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This article explains the origin and meaning of the words “Christ” and “Messiah”. It contains also some notes on the name Jesus, and on the word “Christian” which occurs in three New Testament passages.
The words Messiah and Christ have both the same meaning. Their original-language forms are ha-Mashiyach (Hebrew) and ho Christos (Greek); both mean “the Anointed [one]”. Details:
“The Messiah” is a transcription of the Hebrew ha-Mashiyach which means “the Anointed”. In almost all of the circa 40 Old Testament passages where the Hebrew text has the adjective mashiyach, most English bible-versions translate it as “anointed” or “anointed one”, but in two passages, Daniel 9:25 and 26, many of them have instead the transcription “Messiah”.
The makers of the Septuagint version (LXX) used the Greek adjective christos as a translation of the Hebrew mashiyach, in around 40 Old Testament passages. Both words mean “anointed”.
In the New Testament, many bible-versions leave christos untranslated and use instead used that Greek word, in the form “Christ”.
In John 1:41 and 4:25, the Greek NT text has Μεσσιας (Messias) which is a transcription of the Hebrew ha-Mashiyach. In those two verses, many English bible-versions have “Messias”.
The phrase ho Christos is not a name but more like a title. “Jesus Christ”, in the Greek NT text Iêsous ho Christos, simply means “Jesus the Anointed [one]” (or “Jesus the Messiah”, if you please).
What does that title “the Anointed” refer to? Perhaps the meaning is that God has made (“anointed”) his son Jesus a ruler in his Kingdom, and possibly also that Jesus is an anointed “high priest”. Anyway, Jesus is God’s Anointed – a ruler in the Reign of God. (The article roa010.htm has some notes on what, when and where the Reign or Kingdom of God actually is.)
The article roa020.htm explains the meaning of the words pseudochristos and antichristos, and shows that the pseudochristoi and antichristoi (plural) whom Jesus and John mentioned, were persons of New Testament times, in the first century.
In the Greek NT text, the Lord’s name is spelled Iêsous. (The pronunciation is something like Ee-ay-sooce’.) The Bible does not contain any mention of an Aramaic or a Hebrew form for the name Jesus. In other words, the name that the Scriptures give for him is Iêsous, in Greek letters Ιησους. In fact, we do not even know whether he ever had a Hebrew or Aramaic name. Clarification:
Before New Testament times, the land of Israel had been under Greek rule and influence for centuries. In the first century, the common languages among the Jews in that land were Aramaic and Greek. Many Jews had Greek names.
But, if there was an Aramaic or Hebrew form of Jesus’ name, it might have been something like Yehoshua. Details:
In the Greek text of the Septuagint version (LXX), the name of Joshua the son of Nun, in the Hebrew text Yehoshua, is spelled (transcribed) as Iêsous. It is the same in the New Testament: In the Greek text of Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8, Joshua’s name is written as Iêsous (Iêsou). So again, if Jesus (whose name is spelled Iêsous in the Greek NT text) had a Hebrew or Aramaic name, it might have been something like Yehoshua.
The exact meaning of the name Yehoshua is not known with certainty, but it could be that it is combined of the name Yahweh and the verb yasha which has to do with saving and deliverance. On those grounds, some have thought that Yehoshua might mean something like “Yahweh is salvation”.
A note: “Yehoshua” is a commonly used English transliteration of the Hebrew letters in Joshua’s name, but there are many other views and suggestions as to how that name should be transliterated and pronounced. (The same goes for the name Yahweh.)
Another note: Some talk about “sacred names”. There are some notes on that matter, under the heading “Sacred names” on the page rkw550.htm.
(“Saints”: Here, that word refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in the first century.)
In the Greek text of the NT, the spelling is christianos. That word occurs only in Acts 11:26 and 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:15. (In contrast to that, some “modern” bible-versions have the word “Christian” in numerous NT passages.)
But, did the saints call themselves “Christians”? In other words: In the apostles’ day, in the first century, who actually used the word “Christian” (Greek christianos), and in what way and for what purpose?
The word christianos was derived from the title ho Christos whose meaning was discussed earlier. Christianos was really an adjective with the meaning “of the Christos”, but in the three above-mentioned passages it is used in a noun-like manner, apparently in the signification “a follower of the Christos”.
Here is the first of the three relevant NT passages:
Acts 11:25 And Barnabas went forth to Tarsus, to seek for Saul, 26 And having found him, he brought him to Antioch. And so it was with them that for a whole year they were gathered together in the assembly and taught a large crowd: and the disciples were first called [a] Christians [Greek christianous] in Antioch. (DBY, note sign and comment added)
a “Were called” – please note that verse 26 does not say that the believers (saints) in Antioch called themselves christianous. It appears that it was the non-believers in that town who used that word of the believers.
Here is a passage which records how a certain non-believer used that word:
Acts 26:28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian [christianon] so easily?” (HCSB, comment added)
The last of the three passages in question:
1 Peter 4:14 If men say evil things of you because of the name of Christ, happy are you; for the Spirit of glory and of God is resting on you. 15 Let no one among you undergo punishment as a taker of life, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as one who is over-interested in other men’s business; 16 But if he undergoes punishment as a Christian [christianos], that is no shame to him; let him give glory to God in this name. (BBE, comment added)
Please note the context, such as the words “if men say evil things of you because of the name of Christ”, verse 14. It appears that some non-believers used the word christianos in a negative meaning. Perhaps it was felt that being a christianos was just as bad as being a criminal.
In short: The New Testament does not say that the believers (saints) would have used that name of themselves. Considering the three above-quoted passages and their context, it appears that it was ridiculing non-believers who used the word christianos of the believers.
Some might wonder what the saints called themselves. Well, we really do not know that, but we know that the New Testament writers addressed them (as the Greek NT text records it) by such words and names as adelphoi (“brothers”), pistoi (either “faithful ones” or “believers”), eklektoi (“chosen ones”), hagioi (“holy ones” or “separated ones”), and so on, including mathêtai (“disciples”). But again, there is no mention that they would have used the word christianos of themselves.
(Later, when the Catholic Church was founded, the word christianos began to be used in a different way. But, that had nothing to do with the saints, or with the true Jesus.)
It appears that some have thought, on the basis of the word christianos, that the saints were considered to be “anointed ones”. But, it would not be correct to say that. Again, the title ho Christos meant “the Anointed [one]”. Its Hebrew equivalent was ha-Mashiyach, whence “the Messiah”. Point: Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed, Greek ho Christos. That title belongs to him. The saints were not “anointed ones”; they were followers of Jesus who was the Anointed One.
It is true that the saints had an “anointing”, Greek chrisma, which was the Holy Spirit, see 1 John 2:20 and 27 (“you have an anointing from the Holy One” and “the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you”, VW06). But again, such titles as “the Anointed” (ho Christos) and “God’s Anointed” (ton Christon tou Theou, Luke 9:20) belong to Jesus alone.
The article raa080.htm has more on religious titles, including “the Anointed” and “God’s Anointed”.
The words “Messiah” and “Messias” are transcriptions of the Hebrew mashiyach which meant “anointed”. Thus, “Messias” = “Messiah” = Hebrew ha-Mashiyach = Greek ho Christos (whence “Christ”) = English “the Anointed”.
The epithet ho Christos was not a name but more like a title. “Jesus Christ”, in the Greek NT text for instance Iêsous ho Christos, simply meant “Jesus the Messiah”, which is to say, “Jesus the Anointed [one]”. Jesus has a special anointing (chrisma) from God the Father. The Bible does not explain the details but perhaps that refers to the fact that God has made (“anointed”) his son Jesus a ruler in his Kingdom. Possibly that also refers to Jesus’ role as an (anointed) “high priest”.
It appears that the Greek word christianos was an epithet that outsiders used of the saints. In other words, it seems that people used that word as a derogatory name of the saints who followed Jesus the Anointed (Iêsous ho Christos).
Later, when the saints were no longer on the scene, there arose a new religion with an organisation connected to it – the Catholic Church. It began applying the word christianos in a new way, using it of its own members.
The saints had received the Holy Spirit. That was symbolically seen as a chrisma, “anointing”. (In the Bible, olive oil is sometimes used as a symbol which points to the Holy Spirit.) But, that did not make “anointed ones” of them; the title ho Christos, “the Anointed”, belongs to Jesus.
The Greek NT text contains also the words pseudochristos and antichristos which refer to religious deceivers, false Anointed ones, false Messiahs. The article roa020.htm has more on this.
The name “Jesus” is in the Greek NT text spelled Iêsous. That is also how the Septuagint (LXX) spells the name of Joshua the son of Nun (Hebrew Yehoshua). If there was a Hebrew or Aramaic form of Jesus’ name, it might have been something like Yehoshua, eventually combined of the name Yahweh and the verb yasha which has to do with saving and deliverance.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
Please send or mention the address to this site to others. Please also link to this site. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/contents.htm
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa091.htm
On the King James translation. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa030.htm
What is the Kingdom of God? Where is it located? Does it exist already, or is it only going to be established in the future? Or, is it merely something “in the hearts of men”? → roa010.htm
What does the Bible say about the antichrist or antichrists? On the meaning of the words antichristos and pseudochristos in the Greek text of the New Testament. → roa020.htm
What does the word “saint” mean and refer to, in the Bible? → rga031.htm
What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → rga041.htm
What does the Bible say about religious titles, such as “apostle”, “bishop”, “evangelist”, “father”, “pastor” and so on? → raa080.htm
Some notes on the ancient Greek word theos, including its eventual origin and meaning. → roa151.htm
The names of the apostles who are mentioned in the Bible. → rga092.htm
Worshipping God. What does the Bible say about worship, in connection with the New Covenant? → raa041.htm
The origin and meaning of the word “church”. → rga061.htm
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