So what do you think? Is ‘Christ’ a name (i.e., a surname)? Perhaps a title (e.g., ‘King of Spain’)? Or what about an honorific (cf. ‘Augustus,’ which was given to the first century emperor Julius Caesar, who later became known simply as ‘Caesar Augustus’)?
For most of us the difference between these are not immediately obvious. However, there is a difference in meaning. And it is important that we try to understand the exact nuance that the word ‘Christ’ had for the writers of the New Testament.
Matthew V. Novenson, Lecturer in New Testament and Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh, has recently written an excellent book on this question. His thesis is surprisingly simple, yet with profound implications: Χριστος (Christos) in Paul’s letters means ‘Messiah.’ In other words, it is neither a name nor merely a title. It carries with it the nuances involved with “messiah language in ancient Judaism” (Novenson, pg. 3).
Here is a link to his book: Christ among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism
Here is what N. T. Wright has said about it: “Novenson’s work now sets a new standard for discussion of Christos in particular, demonstrating that the way it functions linguistically, within the larger world of Greek usage in late antiquity, fits extremely well with royal ‘honorifics’ and not at all with proper names” (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, pg. 824).
On another front, Joshua W. Jipp, over at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is coming out with a new book on this topic soon. His position will bolster that of Novenson. “In the process, Jipp offers new and noteworthy solutions to outstanding questions concerning Christ and the law, the pistis Christou debate, and Paul’s participatory language” (from the blurb on the Fortress Press website)
Here is a link to his book: Christ is King: Paul’s Royal Ideology
Here is a sample from the table of contents:
- Paul’s Christ-Discourse as Ancient Kingship Discourse
- King and Law: Christ the King as Living Law
- King and Praise: Hymns as Royal Encomia to Christ the King
- King and Kingdom: Sharing in the Rule of Christ the King
- King and Justice: God’s Righteousness and the Righteous King in Romans