The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator - Saint Catherine's Monastery. The two different facial expressions on either side emphasize Christ's dual nature as both divine and human.[1][2]

Christ is the English term for the Greek Χριστός (Khristós) meaning "the anointed one".[3] It is a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ), usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach. In popular modern usage—even within secular circles—the term usually refers explicitly to Jesus of Nazareth.

The word is used as a title, hence its common reciprocal use Christ Jesus, meaning "The Messiah Jesus". Followers of Jesus became known as Christians (as in Acts 11:26) because they believed Jesus to be the Christ, or Christos, or Christian Messiah, prophesied in the Old Testament - therefore they often call him Jesus Christ, meaning Jesus is the Christos.

Since the Apostolic Age, Jesus has never been accepted by most of the Jews as their Messiah.[4] Many Christians, however, await the Second Coming of Christ when they believe he will fulfill the major rest of the Christian Messianic prophecy. The area of Christian theology focusing on the identity, life, teachings and works of Jesus, is known as Christology.


Etymology and origins

The word Christ (or similar spellings) appears in English and most European languages, owing to the Greek usage of Christós (transcribed in Latin as Christus) in the New Testament as a description for Jesus. Christ has now become a name, one part of the name "Jesus Christ", but originally it was a title (the Messiah) and not a name.[5]

In the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible (written over a century before the time of Jesus), the word Christ was used to translate into Greek the Hebrew mashiach (messiah), meaning "anointed."[6][7] Khristós in classical Greek usage could mean covered in oil, or anointed, and is thus a literal translation of messiah.

The spelling Christ (Greek Genitive: τοῦ Χριστοῦ, toú Christoú,; Nominative: ὁ Χριστὸς, ho Christós) 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 /iː/, 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" is attested from the 14th century.[8]

In modern usage, even within secular terminology, Christ usually refers to Jesus, building on the centuries old tradition of such use. 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.[9]

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".
"But who do you say that I am?"
Peter answered: "The Christ of God".- Luke 9:20[10]

At the time of Jesus, there was no single, coherent form or order within Judaism, and significant political, social and religious differences existed among the Jews.[11] However, for centuries the Jews had used the term "the Anointed" to refer to their expected deliverer.[12] A large number of Old Testament passages were regarded as messianic by the Jews, many more than are commonly considered messianic by Christians, and various groups of Jews assigned varying degrees of significance to them.[11]

The Greek word Messias appears only twice in the Old Testament of the promised prince (Daniel 9:26; Psalm 2:2); yet, when a name was wanted for the promised one, who was to be at once King and Savior, this title was used.[13][14] The New Testament states that the Messiah, long awaited, had come and describes this savior as The Christ. In Matt 16:16 Apostle Peter, in what has become a famous proclamation of faith among Christians since the first century, said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."[11]

The opening words in the Gospel of Mark 1:1, namely "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" also identify Jesus as both Christ and the Son of God. The divinity being again re-affirmed in Mark 1:11.[15] Thereafter Mark never applies 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 refers to himself as the Son of God far more frequently than in the Synoptic Gospels.[16]

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 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.[12] In the New Testament e.g. Matthew 1:1, 1:18; Mark 1:1; John 1:17; 17:3; 9:22; Mark 9:40; Luke 2:11; 22:2, the word Christ is preceded by Jesus.[12]

A series of articles on


Pre-existence of Christ
Logos (The Word)
Person of Christ
Hypostatic union
Knowledge of Christ
Perfection of Christ
Imitation of Christ
Threefold office

While the Gospels of Mark and Matthew begin by calling Jesus both Christ and Son of God, 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 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 he would be announced as the Messiah, or "the one" they had been awaiting. But the title Son of God was not attributed to John.

In the Gospel narrative that describe the life of Jesus, the first instance for him being called the Son of God appears during his Baptism by John the Baptist. In the narrative, a voice from heaven calls Jesus the Son. In Messengers from John the Baptist episode, in Matthew 11:2-6 and Luke 7:18-23.[17] when John the Baptist is in prison two of his disciples go and ask Jesus a question on his behalf: "Are you the one to come after me or shall we wait for another?"[18] indicating that the identity of Jesus as Christ was not yet certain at that time.

In John 11:27 Martha tells 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.[19]

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.[13][20] These incidents involve, of course, far more than a mere claim to the Messiahship; taken in their setting, they constitute a claim to be the Son of God.[13]

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?" Although his answer is given merely as su eipas (thou hast said it), the Gospel of Mark 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".[13] The Messianic claim was less significant than the claim to Divinity which caused the high priest the horrified accusation of blasphemy and the subsequent calls for the death sentence. Before Pilate on the other hand it was merely the assertion of his royal dignity which gave ground for his condemnation.[13]

In the Pauline Epistles the word Christ is so closely associated with Jesus that it is apparent that for the early Christians there is no need to claim that Jesus is Christ, for that is considered widely accepted among them. Hence Paul can use the term Christos with no confusion as to who it refers to, and as in 1Corinthians 4:15 and Romans 12:5 he can use expressions such as "in Christ" to refer to the followers of Jesus.[21] St. Paul proclaims him as the new Adam, who restores through obedience what Adam lost through disobedience.[22]

There are also implicit claims to being the Christ in the words and actions of Jesus.[13] Episodes in the life of Jesus and statements about what he accomplished during his three-year public ministry are found throughout the New Testament. Core biblical teachings about the person of Jesus Christ may be summarized that Jesus Christ was and forever is fully God (divine) and, in time and history, became fully human, uniting his human nature and his divine nature in one divine person.[23]

Pre-existence, Incarnation and Nativity

The Anointing of Jesus, c. 1450.

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.

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.[24]

Saint Paul viewed the Nativity of Jesus as an event of cosmic significance which by the Incarnation of Christ brought forth a new world of harmony to undo the damage caused by the fall of the first man, Adam. St. Paul's eschatological view of the birth of Jesus as the Christ counter-positions him as ushering in the new world of order that leads to salvation, unlike Adam, whose disobedience caused a rift with God.[25][26]

In the 2nd century, with his theory of "recapitulation", Saint 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.[27]

Christ and salvation in Christianity

Mosaic of Christ Pantocrator with the Christogram IC XC.[28]
"She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." — In Matthew 1:21 the name Jesus was selected by Divine direction.[29]

In Colossians 1:15-16 Apostle Paul viewed the Nativity of Jesus as an event of cosmic significance which changed the nature of the world by paving the way for salvation.[30][31][32][33]

In the 2nd century, Church Father Saint Irenaeus expressed his views of salvation as 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 second 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.[34] For Irenaeus Christ succeeded on every point on which Adam failed.[35] 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.[34]

Following in the Pauline tradition, in the 5th century Saint Augustine viewed Christ as the mediator 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.[36] Augustine believed that salvation is available to those who are worthy of it, through faith in Christ.[37]

In the 13th century Saint Thomas Aquinas aimed to recapture the teachings of the Church Fathers on the role of the Holy Trinity in the economy of salvation.[38] In Aquinas' view angels and humans were created for salvation from the very beginning.[39] For Acquinas the passion of Christ poured out the grace of salvation and all its virtues unto humanity.[40]

Martin Luther distinguished between the history of the salvation between the Old and the New Testament, and saw a new dimension to salvation with the arrival of Christ.[41]

The focus on human history was an important element of the biblically grounded 16th century theology of John Calvin. Calvin considered the 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.[42]

Symbols for "Christ"

The Chi-Rho.

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.[43]

A very early Christogram is the Chi Rho symbol formed by superimposing the first two Greek letters in Christ ( Greek: "Χριστός" ), chi = ch and rho = r, to produce .[44]

See also


  1. ^ God's human face: the Christ-icon by Christoph Schoenborn 1994 ISBN 0898705142 page 154
  2. ^ Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine by John Galey 1986 ISBN 9774241185 page 92
  3. ^ "Etymology Online: ''Christ''". Retrieved 2010-11-19. 
  4. ^ The nine questions people ask about Judaism by Dennis Prager, Joseph Telushkin 1981 ISBN 0671425935 page 87
  5. ^ Jesus God and Man by Wolfhart Pannenberg 1968 ISBN 0664244688 pages 30-31
  6. ^ Jesus of history, Christ of faith by Thomas Zanzig 2000 ISBN 0884895300 page 314
  7. ^ "Etymology Online: ''messiah''". Retrieved 2010-11-19. 
  8. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "Christ"
  9. ^  "Origin of the Name of Jesus Christ". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  10. ^ Who do you say that I am? Essays on Christology by Jack Dean Kingsbury, Mark Allan Powell, David R. Bauer 1999 ISBN 0664257526 page xvi
  11. ^ a b c Christianity by Donald W. Ekstrand 2008 ISBN 1604779292 pages 147-150
  12. ^ a b c Catholic encyclopedia on Christ
  13. ^ a b c d e f Catholic encyclopedia on Messiah
  14. ^ Jesus the Christ by Walter Kasper 1976 ISBN 080912081X pages 104-105
  15. ^ Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity by Larry W. Hurtado 2005 ISBN 0802831672 page 288
  16. ^ Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity by Larry W. Hurtado 2005 ISBN 0802831672 pages 363-363
  17. ^ The Gospel of Matthew by Rudolf Schnackenburg 2002 ISBN 0802844383 page 104
  18. ^ Mercer dictionary of the Bible by Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard 1998 ISBN 0865543739 page 459
  19. ^ Christianity by Donald W. Ekstrand 2008 ISBN 1604779292 page 81
  20. ^ Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27–30 and Luke 9:18–20
  21. ^ Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity by Larry W. Hurtado 2005 ISBN 0802831672 page 99
  22. ^ Encyclopedia of theology: a concise Sacramentum mundi by Karl Rahner 2004 ISBN 0860120066 pp 730-739
  23. ^ Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan, 1994. ISBN 0310286700
  24. ^ A theology primer by Robert C. Neville 1991 ISBN 0791408493 page 141
  25. ^ Systematic Theology, Volume 2 by Wolfhart Pannenberg 2004 0567084663 ISBN pages 297-303
  26. ^ An exposition of the epistle of Saint Paul to the Philippians by Jean Daille 1995 ISBN 0802825117 pages 194-195
  27. ^ Christ at the Center: The Early Christian Era by Lisa D. Maugans Driver 2009 ISBN 0664228976 page 134
  28. ^ Symbols of the Christian faith by Alva William Steffler 2002 ISBN 0802846769 page 67
  29. ^ Bible explorer's guide by John Phillips 2002 ISBN 0825434831 page 147
  30. ^ The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia by Geoffrey W. Bromiley 1988 ISBN 0802837859 page
  31. ^ An introductory dictionary of theology and religious studies by Orlando O. Espín, James B. Nickoloff 2007 ISBN 0814658563 page 238
  32. ^ Mercer dictionary of the Bible by Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard 1998 ISBN 0865543739 page 712
  33. ^ Basic Theology: by Charles Caldwell Ryrie 1999 ISBN 0802427340 page 275
  34. ^ a b Theological turning points by Donald K. McKim 1989 ISBN 080420702X page 80
  35. ^ The Christian theology reader by Alister E. McGrath 2006 ISBN 140515358X page
  36. ^ Theological turning points: major issues in Christian thought by Donald K. McKim 1989 ISBN 080420702X pages 85-86
  37. ^ An introduction to the theology of religions by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen 2003 ISBN 083082572X page 66
  38. ^ The Trinitarian Theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas by Gilles Emery, Francesca Aran Murphy 2010 ISBN 0199582211 pages 13-15
  39. ^ Thomas Aquinas' trinitarian theology: a study in theological method by Timothy Lee Smith ISBN pages 17-19
  40. ^ The encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 5 by Erwin Fahlbusch 2008 ISBN 080282417X page 490
  41. ^ Systematic Theology, Volume 3 Wolfhart Pannenberg 2004 ISBN 0567080684 page 84
  42. ^ Theological turning points by Donald K. McKim 1989 ISBN 080420702X page 161
  43. ^ "X". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1989.
  44. ^ Symbols of the Christian faith by Alva William Steffler 2002 ISBN 0802846769 page 66

Further reading

  • De La Torre, Miguel A., "The Quest for the Cuban Christ: A Historical Search," University Press of Florida, 2002.
  • Harpur, Tom, The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light. Toronto: Thomas Allen Publishers, 2004.
  • Riparelli, Enrico, I mille volti di Cristo. Religioni ed eresie dinanzi a Gesù di Nazareth, Edizioni Messaggero - Facoltà Teologica del Triveneto, Padova 2010, 432 pp., ISBN 9788825026320
  • McDowell, Joshua and Don Stewart, Handbook of Today's Religions, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983.
  • Ott, Ludwig, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 1957.
  • Michalopoulos, Dimitris (2006): "Islam and Christendom: The distorted relationship". Entelequia. Revista Interdisciplinar, 2, Otoño 2006. Págs. 201-206.

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  • christ — Christ. s. m. Suivant son etymologie signifie generalement celuy qui a receu l Onction, comme les Rois & les Prestres: & en ce sens David est quelquefois appellé Le Christ du Seigneur. Mais ce nom par excellence signifie le Messie, & il est… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

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  • Christ|ly — «KRYST lee», adjective. 1. of Christ; Christlike. 2. of or having to do with Jesus Christ. –Christ´li|ness, noun …   Useful english dictionary

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