The label Xristianos: 1 Peter 4.16 and the formation of Christian identity
Horrell, David G.
University of Exeter
Journal of Biblical Literature
Society of Biblical Literature
It is perhaps surprising that New Testament scholars have not devoted more attention in recent years to the origin and significance of the term Xristianos, given its eventual significance as the definitive label for the movement that began around Jesus of Nazareth. One obvious reason for this comparative neglect is, of course, the rarity of the term in the NT itself; it occurs only three times, in Acts 11.26, 26.28 and 1 Pet 4.16, becoming more frequent only rather later, notably in Ignatius, Polycarp, and Diognetus. Another reason is perhaps the sense that there is little to say, or at least little new to say, since the pertinent features of the word’s etymology are well established. In this essay, however, I shall suggest that, despite the paucity of references, there is indeed considerable insight to be gained from examining this label and its significance, particularly when analysis is enriched with social-scientific resources relating to the possible reactions to negative labels in relation to social identity. I shall also argue, more specifically, that the reference in 1 Pet 4.16 is — despite the greater focus of attention on Acts 11.26 — especially valuable with regard to illuminating the origin and significance of the term, and, indeed, that this text represents the earliest witness to the crucial process whereby the term was transformed from a hostile label applied by outsiders to a proudly claimed self-designation.
Published version reproduced with the permission of the publisher.