I have recently being reading into some history of early Christians. I came across a reference to Ignatius of Antioch in the book "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation" by Elaine Pagels:

The first person we know who aggressively called himself "a Christian" to distinguish himself from Jews was the Syrian convert Ignatius of Antioch. Converted to Paul's message perhaps around 80 or 90 CE, twenty years after "the great apostle" first preached in his home city, Ignatius so zealously took this message to heart that he took Paul as the model for his own life. Calling himself Christophoros, "Christ bearer", this strong-minded believer travelled through Asia Minor about fifteen years after John [of Patmos] had been there and like John, wrote letters to seven churches near the coast, including three to groups of Jesus's followers in Ephesus, Smyrna and Philadelphia - the same cities that John had addressed. —p65, Penguin Books Edition, 2013

My own name is the Anglicised version of Christophoros, so I found this interesting. I was name this way by my devoted Christian parents, and they explained to me from a young age why they chose this name, "Christ bearer". I had previously been vaguely aware of a Saint Christopher and had assumed he was the origin of my name.

However, doing further reading into Ignatius, I found his wikipedia article which states that he named himself Theophorus "God Bearer".

Elaine Pagels is Professor of Religion at Princeton University and her books are extremely well referenced throughout in true scholarly fashion, but there is no reference for this particular piece of information. Wikipedia also does not back up its claim with a reference.

I suppose this could be a translation artifact but I find this unlikely as I feel early Christians in any language would have had a clear distinction between Christ the Son and God the Father.

Which of these was the assumed name of Ignatius? Or are both correct?

(I've just ordered a copy of Ignatius' letters, which I believe are the only real source of information about him, so the answer may well lie within, but it will take a few days to arrive, especially at this time of year!)


Ignatius called himself Theophorus, that is, God-bearer. All seven of his letters begin this way:

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus... (Epistle to the Ephesians, cf. to Magnesians, to Trallians, etc.)

Some scholarly analysis of this title is available in Srawley's translation of the epistles, page 41.

But there's at least one sense in which Pagels is correct – Ignatius considers his audience (and presumably all Christians) to be "Christ-bearers," as he writes in Epistle to the Ephesians, IX:

Ye, therefore, as well as all your fellow-travellers, are God-bearers, temple-bearers, Christ-bearers, bearers of holiness, adorned in all respects with the commandments of Jesus Christ, in whom also I exult that I have been thought worthy, by means of this Epistle, to converse and rejoice with you, because with respect to your Christian life ye love nothing but God only.

The word here is χριστοφόροι (per the Greek text), which is transliterated christophoros.

So if this was indeed an oversight on Pagels's part, it so happens that she is still correct – he did (indirectly) call himself a Christ-bearer.

  • Thank you so much for your answer, and for providing this insight. I am rediscovering my faith after a long time away, and whilst it may only be a small thing, learning such details about my name and why it was given is heartwarming. – Chris Clayton Dec 22 '18 at 11:59

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