A Christian without Jesus?

One of my facebook friends responded to a link I posted last week with a couple of interesting questions that certainly made me think. I hope that my responses were helpful to him, but I wanted to think a little further about the questions, and the responses as well. The link in question was a blog post about looking at Jesus alone as perfect, and being willing to humble ourselves about our own falibility.

The discussion began because in my link to the article, I refered to Christ, whereas the article consistently refered to Jesus. A friend responded (in part):

I noticed that the article used “Jesus”, but you used “Christ”. Are these synonyms.

I felt a little busted. Since I run in largely Christian circles, I do tend to use the terms interchangeably. I responded with the analogy that we might refer to our medical doctor (say Dr. Johnson) as “Doctor”, rather than Dr. Johnson in some settings. Doctor is not technically the doctor’s name, but we use it to refer to our doctor. In a less formal setting, we might even use the doctor’s first name, if our relationship is close enough. Jesus was the greek version of an actual person who lived in first century Galilee and Judea. Christ is the title given to Him by those of us who consider Him to be God’s Son, and our Lord. (Christ is Greek for Lord, the translation of the Hebrew term Messiah.) This title is exclusionary. According to Jewish teaching (and the Old Testament) there was only the expectation of one Messiah. Either Jesus is this person, or someone else is. There is no room there for saying that you think two different people are both Messiahs. The plural here doesn’t make sense for this word. But this doesn’t really address the followup question that my friend asked.

I appreciate your thoughts very much – very interesting! And it makes sense to me. … So now I am pondering the word “the”. If there can be only one christ, then the trme “The Christ” applies to one person, who you believe is Jesus. That’s a pivotal point. Is it required? Can I be a Christian, without being a Jesus-Christian?

I should note here that I think this question is more interesting than it would have been had he asked about “The Messiah” rather than “The Christ”. The Greek word Christ didn’t have, to my knowledge, the same connotation as the term Messiah did in Jewish culture. In response to his question, I started by looking at the term Christian, which was used in a derogatory sense about Christians (it literally means “little-Christ” if I remember correctly) in the New Testament. As such, I am unaware of any other group following a different Messiah-type individual and using the term Christian in reference to themselves. There certainly have been messianic type people that have gathered followings, but they have generally chosen to refer to themselves by different names, since Christianity is tied to Jesus. Another friend responded with a long post defending the belief in Jesus as the Christ. I think that was all good, but it may have missed the point of the original question. I don’t think the question was not whether Jesus was the Christ, but whether there was such a thing as a belief that someone besides Jesus was the Christ.

The answer to this question is almost certainly yes. Even in the days of Jesus, there were others thought to be possible Messiahs. During the discussion of what to do with the disciples, the Rabbi Gamaliel references several in arguing against killing Peter and John (see Acts 5.33-42). It is certainly possible to believe that someone else is the Christ. I think you would be wrong, but you could believe it. If you modeled yourself after this person, I suppose that you could call yourself a “Christian”, but you certainly wouldn’t be a Christian by the definition that most people use. In fact, Dictionary.com includes the name Jesus explicitly in their definition of Christian. (Interestingly, when I viewed the page, there was an advertisement to talk with a Mormon, which raises the issue of whether Mormons should be considered Christians. That is not something I’ll tackle here.)

In short, as Christians, by the usual definition, we are testifying that we think Jesus was more than a good moral teacher, and he wasn’t crazy. We believe that He was God. He was fully human, and fully divine. He was the Messiah promised by the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament). In short, He is the Christ.

9 comments on “A Christian without Jesus?

  1. As the friend with the lengthy explanation, I take the correction graciously. 🙂 It is an interesting idea… Christian without following THE Christ, assuming that there is more than one Christ if you use it as a title or definition of a role. I had a similar conversation with my wife the other day about Jesus vs. Christ. Christ is more than just the man Jesus from a theological view. “Christ” as a name is given equal weight, in theological circles, to that part of the Trinity called “The Son” although it’s probably more correct to call it “The Son”.

    That’s kinda why I’ve started moving away from referring to my faith path as “Christian” because it has SO much connotation to the term. I’m a follower of The Way, a disciple of Jesus who we call the Christ. The formal religion I call myself is “Christian” with that implied understanding that Jesus is THE Christ.

    • I should admit that I don’t know for sure that you were wrong! Also, of course, I agree with your position on Jesus entirely (at least what you wrote there and here), so it wasn’t a matter of disagreement on the content of the response. I simply read the question differently, and since I don’t know where the original questioner is coming from spiritually with confidence, I assumed a more that he wasn’t asking about the claims of Jesus. Perhaps (hopefully?) I was wrong and you were right!

  2. Just a minor note: You said “Christ is Greek for Lord, the translation of the Hebrew term Messiah.” Technically, that’s not quite true. Christ (xristos) and Lord (kurios) are different terms in Greek. Xristos would be the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew meshiach (Messiah) meaning “anointed one.”

    Ok, I’ll step off my soap box now.

    • Thanks for the clarification, Melanie!! This is why I admit that I dabble in this stuff. Since you are immersed in Greek translation right now (as I understand it) I welcome the correction. You may call it minor, but I think it does change my opinion some. I’ll have to reflect on this. Maybe I’ll post an ammended reaction soon. If you wouldn’t mind getting back on the soap-box, would you enlighten me on something? Is there a plural to xristos? Does “anointed ones” make sense in Greek?

      • Grammatically, yes, it could be pluralized to “xristoi,” but whether or not the plural actually gets used is a bit more questionable. I mean if there were a text describing a situation in which multiple people who had been anointed king were all getting together it could theoretically use “xristoi,” but off the top of my head, I’m not sure that I can recall any place where I’ve run across the plural form. However, let me be very quick to say that being very much still a scholar-in-training, I wouldn’t take my word as the definitive answer.

      • Also another bit that you may or may not find interesting which I neglected to mention in my original comment: “kurios” allows for a lot of interesting word play in Greek. It can mean just a simple polite form of address similar to our “sir” or “mister” or it can carry connotations of power as our “master” or “lord” might imply. It’s especially interesting to watch how “kurios” gets applied to Jesus as there can often be a good bit of ambiguity in trying to determine whether or not the speaker is attributing any sort of special capabilities to Jesus or simply being polite. In any case, it’s an interesting range of meanings to be aware of because inevitably an English translation has to choose one meaning which can’t capture the ambiguity in the Greek.

    • Now, see… I KINDA knew that but, not having taken Biblical Greek (yet), I couldn’t comment on that… Thanks, Melanie…

  3. Hey, thanks for siting my article from the blog!

    • One of my most discussed links on facebook, which led to this. I enjoyed the article, so glad to send you the traffic. 🙂

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