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Christ is the English representation of the Greek word Χριστός (transliterated as Khristós), which means anointed. In the Christian religion it is a title given to Jesus of Nazareth, in which case "Christ" is capitalized, as a singularly descriptive title (The anointed). In English translations of the New Testament, the Greek Ιησούς Χριστός, and related phrases, are almost invariably translated Jesus Christ and Christ Jesus, leading the uninformed to mistake this title for the last name of Jesus of Nazareth. The part of Christian theology which focuses on the identity, life, teachings and works of Jesus, is known as Christology.


Full etymology

The spelling Christ dates from the 17th century, when, in the spirit of the enlightenment, spellings of certain words were changed to fit their perceived Latin origin. Prior to this, in Old English, the word was spelt Crist, the i being pronounced as a long e, which is preserved for example in the names of churches such as St Katherine Cree.

The term appears in English, due to the popularisation of the Greek usage of it in the New Testament as a description for Jesus. In the New Testament, it was used to imply a match to the criteria that Jewish tradition had given to their predicted future saviour, as such a match should have lead to the figure being anointed, a status referred to in Hebrew as Messiah.

The term derives from Chrism, meaning perfumed oil, and essentially Christ in normal, rather than Christian, Greek usage means covered in oil, and is a literal translation of Messiah (anointed). In particular, Chrism means roughly perfumed oil.

"The Anointed" in the Old Testament

In the Hebrew faith tradition, anointing (with oil) was a key element of religious ceremony by which specific people were explicitly marked or set aside for a specific role: priests, kings, and prophets. In some cases other materials were anointed with oil as well, to prepare them for religious ceremony. The importance of anointing is sometimes stressed by mentioning the need for it alongside reference to the person in question: e.g., "The priest that is anointed shall carry of the blood into the tabernacle of the testimony" (Lev 4:16). The Jews came to expect a savior who would embody the elements of priest, king, and prophet, and whom they therefore termed "the Messias", which served as a title. The association with being anointed and being a savior makes these words in some senses equivalent. They expressed their hopes for this savior particularly in their prayers known as the Psalms, which often make reference to God and "his anointed", many of which references Christians interpret as prophetic.

History in the New Testament

In the New Testament it is indicated that the savior, long awaited, did come: however, there is no record of his being officially anointed with oil as Messiah, priest, or king in the gospels. Instead Luke says he "is inducted by His heavenly Father into His Messianic office" (Ott, Ludwig; see Lk 3:22). However, He is anointed by a woman, reported in Mark 14: 3-9 as happening just before his death, and in a different context in Luke 7. As Jesus demonstrates, over time, to his disciples that he is the savior, they come to call him by that name, which again was a title, i.e. normal usage being "the Christ". After the Resurrection "Christ" became a proper name used to refer to Jesus.

Distinctions between "Jesus", "Christ", and "God"

The term "Christ" is often used synonymously with "Jesus". A difference in usage is sometimes for variety of speech, and sometimes a subtlety intended to emphasize the totality of His person and function in Salvation. For example, Ott refers to "Jesus" when emphasizing an event in the New Testament, while he refers to "Christ" in discussing the nature of God.

There is a temporal distinction between "Jesus" and "Christ". not to mention "God". God, in the Christian belief system, exists outside of the time continuum and is not restricted by the confines of time (e.g., limitations, aging, development, evolution, etc.).

"Jesus", on the other hand, is the temporal manifestation of the "Logos" -- the divine "Word" of God, and, in Christian Trinitarian parlance, the second person of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). "Jesus" was born, lived, suffered, and died. However, for the Christian believer, the story of "Jesus" does not end there. With the Resurrection, there is the fulness of recognition within the Christian community of the interconnectedness of the Logos and the person of "Jesus" -- the human person now intensely glorified and beyond the confines of the temporal sphere of events and effects.

"Christ" is an appelation in Greek (Χριστός), corresponding to the Hebrew word "Messiah" -- the Savior or Anointed One. This term pertains more to the role to be performed by the "chosen one of God" (another possible translation of the term "Christ"). The problem with this word for the person of Jesus is that the term means different things to different people. Most especially, the term "Messiah" refers most often in Jewish beliefs of the Roman era to the hoped-for leader who would not only be a spiritual leader but a political one as well. Hence, we have grounds for why this term might cause consternation and skepticism -- if not downright hostility -- not only for Romans, but also for the Jewish leadership of the Temple at the time of Jesus.

Related uses of anointing

Anointing is used in the New Testament to heal the sick, to bless for ministry, to give thanks to Jesus, and to prepare for burial. According to Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions, as Christ was the anointed one, so is apostolic succession, manifest in those priests who carry on the ministry of Christ, premised upon an anointing. Oil is used in a number of the sacraments of these traditions. Practices vary slightly from East to West. Every Christian in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches is anointed with oil at least once, if they receive the sacraments according to plan.

Gnostic Christ

The gnostics generally believed not in a Jesus who was both a Divine Person and a human person, but in a spiritual Christ who indwelt Jesus and left him at different times, and who did not suffer death. Through the spiritual path of gnosticism, followers of these schools believed that they could experience the same knowledge, or gnosis. Their theology was or is dualistic and premised upon demigods, salvation for the elect, and the actions of God who sends periodic saviors. This was considered heresy by the Early Church as per the first Ecumenical Council, which occurred at Nicaea in 325 ce, although condemnation of the belief existed well before.

Expansions and appropriations of "Christ"

"Christ" has taken on such power and significance as a theological, religious and/or devotional term that it has been appropriated and/or expanded by various theologians and religious writers so as to take it beyond its merely Christian context. The development of Judeo/Christian religious concepts in a world religious context may be startling to the orthodox, but is part of the full picture and contemporary meaning of the term "Christ".

Paramahansa Yogananda - writes about a "Christ Consciousness" interchangeably with "Krishna Consciousness"

Matthew Fox - speaks of "the Cosmic Christ"


One belief is the idea or concept that 'Jesus became Christ;' i.e. his 'flesh was transformed to spirit.' By taking a spiritual and good path through life, Jesus was reunited with his true holy nature (redemption) and preserved forever in God.

However in this view, this psychic force is often called 'the Christ,' or sometimes 'Christ consciousness,' etc; drawing a separation between God (whose nature some maintain we cannot fathom or comprehend) and the Holy Spirit, which has experience (through Jesus) and therefore compatibility with our mortal and frail humanity. This separation of spiritual concepts is embodied in the Christian Trinity.

From within certain branches of Christianity, some limitations on extra-cultural interactivity have brought about typically localized and dogmatic interpretations of the meaning of "the Christ" to refer only to "Christendom" (i.e. confirmed "Christians") as opposed to all of spiritual humanity, that may have equal devotion to 'the Christ,' yet may refer to it by another name: i.e. God, Krishna, etc.

In Eastern religious traditions, for example, "God" remains mysterious and unknowable and therefore only implied; described instead by personifications (deities) which are manifestations of particular aspects of God's power. In mortal form, the Christian Jesus is akin to these personifications, with the caveat that he alone is the deity; all of God's powers that are relevant or understandable to man, are manifest through Jesus. Thus, where Christ is a synonym for the Holy Spirit, the Trinity of Father (God) Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit (Christ) are unified, though each remain distinct.

Slang usage

The interjection "Christ!" is often used as a sign of surprise or anger, without a direct religious reference - that is, as a swear word. Many religious people find this usage offensive, as they feel it cheapens a holy term and violates the Commandment against taking God's name in vain.

"Christ" is also the name of a British humour fanzine.[1]


  • A. J. Maas, Origin of the Name of Jesus Christ, Catholic Encyclopedia [2]
  • Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 1957.
  • Paul A. Hughes, The Gnostic Christ: Gnosticism vs. Christianity [3]
  • The Etymological Derivation Of The Name "Christ", NZs Hare Krishna Spiritual Network [4]
  • Joshua McDowell and Don Stewart, Handbook of Today's Religions, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983.
  • Tom Harpur, "The Pagan Christ. Recvovering the Lost Light." Thomas Allen Publishers, Toronto, (2004)
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