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.