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The Christological Titles of Jesus

The Christ (ho Christos)

  • The Greek “Christ” (Χριστός) translates the Hebrew noun mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ) or “anointed one.” The Hebrew verb mashach (מָשַׁח) means to “smear/anoint with oil.”
  • Prophets, priests, and rulers could all be anointed to perform particular tasks; even the non-Jewish Persian ruler Cyrus II (“the Great”) was an “anointed” one who permitted the Jewish exiles to return from Babylon to the land (Isaiah 45:1).
  • To uncover the range of messianic ideas, should scholars restrict their analysis to texts that use the terminology for “anointed” or wider their search to figures who perform messianic functions (e.g. idealized ruler)? Note that the absolute usage of “anointed one” without qualification is rare (but cf. 1QSa 2.11-12; Mark 8:29)
  • Diverse messianic expectations in the Second Temple period:

The Son of God (ho huios tou theou)

  • Divine or angelic beings (Genesis 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Psalm 29:1; 82:6; Daniel 3:25)
  • The nation of Israel collectively (Hosea 11:1; cf. Matthew 2:15)
  • The righteous (Wisdom of Solomon 2:13-20; Matthew 5:9)
  • The heir to David’s throne (2 Samuel 7:12-14; Psalm 2:7-9)
  • Octavian “Augustus” (“venerable”), the great-nephew and adopted son of the deified Julius Caesar, had the title divi filius (son of god) minted on his coins. See also the Priene Calendar Inscription (9 BCE).
  • Did Jesus receive the title Son of God at his resurrection (Romans 1:3-4; Acts 13:32-35), his baptism (Mark 1:9-11; cf. 9:2-8; 15:37-39), or his birth (Luke 1:30-35)? Or was he eternally the Son of God before he became human (Romans 8:3-4; Galatians 4:4-5; Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:18; cf. Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; John 1:1-18)?

The Son of the Human (ho huios tou anthropou)

  • Present:
    • Markan Tradition: Mark 2:10 (cf. Matthew 9:6; Luke 5:24); 2:28 (cf. Matthew 12:8; Luke 6:5)
    • Double Tradition: Luke 6:22/Matthew 5:11 (Matthew has “my account”); Luke 7:34/Matthew 11:19; Luke 9:58/Matthew 8:20 (cf. Gospel of Thomas logion 86); Luke 11:30/Matthew 12:40 (was the sign of Jonah about Jesus’s preaching?); Luke 12:10/Matthew 12:32
    • M or L Tradition: Matthew 13:37; 16:13 (but cf. Mark 8:27; Luke 9:18); Luke 19:10 
    • Johannine Tradition: John 1:51 (?); 3:13; John 5:27 (?); 6:27; 6:53 (?); 9:35
  • Suffering and vindication:
    • Markan Tradition: Mark 8:31 (cf. Luke 9:22; Matthew 16:21 indirect summary of Jesus’s suffering); 9:9 (cf. Matthew 17:9; Luke 9:36 omits the reference to the resurrection); 9:12 (cf. Matthew 17:11-12; omitted in Luke); 9:31 (cf. Matthew 17:22-23; Luke 9:44); 10:33-34 (cf. Matthew 20:18-19; Luke 18:31-33); 10:45 (cf. Matthew 20:28; Luke 22:27 has “I” and omits the ransom saying); 14:21 (cf. Matthew 26:24; Luke 22:22)
    • Double Tradition: Luke 11:30/Matthew 12:40 (was the sign of Jonah about Jesus’s death and resurrection?)
    • M or L Tradition: Matthew 26:2 (but cf. Mark 14:1-2; Luke 21:1-2); Luke 22:48 (but cf. Matthew 26:49-50; Mark 14:45); 24:7 (but cf. Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:6-7)
    • Johannine Tradition: John 3:14; 6:53 (?); 8:28; 12:23; 12:34; 13:31
  • Eschatological:
    • Markan Tradition: Mark 8:38 (cf. Luke 9:26; Matthew 10:33 has “I”); 13:26 (cf. Matthew 24:30; Luke 21:27); 14:62 (cf. Matthew 26:64; Luke 22:69)
    • Double Tradition: Luke 12:8/Matthew 10:32 (Matthew has “I”); Luke 17:24/Matthew 24:27; Luke 17:26/Matthew 24:37
    • M or L Tradition: Matthew 10:23; 13:41; 16:27; 16:28 (but cf. Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27); 19:28a (but cf. Luke 22:30/Matthew 19:28b); 24:30a; 24:39b (cf. Luke 17:27/Matthew 24:38-39a); 25:31; Luke 17:22; 17:30; 18:8; 21:36
    • Johannine Tradition: John 1:51 (?); 5:27 (?)
    • 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 on the Lord’s descent on the clouds.
  • The Aramaic bar enasha may be an idiomatic expression that was either a circumlocution for “I” or humanity in general with a particularizing reference to the speaker. See Mark 2:27-28; Luke 7:34/Matthew 11:19; Luke 9:58/Matthew 8:20; Mark 3:28-29/Luke 12:10/Matthew 12:31-32.
  • The vision in Daniel 7: is the human-like figure a symbol for the saints of Israel who were oppressed by foreign empires but vindicated by God (cf. 7:27), the angelic representative of Israel in heaven (e.g. Michael), or the messianic “king” of the kingdom of the saints (cf. 7:17)?
  • There is little evidence that “the Son of Man” was used as a title or for a common expectation of such a cosmic figure, but there is evidence that Daniel 7 was interpreted in an individualizing, messianic direction in the Gospels, the Similitudes of Enoch (chapters 37-71), and 4 Ezra 13:1-58. The date of the Similitudes (ca. 40 BCE – 70 CE) and its influence on the Gospel traditions (especially Matthew 25:31) is very contested.
  • Do the Similitudes interpret the human-like figure of Daniel 7 as the heavenly “anointed one” (48:10; 52:4), who is pre-existent (48:3, 6; 62:7) and will sit on a cosmic throne to receive worship and hand down judgment (45:3; 48:5; 51:3; 55:4; 61:8-9; 62:5-6, 8-9; 69:27-29), or does Enoch see a vision of his own exaltation or his heavenly double (71:14)?
  • Ezra’s vision of a human from the sea who flies on the clouds is interpreted as a messianic figure or “my son” (4 Ezra 13:32, 37, 52). He was kept hidden for ages but emerges at an unknown time to rule on Mount Zion, to judge his enemies according to the law, and to re-gather the lost tribes of Israel. Interestingly, the Messiah dies after a 400-year reign (7:28-29) before the last judgment and general resurrection.
  • See the work of the Enoch Seminar.

The Lord (ho kyrios)

  • To prevent the misuse of the divine name in oaths or magical curses, the divine name YHWH or the Tetragrammaton  was replaced with “Lord” in Hebrew (adonai) or Greek (kyrios). This convention is followed in English biblical translations that have the LORD in capital letters.
  • A polite form of address to a social superior (e.g. sir, master). This may be the intended meaning when a person from the crowd, a recipient of a healing, or a disciple addresses Jesus.
  • The kyrios or owner of property.
  • As the patronage system was foundational in the ancient Mediterranean, the Roman Emperor was the supreme lord or patron who governs, provides, and protects and is owed honours and allegiance by his subjects. “Why, what harm is there in saying, Caesar is Lord, and offering incense” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 8:2)
  • Maranatha (Μαραναθα) is a transliteration of an early Aramaic prayer for the Lord to come (1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelation 22:20; Didache 10:14).
  • Kyrios texts that referred to Yahweh that were reapplied to Jesus: for example, see Mark 1:3 (Isaiah 40:3 LXX; cf. Mark 5:19-20), Romans 10:13 (Joel 2:32), and Philippians 2:9-11 (Isaiah 45:23-24).

Wisdom (sophia) and Word (Logos

  • Lady Wisdom: the remnants of goddess worship, a personification of a divine attribute, or a divine hypostasis? See Proverbs 8; Sirach 24; Wisdom of Solomon 7:22-30; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-3.
  • God’s creative and prophetic “word” (Genesis 1:3; Psalm 33:6; 107:20; 119:9, 11, 89, 105, 114; Isaiah 40:8; 55:11)
  • Heraclitus of Ephesus (535-475 BCE):
    • “Though this Word is true evermore, yet men are as unable to understand it when they hear it for the first time as before they have heard it at all. For, though all things come to pass in accordance with this Word, men seem as if they had no experience of them, when they make trial of words and deeds such as I set forth, dividing each thing according to its kind and showing how it is what it is.” (DK B1)
    • “Though the logos is common, the many live as if they had a wisdom of their own.” (DK B2)
  • The Logos in Stoicisim and Middle Platonism
  • The synthesis of Jewish and Hellenistic philosophy in Philo of Alexandria: see “Philo’s Logos as Divine Mediator” (Masanobu Endo)

Here is a bibliography for further research.

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