Christ as a name

Just a quick langauge question.

I am aware that Christ is just the Greek (and therefore NT) word for Messiah.

Both are capitalized in English, but, usually we use Christ like a name, but Messiah like a title. We almost always use the definite article, the Messiah, but rarely do we say the Christ. Just like we would never say the Luke but we do say the Pope.

Is there a reason for this, and how did it come about? When Paul speaks of Jesus Christ and Christ Jesus, in Greek, is Christ being used as a title, as in Pope Francis? Or is he using it like a name, as many English speakers today do?

(While I’m at it, do they have the equivalent of articles and capital letters in Greek or Hebrew?)

Yes to the articles, at least in Koine Greek. Take it from someone who studied it (though I was mediocre at it). However, I believe everyone wrote the Greek only in capital letters during Paul’s day.

There are capital letters in Greek, but conventions about what gets capitalized are not exactly the same as English. When Jesus Christ is used in the NT, both initial letters are capitalized. You can see in a verse like Matthew 16:16, even when Christ and Son of God are used with articles, they are capitalized:

Definiteness and indefiniteness are aspects of grammar that different languages encode differently. Definite articles in Greek are not obligatory in some contexts where they are obligatory in English and there is no indefinite article (to correspond with English a/an/some).

Some Bible translations use Jesus the Anointed One instead of Jesus Christ, so I wonder if the omission of the is probably more about convention formed by literal rendering of the Greek title that did not have the article than it is about what is most natural in English. The order (Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus) also varies in the NT and is reflected in translations. I guess that would be similar to Pope Francis and Francis the Pope. Χριστὸς is a title, not a name.


I just checked this and I think this is right. Though the source texts used for translation now have lowercase and capital letters and punctuation.


I’ve looked at images of some of the oldest manuscripts and the Greek appears to be written with all capitals, too.

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Just googling around, it said the move away from uncials to cursive came into use in the ninth century.

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It’s always a title. Since King James and Wycliffe and Chaucer it’s been Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus. Jesus the Christ, Christ, the Christ. As in Buddha, the Buddha, Gautama Buddha, Lord Buddha, Buddha Shakyamuni. As in Mahatma Gandhi, the Mahatma. Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet.

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Based on a very brief examination of a Greek Interlinear of Matthew…it depends. Sometimes, there is no article that joins Jesus and Christ. However, the conjugation matches–iEsou christou, as in Matt. 1:1, 18. The same thing happens, for example, in John 1:17.

However, in Matt. 16:16 it is written as iEsous ho christos, with ho being the article. I think it can be assumed that it’s always a title, as Klax stated. But it’s still neat to look at it in the Greek, no?

Here’s the interlinear I used.

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Thanks for the helpful replies @Christy and @Joshua_Wagner !

On the ‘unicals’ yeah this is what I meant.

Basically my entire experience of Greek is using them as algebraic pronumerals :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:. So yes I do know there are uppercase and lowercase in contemporary Greek, but when you see pictures of ancient manuscripts they look like they’re in all-caps!

Interlinear bible - never knew that existed! Looks very useful!


You are welcome, my friend. :slight_smile:

Yep! And they can be a challenge to read because, as the article Christy shared mentioned, there weren’t spaces between the words.

Surprise! :slight_smile:

You are new to the faith, so I am uncertain as to how many resources you are aware are at your disposal. Yes, such Interlinear texts do exist and you can find them for both Greek and Hebrew, online or for purchase, if you’d prefer. You can also use a concordance to find every occurrence of a specific word or phrase in Scripture, too. That’s what I used to find all occurrences of Jesus Christ.

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So, question then, when Bible scholars work with the ancient manuscripts in order to, say, work on an English translation, they first presumably would transcribe them using the type of Greek script in use today. And in so doing they would be having to make decisions on where the word boundaries are and which words ought to be capitalized? Are those decisions ever contentious?

It may seem like I’m in the weeds, but I’m thinking, the capitalization of Christ must not have originated with the NT authors, but arose aa a convention at some point most likely centuries later. Which seems important.

This is definitely an area where @Christy and her expertise would certainly come in handy for you.

At least in English, because Christ is a title, it’s a proper noun. You always capitalize the first letter in proper nouns. :slight_smile:

Edit: So, I should add, it’s a linguistic convention, to be certain. But I’m not sure that it has any great significance. It’s just a rule in English, and other languages too (though not all).

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Bible scholars don’t work with ancient documents, most of which are fragments and many of which are variants of one another. They work with a compiled source text that scholars trained in an area called textual criticism agree is the best possible reconstruction of the source texts. The current standard for all modern Bible translations is the Nestle-Aland/UBS Greek text, which is updated once in awhile as scholarship progresses. Where there is a lack of consensus among scholars about which textual variant is most ancient/likely to be original, they give the available readings ratings using a letter system to indicate how confident they are they have selected the best one. These are noted with footnotes in the source text.

A lot goes into textual criticism, things like comparing early translations and quotations in early church writings and various established ways for tracing the history of copies. So the parchments have lineages so to speak.

Capitalization is just an orthographic convention in some written languages. It isn’t part of the original meaning. Decisions about what to capitalize in a translation are based on how the target language works, not how the source language works. We capitalize proper names and titles in English, but you decide something is a proper name or a title in the source text based on other factors than just whether or not is is capitalized. It’s how the word is used that matters.


Thanks again @Christy and @Joshua_Wagner ! Much appreciated.


It’s not clear to me that there is always a clear distinction in the New Testament between ‘Christ’ as a title and as a name – I think it’s often halfway between the two. Certainly ‘Christ’ often seems to function as a name, particularly when used without being accompanied by ‘Jesus’, as in Paul’s repeated use of ‘in Christ’. At any rate, my Greek lexicon (BAGD) treats it as a name in many NT instances.

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But it’s the same with Rabbi or Lord. Titles often refer to individuals. You can say “The Queen will be in London for the wedding” and be using her title in place of Queen Elizabeth to refer to her. Or Jesus with “my Father in Heaven.” or “the Father will give whatever you ask.” Father is a title of sorts and yes it functions as a “name” in that is refers to an individual as a proper noun. But names are generally more unique to individuals than titles used in place of names to refer to individuals.


Sure, but in those cases the title usually is used with the definite article in Greek, as when Jesus is consistently referred to as ‘the Lord’. That doesn’t guarantee that Christ is acting as a name but it is suggestive. (As a counter, I’ll note that I’m currently reading Xenophon’s Anabasis, and in it Xenophon routinely refers to the king of Persia as βασιλευσ, without the article.) And the BAGD lexicon is reasonably authoritative, so this isn’t a crazy idea I made up.

More broadly, though, I’d suggest that the distinction between title and name becomes less than clear when a title is routinely attached to the name, in effect becoming part of it.

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Hmm, but you say the Queen, as you do the Messiah, and as a servant on days gone by would say my Lord… and then there’s “Your Majesty” etc… Hmmmm. And yet, you could address someone as Master, or Chief, or Chef, or Sir, or Madam, with no article or possessive pronoun.

English, what a silly language. I suppose we could say, if the title refers to a singular person, always use the definite article. Otherwise, possessive pronouns are optional. But then that still doesn’t sit well to refer to Christ rather than The Christ.

And, to worsen my confusion :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:, the podcast that got me thinking about this also just pointed out that in the OT, messiah just means high priest, and it speaks of many different messiahs, prior to The Messiah who shall rule forever. The question I’m left with is was there a linguistic marker (such as the capitals I’ve just used) to distinguish between the many mortal messiahs and the divine eschatological Messiah?

Responding to my own argument, I see that ‘in the Lord’ can also be used (e.g. I Cor 15:58) without the article, so scratch that.

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I guess I am thinking you can use titles as vocatives just like names. Like Matt 25:37 “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?” Or Teacher in Matthew 8:19 “Teacher, I will follow you wherever.” or Matthew 6:9 “Our Father, who is in Heaven, may your name be kept holy.” There is no article then. But there are also plenty of times when Greek omits the article and you still need one to translate it to English so I don’t think we can assume things are totally parallel with regard to its presence or absence.

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