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Meaning and etymology of the Greek name Christ




Christ Christos (Christos)


Christ, or christos is not really a name but an appellative, or even a title. It describes an appointment; a function in the theocratic structure of Israel. But Matthew mentions that Jesus was called Christ (1:16) and that makes this noun a valid member of the Abarim Publications Name Vault.

The noun Christos (christos), meaning anointed, comes from the Greek verb chrio (chrio), meaning to smear or anoint. The Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses this verb to describe any kind of smearing, pouring or anointing, ranging from regular armory maintenance (2 Samuel 1:21, Isaiah 21:5) to basic medical routines (Isaiah 1:6).

In Israel, the ritualistic act of anointing was performed to inaugurate people into certain specific offices, and only offices that had no earthly superior and were subject only to God. Thus only a High Priest (Leviticus 4:3) and a prophet and a king would be anointed into office (1 Kings 19:16). Regular priests and certain venerable objects would be consecrated by receiving a mere sprinkling of the oil (Exodus 30:26, Leviticus 8:30).

So yes, the literal meaning of the name Christ is anointed, but practically it means much rather Inaugurated or even Highest Earthly Rank.

There were many more phrases and names from the Old Testament to label the Son of God with (Branch, Prince of Peace, Corner Stone), but the label Christ became such a hit probably because of its political implications.

In their fabulous book In Search Of Paul, authors Crossan and Reed argue that much of Paul's signature theological phraseology was in fact a direct response (and insurrectionary response) to Roman imperial theology. Since in Rome, politics and theology were the same, calling Jesus the Christ (or the Hebrew equivalent Messiah - John 1:41) was not so much an act of worship to God but much more an act of high treason against Roman imperial theology. Subsequently, the proclaimed Christ died a political death: on the cross.

To modern readers the name Christ doesn't mean anything other than it being the surname of Jesus, but in the time that the Bible was written it was a commonly understood title of the rightful king of Israel. The phrases "Son Of God," Redeemer, and "Savior of the World" came straight from the Romans and were originally applied to emperor August, son of the deified Julius Caesar.

Even the title "son of God" and the word monogenes, meaning only-begotten, a word made famous by John 3:16, is applied in the Bible to quite a few others (see below). And to make matters worse: even the name Jesus was quite common in the time of the Bible and there are five separate individuals named Jesus mentioned in the Bible (see our article on the name Jesus).

It seems that there are not many titles of Christ that are exclusively His. After His death and resurrection, the apostle Paul depicted Him mostly as the Crucified Christ (where the English word crucify is also a misnomer, since the Greek word that Paul uses means "lifted up" - Paul speaks of the Elevated Christ).

When under emperor Constantine Christianity became the empire's main religion, Christ quickly became known as Pantocrator, or All-Ruler, a phrase drawn from the Septuagint. During the time of the great plague, Christ became the Man of Sorrows. The Reformation brought the Bible into the common home, and Jesus became mostly depicted as one of us, a sympathetic teacher with his friends and followers.

In our day and age of individual freedom, Christ is depicted in all possible ways, with all available skin colors and attire, even up to Catholicism Wow's atrocious Buddy Christ.

Since Paul says that the Spirit searches all things, perhaps we should start calling Him the Great Search Engine. Or since in Him and by Him everything was made, and in Him all things hold together, perhaps The Great Server would apply. Perhaps not. But all these various depictions show that no matter how intimate Christ is experienced, or how much reverence we feel for Him, His ultimate personality or even most fundamental function is utterly difficult to grasp.

The great unicity of Jesus Christ is not that He is the Christ, or that He is a teacher or even a son of God; His ultimate unicity is that He died like we will all die, but that He wouldn't stay dead. And that not just because he rose (because even that has two Biblical precedents in Lazarus and the widow's son of Luke 7:11-16, and possibly one more in the headache boy whom Elijah raised in 1 Kings 17:17-24) but because there was nothing in this world that could keep Him dead. His victory over death, by the sheer merit of His identity, is big enough for us all to enjoy. In Christ, all of us are immortal.

So yes, the name Christ means Anointed, but with a very big footnote.

See our article on the name Armageddon for the importance of acknowledging the Christhood, or legal royalty, of Jesus.



Sons of God mentioned in the Bible:

AdamLuke 3:38
The Pre-flood PackGenesis 6:2
IsraelExodus 4:22
Angelic Earth PatrolJob 1:6
Peace makersMatt 5:9
The resurrectedLuke 20:36
Those led by the Spirit of GodRom 8:14, 19
Those who have faith in Christ JesusGal 3:26
Those led by the Spirit of GodRom 8:14, 19
JesusLuke 22:70


Occurrences of the word monogenes that don't apply to Jesus Christ:

...the only son of his mother...Luke 7:12
...for he [Jairus] had an only daughter...Luke 8:42
...for he is my only boy...Luke 9:38
...offering up his only begotten son (Isaac)...
(Abraham already was the father of Ishmael.)
Hebrews 11:17







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