From a close reading of the text of the New Testament, evidence suggests that the first followers of Jesus had a name not many are familiar with. Early followers of Jesus had many names, and one of the names used to describe them was “Followers of the Way.” Perhaps this comes to us from John 14:6 where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” In the book of Acts we see this name used for the followers of Jesus throughout the text:
Acts 9:2 And desired of him for letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any any belonging to the Way, (hodos – ὁδός) whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Acts 19:9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.
Acts 19:23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.
Acts 24:14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets,
Acts 24:22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.”
Another name which was used to refer to the early believers was “the Nazarenes,” as seen in Matthew 2:23.
Acts 24:5 For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
The term “Christian” is a Greek term (Christianos – Χριστιανός) that means “Like The Anointed” or “Follower of The Anointed”. (the word christos Χριστός literally means “The Anointed one”). Even though this name became the most popular term to refer to the “believers”, it is only mentioned three times in the New Testament.
Acts 11:26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Acts 26:28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”
1 Peter 4:16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
The Savior Jesus Christ stated the importance of his followers to be known by his name. To the Nephites he taught:
“And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Nephi 27:8).
Modern names for the church
In 1830, when the church was initially organized, it was called “The Church of Christ.” Later, in 1838, it was revealed that the church should be called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (see D&C 20:1-2 and D&C 115:3-5)
In May 1834, in a conference of the church, a motion was made by Sidney Rigdon, and seconded by Newel K. Whitney, that this church be known hereafter by the name of THE CHURCH OF THE LATTER DAY SAINTS. Appropriate remarks were delivered by some of the members, after which the motion was put by the Moderator (Joseph Smith), and passed by unanimous voice. (The Evening and Morning Star, vol. 2, no. 20, p. 160, May 1834; History of the Church 2:62)
Four years later, in 1838, the Lord stated that the name of the Church shall be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he said the following: Unto my faithful servants who are of the high council of my church in Zion, for thus it shall be called, and unto all the elders and people of my Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, scattered abroad in all the world; For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations. (D&C 115:3-5)
Today his church is called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though followers of Jesus go by many names, and over the years have had many nicknames given, one thing has been constant: the invitation for us to emulate Jesus in how we live. By doing so, we are showing the world that we love Jesus and want to truly be his followers. We will fall short, but in our efforts we will be honoring his name and his church.