Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 14, 1954

The Significance Of Names For The People Of God

Cecil B. Douthitt, Brownwood, Texas

Names by which men of inspiration designate persons and things help to describe, to identify and to convey a conception of things or persons so designated.

Our Lord was called by the names 'Jesus," "lamb," "lion," "Christ," because these words are descriptive of his nature and work. The name "fox," as applied to Herod by Jesus, gives an insight into Herod's nature and character that could not be obtained, if Jesus had not called him a "fox." The names "dragon," "serpent," "deceiver" and "tempter," by which the devil is called, give a better understanding of that adversary of the human race.

Wrong names convey the wrong conceptions. A few names were applied to the people of God by their enemies, which they never accepted and of which they did not approve. Tertullus, in a speech before Felix, referred to Paul as "a ring leader of the sect of the Nazarenes." (Acts 24:5.) This appellation was not a true description nor a correct representation of Paul's work and religious affiliations; therefore he registered his disapproval of it by replying, "After the way which they call a 'sect,' so serve I the God of our fathers."

A "sect" is a faction or party distinguished by its peculiar opinions or practices from other elements of a composite group. The religion of the Jews was divided into many sects, such as the Pharisees, Sadducees and others. The Romans were inclined to view the church as another sect of the Jews' religion, and Tertullus' reference to it as such not only shows that he had the wrong conception of the Way, but that he would also prejudice the mind of Felix and create the wrong impression on him by the use of that wrong name.

On another occasion Paul frankly confessed that he had been a member of a "sect" before his conversion (Acts 26:5); but the church of which he was a member when he stood before Agrippa was separate, distinct and independent from the Jews' religion, therefore not a sect.

Nor was the name "Nazarene" a correct representation of Paul. Only the citizens of Nazareth could be called correctly "Nazarenes." In order for Jesus to fulfill a prophecy and "be called a Nazarene," he had to dwell "in a city called Nazareth." (Matt. 2:23.) The several references in the New Testament to Jesus as a "Nazarene express only the idea that he was from Nazareth — the same idea he expressed to Saul of Tarsus when he said, "I am Jesus of Nazareth." (Acts 22:8.)

Many Bible words and names are misapplied today. The story of the man who named his dog "Moreover" presents a good example of misapplied Bible words. The man argued that his dog had a scriptural name because some dogs in the Bible were named "Moreover." When asked where he found that name in the Bible, he replied that Luke 16:21 says, "Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores."

A religious sect has named itself the Nazarene Church, and it thinks it has a scriptural name because Jesus was called a Nazarene. The fact that Jesus had to live in Nazareth in order to be called a Nazarene, and the fact that the members of the Nazarene Church never did live in Nazareth do not seem to make any difference at all with them.

A son was born to Zacharias and Elizabeth, and God named him John. (Luke 1:13..) This John was the first to administer water baptism, and he baptized a great man people; therefore, he was called John the Baptist, which means John the Baptizer. When the word baptist is translated properly, John the Baptist becomes John the Immerser.

Almost a score of religious sects have named themselves "Baptist Church." Every one of these sects think it has a scriptural name. They argue that John was Baptist, and he baptized Christ and the apostles and that made them Baptists, and when the apostles baptize others, that made the ones baptized Baptists.

John was not called a Baptist; he was called the Baptist. An immerser is one who immerses, and not the one who is immersed. John was the man's God-give name (Luke 1:13), and he was called John. John was called a prophet; but that did not make his disciple prophets; nor would the name, "Prophet Church," be scriptural appellation. John was called "the voice" (Mar 1:3; John 1:23), but that did not make his disciple "Voices," or members of a religious sect called the "Voice Church."

If the Nazarene Church and the different kinds Baptist Churches would stop and inquire why Jesus was called a Nazarene, and why John was called the Baptist, a prophet, and the voice, they might be able to discover that the man's misapplication of the word "Moreover" is not much more ridiculous than their misapplications of the words "Nazarene" and "Baptist."

By inspiration the followers of Christ were called disciples, brethren, saints and Christians. These names give a true description of the faithful by signifying their work, or character, or relationship to their Master.

I. Disciple

The word disciple means student, learner or pupil though they are not exact synonyms of the name. In the New Testament, when applied to the followers of Chris the name always implied personal adherence to his teaching. "If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples." (John 8:31.)

This name appears frequently in the first four book of the New Testament, then less frequently in the Acts until it finally gave way entirely to other names more expressive of the work and character of Christ's followers. The name does not appear at all in the last twenty two books of the Bible.

The work of Jesus while on earth was primarily that of teacher, and no name could better express the relation of the pupil to his Master Teacher than that of "disciple.

This name may be applied appropriately now to the people of God. They have come unto Christ that they may learn of him (Matt. 11:28-29); they study in a workman like manner to meet the Lord's approval (2 Tim. 2:15) they abide in the things learned from the great Teacher (John 8:31); they are disciples, in these senses. They are not Disciples in the sense that they are members of religious sect called the "Disciples Church," or "Church of the Disciples."

The duty to study and to apply the truth is implied in the name "disciple." No man is a disciple of Christ in the Bible meaning of the word, who does not study the word of Christ. May the Lord help us to study the word and to be worthy of this name.

II. Brethren

The name "brethren" came into extensive use after the ascension of Christ, though Jesus himself had said, `All ye are brethren." (Matt. 23:8.) Peter referred to the church as the "brotherhood." (1 Peter 2:17.)

This name abounds in the writings of Paul. It is a beautiful and effective expression of the duties and obligations to one another. A sense of obligation is borne by the relationship of brothers in the flesh. Brethren in he Lord sustain even a more sacred and obligatory relation to one another, than brothers in the flesh sustain. Jesus placed this spiritual kinship above that of the flesh. (Mark 3:31-35.)

This name itself forbids strife among brethren in Christ. Abraham had the right idea of the meaning of brotherhood; he said, "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee . . . . for we are brethren." (Gen. 3:8.) The Corinthians were not meeting the requirements of the name "brethren," while engaging in lawsuits to defraud one another. (1 Cor. 6.) So sacred is that relationship that to sin against the brethren is to sin against Christ. (1 Cor. 8:12-13.)

May the Lord help us to work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward our brethren in Christ. (Gal. 6:10.)

III. Saints

The name "saint" connotes purity, holiness, conservation and cleanness. It requires the people of God to be pure in thought, in word, and in life; it requires purity in doctrine also.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, and in his letters to the Ephesians, the Philippians and the Colossians, Paul addressed them as "saints." This shows that people become saints right here on earth, and not hundreds of years after they are dead. A man cannot become a saint by ecclesiastical canonization a thousand years after he dies; he can become a saint by becoming a child of God, while he lives on earth, and in no other way.

IV. Christian

The name "Christian" is the most significant and meaningful of all the names by which God's people are called. It contains the name of Christ, the name that is above every name. In it Christ has pre-eminence.

It includes all that the other names connote. If a man is a Christian, he is a disciple, ever learning more and more of the Christ who is his great Teacher; he is a mother in the family of God, of which Christ is head; he s a saint, always reflecting the purity of Christ in hought, word and deed. Every duty implied by other tames is borne in the name "Christian."

"Thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of Jehovah shall name." (Isaiah 62:2.) The name Christian" was divinely given. "The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." (Acts 11:26.) The Greek word chrematizo (translated "were called" in Acts 11:26) means called of God, or divinely called, as clearly shown in other places where it appears in the Greek Testament. It appears nine times in the Greek Testament.

  1. It is translated "warned of God" four times: Matt. :12, "And being warned of God in a dream"; Matt. 2:22, Being warned of God in a dream"; Acts 10:22, "Cornelius . . . . was warned from God by an holy angel"; Heb. 11:7, "Noah, being warned of God."
  2. It is translated "admonished of God" one time: Heb. 8:5, "Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacles."
  3. It is translated "reveal" one time: Luke 2:26, "And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost." Here the Holy Spirit did the revealing, not man.
  4. It is translated "speak" one time (King James Version); Heb. 12:15, "Refused him that spake on earth." God did all the "speaking" of this verse, but through different agents.
  5. Twice it is translated "call": Rom. 7:3, "She shall be called an adulteress"; Acts 11:26, "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch."

These passages show clearly that "chrematizo" means that God does the calling. Therefore, the disciples were called Christians first by Jehovah.

Paul confessed that he was a Christian, and he tried to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian, and, Agrippa knew it. (Acts 26:28-29.)

Peter advised the brethren not to be ashamed to suffer as Christians. When they were suffering as Christians, they were suffering for the name of Christ. He told them to glorify God in the name "Christian." (1 Peter 4:14-16.)

Let us examine ourselves in the light of the meaning of these four great names, and let us strive to live up to all they imply.