Do we call him “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus”? The Bible uses both titles, but is there a reason for using one over the other? To answer this question, we need to look at what the title Christ means and then consider how the Bible uses it.
What Does the Title Christ Mean?
Christ is a Greek word translated from the Hebrew word Messiah. Hundreds of Old Testament passages mention the Messiah, or “the anointed one,” would come. Among other things, the Messiah would
- be born of a virgin mother (Isaiah 7:14)
- come from the family line of David (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
- be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
- be a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:18)
- bring redemption (Isaiah 59:20)
- set up a new kingdom (Isaiah 9:7)
When Jesus grew up, many Jews assumed that the Messiah would come soon. They assumed he would be a political leader in the mold of Judas Maccabeus, a warrior who fought against the Seleucid Empire. Judas Maccabeus successfully kept the Seleucid forces from taking over Judea in the second century B.C., but by Jesus’ time, Judea was no longer free. The Roman Empire came after the Seleucid Empire, invading Judea in 62 B.C. Many Jews were hoping for a Messiah who would overthrow the Romans, but Jesus came bringing a different kind of salvation. He came to save our souls.
When Does the Bible Use Jesus Christ?
The Bible uses “Jesus Christ” numerous times, starting in Matthew 1:1: “the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Mathew 1 then gives a genealogy listing Jesus’ ancestry from Abraham to Jesus. The other three gospels also use it, such as John 1:17, where the author states that Moses brought the law, but Jesus Christ brought grace.
Other places where the Bible uses the phrase “Jesus Christ” include:
When Does the Bible Use Christ Jesus?
The first New Testament use of “Christ Jesus” is in Acts 24:24, when Paul is imprisoned by Roman governor Felix: “Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is the only New Testament writer who uses “Christ Jesus” in his letters. He uses the phrase dozens of times, especially at his letters’ openings. He begins his letter to Rome by calling himself “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1). Similarly, Paul opens his first letter to Corinth with “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1 Corinthians 1:1). Paul uses the same or a similar phrase introducing himself in 1 Ephesians 1:1 and Philippians 1:1.
Other places where Paul uses “Christ Jesus” include:
What Difference does Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus Make?
It’s difficult to see the point of Paul’s use of “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus.” He uses both, sometimes in the same section (as in Philippians 1:6 and Philippians 1:11).
A popular theory is that Paul uses “Christ Jesus” to emphasize Jesus’ divine nature, then “Jesus Christ” to emphasize Jesus’ human nature. The notion that Jesus was fully divine and fully human is an important tenet of orthodox Christianity, based on how the Bible describes Jesus. Jesus was both a human being (who suffered temptations, who could die a physical death) and the divine Son of God (who could defeat death and rise again, whose death could mean more than just a regular death).
The theory that “Christ Jesus” emphasizes divine status while “Jesus Christ” emphasizes human status does seem plausible when we look at particular passages:
“… and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)
“I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 1:4)
The problem is that Paul doesn’t consistently use “Christ Jesus” in this way. Yes, Paul uses “Christ Jesus” in Galatians 2:16 to discuss who we are justified by faith in Jesus. There, he’s talking about Jesus as something more personal than the law, Jesus’ humanity. However, Paul uses “Jesus Christ” when he talks about justification by faith in 1 Corinthians 6:11. Moreover, Paul doesn’t use “Christ Jesus” when he talks about God condemning “sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). There, he refers to Jesus as God’s “own Son.”
Brian Dennert suggests the answer is subtler: Paul uses both titles to emphasize Jesus’ status as Messiah, but Paul emphasizes it the most when he says “Christ Jesus.” Both titles communicate that Jesus is the Christ, but “Christ Jesus” underlines that reality a little more. This solution seems the most reasonable, as it explains why Paul would start his letters by saying he is a servant of “Christ Jesus.” Paul could establish apostolic authority with either term, but “Christ Jesus” carries a stronger sense of who sent him.
Paul also sometimes uses “Christ Jesus” when establishing why someone should respect his associates. In 1 Corinthians 4:17, he tells his audience that he has sent Timothy, who “will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.” Paul teaches the ways of Christ Jesus, and Timothy reminds people of Paul’s teachings. Therefore, Paul’s audience should listen to Timothy.
What Other Names Does Jesus Have?
Christ is one of Jesus’ many names used throughout the Bible. Some scholars estimate that Jesus has over 200 names or titles across the Bible. Here are 10 of the frequently mentioned names of Jesus:
1. Bread of Life: Jesus uses this term in John 6:35 to describe himself, comparing himself to the manna God provided the Israelites. Like manna, he came from God and is necessary for survival, but so much more so than manna. Only by Jesus sustaining us can we be saved and find the reunion with God we crave.
2. Good Shepherd: Jesus uses this term in John 10:11, explaining that, unlike a hired hand, he will not only protect his sheep but lay down his life for them. Jesus not only guides his followers but chooses of his own accord to die for them (John 10:18).
3. Wonderful Counselor: taken from Isaiah 9:6, which prophecies Jesus’ birth, this name highlights a particular aspect of Jesus. He is not only a ruler and savior (as shown by the other terms in Isaiah 9) but also a teacher who guides his followers to wisdom.
4. The Light of the World: Jesus uses this term in John 8:12 while visiting Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. Part of the feast was lighting large lamps that symbolized God’s glory, the pillar of fire from Exodus 13. By calling himself the light of the world, Jesus declared he was the Messiah, the only true means of guidance and salvation.
5. Immanuel: taken from Isaiah 7:14, a passage that prophesied that Jesus would be born to a virgin mother. Matthew 1:23 clarifies that Immanuel means “God with us.” The term not only signifies that God had come to earth but that he had come in the flesh.
6. The Son of Man: taken from Daniel 7:13-14, this term signifies Jesus’ status as the person ordained by God to rule the earth, setting up an everlasting kingdom. This is the title Jesus most frequently uses and communicates that Jesus was bringing forth his kingdom.
7. Prince of Peace: taken from Isaiah 9:6, this term emphasizes that only in Jesus do we find peace with God. Without him, sin cannot be wiped away, and we continue to live in a state of rebellion against God.
8. I AM: a two-word title that God used when he spoke to Moses through the burning bush: “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). This name was so sacred that Jews wouldn’t say it, even avoiding using the related title Yahweh (originally YHWH). For Jesus to use this phrase for himself, as he did in the Garden of Gethsemane, would have been shocking.
9. Lamb of God: John the Baptist uses this term when he sees Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). This term signifies that Jesus was, like a sacrificial lamb, without defect and sacrificed for sin.
10. The Word: taken from John 1:1, where John uses it to describe Jesus’ attributes. John uses the Greek word logos, which Greek philosophers used to describe the divine reason underpinning the cosmos. By calling Jesus the Logos, the Word, John emphasizes that Jesus is an uncreated being, equal with God, who goes beyond Greek philosophy’s understanding of God to something more monumental. Jesus was the Logos who was also God, yet he became a human being.
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G. Connor Salter is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 1,200 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.
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