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Jesus Christ or Jesus the Christ?

Celebrate Jesus as the Messiah and Savior

In our current usage today, many people talk (and think) that Christ is Jesus’s last name, as in Jesus Christ. Though the identifier of Jesus Christ does appear in most of the New Testament, it didn’t start out that way.

Christ

The label of Christ does not appear at all in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, arguably the three oldest books in the New Testament. In addition, the name Christ only appears four times in the book of John, the fourth biography of Jesus. (And of course, the word Christ doesn’t appear at all in the Old Testament.)

Yet Christ is mentioned in every other book in the New Testament, aside from 3 John. Some versions of the Bible include a footnote for Christ, explaining that it means Messiah.

And the dictionary definition of Christ uses Messiah to explain what Christ means.

Messiah

Instead of using the name Christ, the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke use Messiah exclusively. John also predominantly uses that label. Messiah also appears throughout the book of Acts (which Dr. Luke also wrote.) After that Messiah only appears in three other books in the New Testament (Romans, 1 Peter, and Revelation). In this we see a biblical shift from using the label of Messiah to Christ.

In this instance, the dictionary entry for Messiah defines it as Jesus. It also notes that Messiah is usually used with the, as in the Messiah. Another definition for Messiah is Savior.

Jesus the Messiah

In addition to using the label Messiah, Matthew and Mark also refer to him as “Jesus the Messiah” (Matthew 1:18 and Mark 1:1, NIV). Matthew also writes “Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:16, Matthew 27:17, and Matthew 27:22, NIV).

The Christ

In two of the instances where the Christ appears in the Bible, it’s with the explanation that “Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22 and 1 John 5:1, NIV). John also parenthetically notes that the Messiah means the Christ (John 1:41).

Jesus Christ

After not being used at all in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and appearing only twice in the book of John, the label of Jesus Christ shows up often in the rest of the books of the New Testament, in Acts through to Revelation (except for 3 John).

Moving from Messiah to Christ

In looking at the New Testament text, we see a transition taking place, with earlier writers referring to Jesus as the Messiah and later writers referring to him as the Christ. Just as we might say “Jesus, the Messiah,” we could also rightly say “Jesus, the Christ.” But it seems Jesus, the Christ was conveniently shortened to Jesus Christ.

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Why It Matters

You may wonder why this trivial discussion about Jesus Christ versus Jesus the Christ matters. It’s simply to encourage us to not mindlessly say “Jesus Christ” as if it’s his full name.

Instead, we must remind ourselves that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. That he is our Messiah and our Savior.

May we always be mindful of this truth.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

3 replies on “Jesus Christ or Jesus the Christ?”

You’re welcome! I do need to make one correction. In the parentheses above I mistyped. I meant to quote Acts 18:28 not Acts 18:18.

Wow! Thank you. I didn’t think you had the power to correct a reply. And thank you for your gracious hospitality…giving me the opportunity to post comments and corrections on your blog.

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