Yehudim Meshihi'im).

Arabic terms

Set of pictures for a number of famous Christians from various fields.

In Arabic-speaking cultures, two words are commonly used for Christians: Nasrani (نصراني), plural Nasara (نصارى) is generally understood to be derived from Nazareth[18] through the Syriac (Aramaic); Masihi (مسيحي) means followers of the Messiah.[18][19]

Where there is a distinction, Nasrani refers to people from a Christian culture and Masihi means those with a religious faith in Jesus.[20] In some countries Nasrani tends to be used generically for non-Muslim white people.[20] Another Arabic word sometimes used for Christians, particularly in a political context, is Salibi (صليبي "Crusader") from salib (صليب "crucifix") which refers to Crusaders and has negative connotations.[19][21]

Asian terms

The Syriac term Nasrani (Nazarene) has also been attached to the Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala, India. In the Indian subcontinent, Christians call themselves "Isaai" (Hindi: ईसाई, Urdu: عیسائی‎), and are also known by this term to adherents of other religions.[22] This is related to the name they call Jesus, "Isa Masih".

In the past, the Malays used to call the Portuguese Serani from the Arabic Nasrani. Today the term Serani is used for the creole Christian community of Malaysia today.

The Chinese word is 基督 (pinyin: jīdū tú), literally "Christ follower." The two characters now pronounced Jīdū in Mandarin Chinese, were originally pronounced Ki-To in Cantonese as representation of Latin "Cristo." Likewise in Vietnam the same two characters read Cơ đốc, and a "follower of Christianity" is a tín đồ Cơ đốc giáo. In Japan, the term kirishitan (written in Edo period documents 吉利支丹, 切支丹, and in modern Japanese histories as キリシタン), from Portuguese cristão, referred to Roman Catholic Christians in the 16th and 17th centuries before the religion was banned by the Tokugawa shogunate. Today Christians are referred to in standard Japanese as Kuristo-kyo-to キリスト教徒, or the English-derived term kurisuchan クリスチャン. Korean still uses Kidok-kyo-do (written in hangul as 기독교도) for "Christian," though the Greek form Kurisudo 그리스도 has now replaced the old Sino-Korean Kidok for Christ himself.

Russian terms

Region of modern Eastern Europe and Central Eurasia (Russia, Ukraine and other countries of ex-USSR) have a long history of Christianity and Christian communities on its lands. In ancient times, first centuries after the birth of Christ, when this region was called Scythia - Christians already lived there.[23] Later here the first Christian states emerged, among them - Great Russian Principality (Kyivan Rus, рус. Великое княжество Русское). People of that time used to denote themselfes Christians (христиане, крестьяне) and Russians (русские). Both terms had strong Christian connotations. It is also interesting that time by time the term "крестьяне" got the meaning - "peasants of christian faith" and later "peasants" - the main part of population of the region, term "христиане" saved his meaning and term "русские" began to mean representatives of heterogeneous Russian nation formed on the basis of common Christian faith and language, which strongly influenced the history and development of the region. In the region "Pravoslav faith" (православная вера) or "Russian faith" (русская вера) from earliest times became almost as known as the original "Christian faith" (христианская, крестьянская вера). Also in some contexts the term "cossack" (козак, казак - free man by the will of God) was used to denote "free" Christians of Steppe origin and Russian language.


As of the early 21st century, Christianity has around 2.1 billion adherents.[24][25][26] The faith represents about a quarter to a third of the world's population and is the largest religion in the world, with approximately 38,000 Christian denominations.[27] Christians have composed about 33 percent of the world's population for around 100 years. The largest Christian denomination is the Roman Catholic Church, with 1.17 billion adherents, representing half of all Christians.[28]

Percentage of Christians worldwide
Twenty countries with the most Christians
CountryChristians % Christian
 United States (details)176,400,00078.4%
 Brazil (details)174,700,00090.4%
 Mexico (details)105,095,00094.5%
 Russia (details)99,775,00070.3%
 Philippines (details)90,530,00092.4%
 Nigeria (details)76,281,00048.2%
 Congo, Democratic Republic of (details)68,558,00095.6%
 China, People's Republic of (details)66,959,0005.0%
 Italy (details)55,070,00091.1%
 Ethiopia (details)54,978,00064.5%
 Germany (details)49,400,00059.9%
 Colombia (details)44,502,00097.6%
 Ukraine (details)41,973,00091.5%
 South Africa (details)39,843,00079.7%
 Argentina (details)37,561,00092.7%
 Poland (details)36,526,00095.7%
 Spain (details)35,568,00077.2%
 France (details)35,014,00053.5%
 Kenya (details)34,774,00085.1%
 Uganda (details)29,943,00088.6%

See also




  1. ^ Bickerman (1949) p. 145, The Christians got their appellation from "Christus," that is, "the Anointed," the Messiah.
  2. ^ a b Woodhead, Linda (2004). Christianity: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. n.p. 
  3. ^ Beal, Timothy (2008). Religion in America: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 35, 39.  Beal states that, "Although all of them have their historical roots in Christian theology and tradition, and although most would identify themselves as Christian, many would not identify others within the larger category as Christian. Most Baptists and Fundamentalists, for example, would not acknowledge Mormonism or Christian Science as Christian. In fact, the nearly 77 percent of Americans who self-identify as Christian are a diverse pluribus of Christianities that are far from any collective unity."
  4. ^ Schaff, Philip. "V. St. Paul and the Conversion of the Gentiles (Note 496)". History of the Christian Church. 
  5. ^ Dawkins: I'm a cultural Christian. BBC News. 10 December 2007. 
  6. ^ Christ at Etymology Online
  7. ^ Bickerman, 1949 p. 147, All these Greek terms, formed with the Latin suffix -ianus, exactly as the Latin words of the same derivation, express the idea that the men or things referred to, belong to the person to whose name the suffix is added.
    p. 145, In Latin this suffix produced proper names of the type Marcianus and, on the other hand, derivatives from the name of a person, which referred to his belongings, like fundus Narcissianus, or, by extension, to his adherents, Ciceroniani.
  8. ^ Messiah at Etymology Online
  9. ^ #Wuest-1973 p. 19. The word is used three times in the New Testament, and each time as a term of reproach or derision. Here in Antioch, the name Christianos was coined to distinguish the worshippers of the Christ from the Kaisarianos, the worshippers of Caesar.
  10. ^ #Wuest-1973 p. 19. The city of Antioch in Syria had a reputation for coining nicknames.
  11. ^ Christine Trevett Christian women and the time of the Apostolic Fathers 2006 "'Christians' (christianoi) was a term first coined in Syrian Antioch (Acts 11: 26) and which appeared next in Christian sources in Ignatius, Eph 11.2; Rom 3.2; Pol 7.3. Cf. too Did 12.4; MPol 3.1; 10.1; 12.1-2; EpDiog 1.1; 4.6; 5.1;"
  12. ^ Josephus. "Antiquities of the Jews — XVIII, 3:3". 
  13. ^ Tacitus, Cornelius; Murphy, Arthur (1836). The works of Cornelius Tacitus: with an essay on his life and genius, notes, supplements, &c. Thomas Wardle. p. 287. 
  14. ^ Bruce, Frederick Fyvie (1988). The Book of the Acts. Eerdmans. p. 228. ISBN 0-8028-2505-2. 
  15. ^ Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies: Volume 65, Issue 1 University of London. School of Oriental and African Studies - 2002 "... around 331, Eusebius says of the place name Nazareth that 'from this name the Christ was called a Nazoraean, and in ancient times we, who are now called Christians, were once called Nazarenes';6 thus he attributes this designation ..."
  16. ^ Martin, Michael (1993). The Case Against Christianity. Temple University Press. p. 12. ISBN 1-56639-081-8. 
  17. ^ Nazarene at Etymology Online
  18. ^ a b Khaled Ahmed, Pakistan Daily Times.
  19. ^ a b Society for Internet Research, The Hamas Charter, note 62 (erroneously, "salidi").
  20. ^ a b Jeffrey Tayler, Trekking through the Moroccan Sahara.
  21. ^ Akbar S. Ahmed, Islam, Globalization, and Postmodernity, p 110.
  22. ^ "Catholic priest in saffron robe called 'Isai Baba'". The Indian Express. December 24, 2008. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ 33.2% of 6.7 billion world population (under "People") "World". CIA world facts. 
  25. ^ "The List: The World's Fastest-Growing Religions". March 2007. Retrieved 2010-01-04. 
  26. ^ "Major Religions Ranked by Size". Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  27. ^ Hinnells, The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, p. 441.
  28. ^ Pontifical Yearbook 2010, Catholic News Agency. Accessed September 22, 2011.