Glossary of Terms

Messiah (Hebrew), Christ (Greek)

Christ Jesus (topical index) Jesus (dict def) Jesus' parables (text & commentary) Sermon on Mount (text) Sermon on Plain (text)


Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Christ, meaning "the anointed one" or "Messiah." A title given by Jews of N.T. times to the coming king, and applied to Jesus by his followers. It soon became linked with his given name and was used like a name. Matt. 1:17-18; Mark 8:29; John 1:41; 10:24; Acts 2:36; Rom. 9:4-5; Col. 2:6.

Messiah. A title by Jews of N.T. times for the king who would be like David and whom God would raise up to restore the kingdom to Israel. John 1:41; 4:25. (See, for other names, more commonly used in the N.T. than "Messiah," anoint [the anointed]; Christ; king, in N.T. times; son of God [Son of God; Son of man; Son of David].) Other titles were "Holy One of God," Mark 1:24; and 'Just One," Act 22:14.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

messiah (from the Heb., ‘anointed one’), a term that could be applied to any person ‘anointed’ and sent by God.

Early Usage: In the political sphere, it referred to the kings who would come to continue the Davidic dynasty (Pss. 18:50; 89:20, 38, 51; 132:10, 17). ‘Anointed’ might also refer to a priest (cf. Lev. 4:3, 5). ‘Messiah’ could refer to anyone divinely appointed to a task that affected the destiny of the chosen people. Since the Davidic king is the chosen ruler of God (2 Sam. 7:8-16), ‘messiah’ is often associated with the prophetic expectation that God would raise up an ideal Davidic ruler to occupy the throne of Israel (e.g., Jer. 33:15; Ezek. 37:23-24). However, none of the prophetic books use ‘messiah’ for the future king. In Isa. 45:1 ‘anointed’ refers to Cyrus as God’s agent. In Hab. 3:13 ‘messiah’ refers either to the reigning king or to Israel as a nation.

Dan. 9:25 associates the renewal of Jerusalem with a coming ‘anointed one,’ a prince. However, Daniel does not contain any further speculation about ‘the anointed.’ Similar caution must be exercised in regard to the claim that the ‘king from the sun’ in Sib. Or. 3:652-56 represents a future ‘messianic king’ of Israel. The author appears to be referring to the seventh king in the Ptolemaic line as one who would bring great peace. Such expectations are similar to those associated with Cyrus. We find a more firmly established expectation of a future Davidic king, described as God’s ‘anointed,’ in the Psalms of Solomon 17-18. This ‘ideal king’ reflects opposition to the non-Davidic Hasmonean dynasty. He is a human ruler, though endowed with special gifts of wisdom and righteousness (17:23, 35, 41-42, 46-47).

A more complex picture of the ‘anointed one’ emerges in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Christian editing of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs makes it difficult to trace the development of its images of the ‘messiah.’ Levi and Judah are the priestly and kingly rulers of the people (T. Simeon 7:2; T. Joseph 19:6). T. Judah 21:2 states that God made kingship subordinate to priesthood, a reflection of the predominate role of the chief priest in the postexilic period. Since royal characteristics are also attributed to Levi, some scholars hold that the dual ‘messiahship’ was a later development, perhaps in opposition to the combination of priestly and kingly power by the Hasmonean kings. The Dead Sea Scrolls also contain passages referring to the coming of two figures, a priestly ‘anointed’ of Aaron, and a kingly ‘anointed’ of Israel (e.g., 1QS 9:11; 1QSa 2:14, 20; CD 20:1; 4QPBless 2:4; 4QFlor 1:11-13). The material so far published shows little interest in the persons of the ‘anointed ones’ as though they were ‘savior figures.’ Parallels between the conduct of the ‘messianic meal’ eaten by the community with the ‘messiahs’ (1QSa 2:11-22), and the meal celebrated by the sect (1QS 6:4) suggest that what is said of the future ‘messiahs’ can also be experienced as part of the daily life of the community.

The Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71), probably from the mid-first century a.d., link the day of judgment with a heavenly figure, the ‘Son of man,’ who is also referred to as ‘messiah’ (1 Enoch 48:10; 52:4). However, exploration of the Danielic image ‘Son of man’ is the real focus of attention in this work. These examples are sufficient to show that ‘messiah’ had no fixed, technical meaning in Jesus’ time. In some circles, it denoted a political or priestly agent sent from God as part of the triumphant establishment of God’s power.

Jesus* as Messiah: Similar ambiguities surround the application in the nt of the expression ‘anointed’ (Gk. christos) to Jesus. ‘Messiah’ was evidently not a role that a person might simply assume by identifying himself with it. ‘Messiah’ is missing from the sayings of Jesus in ‘Q,’ an early source used by Matthew and Luke. The Gospels consistently show Jesus’ reluctance to accept the designation ‘messiah’ without qualification. Peter’s confession (Mark 8:29; an independent version of this tradition is preserved in John 6:67-69) is immediately ‘corrected’ by the announcement that Jesus is the suffering Son of man (8:30-31). In Mark 14:62 Jesus admits to being ‘messiah’ before the Sanhedrin, although in Matt. 26:64 and Luke 22:67 the wording of this passage is changed. Evidently, the possibility of misunderstanding the Christian use of ‘anointed’ for Jesus still had to be avoided. Such misinterpretation would seem to have been linked to the use of ‘messiah’ in connection with a future king of Israel.

Although ‘messiah’ did not unambiguously denote a person who would claim the political position of ‘king of Israel,’ Jesus’ execution as ‘King of the Jews’ (Mark 15:2, 26) makes that association with the title probable (see the mockery scene, Mark 15:32). Luke preserves the Jewish expression ‘God’s anointed’ at several points (Luke 2:26; 9:20; 23:35; Acts 3:18). In other places ‘messiah/christ’ is provided with some explication using other phrases or titles, especially ‘Son of God’ (Matt. 16:16; 26:63; Mark 14:61; Luke 23:35). Matt. 1:16 and 27:17, 22 refer to Jesus ‘who is called ‘the Christ.’ ’ Such passages may represent an early tradition that Jesus was at first ‘called ‘messiah’ ’ by others. That designation might well have been more like an epithet than a formal title or designation of political or religious office. It could easily have emerged in response to those words and deeds of Jesus that were seen to carry with them the authority of divine commissioning. John 6:15 preserves a tradition in which the people react to the feeding of the multitude by seeking to make Jesus ‘king.’ In John 6:14 the miracle is treated as a sign that Jesus was the Mosaic prophet of the last days (cf. Deut. 18:15, 18). In the Dead Sea Scrolls an anointed ‘prophet’ is to accompany the ‘messiahs’ though his function is not clear (1QS 9:10-11; 4QTestim 5-8). The Johannine trial narrative takes great pains to explain that the ‘kingship’ attributed to Jesus is not to be defined in political terms (John 18:33-37; 19:12-15). Other episodes in which Jesus arouses expectations that he is to be identified with a future ‘deliverer’ of the people are the entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-10 and parallels) and the cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:15-19 and parallels). In the Gospel tradition both episodes have been explicated as the fulfillment of prophecies (cf. Matt. 21:4; John 12:15-16; Matt. 21:10-17; John 2:13-22). Matt. 21:10-11 links the two episodes with the crowd’s identification of Jesus as ‘the prophet from Galilee.’ Such ‘prophetic’ actions may have provided the foundation for some to refer to Jesus as ‘anointed of God’ without presuming that Jesus, himself, sought a political revolution in which he would be established as the ‘anointed’ Davidic ‘king of Israel.’

Christian Usage: After the death and resurrection of Jesus, ‘messiah’ takes on a specifically Christian meaning as a ‘title’ that refers only to Jesus. The ‘messiah’ Jesus is the crucified agent of God, who has died ‘for our sins’ (1 Cor. 15:3). Acts 2:36 speaks of God having made Jesus ‘both Lord and Christ’ at his resurrection/exaltation into heaven. In such a context ‘messiah’ denotes Jesus’ vindication and exaltation by God. Luke 2:11 links ‘messiah’ with the christological titles ‘Lord,’ commonly associated with the risen/exalted Jesus (cf. Rom. 1:4b; Phil. 2:11), and ‘Savior’ in the announcement of Jesus’ birth. Acts 3:19-22 preserves yet another early Christian use of ‘messiah’ for Jesus. It describes his return at the Parousia, a function elsewhere ascribed to him as ‘Lord’ (1 Thess. 4:17; 1 Cor. 11:26; 16:22).

None of the uses of ‘messiah’ in Jewish writings of the period points toward the suffering or death of the person so designated. The juxtaposition of the confession that Jesus is ‘messiah’ with the prediction of the suffering Son of man in Mark 8:27-33 brings out this difficulty. The ‘suffering servant’ of God (Isa. 52:13-53:12) provided Christians with powerful images of Jesus’ vocation to suffering. However, the ‘servant’ is not ‘the anointed of God.’ Explicit acknowledgment of the theme of the ‘suffering messiah’ occurs in the Lucan writings. The messiah, according to Scripture, was to suffer before entering his glory (Luke 24:26, 46; also see Acts 3:18; 17:3; 26:23). Paul can also speak of the paradox of ‘Christ’ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2; Gal. 3:1), but concern with the expression ‘messiah/christ’ is not part of that reflection. In Paul, as in much of the rest of the nt, ‘Christ’ is frequently used as part of Jesus’ name (see also such passages as Acts 4:10; 8:12).

The Christian confession that Jesus is ‘messiah’ played its primary role in Christian debates with Judaism. This role is evident in the speeches of Acts (Acts 2:31-32; 3:18; 5:42; 8:5; 17:3; 18:5, 28). It is also evident in the Fourth Gospel. John 1:41 preserves the Aramaic ‘messiah,’ with a translation for the Greek-speaking reader, in Andrew’s summons to Peter. Other passages in the Fourth Gospel represent debates between Johannine Christians and their Jewish opponents over the claim that Jesus is messiah. Jesus’ origins are said to disqualify him by those who do not recognize that his true origin is ‘from God’ (John 7:41-42). Jesus’ death is said to disqualify him because the messiah was to have ‘remained forever’ (John 12:34). An uncertain crowd wonders whether Jesus might be ‘messiah’ (7:26-31; 10:24). Finally, ‘messiah’ is spoken as a confession of faith in Jesus as Son of God and Savior by those who are believers (4:29; 11:27; 17:3; 20:31). When Johannine Christians were excommunicated from the Jewish synagogue for their faith in Jesus, the confession ‘Jesus is messiah’ became an identifying mark of the true Christian (9:22). It retains this function in the struggle against dissident Christians reflected in the Johannine Letters (1 John 2:22; 5:1). Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho provides a mid-second-century example of the use of ‘messiah’ in Christian debate with Judaism (35.7; 39.6; 43.8; 47.4; 48.4; 108.2).


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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