I commonly hear Christians refer to themselves either with that terms, "Christians," or as "believers". However, when I read the New Testament, particularly Paul's epistles, these do not strike me as the foremost terms that are used to refer to the people of God. In the New Testament, and particularly from the Acts of the Apostles onwards, what terms are used to refer to Christians, and with what frequency? Which are most prominent? I am particularly interested in the relative frequency of "Christian," "believer," and "saint," but an inclusion of other titles would also be helpful.

  • Don't forget that there are corporate terms for believers, such as "church," and "body." Commented Jun 10, 2012 at 22:25
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    This question needs a bounty because the one who answers it will have to do a lot of hard work! Commented Jun 11, 2012 at 2:48
  • This will be tricky to answer, since many terms which seem synonymous are not. The church ("ecclesia" = "called out ones") may describe those who are "called", but Matt 22:14 suggest that being "called" is not the same as being "chosen" (accepted). 1 Cor. 5:9-12 suggests that "those within the church" are sometimes falsely called "brothers". Passages like Jas 2:19-20 and Matt 7:21-23 suggest "believers" are not always "followers". "Christian" means "Christ-like" and was coined by non-Christians, but who can claim to be "Christ-like"? ...There is a reason so many different words are used!
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jun 16, 2012 at 20:20
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    I recommend asking this at Biblical Hermeneutics. Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 16:44
  • @DJClayworth I am just hesitant to ask questions there that either aren't related to a specific passage or to hermeneutics principles. I got zapped for that before.
    – Kazark
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 22:47

2 Answers 2


Interesting question. From what I can tell 'brother' if the most common term, followed by saints and believers, far behind in second place. Christian is what outsiders called the believer so it is last.

Here are the hits based on the greek words;

Χριστιανός Christiania; Christian 3 

πιστός pistos -believers,faithful 53

ἅγιος hagios - saints 61

ἀδελφός adelphos -brethren 226 (brother 113)

My take on these is we are to feel bound to one another as a close knit family. However we need not become legalistic about it, for in our Culture I think we have revised the meaning of Christian to hold that same proud bond we share with each other.

Right brothers and sisters?

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    +1 for bringing in language closer to the original. And Yes, I believe you are right. The New Testament church was/is characterised as an extended family. Legalism and static thinking is dangerous in every walk of life, none more so than in our beliefs. The point is that we are bound together as adopted Children of God. We all inherit the same - God's Kingdom! Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 8:11

My (limited) understanding is that many of these terms are relatively modern. The early Christians were known as followers of Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth. Our Western language Bibles have inherited the language of the later Roman and post Roman periods.

My NIV uses the term "The Fellowship of the Believers" as a heading in Acts 2 where v44 refers to "All the believers were together". "Believers" is referenced 14 times in Acts in fact so it is clearly a commonly used term - at least as translated to English. "Saints" on the other hand is only referenced 3 times, it seems to be more common to the book of Romans. I'm afraid I'm not enough of a scholar to analyse further than that.

In truth though, I'm wondering why you think this significant? As others have said, there are a number of indirect descriptors of Christians such as "the Faithful". It would help to understand your thinking.

For my own part, it is important for me to be associated with Jesus Christ (e.g. the Son of God, not just a man) since this is the significant difference of my faith. So I am happy to be called a Christian, a believer, faithful or a saint (notice not a capital S there!). Or indeed anything else that makes it clear that Jesus is the Earthly mark of my adoption by the Most High God. ("I Am the Way").

  • +1. The significance is that terminological emphasis is not irrelevant to doctrine. For example, if "saints" is a more frequent usage than "believers" in Paul's letters, that would indicate that he has a preference for denoting us by what God has done to us rather than our own belief. The implications of such an emphasis are ultimately another question, but for close students of the Bible terminological frequency questions can't be irrelevant.
    – Kazark
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 22:56
  • @Kazark, I can understand where you are coming from. However, there is surely some danger in holding to a close terminological frame when so many generations of change have been gone through before we end up with our modern Bibles. If you wish to hold to such a word-for-word analysis, I would think that it needs to be against early manuscripts and not against modern wording. Even then, are we really in a position to understand the ancient use of the word? Or are we too far removed from those times? My own approach puts the Bible into the context of understanding the Fathers love and desire. Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 8:07

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