Using the word Christ without ‘the’ before it


Question & Answer


Q: By Jack
What gets me miffed is using the word Christ without ‘the’ before it. The lack of this preposition before Christ denotes exclusivity, something, I’m definitely sure God also gets miffed at. This is a Greek word added to Jesus’ name in the early years of Christianity and had the preposition ‘the’ used. Who are we to be so arrogant that we can limit an infinite God to only Jesus, when we know in our hearts that the God-man has been on the earth more times in different guises than we can count. So, we need to get honest and not be hypocritical, since that action is the one action that God finds the most difficult to forgive.


A: By Rev. Roger Wolsey


Dear Jack,

That’s a truly interesting question and take on things you’re presenting. I hear you. As many have put it, “The Cosmic Christ” transcends Christianity and is something that is, has always been, and always will be. Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on this. So, dropping “the” as part of the Christ can lead people to think that it’s a uniquely Christian concept and personage.

That said, a case can be made that the concept of the Christ is in fact a Judeo-Christian one. The word “Christ” comes from Χριστός, Christós, a Greek word meaning “[the] anointed [one].” It is the equivalent of the Hebrew word masiach, or Messiah. With this in mind, to be the Christ, or Messiah, is to be “the anointed one of God” – literally, to have oil poured on one because God has chosen the person for a special task. This Hebrew concept came to refer specifically to a title for the savior and redeemer who would bring salvation to the whole House of Israel. Christians, of course, have expanded this understanding of salvation to include Gentiles, not just Jews.

Let’s consider the following insights of a more conservative Christian writer:

Priests and kings were anointed, and occasionally prophets. Kings were anointed during their coronation rather than receiving a crown. Even though prophets and priests were anointed, the phrase “anointed one” or “the Lord’s anointed” was most often used to refer to a king. For instance, David used it many times to refer to King Saul, even when Saul was trying to murder David and David was on the verge of killing Saul to defend himself: Far be it from me because of the  LORD that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’S anointed (mashiach), to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the LORD’S anointed (mashiach)” – 1 Samuel 24:6. The overriding biblical imagery of the word “Messiah” or “Christ” is that of a king chosen by God. Often in the Old Testament, God would tell a prophet to go anoint someone and proclaim him king. The act of anointing with sacred oil emphasized that it was God himself who had ordained a person and given him authority to act as his representative. I remember being quite surprised when I first learned this. If you would have asked me to describe Jesus’ identity, “Son of God” or “Suffering Savior” would have been my two best guesses. “King” didn’t even make the list. While Jesus also has a priestly and a prophetic role, the prominent idea within the title “Christ” is actually that of a king.”

So the Christ is not merely a term that is synonymous for all other demi-gods that have been part of global culture, but a very specific “god-man” (who is often thought of as being a mere human who God has chosen for a liberating role to play). But again, we do well to recall the various persons who were considered by the Jewish people as being anointed messiahs and saviors.

Moreover, some would contend that placing “the” in front of Christ also limits how this aspect of God shows up in the world, because “the” refers to a singular – as opposed to “them/they.”

But back to your point that we’d do well to have a more humble and generous understanding of The Christ, let me close by sharing these words:

from a progressive Christian perspectiveJesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and all who follow Jesus’ way, teachings, and example  — the way of unconditional love, of radical hospitality, of loving-kindness, of compassion, of mercy, of prophetic speaking truth to power, the way of forgiveness, of reconciliation, and the pursuit of restorative justice –  by whatever name, and even if they’ve never even heard of Jesus, are fellow brothers & sisters in Christ and his Way. To the extent that other world religions are about instilling, fostering, and nurturing those universal values – we see [the] Christ in them.”

In The Christ,

~ Rev. Roger Wolsey

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity; The Kissing Fish Facebook page; Roger’s Blog on Patheos “The Holy Kiss”

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