🔼The name Antioch: Summary
- Place That Has The Empire's Back, Town Of Imperial Support
- From (1) αντι (anti), opposite, and (2) the verb εχω (echo), to hold.
🔼The name Antioch in the Bible
There were sixteen cities named Antioch in recent antiquity, all named after Antiochus, a general of Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. Antioch's wife was named Laodice (hence the city called Laodicea; one of five with that name), and his son was Seleucus, hence the Seleucid Empire and thus the prominence of the name Antioch.
The name Antiochus became an imperial title (not unlike the names Caesar, Cleopatra, Candace and Abimelech), and during the reign of the brutal Antiochus IV, the Jews revolted (167 BC) and had their brief period of autonomy under the Hasmonean dynasty, which ended with the Roman conquest of 63 BC.
The name Antioch occurs 18 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, but there are two (or three) cities by that name mentioned in the Bible:
- The most famous one, Syrian Antioch, modern Antakya, situated nearly due north of Judea where the coast of modern Turkey begins to bend westward (Acts 11:19). This formidable city was the capital of the Seleucid Empire until it too fell to the Romans in 63 BC. It remained a dominant center of Hellenistic Judaism, and it was here that the followers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ began to be widely confused with the nationalistic Zealots who campaigned for the restoration of the formal Jewish throne (Acts 11:26, see John 6:15). A rightful Jewish king was called an anointed one (that is χριστος, christos, or Christ in Greek and משיח, mashiah, or Messiah in Hebrew), and so the name Christian originally belonged to violent nationalists. The whole idea of the gospel, on the other hand, is that every person should be an anointed sovereign (Exodus 19:6), and that the ultimate social format of humanity is that of a city in a state of ελευθερια (eleutheria), freedom, governed by the ελευθεροι (eleutheroi), the free (Galatians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 15:24, Isaiah 9:6).
- One of the other fifteen, Pisidian Antioch was located more to the west and inland. It fell to the Romans in 2nd century BC, and in Augustan times became one of many cities named Caesarea (the two best known of which are Caesarea Maritima and Caesarea Philippi). Whatever existed of a native population was massively augmented by immigrants from all over the larger region, including, according to Josephus, 2,000 Mesopotamian Jewish families who were forcibly moved there, on the not unreasonable expectation that their piety would make them excellent guardians (Ant.12.3.4). Syrian Antioch begat a temple of Augustus, and became a regional hub of Latinization of the world. Paul and Barnabas went there (Acts 13:14) to proclaim the gospel of ελευθερια (eleutheria), see Acts 13:39, which, as it always does, angered the proponents of religious bondage, who drove them out (Acts 13:50, see 2 Timothy 3:11).
- The city known as Antiochia Ptolemais in the time of Alexander, which by the time of the New Testament was simply known as Ptolemais (Acts 21:7).
🔼Etymology of the name Antioch
The city name Antioch (or Αντιοχεια, Antiocheia) comes from personal name Antiochus (Αντιοχος, Antiochos), which in turn derives from the verb αντεχω (antecho), to support or hold against (collapse or assault), as used in Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13, Titus 1:9 and 1 Thessalonians 5:14. This verb itself consists of two parts, the first of which is the familiar prefix αντι (anti), opposite:
The preposition αντι (anti) means instead of, and may indicate previousness or substitution. As such it relates to earlier times (antiquity) and even to monetary economy (substituting money for goods and back again).
The second part of our verb αντεχω (antecho), and thus our name Antioch, comes from the verb εχω (echo), to have or hold:
The verb εχω (echo) means to have or hold, and mostly describes the set of features that collectively define identity: the possessions, qualities and skills one has all add up to who one is. This verb, in its many nuances, is used hundreds of times in the New Testament, and comes with more than four dozen derivatives, including the verb αντεχω (antecho), to hold on despite opposition or to protect against destruction.
The name Antioch means City of Antiochus in the same way that Caesarea means City of Caesar and Alexandria means City of Alexander. It's essentially an honorary or commemorative name with no further specific significance. However, Antiochus was never the military superstar that Caesar and Alexander were, and the popularity of his name for cities probably indeed does derive from its meaning. Antiochus means He Who Has Your Back, and the cities graced with this name were assumed to likewise support the Seleucid Empire: The City That Has The Empire's Back