This is the second of a brief series regarding translation matters. Because, well, translation matters.
A few years ago, I was present to hear a missionary speak at a local congregation. He brought a message that was profound and edifying. Part of that message was also quite surprising, and it involved the use of the word Christ in English translations.
This brother shared how much he disliked the use of the word Christ in English translations. He came to despise that the word Christ ever came into existence, saying that had he been present when John Wycliffe inaugurated the term in his 14th Century English translation, he would have done anything he could to prevent it. While this most likely sounds quite peculiar to you, he made a very compelling case.
Wycliffe formed the English term Christ as a translation of Christus, which is used in the Latin Vulgate from which Wycliffe was translating. (The equivalent term in the Greek New Testament is Christos.)
Christos (and the Latin Christus) means “anointed one.” Messiah is the English version of the Hebrew equivalent for “anointed one.”
The point was made by the missionary that had Wycliffe not brought the term Christ into English vernacular, we would have a better understanding of Jesus, the Scriptures, as well as ourselves as believers. His point is to be well taken.
Now, I have not instituted my own personal ban of the word Christ; I have not boycotted its usage. Heck, look at the name of this blog. Look at my other writings which use the term Christ pervasively. But I have come to appreciate why the issue is significant and how it can be detrimental.
The original term means “the anointed” or “anointed one”, basically “a person who has been anointed.” Had it been translated as such, 1 Timothy 2:5 would read something like “For there is one God, and there is on mediator between God and humans, the anointed human, Jesus.”
Who can mediate between God and people? Only the Person who was anointed by God. What does it mean to be anointed by God?
The backstory on what it meant to be anointed by God in the predictive Scriptures (a.k.a. the Old Testament) was to be God’s special, chosen one, God’s king of His people. The kings of Israel were anointed with oil when they were declared king; it was their coronation ceremony. They were then declared sovereign ruler of God’s nation.
The term was also used to identify the high priest, who was anointed. The priests represented the people before God. The high priest was the anointed one who could serve as a mediator between God and man. The roles of the high priest and the king of Israel were part of the predictive pattern.
Jesus is the fulfillment of this predictive pattern. Jesus is God’s true special chosen one. Jesus is God’s true king of His people; the true sovereign, the true ruler. He is the true mediator between God and humans, the true high priest.
This coronation ceremony for Jesus happened at His baptism when the Spirit of God came upon Him. That’s when Jesus was announced to be God’s chosen one, God’s king, God’s mediator, i.e., God’s anointed one. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:38).
WHAT’S THE BIG PROBLEM?
So why, then, the aversion to the term Christ?
Well, Christ is regularly utilized as a title for Jesus. And rightly so, Jesus is “the Anointed” just as He is Redeemer, Savior, and a multitude of other similar titles. But we often use Christ more like it’s a last name, without appreciating its meaning.
No Christian is going to dispute that Jesus is God’s Anointed. Where the problem truly lies is in believers not truly appreciating who they are in him, having also been anointed by God along with Jesus.
Just as God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit, believers have also been anointed by God with the indwelling Holy Spirit:
And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us (2 Corinthians 1:21 ESV)
Perhaps that should read “it is God who establishes us with you in the Anointed, and has also anointed us…” We are in the Anointed One by having also been anointed!
you have been anointed by the Holy One … the anointing that you received from him abides in you … But as his anointing teaches you about everything … abide in him. (1 John 2:20, 27 ESV)
It is not only that Jesus is God’s Anointed One; believers are also anointed by God. We have been anointed into the Anointed.
Jesus is the chief Anointed One, the premier Anointed One, the supreme Anointed One. We are God’s “little anointed ones.” After all, “little anointed one” is what the word Christian means. The “‐ian” suffix means “little one.” Christian = “little anointed one.” Basically, little Christs.
God’s anointing is first and foremost upon Jesus of Nazareth. It is also upon all those who are members of the Anointed One.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? (1 Corinthians 6:15a NET)
Paul didn’t write “Do you not know that you are members of the Church?” He wrote “members of Christ.” Dear believer, do you not know that your body is a member of the Anointed?
God’s anointing now consists of a plurality of persons. God’s Anointed One is now a corporate person! Jesus is the head, we are the body. Head + body = Christ.
Allow me to rephrase: Jesus is the Head Anointed One, we are members of the body of the Anointed. Head + members = the fullness of the Anointed. This is what Paul meant when he wrote that believers (the body) are collectively “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23).
Thus, the power of understanding who we are as God’s anointed ones is stripped when we use the term Christ without appreciating the significance of the term. The phrase “in Christ” means that we are in the Anointed. As this blog title suggests, we are one in the Anointed.
This all comes back to what was introduced in the previous installment. (Please read for full context of what is stated below.) The question introduced in the previous installment is: when a Greek word appears in the New Testament (we’ll call it Greek word A), should it be translated as English word A (what Greek word A means) or English word B (an English word that was derived from Greek word A)?
I concluded that the appropriate translation is English word A.
This situation regarding christos is another example of a Greek word being translated into English word B (an English word that was derived from the Greek word). Instead, it should be preferred that the Greek word be translated according to its meaning.
Again, I’ve not self‐imposed a ban on the term Christ. But while reading Scripture I do often like to mentally (sometimes verbally) insert “the Anointed” or “Anointed One” when I come upon the term Christ. This helps me continue to appreciate the true meaning of the word, what it meant as it relates to who Jesus is, and what it means as it relates to us, we who are in Him.
Here is a brief sampling:
- Simon Peter replied, “You are the Anointed, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)
- Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and the Anointed, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:36)
- So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus the Anointed. (Romans 6:11)
- and if children, then heirs‐‐heirs of God and fellow heirs with the Anointed One, (Romans 8:17)
- so we, though many, are one body in the Anointed, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:5)
I could go on.
I would love to go on. But bandwidth prevents me. (Or maybe it doesn’t; I don’t really know.)
When we use the term Christ, we often think of His divinity. But the term is actually as much or more in reference to His humanity. Jesus is the ultimate human, the perfect human, the human who was specially anointed by God. And God is bringing restoration to fallen humanity for all whose humanity abides in the Anointed. Jesus is what it truly means to be human; He the supreme and preeminent human!
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the Anointed man, Jesus! (1 Timothy 2:5)
The believer’s immersion into the Anointed is at the core of our being. It is the nucleus of our faith and our life. Anybody can say they believe anything, but only those who have been immersed into God’s Son are living a renewed life as recipients of this anointing.
This beautiful truth of immersion into Christ is one that is sorely lacking in the modern American church. And where and when it is taught, it can be misused and abused.
This truth of immersion is rarely taught is because it’s rarely understood. It’s rarely understood because our translation frames our perspective. If the translation is misleading, our perspective will be misled.
This comes back to another example of answering the same question: should Greek word A be translated according to its meaning (English word A), or English word B (an English word that was derived from Greek word A)?
The Greek word baptisma is a noun that means “immersion”; it’s counterpart as a verb is baptizo (“to immerse”).
When the English words baptize or baptism are used, what comes to mind immediately is a religious ceremony involving water. The problem is that the Greek words baptisma and baptizo have a much broader meaning than simply being limited to a religious ceremony involving water.
Certainly, when the religious ceremony involving water is being referenced, baptisma and baptizo are the Greek terms that would be used. The problem arises when “baptism” or “baptize” are the English translations when the religious ceremony involving water is not the context of the passage.
In Romans 6:3‐5, the context is the believer’s union with Christ – ahem, I mean the Anointed. How much better would be our understanding of our immersion into the Anointed if baptisma and baptizo were translated according to their meaning? How differently do we view the passage if it were translated something similar to this:
Do you not know that all of us who have been immersed into Jesus the Anointed were immersed into his death? We were buried therefore with him by immersion into death, in order that, just as the Anointed One was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3‐5)
The context of this passage is union, not a water ceremony. Sure, the water ceremony is a depiction of the reality of union via immersion, but the water ceremony is not in view in this passage. The English reader fails to appreciate the depth of his or her immersion into Christ because we fall into the trap of thinking about baptism when we read these verses.
The believer has been immersed into the Anointed, which means the believer has also been united with Jesus in his death and resurrection. And it is this immersion that now saves us (see 1 Peter 3:21).
Paul’s purpose for this teaching was so that believers would not sin (see Rom. 6:1‐2). Paul’s point was not that the believer should stop sinning because they’ve experienced a religious ceremony involving water; his point is that the believer should stop sinning because he or she has been brought into union with Jesus (see Rom. 6:6ff). This union happens via immersion (baptisma).
I hope you’re able to see the distortion or dangers of translating Greek word A as English word B. It shapes our thinking into a theological box and our perspective gets skewed. Our understanding of who God is, how He functions, and who we are in Him is affected.
Let us be cautious to understand what the New Testament actually meant to First Century believers. We can better understand the meaning of what they wrote by translating Greek word A into English word A. It muddies the picture to translate with certain English words simply because those English words were derived from the original Greek word.
Gracious God, allow us to see Your Scriptures as they were intended.
For as many of you as were immersed into the Anointed have put on the Anointed. (Galatians