Antioch: This city was located in Syria on the river Orontes, some 32 km (20 mi) upstream from the Mediterranean seaport of Seleucia. By the first century C.E., Syrian Antioch ranked third in size and wealth among the cities of the Roman Empire, after Rome and Alexandria. It hosted a large and ancient Jewish community, and there was no great hostility between Jews and Gentiles at this time. Syrian Antioch apparently offered the right atmosphere for something new to take place—the disciples were preaching not only to Jews but also to uncircumcised Gentiles. (See study note on the Greek-speaking people in this verse.) This Antioch should not be confused with Antioch in Pisidia in Asia Minor.—See study notes on Ac 6:5; 13:14 and App. B13.
the Greek-speaking people: Lit., “Hellenists.” The meaning of the Greek term used here (Hel·le·ni·stesʹ) has to be determined by the context. When used at Ac 6:1, it most likely means “Greek-speaking Jews.” (See study note on Ac 6:1.) This has led some scholars to conclude that the disciples in Syrian Antioch must have been preaching to circumcised Jews or proselytes who spoke Greek. However, what is described here apparently refers to a new development in Antioch. As mentioned at Ac 11:19, the preaching of God’s word in Antioch had previously been restricted to Jews only, but now the message was apparently spreading among the non-Jews living there. Barnabas was likely dispatched to Antioch to encourage these new disciples who communicated in Greek. (Ac 11:22, 23) Some ancient manuscripts use the word Helʹle·nas (meaning “Greeks”; see Ac 16:3) here instead of Hel·le·ni·stesʹ. So a number of translations use the terms “the Greeks” or “the Gentiles.” These terms would indicate that none of those spoken to in Antioch were adherents to the Jewish religion. It is possible, though, that both Jews and Gentiles familiar with the Greek language may have been referred to, and for that reason, the term “Greek-speaking people” is used in this translation. These Greek-speaking people may have come from various national backgrounds, but they adopted the Greek language and perhaps Greek customs.
hand of Jehovah: This phrase, as well as “Jehovah’s hand,” is often found in the Hebrew Scriptures as a combination of the Hebrew word for “hand” and the Tetragrammaton. (Some examples are found at Ex 9:3; Nu 11:23; Jg 2:15; Ru 1:13; 1Sa 5:6, 9; 7:13; 12:15; 1Ki 18:46; Ezr 7:6; Job 12:9; Isa 19:16; 40:2; Eze 1:3.) In the Bible, the term “hand” is often used figuratively for “power.” Since the hand applies the power of the arm, “hand” may also convey the idea of “applied power.” The Greek expression rendered “the hand of Jehovah” (or, “Jehovah’s hand”) also occurs at Lu 1:66 and Ac 13:11.—See study notes on Lu 1:6, 66 and App. C3 introduction; Ac 11:21.
were by divine providence called: Most Bible translations simply read “were called.” However, the Greek words commonly rendered “called” are not used here. (Mt 1:16; 2:23; Mr 11:17; Lu 1:32, 60; Ac 1:12, 19) The word that appears in this verse is khre·ma·tiʹzo, and in most of the nine places where it occurs in the Christian Greek Scriptures, it clearly refers to things that come from God, that have a divine origin. (Mt 2:12, 22; Lu 2:26; Ac 10:22; 11:26; Ro 7:3; Heb 8:5; 11:7; 12:25) For example, at Ac 10:22, this word is used together with the expression “by a holy angel,” and at Mt 2:12, 22, it is used in connection with divinely inspired dreams. The related noun khre·ma·ti·smosʹ appears at Ro 11:4, and most lexicons and Bible translations use such renderings as “divine pronouncement; divine response; God’s reply; the answer of God.” It is possible that Jehovah directed Saul and Barnabas to use the name Christians. Some have suggested that the Gentile population in Antioch may have used the nickname Christians out of jest or scorn, but the usage of the Greek term khre·ma·tiʹzo clearly indicates that God was responsible for the designation “Christians.” And it would have been most unlikely that the Jews would label Jesus’ followers “Christians” (from Greek) or “Messianists” (from Hebrew). They had rejected Jesus as the Messiah, or Christ, so they would not have tacitly recognized him as the Anointed One, or Christ, by identifying his followers with the designation “Christians.”
Christians: The Greek term Khri·sti·a·nosʹ, meaning “follower of Christ,” is found only three times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Ac 11:26; 26:28; 1Pe 4:16) It is derived from Khri·stosʹ, meaning Christ, or Anointed One. Christians follow both the example and the teachings of Jesus, “the Christ,” or the one anointed by Jehovah. (Lu 2:26; 4:18) The designation “Christians” was given “by divine providence” possibly as early as the year 44 C.E. when the events mentioned in this text occurred. The name apparently gained widespread acceptance, so that when Paul appeared before King Herod Agrippa II, about 58 C.E., Agrippa knew who the Christians were. (Ac 26:28) The historian Tacitus indicates that by about the year 64 C.E., the term “Christian” was in use among the general population in Rome. In addition, sometime between 62 and 64 C.E., Peter wrote his first letter to Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire. By then, the name Christian seems to have been widespread, distinctive, and specific. (1Pe 1:1, 2; 4:16) With this divinely provided name, Jesus’ disciples could no longer be mistaken for a sect of Judaism.
a great famine: The report of this disaster, which occurred about 46 C.E., was corroborated by Josephus, who also referred to “the great famine” that occurred during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius. Famines were particularly hard on the poor, who had no reserves of money or food. The Christians in Antioch were thus moved to send a relief contribution to their impoverished brothers in Judea.
in the time of Claudius: Roman Emperor Claudius, who ruled from 41 to 54 C.E., began his reign with a friendly disposition toward the Jews. By the end of his reign, the relationship had soured, and he expelled all Jews from Rome. (Ac 18:2) Claudius was reportedly poisoned with mushrooms given to him by his fourth wife. Nero succeeded him.
relief: Or “a relief ministration.” This is the first recorded instance of Christians sending relief aid to fellow Christians living in another part of the world. The Greek word di·a·ko·niʹa, often rendered “ministry,” is also used in the sense of “relief work” at Ac 12:25 and “relief ministry” at 2Co 8:4. The use of the Greek word di·a·ko·niʹa in the Christian Greek Scriptures shows that Christians have a twofold ministry. One aspect is “the ministry [form of di·a·ko·niʹa] of the reconciliation,” that is, the preaching and teaching work. (2Co 5:18-20; 1Ti 2:3-6) The other aspect involves their ministry in behalf of fellow believers, as mentioned here. Paul stated: “There are different ministries [plural of di·a·ko·niʹa], and yet there is the same Lord.” (1Co 12:4-6, 11) He showed that these different aspects of the Christian ministry all constitute “sacred service.”—Ro 12:1, 6-8.
the elders: Lit., “the older men.” In the Bible, the Greek term pre·sbyʹte·ros refers primarily to those who hold a position of authority and responsibility in a community or a nation, although the term sometimes refers to physically older men. (See study note on Mt 16:21.) In the ancient nation of Israel, elders shared the responsibility of leadership and administration, both on a community level (De 25:7-9; Jos 20:4; Ru 4:1-12) and on a national level (Jg 21:16; 1Sa 4:3; 8:4; 1Ki 20:7). This is the first use of the term in connection with the Christian congregation. As had been true in fleshly Israel, the elders in spiritual Israel were responsible for the direction of the congregation. In this context, the elders were the ones who received the relief contribution, and they supervised its distribution to the congregations in Judea.