Christ or Messiah

  • Sumo

When I read work on the New Testament, I increasingly find authors using the title Messiah in place of Christ. They have the same meaning: anointed. The difference is language – Messiah is from the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ, Christ from the Greek Χριστος. So there’s no radical rewriting of theology going on with this shift.

But I’m against it. I’ll keep using Christ more often than Messiah.

The New Testament does include ‘Messiah’. Thought written in Greek there was a way to write this Hebrew word. How many times? Only twice. Look and see what else is in common in John 1:41 and John 4:25. Both make a point of translating Messiah into Christ.

The word Christ, in contrast, occurs in 499 New Testament verses.

What’s going on? The current shift is sometimes explained: it’s to remind modern readers the Jewish background for Jesus and the New Testament.

The trouble is that the first Christians (NB Christian not Messianic) seem to have opted deliberately to use the Greek-language title. They went for clarity in the common culture, rather than specificity of background.

This fits perfectly with the whole big post-Easter question of who can know God: can pagans come directly to faith in God, or do they need to become Jews first? The answer is resoundingly in favour of universal direct access to the Father, by faith. This question forms a background to so much of the New Testament – I believe that this includes the choice of Christ over Messiah.

In the first century the battle lines might have been cultural (Greek versus Jewish). In the twenty-first century the debate seems to be intellectual (are you up with the latest academic focus on Jewish studies?). My vote goes against the path of exclusivism and snobbery.