Re: Translating XRISTOS

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Sep 11 1995 - 07:04:12 EDT

At 11:35 PM 9/10/95, David Moore wrote:
> When one considers the commonly understood meaning of the word
>"Christ" in contemporary English, it seems questionable whether this word
>adequately translates the Greek term XRISTOS in all contexts. For many
>moderns, "Christ" is understood as something like the surname of Jesus.
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Of course, if one were contemplating changes in a published
>translation, the sensibilities of its readers should be taken into
>account; it would be necessary to consider whether some of them might not
>easily adapt to what they saw as new terminology. It may also be that the
>marginal notes with the alternate translation "Messiah", as one finds in
>the NIV especially in the Gospels, are sufficient to meet the need. But I
>am wondering if "Messiah" might be the better translation in some

In the first place, thanks to David for breaking the long weekend silence
that was punctuated only by a note noting the silence!

Secondly, I have long felt that "Messiah" OUGHT to be used to translate
XRISTOS in every NT text. I can't think offhand of an exception, although
that may be a matter of my typical rushing to judgment.

I'm sure that there must be one or more catalogues of instances of XRISTOS
used with and without the article, and that might be helpful if one were to
make a distinction, but one would have to be careful, inasmuch as Greek
regularly used the article with a proper name where we would use it with a

I'm thinking of the numerous instances of XRISTOS IHSOUS and somewhat less
numerous instances (I think they are fewer, but may be wrong) of IHSOUS
XRISTOS and it strikes me that this is very close to normal pagan use of
"proper" epithet with the proper name of a god as FOIBOS APOLLWN. One might
use FOIBOS by itself and anyone would know that Apollo is being referred
to. Here it might be worth noting that Latin usage may exemplify some of
our experience with the word "Christ"; Ovid, for instance, uses PHOEBUS
more often than PHOEBUS APOLLO or APOLLO, although part of the problem may
be metrical convenience.

As for sensibilities of the modern reader, I would expect these to be
strongest in the "King James Only" type of whom it used to be said, "If the
King James Version was good enough for St. Paul, it's good enough for me."
Those who are open to new versions and revisions of new versions really
ought to welcome any change such as this which calls attention to the fact
that we're not using a normal English word in a normal way. This is one
reason I thought the liturgical experiments with "the Human One" for "Son
of Man" and "the Sovereign One" for "Lord" were worth attempting, although
they were indeed awkward.

Another alternative which I suspect would be less appealing to most would
be to use "Anointed" or "Anointed One." At least the Greek speaker could
recognize the meaning of XRISTOS as derived from XRIW, whereas neither
"Christ" nor "Messiah" suggests anything to the English speaker other than
its cultural denotations and, for better or worse,its cultural CONNOTATIONS
(the non-Christian majority use it most for swearing, don't they?).

Interesting question, David, and although I'm sure it's come up before, a
worthwhile one, I think.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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