Names of God and Christ

God and Jesus in JudaismIn my narrative of the Gospels, I said that the name Jesus is the English version of the Jewish name Yeshua. I continued to use Jesus, because I am assuming my readers would be Christian.

I also said that Christ is the English version of the Jewish word Messiah. In that instance, I continued to use the word Messiah, because Christianity had not been founded during the time of the Gospels.

In fact Messiah is not a name, but a title or role. Similarly, Christ is not a name but a title. When we say Jesus Christ, we are not talking about his first and last names. The correct wording would be Jesus the Christ. You can often see this when the words are transposed as Christ Jesus.

The word Christ is a modern English one, and you only see it in Bibles because printed versions are relatively new in historical terms. It would not have been used in early texts or ever spoken by people at the time. In the period of the New Testament, Messiah would still have been the word used. This image may explain it better:

Origin of word Christ

Since this section of the website is about the development of Christianity, I will switch to using Christ once the apostles receive the Holy Spirit in the second chapter of Acts.

Things become even more complicated when talking about God. That is not a word the Jews would have used. The word used for God the creator, is represented by four Latin letters – YHWH. The closest English interpretation is Jehovah. But in Judaism, the Hebrew version is considered a holy word, and is only allowed to be spoken by the High Priest in specific circumstances.

Judaism has seven names for God, all of which are considered holy. The word allowed to be used during prayer in a synagogue is Adonai, but the day-to-day, conversational word used is HaShem.

People often think the Jews called God, Yahweh, but this is not strictly true. Initially, Yahweh was a divine warrior and it was not until the period just before the time of the Gospels that the name came to represent the creator of the cosmos. During the time of Jesus, it also was a holy word and therefore not one used by everyday Jews. So, to make a complex problem simple, the Jews of the New Testament would have used the word HaShem for God, and Messiah for Christ.

We need to keep in mind that what we are reading in the Bible is not what would have been spoken at the time, but a modern translation. This applies to both Testaments, but is particularly relevant when looking at the New Testament, where taking text literally can result in a completely different understanding from what was intended. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong, just that the original message has become fuzzy in the translation and it takes more effort to understand its meaning.