Christ (title)

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The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator - Saint Catherine's Monastery. The halo is a representation of the divine Logos of Christ, and the two different facial expressions on either side emphasize Christ's dual nature as both divine and human. Spas vsederzhitel sinay.jpg
The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator Saint Catherine's Monastery. The halo is a representation of the divine Logos of Christ, and the two different facial expressions on either side emphasize Christ's dual nature as both divine and human.

Christ, [note 1] used by Christians as both a name and a title, unambiguously refers to Jesus. [5] [6] [7] It is also used as a title, in the reciprocal usage "Christ Jesus", meaning "the Messiah Jesus" or "Jesus the Anointed", and independently as "the Christ". [8] The Pauline epistles, the earliest texts of the New Testament, [9] often call Jesus "Christ Jesus" or just "Christ". [10]


The concept of the Christ in Christianity originated from the concept of the messiah in Judaism. Christians believe that Jesus is the messiah foretold in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. Although the conceptions of the messiah in each religion are similar, for the most part they are distinct from one another due to the split of early Christianity and Judaism in the 1st century.[ citation needed ]

Although the original followers of Jesus believed Jesus to be the Jewish messiah, e.g. in the Confession of Peter, he was usually called "Jesus of Nazareth" or "Jesus, son of Joseph". [11] Jesus came to be called "Jesus Christ" (meaning "Jesus the Khristós", i.e. "Jesus the Messiah" or "Jesus the Anointed") by Christians, who believe that his crucifixion and resurrection fulfill the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, especially the prophecy outlined in Isaiah 53. [12]


Christ comes from the Greek word χριστός (chrīstós), meaning "anointed one". The word is derived from the Greek verb χρίω (chrī́ō), meaning "to anoint." [13] In the Greek Septuagint, χριστός was a semantic loan used to translate the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Mašíaḥ, messiah), meaning "[one who is] anointed". [14]


The word Christ (and similar spellings) appears in English and in most European languages. English speakers now often use "Christ" as if it were a name, one part of the name "Jesus Christ", though it was originally a title ("the Messiah"). Its usage in "Christ Jesus" emphasizes its nature as a title. [8] [15] Compare the usage "the Christ". [16]

The spelling Christ in English became standardized in the 18th century, when, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, certain words' spelling changed to fit their Greek or Latin origins. Before that, scribes writing in Old and Middle English usually used the spelling Crist—the i being pronounced either as // , preserved in the names of churches such as St Katherine Cree, or as a short /ɪ/ , preserved in the modern pronunciation of "Christmas". The spelling "Christ" in English is attested from the 14th century. [17]

In modern and ancient usage, even in secular terminology, "Christ" usually refers to Jesus, based on the centuries-old tradition of such usage. Since the Apostolic Age, the

use of the definite article before the word Christ and its gradual development into a proper name show the Christians identified the bearer with the promised Messias of the Jews. [18]

Background and New Testament references

First page of Mark, by Sargis Pitsak (14th century): "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" Sargis Pitsak.jpg
First page of Mark, by Sargis Pitsak (14th century): "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God"

Pre–New-Testament references

In the Old Testament, anointing was a ceremonial reserved to the Kings of Israel (1 Kings 19:16; 24:7), Psalms 17 (18):51), Cyrus the Great (Isaiah 45:1), the High Priest of Israel, the patriarchs (Psalms 104(105):15), and the prophets. [19] [13]

In the Septuagint text of the deuterocanonical books, the term "Christ" (Χριστός, translit. Christós) is found in 2 Maccabees 1:10 [20] [21] (referring to the anointed High Priest of Israel) and in the Book of Sirach 46:19, [22] [23] in relation to Samuel, prophet and institutor of the kingdom under Saul.

At the time of Jesus, there was no single form of Second Temple Judaism, and there were significant political, social, and religious differences among the various Jewish groups. [24] But for centuries the Jews had used the term moshiach ("anointed") to refer to their expected deliverer. [18]

Opening lines of Mark and Matthew

Mark 1:1 ("The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God") identifies Jesus as both Christ and the Son of God. Matthew 1:1 uses Christ as a name and Matthew 1:16 explains it again with: "Jesus, who is called Christ". The use of the definite article before the word "Christ" and its gradual development into a proper name show that the Christians identified Jesus with the promised messiah of the Jews who fulfilled all the messianic predictions in a fuller and a higher sense than had been given them by the rabbis. [18]

Confession of Peter (Matthew, Mark and Luke)

The so-called Confession of Peter, recorded in the Synoptic Gospels as Jesus's foremost apostle Peter saying that Jesus was the Messiah, has become a famous proclamation of faith among Christians since the first century. [24]

Martha's statement (John)

In John 11:27 Martha told Jesus, "you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world", signifying that both titles were generally accepted (yet considered distinct) among the followers of Jesus before the raising of Lazarus. [25]

Sanhedrin trial of Jesus (Matthew, Mark and Luke)

During the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus, it might appear from the narrative of Matthew that Jesus at first refused a direct reply to the high priest Caiaphas's question: "Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?", where his answer is given merely as Σὺ εἶπας (Su eipas, "You [singular] have said it"). [26] Similarly but differently in Luke, all those present are said to ask Jesus: 'Are you then the Son of God?', to which Jesus reportedly answered: Ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι (Hymeis legete hoti ego eimi, "You [plural] say that I am". [27] In the Gospel of Mark, however, when asked by Caiaphas 'Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?', Jesus tells the Sanhedrin: Ἐγώ εἰμι (ego eimi, "I am"). [28] There are instances from Jewish literature in which the expression "you have said it" is equivalent to "you are right". [29] The Messianic claim was less significant than the claim to divinity, which caused the high priest's horrified accusation of blasphemy and the subsequent call for the death sentence. Before Pilate, on the other hand, it was merely the assertion of his royal dignity which gave grounds for his condemnation. [29]

Pauline epistles

The word "Christ" is closely associated with Jesus in the Pauline epistles, which suggests that there was no need for the early Christians to claim that Jesus is Christ because it was considered widely accepted among them. Hence Paul can use the term Khristós with no confusion as to whom it refers, and he can use expressions such as "in Christ" to refer to the followers of Jesus, as in 1 Corinthians 4:15 and Romans 12:5. [30] Paul proclaimed him as the Last Adam, who restored through obedience what Adam lost through disobedience. [31] The Pauline epistles are a source of some key Christological connections; e.g., Ephesians 3:17–19 relates the love of Christ to the knowledge of Christ, and considers the love of Christ as a necessity for knowing him. [32]

There are also implicit claims to him being the Christ in the words and actions of Jesus. [29] [ clarification needed ]

Use of Messias in John

The Hellenization Μεσσίας (Messías) is used twice to mean "Messiah" in the New Testament: by the disciple Andrew at John 1:41, and by the Samaritan woman at the well at John 4:25. In both cases, the Greek text specifies immediately after that this means "the Christ." [16] :509


Christology, literally "the understanding of Christ", [33] is the study of the nature (person) and work (role in salvation) of Jesus in Christianity. [34] [35] [36] [37] It studies Jesus Christ's humanity and divinity, and the relation between these two aspects; [38] and the role he plays in salvation.

From the second to the fifth centuries, the relation of the human and divine nature of Christ was a major focus of debates in the early church and at the first seven ecumenical councils. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 issued a formulation of the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ, one human and one divine, "united with neither confusion nor division". [39] Most of the major branches of Western Christianity and Eastern Orthodoxy subscribe to this formulation, [39] while many branches of Oriental Orthodox Churches reject it, [40] [41] [42] subscribing to miaphysitism.

According to the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, in the singular case of Jesus, the word Christ has a twofold meaning, which stands for "both the Godhead anointing and the manhood anointed". It derives from the twofold human-divine nature of Christ (dyophysitism): the Son of man is anointed in consequence of His incarnated flesh, as well as the Son of God is anointing in consequence of the "Godhead which He has with the Father" (ST III, q. 16, a. 5). [43]


Simple Labarum2.svg
The Chi Rho
Christ Pantocrator, Church of the Holy Sepulchre.png
Christ Pantocrator mosaic, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, showing use of ΧϹ digraph

The use of "Χ" as an abbreviation for "Christ" derives from the Greek letter Chi (χ), in the word Christós (Greek: Χριστός). An early Christogram is the Chi Rho symbol, formed by superimposing the first two Greek letters in Christ, chi (Χ) and rho (Ρ), to produce . [44]

The centuries-old English word Χmas (or, in earlier form, XPmas) is an English form of χ-mas, [45] itself an abbreviation for Christ-mas. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the OED Supplement have cited usages of "X-" or "Xp-" for "Christ-" as early as 1485. The terms "Xpian" and "Xren" have been used for "Christian", "Xst" for "Christ's" "Xρofer" for (Saint) Christopher and Xmas, Xstmas, and Xtmas for Christmas. The OED further cites usage of "Xtianity" for "Christianity" from 1634. [note 2] According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, most of the evidence for these words comes from "educated Englishmen who knew their Greek". [47] [48]

The December 1957 News and Views published by the Church League of America, a conservative organization founded in 1937, [49] attacked the use of "Xmas" in an article titled "X=The Unknown Quantity". Gerald L. K. Smith picked up the statements later, in December 1966, saying that Xmas was a "blasphemous omission of the name of Christ" and that "'X' is referred to as being symbolical of the unknown quantity." [50] More recently, American evangelist Franklin Graham and former CNN contributor Roland S. Martin publicly raised concerns. Graham stated in an interview that the use of "Xmas" is taking "Christ out of Christmas" and called it a "war against the name of Jesus Christ." [51] Roland Martin relates the use of "Xmas" to his growing concerns of increasing commercialization and secularization of what he says is one of Christianity's highest holy days. [52]

See also


  1. Pronounced /krst/ . From Latin: Christus; from Greek: χριστός, translit.  khristós, lit.  "anointed, covered in oil"; a semantic loan of Imperial Aramaic: משיחא, romanized: məšīḥā or Hebrew: מָשִׁיחַ, romanized: māšîaḥ, lit. ' messiah '; from Imperial Aramaic: משח, romanized: məšaḥ or Hebrew: מָשַׁח, romanized: māšaḥ, lit. 'to anoint'. [3] [4] Alternatively (Messiah or Messias): Latin: messias, from Greek: μεσσίας (alternative to χριστός), from the same Semitic word.
  2. Viz. 1485 Rolls of Parliament VI.280/I The most famous, beloved, and Xren Prince. 1573 Baret Alv. s.v. V. "The long mistaking of this woorde Xps standing for Chrs by abbreuiation which fore lacke of knowledge in the greeke they tooke for x, p, and s, and so likewise Xpofer. 1598 Rowlands Betraying of Christ Hunter, Cl. 25 "Xpian the outward, the inward not at all"; 1634Documents against Prynne , Camden, 33 "Such your Xtianity, place, and function joyntly require." 1697 Aubrey Lives Milton (MS Aubrey 8, lf. 63) "He was so faire, that they called him the lady of Xts college." [46]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adoptionism</span> Christian nontrinitarian theological doctrine

Adoptionism, also called dynamic monarchianism, is an early Christian nontrinitarian theological doctrine, subsequently revived in various forms, which holds that Jesus was adopted as the Son of God at his baptism, his resurrection, or his ascension. How common adoptionist views were among early Christians is debated, but it appears to have been most popular in the first, second, and third centuries. Some scholars see adoptionism as the belief of the earliest followers of Jesus, based on the epistles of Paul and other early literature. However, adoptionist views sharply declined in prominence in the fourth and fifth centuries, as Church leaders condemned it as a heresy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christology</span> Theological study of Jesus Christ

In Christianity, Christology is a branch of theology that concerns Jesus. Different denominations have different opinions on questions such as whether Jesus was human, divine, or both, and as a messiah what his role would be in the freeing of the Jewish people from foreign rulers or in the prophesied Kingdom of God, and in the salvation from what would otherwise be the consequences of sin.

In the history of Christianity, docetism was the doctrine that the phenomenon of Jesus, his historical and bodily existence, and above all the human form of Jesus, was mere semblance without any true reality. Broadly it is taken as the belief that Jesus only seemed to be human, and that his human form was an illusion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gospel of Mark</span> Book of the New Testament

The Gospel of Mark is the second of the four canonical gospels and one of the three synoptic Gospels. It tells of the ministry of Jesus from his baptism by John the Baptist to his death, the burial of his body, and the discovery of his empty tomb. It portrays Jesus as a teacher, an exorcist, a healer, and a miracle worker, though it does not mention a miraculous birth or divine pre-existence. He refers to himself as the Son of Man. He is called the Son of God but keeps his messianic nature secret; even his disciples fail to understand him. All this is in keeping with the Christian interpretation of prophecy, which is believed to foretell the fate of the messiah as suffering servant.

Gospel originally meant the Christian message, but in the 2nd century it came to be used also for the books in which the message was reported. In this sense a gospel can be defined as a loose-knit, episodic narrative of the words and deeds of Jesus, culminating in his trial and death and concluding with various reports of his post-resurrection appearances. Modern biblical scholars are cautious of relying on the gospels uncritically, but nevertheless, they provide a good idea of the public career of Jesus, and critical study can attempt to distinguish the original ideas of Jesus from those of the later Christian authors.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Messiah</span> Saviour or liberator of a group of people

In Abrahamic religions, a messiah or messias is a saviour or liberator of a group of people. The concepts of mashiach, messianism, and of a Messianic Age originated in Judaism, and in the Hebrew Bible, in which a mashiach is a king or High Priest traditionally anointed with holy anointing oil.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Resurrection of Jesus</span> Foundational Christian doctrine that states that Jesus rose from the dead

The resurrection of Jesus is the Christian belief that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion, starting – or restoring – his exalted life as Christ and Lord. According to the New Testament writing, Jesus was firstborn from the dead, ushering in the Kingdom of God. He appeared to his disciples, calling the apostles to the Great Commission of forgiving sin and baptizing repenters, and ascended to Heaven.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jesus in Christianity</span> Jesus as seen in the Christian tradition

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Xmas</span> Common abbreviation of the word "Christmas"

Xmas is a common abbreviation of the word Christmas. It is sometimes pronounced, but Xmas, and variants such as Xtemass, originated as handwriting abbreviations for the typical pronunciation. The 'X' comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Christós, which became Christ in English. The suffix -mas is from the Latin-derived Old English word for Mass.

Messianism is the belief in the advent of a messiah who acts as the savior of a group of people. Messianism originated as a Zoroastrian religious belief and followed to Abrahamic religions, but other religions also have messianism-related concepts. Religions with a messiah concept include Hinduism (Kalki) Judaism (Mashiach), Christianity (Christ), Islam, Druze faith, Zoroastrianism (Saoshyant), Buddhism (Maitreya), Taoism, and Bábism.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jewish Christianity</span> Proto-Christian breakaway Jewish movement

Jewish Christians were the followers of a Jewish religious sect that emerged in Judea during the late Second Temple period. These Jews believed that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah and they continued their adherence to Jewish law. Jewish Christianity is the foundation of Early Christianity, which later developed into Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Christianity started with Jewish eschatological expectations, and it developed into the worship of Jesus as the result of his earthly ministry, his crucifixion, and the post-crucifixion experiences of his followers. Modern scholars are engaged in an ongoing debate about the proper designation of Jesus' first followers. Many modern scholars believe that the term Jewish Christians is anachronistic given the fact that there is no consensus about the date of the birth of Christianity. Some modern scholars have suggested that the designations "Jewish believers in Jesus" and "Jewish followers of Jesus" better reflect the original context.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Names and titles of Jesus in the New Testament</span> Designations for Jesus used in the New Testament

Two names and a variety of titles are used to refer to Jesus in the New Testament. In Christianity, the two names Jesus and Emmanuel that refer to Jesus in the New Testament have salvific attributes. After the crucifixion of Jesus the early Church did not simply repeat his messages, but focused on him, proclaimed him, and tried to understand and explain his message. One element of the process of understanding and proclaiming Jesus was the attribution of titles to him. Some of the titles that were gradually used in the early Church and then appeared in the New Testament were adopted from the Jewish context of the age, while others were selected to refer to, and underscore the message, mission and teachings of Jesus. In time, some of these titles gathered significant Christological significance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jesus</span> Central figure of Christianity

Jesus, also referred to as Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, and many other names and titles, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity, the world's largest religion. Most Christians believe Jesus to be the incarnation of God the Son and the awaited Jewish Messiah, or Christ, that is prophesied in the Old Testament.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christ myth theory</span> Fringe theory claiming that a historical Jesus did not exist

The Christ myth theory, also known as the Jesus myth theory, Jesus mythicism, or the Jesus ahistoricity theory, is the view that the story of Jesus is a work of mythology with no historical substance. Alternatively, in terms given by Bart Ehrman paraphrasing Earl Doherty, it is the view that "the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Confession of Peter</span> Episode in the New Testament in which the Apostle Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Christ

In Christianity, the Confession of Peter refers to an episode in the New Testament in which the Apostle Peter proclaims Jesus to be the Christ. The proclamation is described in the three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 16:13–20, Mark 8:27–30 and Luke 9:18–21. Depending on which gospel one reads, Peter either says: 'You are the Messiah' or 'the Christ' ; or 'You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God',, or 'God's Messiah' or 'The Christ of God'.

This is a glossary of terms used in Christianity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christianity in the 1st century</span> Christianity-related events during the 1st century

Christianity in the 1st century covers the formative history of Christianity from the start of the ministry of Jesus to the death of the last of the Twelve Apostles and is thus also known as the Apostolic Age. Early Christianity developed out of the eschatological ministry of Jesus. Subsequent to Jesus' death, his earliest followers formed an apocalyptic messianic Jewish sect during the late Second Temple period of the 1st century. Initially believing that Jesus' resurrection was the start of the end time, their beliefs soon changed in the expected Second Coming of Jesus and the start of God's Kingdom at a later point in time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Diversity in early Christian theology</span>

Traditionally in Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy have been viewed in relation to the "orthodoxy" as an authentic lineage of tradition. Other forms of Christianity were viewed as deviant streams of thought and therefore "heterodox", or heretical. This view was challenged by the publication of Walter Bauer's Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum in 1934. Bauer endeavored to rethink Early Christianity historically, independent from the views of the current church. He stated that the 2nd-century church was very diverse and included many "heretical" groups that had an equal claim to apostolic tradition. Bauer interpreted the struggle between the orthodox and heterodox to be the "mainstream" Church of Rome struggling to attain dominance. He presented Edessa and Egypt as places where the "orthodoxy" of Rome had little influence during the 2nd century. As he saw it, the theological thought of the "Orient" at the time would later be labeled "heresy". The response by modern scholars has been mixed. Some scholars clearly support Bauer's conclusions and others express concerns about his "attacking [of] orthodox sources with inquisitional zeal and exploiting to a nearly absurd extent the argument from silence." However, modern scholars have critiqued and updated Bauer's model.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Son of man (Christianity)</span> Expression in the sayings of Jesus in Christian writings

Son of man is an expression in the sayings of Jesus in Christian writings, including the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation. The meaning of the expression is controversial. Interpretation of the use of "the Son of man" in the New Testament has remained challenging and after 150 years of debate no consensus on the issue has emerged among scholars.

al-Masīḥ is the Arabic translation of the Hebrew title Māshīaḥ or the Greek title Khristós, meaning "the anointed one". It is the common word used by Arab Christians for 'Christ', a usage which was adopted by both Christians and Muslims in a number of languages influenced by Arabic.


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