The Christ (//; Ancient Greek: Χριστός, Christós, meaning "anointed") is a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ) and the Syriac (M'shiha), the Messiah, and is used as a title for Jesus in the New Testament. In common usage, "Christ" is generally treated as synonymous with Jesus of Nazareth. The followers of Jesus became known as Christians (as in Acts 11:26) because they believed Jesus to be the Christós (from Greek, "Messiah") prophesied in the Greek Old Testament, for example in the Confession of Peter.
Jesus came to be called "Jesus Christ", meaning "Jesus the Christós" (i.e. Jesus, the anointed; or "Jesus, the Messiah" by his followers) after his death and believed resurrection. Before, Jesus was usually referred to as "Jesus of Nazareth" or "Jesus son of Joseph". In the epistles of Paul the Apostle, the earliest texts of the New Testament, Paul most often referred to Jesus as "Christ Jesus", or "Christ". Christ was originally a title, yet later became part of the name "Jesus Christ", though it is still also used as a title, in the reciprocal use Christ Jesus, meaning "The Messiah Jesus".
Jesus was not, and is not, accepted in Judaism as a Jewish Messiah, and the concept of a divine Christ was always rejected by Judaism as idolatry. Religious Jewish people still await the Messiah's first coming and the Messianic prophecies of Jewish tradition to be accomplished. Religious Christians believe in the Second Coming of Christ, and they await the rest of Christian Messianic prophecy to be fulfilled. Muslims accept Jesus as Isa al-Masih but not as divine or a Son of God, but still do believe he will come again.
Etymology and origins
The word Christ (or similar spellings) appears in English and most European languages. It is derived from the Greek word Χριστός, Christós (transcribed in Latin as Christus), in the New Testament as a description for Jesus. "Christ" is now often used as if it were a name, one part of the name "Jesus Christ", but is actually a title ("the Messiah"). Its usage in "Christ Jesus" emphasizes its nature as a title.
In the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible, the word Christ was used to translate into Greek the Hebrew mashiach (messiah), meaning "anointed." Christós in classical Greek usage could mean covered in oil, or anointed, and is thus a literal translation of messiah.
The spelling Christ in English was standardized in the 18th century, when, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, the spelling of certain words was changed to fit their Greek or Latin origins. Prior to this, in Old and Middle English, the word was usually spelled Crist the i being pronounced either as //, preserved in the names of churches such as St Katherine Cree, or as a short //, preserved in the modern pronunciation of Christmas. The spelling "Christ" is attested from the 14th century.
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 development into a proper name signifies its identification with Jesus as the promised Jewish messiah.
Background and New Testament references
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 Jews groups. However, for centuries the Jews had used the term moshiach ("anointed") to refer to their expected deliverer. A large number of Old Testament passages were regarded as messianic by the Jews, many more than are commonly considered messianic by Christians, and different groups of Jews assigned varying degrees of significance to them.
The Greek word messias appears only twice in the Septuagint of the promised prince (Daniel 9:26; Psalm 2:2). This title was used when a name was wanted for the promised one who was to be at once King and Savior. The New Testament states that the long-awaited Messiah had come and describes this savior as "the Christ". In Matt 16:16, the apostle Peter said, in what has become a famous proclamation of faith among Christians since the first century, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
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. The divinity is re-affirmed in Mark 1:11. Thereafter, Mark never applies the term "Christ" to Jesus as a name. Matthew 1:1 uses Christ as a name and Matthew 1:16 explains it again with: "Jesus, who is called Christ". In the Gospel of John, Jesus referred to himself as the Son of God far more frequently than in the Synoptic Gospels.
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.
The Gospels of Mark and Matthew begin by calling Jesus both Christ and the Son of God, but these are two distinct attributions. They develop in the New Testament along separate paths and have distinct theological implications. The development of both titles involves "the precursor" John the Baptist. At the time in Roman Judaea, the Jews had been awaiting the "messiah", and many people were wondering who it would be. When John the Baptist appeared and began preaching, he attracted disciples who assumed that he would be announced as the Messiah, or "the one" that they had been awaiting. But the title Son of God was not attributed to John.
The first instance of his being called the Son of God appears during his baptism by John the Baptist. In the narrative, a voice from heaven called Jesus "My Son". John the Baptist was in prison in the Messengers from John the Baptist episode (Matthew 11:2–6 and Luke 7:18–23), and two of his disciples ask Jesus a question on his behalf: "Are you the one to come after me or shall we wait for another?"—indicating that John doubted the identity of Jesus as Christ at that time (see also Rejection of Jesus).
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.
Explicit claims of Jesus being the Messiah are found in the Canonical Gospels in the Confession of Peter (e.g. Matthew 16:16) and the words of Jesus before his judges in the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus. These incidents involve far more than a mere claim to the Messiahship; taken in their setting, they constitute a claim to be the Son of God.
In the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, it might appear from the narratives of Matthew and Luke that Jesus at first refused a direct reply to the high priest's question: "Art thou the Christ?", where his answer is given merely as su eipas (thou hast said it). The Gospel of Mark, however, states the answer as ego eimi (I am), and there are instances from Jewish literature in which the expression "thou hast said it" is equivalent to "you are right". 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.
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 Christos 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 1Corinthians 4:15 and Romans 12:5. Paul proclaimed him as the last Adam, who restored through obedience what Adam lost through disobedience. 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.
There are also implicit claims to being the Christ in the words and actions of Jesus. Episodes in the life of Jesus and statements about what he accomplished during his public ministry are found throughout the New Testament. Trinity-based theology summarily claims: "Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man in one person, and will be so forever."
Pre-existence, Incarnation and Nativity
There are distinct, and differing, views among Christians regarding the existence of Christ before his conception. A key passage in the New Testament is John 1:1–18 where John 1:17 specifically mentions that "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Those who believe in the Trinity, consider Christ a pre-existent divine hypostasis called the Logos or the Word. Other, non-Trinitarian views, question the aspect of personal pre-existence or question the aspect of divinity, or both. An example is the Orthodox Gnomic view, which asserts that Christ was, in fact, not a pre-existent divine being.
The concept of Christ as Logos derives from John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In the original Greek, Logos (λόγος) is used for "Word," and is often used untranslated. In the Christology of the Logos, Christ is viewed as the Incarnation of the "Divine Logos", i.e. The Word.
In the 2nd century, with his theory of "recapitulation", Irenaeus connected "Christ the Creator" with "Christ the Savior", relying on Ephesians 1:10 ("when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ") to gather together and wrap up the cycle of the Nativity and Resurrection of Christ.
Christ and salvation in Christianity
Christian teachings present the Love of Christ as a basis for his sacrificial act that brought forth salvation. In John 14:31 Jesus explains that his sacrifice was performed so: "that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do." Ephesians 5:25 then states that: "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it".
In the 2nd century, Irenaeus expressed his views of salvation in terms of the imitation of Christ and his theory of "recapitulation". For Irenaeus the imitation of Christ is based on God's plan of salvation, which involved Christ as the "Last Adam" He viewed the incarnation as the way in which Christ repaired the damage done by Adam's disobedience. For Irenaeus, salvation was achieved by Christ restoring humanity to the image of God, and he saw the Christian imitation of Christ as a key component on the path to salvation. For Irenaeus Christ succeeded on every point on which Adam failed. Irenaeus drew a number of parallels, e.g. just as in the fall of Adam resulted from the fruit of a tree, Irenaeus saw redemption and salvation as the fruit of another tree: the cross of crucifixion.
Following in the Pauline tradition, in the 5th century Augustine of Hippo viewed Christ as the mediator of the New Covenant between God and man and as the conqueror over sin. He viewed Christ as the cause and reason for the reconciliation of man with God after the fall of Adam, and he saw in Christ the path to Christian salvation. Augustine believed that salvation is available to those who are worthy of it, through faith in Christ.
In the 13th century Thomas Aquinas aimed to recapture the teachings of the Church Fathers on the role of the Holy Trinity in the economy of salvation. In Aquinas' view angels and humans were created for salvation from the very beginning. For Aquinas the Passion of Christ poured out the grace of salvation and all its virtues unto humanity.
The focus on human history was an important element of the biblically grounded 16th-century theology of John Calvin. Calvin considered the first coming of Christ as the key turning point in human history. He viewed Christ as "the one through whom salvation began" and he saw the completion of Christ's plan of salvation as his death and Resurrection.
The use of "Χ," derived from Chi, the Greek alphabet initial, as an abbreviation for Christ (most commonly in the abbreviation "Χmas") is often misinterpreted as a modern secularization of the term. Thus understood, the centuries-old English word Χmas, is actually a shortened form of CHmas, which is, itself, a shortened form for Christmas. Christians are sometimes referred to as "Xians," with the 'X' replacing 'Christ.
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- Anointing of Jesus
- Knowledge of Christ
- Names and titles of Jesus in the New Testament
- Perfection of Christ
- You are Christ
- Jesus in Christianity
- Miracles of Jesus
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