Why Is Jesus Called Christ?
In Season 1 Episode 8 of The Chosen, the woman at the well declares that Jesus is the Christ. Let's dive in to what this title means and its significance in Christianity.
The word "Christ" is fundamental to understanding Jesus and His teachings in the Gospels. More than simply differentiating the Lord from others who might share the name Jesus, Christ is the term that defines His followers and His religion. Christians, Christianity, Christendom—even the word Christmas is built on Christ as its root. But despite how ingrained this term is in Christian circles, many people are not fully aware of its significance or meaning.
Here, we discuss the origins of the word Christ, and how understanding it can increase understanding of Jesus Himself.
Not a Last Name
In most modern cultures, it’s common for individuals to have at least two names: a given name (or forename), and a family name (or surname). But this has not always been the case. In fact, until relatively recently, established surnames have historically been extremely rare.
Instead, in many parts of the world and through most of history, individuals had only one name. If further distinction was needed, they would follow that name with the name of their father. So, to make a modern comparison, a man named Thomas who has a father named Erik might be called Thomas, son of Erik, or Thomas Erikson (a naming convention that has partially survived through Scandinavian and Germanic languages). Following this patronymic convention, Jesus would likely have been known to His community as Jesus (or Yeshua) bar Yosef, or son of Joseph (Luke 4:22; John 6:42).
But this carries with it certain problems. For one thing, the Gospels teach that Jesus was not Joseph’s biological son. And although Joseph was a righteous and worthy father, a crucial part of scripture is Jesus’ divine lineage. Many scriptural historians believe that Jesus was known to His faithful followers as Jesus bar Abbas, or Jesus, son of the Father (God).
So why is He so often referred to as Jesus Christ? Where did the name Christ come from?
Christ Name Meaning?
If Christ isn’t Jesus’ last name, then what is it? What does the name Christ mean? Despite how it’s commonly used, Christ isn’t actually a name at all; it’s a title. And, to further complicate matters, it’s a title in a language that the majority of Jesus’ original followers may not have spoken.
Most of us know that the New Testament as we have it today has gone through many different translations. But even if readers were to have access to the very first manuscripts of the Gospels and the scriptures that followed, they would still be reading a language other than the one in which Jesus taught. That’s because much of the New Testament was actually written in Greek.
And this is where we first encounter the word Christ.
Jesus’ followers during His mortal ministry recognized Him as a prophet, but readers of the New Testament find that His true mission was so much more. Jesus was prophesied as the promised Messiah, whose coming had been foretold and looked forward to throughout Israelite history. How then could this prophecy be acknowledged in the scriptures that would tell His story? By referring to Jesus as the Christ.
The word Christ as we know it today is a Middle English word, derived from the Latin word Christus, which in turn was adopted from the Greek Christos. Christos means “Anointed One.” In ancient Judaism, as described in the Old Testament, oil was used as a symbolic gesture of setting apart or consecrating an individual to a great work. By having oil placed on their head, the individual was said to be anointed, signifying that they were ordained to fulfill a special role. Priests and kings were among those anointed with oil.
Why Is Jesus Called the Christ?
Thus, Jesus’ most widely known title in the scriptures takes many meanings. It refers directly to the fact that His purpose was established for Him long before He was born in a manger in Bethlehem. He was anointed to be the Savior of the world, as described by the Apostle Peter when he said “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38). Christ is also synonymous with Messiah, which also means anointed, but that carries with it additional meaning to readers who believe that the Messiah’s mission is to save His people. Finally and perhaps most interestingly, Christ is a word in Greek symbolizing that the gospel itself would spread well beyond the cultural borders of Ancient Israel.
If you haven’t already, check out Angel Studios’ The Chosen to view the first-ever multi-season show about the life of Jesus. This historical drama set in Judaea and Galilee in the first century CE follows Jesus and those whom He met and ministered to.