should ‘christ’ be removed from english bibles?

Yes, in the tradition of tabloid journalism my heading for this post sounds controversial, but hear me out. We’re all used to seeing the word ‘Christ’ in English Bible translations. The only exceptions are the few which use the term ‘Messiah’ in its place (such as the HCSB).

‘Christ’ is, of course, a transliteration of the Greek work Χριστός while ‘Messiah’ transliterates the Hebrew משיח (māšîaḥ). The question is, however, why are these transliterated and not translated in English versions of the Bible?

The failure to translate these terms is odd for a number of reasons:

  1. The NT translates the Hebrew with the Greek term and doesn’t attempt to transliterate it (e.g. Acts 4:26 quoting Ps 2:1–2).
  2. The LXX also translates the Hebrew with the Greek equivalent.
  3. English translations do translate these terms when they’re not used of Jesus (e.g. Ps 2:2).

The practice appears to begin in the Vulgate which uses Christus to transliterate Χριστός. Nonetheless, the term is not a name and it is used in the NT because of the word’s meaning. The way in which modern translations choose to transliterate this gives readers the impression the ‘Christ’ is Jesus’ last name. Even aside from this, there’s a lot of baggage associated with readers’ understanding of the terms ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’ that could do with revision (to be sure, there was a lot of baggage associated with these terms in the first century as well, but the baggage probably differs and could do with some revision).

Translating these terms rather than transliterating them means readers would be forced to come to grips with the actual significance of the title, and that could well be a good thing!

Thus we would translate Mark 1:1:

Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ θεοῦ

as something like:

The beginning of the good news of Anointed Jesus, son of God…

Of course this would raise the question of precisely how to best translate the term Χριστός. Yet it would provide a refreshing translation that makes the reader think again about the words they’re reading, and that can only be a good thing!

2 thoughts on “should ‘christ’ be removed from english bibles?

  1. There are authorial issues in how to translate Χριστος in the New Testament. For instance, excluding the first two chapters, Luke invariably uses Χριστος on its own, and were one to read “the Anointed” in each case, it would be consistently a title and not a name. Perhaps rather surprisingly, Acts is very fond of concatenating it (right up to Κυριος Ιησους Χριστος six times), and we are well on the way to Christ as Jesus’ surname.

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