Christ (title)

This article is about the Christian theological concept of the Messiah. For Jesus of Nazareth, see Jesus. For the Islamic theological concept of the Messiah, see Messiah in Islam. For other uses, see Christ (disambiguation).
The oldest known icon of Christ PantocratorSaint 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.[1][2]

In Christianity, the Christ[Notes 1] is a title for the saviour and redeemer who would bring salvation to the Jewish people and mankind. Christians believe Jesus to be the Jewish messiah called Christ of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. Christ, used by Christians as both a name and a title, is synonymous with Jesus.[5][6][7]

The role of the Christ in Christianity originated from the concept of the messiah in Judaism. Though 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.

Though the original followers of Jesus believed Jesus to be the Jewish messiah, e.g. in the Confession of Peter, before the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus was usually referred to as "Jesus of Nazareth" or "Jesus, son of Joseph".[8] Jesus came to be called "Jesus Christ" (meaning "Jesus the Khristós", i.e. "Jesus the Messiah" or "Jesus the Anointed") by his followers after his crucifixion and resurrection. Christians believe that the messianic prophecies were fulfilled in his mission, death, and resurrection. The Pauline epistles, the earliest texts of the New Testament,[9] often refer to Jesus as "Christ Jesus" or "Christ".[10] The word Christ was originally a title, but later became part of the name "Jesus Christ". It is, however, still also used as a title, in the reciprocal use "Christ Jesus", meaning "the Messiah Jesus", and independently as "the Christ".[11]

The followers of Jesus became known as Christians (as in Acts 11:26) because they believed Jesus to be the Khristós or Mashiach prophesied in the Hebrew Bible.[12][13] Jesus was not, and is not, accepted in Judaism as a Jewish messiah, and the concept of a divine messiah was always rejected by Judaism as idolatry.[14] Religious Jews still await their 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 prophecies to be fulfilled.[15] One of those prophecies, distinctive in both the Jewish and Christian concept of the messiah, is that a Jewish king from the Davidic line, who will be "anointed" with holy anointing oil, will be king of God's kingdom on earth, and rule the Jewish people and mankind during the Messianic Age and World to come.[16] Muslims accept Jesus (Arabic: عيسى, translit. ʿĪsā) as al-Masih, the messiah in Islam, but don't believe that the messiah is divine or the Son of God, but do believe he will come again.[17]

The area of Christian theology called Christology is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus Christ as recorded in the canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament.[18]


The Mocking of Christ by the Cavalier d'Arpino (1568-1640)

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.[12][11] Compare the usage "the Christ".

The spelling Christ in English became standardized in the 18th century, when, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, the spelling of certain words changed to fit their Greek or Latin origins. Prior to this, 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.[19]

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.[20]

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".

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.[21] However, for centuries the Jews had used the term moshiach ("anointed") to refer to their expected deliverer.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22][23] 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."[21]

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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[20]

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 Jesus 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),[26] 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?"[27]—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.[28]

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 at his trial before the Sanhedrin.[22][29] These incidents involve far more than a mere Messianic claim; taken in their setting, they constitute a claim to be the Son of God.[22]

In the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and Pontius 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".[22] 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.[22]

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 being the Christ in the words and actions of Jesus.[22] Episodes in the life of Jesus and statements about what he accomplished during his public ministry are found throughout the New Testament. Trinitarianism summarily claims: "Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man in one person, and will be so forever."[33]


Main article: Christology

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. 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.[34]

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.[35]

Christ and salvation in Christianity

Mosaic of Christ Pantocrator with the Christogram IC XC.[36]
"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.[37]

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.[38][39][40][41]

Christian teachings present the Love of Christ as a basis for his sacrificial act that brought forth salvation.[42][43] 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."[43] Ephesians 5:25 then states that: "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it".[42]

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"[44][45] 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.[46] For Irenaeus Christ succeeded on every point on which Adam failed.[47] 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.[46]

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.[48] Augustine believed that salvation is available to those who are worthy of it, through faith in Christ.[49]

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.[50] In Aquinas' view angels and humans were created for salvation from the very beginning.[51] For Aquinas the Passion of Christ poured out the grace of salvation and all its virtues unto humanity.[52]

Martin Luther distinguished the history of salvation between the Old and the New Testament, and saw a new dimension to salvation with the arrival of Christ.[53]

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.[54]


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.[55]

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 .[56]

See also

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Christ (title)
Look up Christ in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


  1. Pronounced /krst/. From Latin: Christus, via Greek: χριστός, translit. khristós, lit. 'anointed, covered in oil'; calqued from Hebrew: מָשִׁיחַ, translit. māšîaḥ, lit. 'messiah or messias'.[3][4] Alternatively (Messiah or Messias): Latin: messias, from Greek: μεσσίας, translit. messías, lit. 'messias or messiah' (alternative to χριστός), via Aramaic: משיחא, translit. məšīḥā, ultimately from the same Hebrew.


  1. Schönborn, Christoph (1994). God's human face: the Christ-icon. p. 154. ISBN 0-89870-514-2.
  2. Galey, John (1986). Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine. p. 92. ISBN 977-424-118-5.
  3. Zanzig, Thomas (2000). Jesus of history, Christ of faith. p. 314. ISBN 0-88489-530-0.
  4. "Etymology Online: messiah". Retrieved November 19, 2010.
  5. Prager, Edward (2005). A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations. p. 85. ISBN 0-521-82692-6.
  6. Zanzig, Thomas (2000). Jesus of history, Christ of faith. p. 33. ISBN 0-88489-530-0.
  7. Espin, Orlando (2007). n Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies. p. 231. ISBN 0-8146-5856-3.
  8. "Jesus Christ". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  9. Borg, Marcus (31 August 2012). "A Chronological New Testament". The Huffington Post.
  10. "Saint Paul, the Apostle". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  11. 1 2 Pannenberg, Wolfhart (1968). Jesus God and Man. pp. 30–31. ISBN 0-664-24468-8.
  12. 1 2 Doniger, Wendy (2000). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. p. 212. ISBN 0-87779-044-2.
  13. Mills, Watson E.; Bullard, Roger Aubrey (1998). Mercer dictionary of the Bible. p. 142. ISBN 0-86554-373-9.
  14. Prager, Dennis; Telushkin, Joseph (1981). The nine questions people ask about Judaism. p. 87. ISBN 0-671-42593-5.
  15. Norman, Asher (2007). Twenty-six reasons why Jews don't believe in Jesus. Nanuet, NY: Feldheim Publishers. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-9771937-0-7.
  16. "Judaism 101: Mashiach: The Messiah". Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  17. Zanaty, Anwer Mahmoud (2006). Glossary Of Islamic Terms. Islamic Books. p. 108.
  18. O'Collins, Gerald (2009). Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus. pp. 1–3. ISBN 0-19-955787-X.
  19. "Christ". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  20. 1 2 3  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Origin of the Name of Jesus Christ". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  21. 1 2 3 Ekstrand, Donald W. (2008). Christianity. pp. 147–150. ISBN 1-60477-929-2.
  22. 1 2 3 4 5 6  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Messiah". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  23. Kasper, Walter (1976). Jesus the Christ. pp. 104–105. ISBN 0-8091-2081-X.
  24. Hurtado, Larry W. (2005). Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. p. 288. ISBN 0-8028-3167-2.
  25. Hurtado, Larry W. (2005). Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. pp. 363–363. ISBN 0-8028-3167-2.
  26. Schnackenburg, Rudolf (2002). The Gospel of Matthew. p. 104. ISBN 0-8028-4438-3.
  27. Mills, Watson E.; Bullard, Roger Aubrey (1998). Mercer dictionary of the Bible. p. 459. ISBN 0-86554-373-9.
  28. Ekstrand, Donald W. (2008). Christianity. p. 81. ISBN 1-60477-929-2.
  29. Matthew 16:13–20, Mark 8:27–30 and Luke 9:18–20
  30. Hurtado, Larry W. (2005). Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. p. 99. ISBN 0-8028-3167-2.
  31. Rahner, Karl (2004). Encyclopedia of theology: A concise Sacramentum mundi. pp. 730–739. ISBN 0-86012-006-6.
  32. Barclay, William (2002). The letters to the Galatians and Ephesians. pp. 152–153. ISBN 0-664-22559-4.
  33. Grudem, Wayne A. (1994). "The Person Of Christ". Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan. p. 529. ISBN 0-310-28670-0.
  34. Neville, Robert C. (1991). A theology primer. p. 141. ISBN 0-7914-0849-3.
  35. Driver, Lisa D. Maugans (2009). Christ at the Center: The Early Christian Era. p. 134. ISBN 0-664-22897-6.
  36. Steffler, Alva William (2002). Symbols of the Christian faith. p. 67. ISBN 0-8028-4676-9.
  37. Phillips, John (2002). Bible explorer's guide. p. 147. ISBN 0-8254-3483-1.
  38. Bromiley, Geoffrey W. (1988). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. p. 308. ISBN 0-8028-3785-9.
  39. Espín,, Orlando O.; Nickoloff, James B. (2007). An introductory dictionary of theology and religious studies. p. 238. ISBN 0-8146-5856-3.
  40. Mills, Watson E.; Bullard, Roger Aubrey (1998). Mercer dictionary of the Bible. p. 712. ISBN 0-86554-373-9.
  41. Ryrie, Charles Caldwell (1999). Basic Theology. p. 275. ISBN 0-8024-2734-0.
  42. 1 2 Matera, Frank J. (1999). New Testament Christology. pp. 155–156. ISBN 0-664-25694-5.
  43. 1 2 Williamson, Lamar (2004). Preaching the Gospel of John: Proclaiming the Living Word. p. 192. ISBN 0-664-22533-0.
  44. Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard, eds, Mercer dictionary of the Bible. 1998, p. 10. ISBN 0-86554-373-9
  45. Dunn, James D. G. (2006) The Theology of Paul the Apostle. p. 241. ISBN 0802844235
  46. 1 2 McKim, Donald K. (1989). Theological turning points: Major issues in Christian thought. p. 80. ISBN 0-8042-0702-X.
  47. Driver, Lisa D. Maugans (2009). Christ at the Center: The Early Christian Era. p. 134. ISBN 0-664-22897-6.
  48. McKim, Donald K. (1989). Theological turning points: Major issues in Christian thought. pp. 85–86. ISBN 0-8042-0702-X.
  49. Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti (2003). An introduction to the theology of religions. p. 66. ISBN 0-8308-2572-X.
  50. Emery, Gilles; Murphy, Francesca Aran (2010). The Trinitarian Theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas. pp. 13–15. ISBN 0-19-958221-1.
  51. Smith, Timothy Lee (2003). Thomas Aquinas' trinitarian theology: A study in theological method. CUA Press. pp. 17–19. ISBN 978-0-8132-1097-1.
  52. Fahlbusch, Erwin (2008). The encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 5. p. 490. ISBN 0-8028-2417-X.
  53. Pannenberg, Wolfhart (2004). Systematic Theology, Volume 3. p. 84. ISBN 0-567-08068-4.
  54. McKim, Donald K. (1989). Theological turning points: Major issues in Christian thought. p. 161. ISBN 0-8042-0702-X.
  55. "X". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  56. Steffler, Alva William (2002). Symbols of the Christian faith. p. 66. ISBN 0-8028-4676-9.

Further reading

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