by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
In ancient Israel, most people had only one name, what we think of as a "first name" (or "given name"), but not also a "last name" (or "family name" or "surname"). Thus, the well-known man born about 2000 years ago was simply named "Jesus" (note: "Christ" is not his last name!). Actually, his name in Hebrew was probably Yeshua (equivalent to "Joshua"), which in the NT is translated by the Greek Ιησους (or Iesous), from which we get Latin Iesus and English "Jesus." Moreover, just as most biblical names have specific meanings, so "Joshua/Jesus" simply means "God saves" (cf. Matt 1:21).
To distinguish similarly named people from one another, individuals were further identified either by their geographical origin ("Jesus of Nazareth" or "Jesus the Nazarene" - Mark 1:24; 10:47; etc.; "Jesus the Galilean" - Matt 26:69), or their occupation ("the carpenter" - Mark 6:3). They were also often associated with relatives: usually their fathers ("Jesus, the son of Joseph" - Luke 3:24; John 1:45; 6:42; "the carpenter's son" - Matt 13:55), sometimes their siblings ("the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon" - Mark 6:3), or more rarely their mothers ("Jesus, son of Mary" - Mark 6:3; cf. Matt 13:55).
Note: Some people think IHS means "In His Service," or that it comes from the Latin Iesus Hominum Salvator ("Jesus the Savior of Humankind") or In hoc signo ("By this sign you shall conquer"; spoken to Emperor Constantine before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge, 312 AD). Yet it originally comes from the first three letters in the Greek spelling of Jesus' name (Iota-Eta-Sigma). Thus, IHS (sometimes combined with a cross or other symbols) functions as a "monogram" (a symbolic abbreviation) for the name of Jesus.
In contrast, "titles" are significantly different from names. Just as "important people" often have titles today (President, Senator, Judge, Doctor, Professor, etc.), so also in the ancient world, certain people were given titles to designate their specific roles or responsibilities. Although more than one title can be attributed to the same person, each title usually has a particular origin and a specific meaning. Thus, even though all of the following titles are attributed to the same person, Jesus of Nazareth, it is important to know that they all have significantly different origins and very different meanings.
|Messiah / Christ||Son of God||King of the Jews||Suffering Servant||Great High Priest|
|Lord / LORD||Son of Man||Prophet||Emmanuel||Advocate/Paraclete|
|Holy One||Son of David||Rabbi / Teacher||Logos / Word||Alpha & Omega|
|I Am||Son of Mary||Savior||Lamb / Shepherd||OTHER TITLES|
For more references, see a printed Bible Dictionary or Bible Concordance, or use the Bibloi computer program, or search any On-Line Bible.
These two titles are equivalent, both meaning "anointed one," from the Hebrew verb MASHAH ("to anoint, smear with oil, pour oil over someone") and the Greek verb CHRIO (same def.). Many different people were called "anointed":
OT: "The Anointed One of the LORD" frequently refers to currently reigning or past kings, esp. Saul (1 Sam 16:6; 24:6; 26:9-23; 2 Sam 1:14-16) and David (2 Sam 12:7; 19:21; 23:1; etc.), and less often to a high patriarch, prophet, or priest (e.g. Lev 4:3, 5, 16; cf. Exod 29:29; 40:15; etc.). The title is applied to an expected future "anointed" leader only in Dan 9:25 and in non-biblical writings from Qumran. Early Judaism had a variety of different expectations as to what kind of a leader this "Messiah" would be: royal (a king like David, to lead the nation politically and militarily), priestly (a high priest or religious leader to reform the temple worship), prophetic (a prophet like Moses or Elijah or others, to call the people to moral and spiritual reform), or some combination of these.
NT: A transliteration of the Hebrew MESSIAS is used only in John 1:41 & 4:25. Elsewhere, the NT always uses the Greek translation CHRISTOS ("Christ"), although the NRSV more loosely translates it as "Messiah" 68 times. In the NT, the title refers only to Jesus, fairly often in the Gospels (7 Mk; 16 Mt; 12 Lk; 19 Jn) and very frequently in Paul's letters (382 times). Paul uses "Christ Jesus," "Jesus Christ," or even "Christ" alone, as if it were a proper name. In Luke 4:18, Jesus quotes the scripture: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor..." Christians later used the Chi-Rho symbol (first two letters of "Christ" in Greek) as a monogram for Jesus.
OT: The Hebrew title ADONAI simply means "lord" or "master," and is often used for humans and/or for God. Although God's name in Hebrew (YHWH - called the "tetragrammaton" or "four sacred letters") is very often written in the Bible, it was rarely pronounced by Jews after the Babylonian exile. Instead, people substituted the title Adonai. To distinguish between the two uses of Adonai, many English Bibles print this title in small capitals (LORD) when it substitutes for God's name, and in regular letters (Lord) otherwise. Both are combined in Num 36:2; 1 Sam 25:28; Ps 110:1; etc.
NT: The Greek word KYRIOS is very frequent (80 Mt; 18 Mk; 104 Lk; 52 Jn; 107 Acts; 274 Paul; 717 total), with a variety of meanings. It sometimes refers to God or to humans, but usually to Jesus (both senses are combined in (Mark 12:36; Matt 22:44; Luke 20:42; Acts 2:34). Some people (esp. foreigners) may call Jesus Kyrie simply as a sign of respect ("Sir" - Mark 7:28; John 4:11; etc.), while his disciples usually refer to him as their "master." In later texts, calling Jesus "Lord" is an assertion of his messianic or divine status (Acts 2:34-36; Phil 2:11). In Luke, the disciples also address Jesus as an Epistates ("master") seven times. In Paul, "the Lord" is often used as a substitute for Jesus' name. Note also common phrases, such as "the Lord's Day" (Rev 1:10), "the Lord's Supper" (1 Cor 11:20), etc.
OT: In the singular, "Holy One" always and only refers to God (1Sam 2:2; Job 6:10; etc.), often also called "the Holy One of Israel" (2 Kgs 19:2; Isa 1:4; etc.). In the plural, "holy ones" can refer to human or angelic beings that are close to God (Deut 33:2-3; Ps 16:3; 34:9; etc.)
NT: Jesus is called the "Holy One of God" by unclean spirits (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34) and by Peter (John 6:69). Acts 2:27 and 13:35 quote Ps 16:10 to call Jesus the "Holy One," a title that is also used of Jesus in Acts 3:14; 1 John 2:20; and Rev 3:7; 16:5.
OT: God's name (YHWH) is revealed to Moses in the story of the burning bush. It means something close to "I am" (see Exod 3:14; 6:2-3; Deut 32:39; Isa 43:25; 51:12; etc.; cf. Matt 22:32). It is simply called "the Name" by Jews, and is also known as the Tetragrammaton (lit. "four letters" in Greek). Ancient and modern Jews revere God's name so highly that they dare not speak it aloud, instead substituting circumlocutions such as "the Name" or simply "God" or usually "the Lord" (Heb. Adonai).
NT: In the Synoptic Gospels, the phrase "I am" is used only a few times by Jesus (Mark 14:62; Luke 22:70; 24:39), especially when Jesus walks on the water (Mark 6:50; Matt 14:27; cf. John 6:20), a story that functions as a "theophany" (appearance of a god). Messianic pretenders may also deceive people by saying "I am" (Mark 13:6; Matt 24:5; Luke 21:8). In John's Gospel, Jesus himself says "I Am" (Greek EIMI) fifty-four times. Twenty-four of these are emphatic (explicitly including the pronoun for "I": EGO EIMI), including some well-known metaphorical images, when Jesus calls himself the bread of life, the light of the world, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way and the truth and the life, and the true vine. For more details, see the "I Am" webpage.
OT: In the singular or plural, God's "son" or "sons" can refer to angels (Gen 6:2), kings (Ps 2:7), good people (Wis 2:18), or the people of Israel overall (Exod 4:22), but it did not refer to a messianic figure until the 1st century BC, nor did it imply divinity until the early Christian era.
NT: The historical Jesus referred to God as Abba ("Father"), but probably never called himself the "Son of God" in a divine sense. Such language developed only gradually in early Christianity (rare in Mk, a bit more in Mt & Lk & Paul, common only in Jn). In Mark, only the Evangelist (1:1), unclean/demonic spirits (3:11; 5:7), and a Roman centurion (15:39) directly call Jesus "Son of God," while the voice from heaven (1:11; 9:7), more demons (1:24), and the high priest (14:61) use equivalent expressions ("my beloved Son"; "Son of the Blessed One"; etc.). In Matthew & Luke these titles for Jesus are also used by Satan, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus' disciples, while Jesus himself calls some of his followers "sons/children of God" (Matt 5:9; Luke 20:36). Paul calls Jesus the "Son of God," and calls all Christians "sons/children of God" in a few important passages (esp. Rom & Gal). John has much more "Father/Son" language, and is the first to call Jesus the "unique-Son" of God (Gk. monogenes huios , lit. "the one-of-a-kind son "; John 3:16, 18; cf. 1:14, 18; 1 John 4:9; similarly also Heb 1:5; 5:5).
OT: Used 93 times in Ezekiel and only 13 times in the rest of the OT (translated "mortal" in NRSV), it usually refers to human beings in contrast to God or angels; but it could also highlight the prophet's role as a special representative of the people. Daniel 7:13 is the only OT text where this phrase describes a heavenly figure nearly equivalent to God in power and authority; in later Jewish apocalyptic literature, the "Son of Man" is a figure of divine judgment.
NT: Used 85 times, mostly in the four Gospels (14 Mk, 30 Mt, 25 Lk, 13 Jn) and almost always by Jesus referring to himself, but with various meanings. Some "Son of Man" sayings refer to the human activity of Jesus (as in Ezekiel), while others refer to his future role in divine judgment (as in Daniel 7:13; cf. Rev 1:13). Brand new is Jesus' use of "Son of Man" when he is telling his disciples about his upcoming suffering and death (esp. Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33).
OT: David had many sons (2 Sam 3), the most famous being Solomon, who succeeded him as king (2 Sam 11–12; 1 Kgs 1–2). In 2 Sam 7:8-16, God (through the prophet Nathan) promises that the Davidic royal dynasty will last forever, but after the Babylonian exile most Jewish rulers were not from David's family. Since King Herod was not, many people around the time of Jesus wanted another "Son of David" to become king again.
NT: As a title, "Son of David" (usually referring to Jesus) is not used very often (3 Mk, 10 Mt, 4 Lk, 0 Jn), although "David" is mentioned 56 times total. In Mark & Luke, the phrase seems to refer not to royal power, but rather to the magical/ healing power for which Solomon was famous (e.g. Mark 10:46-52). Only Matthew uses this more often and more clearly as a messianic title with royal connotations (already in 1:1, also 12:23; 21:9; etc.). Matthew also stresses Jesus' Jewish heritage by calling him "Son of Abraham" (1:1).
OT: From the 18th to 11th centuries, the Hebrews were a loose confederation of "tribes," not a monarchy. God was considered their king. The first human "kings" were Saul, David, and Solomon. Thereafter, the "Kings of Israel" and the "Kings of Judah" ruled over separate realms. After the Babylonian exile, "Judah" was usually called "Judea," the land of the "Jews." The exact title "King of the Jews" is not used in the OT, but obviously there were many "kings" over the people.
NT: The phrase "King of the Jews" is only applied to Jesus, once at his birth (Matt 2:2) and 17 times at his trial and crucifixion (Mark 15:2, and in all 4 Gospels, but only by opponents). Jesus is also called "King of Israel" four times (Matt 27:42; Mark 15:32; John 1:49; 12:13). Jesus himself refuses to be made king (Matt 4:8-10; John 6:15), but often speaks of the "Kingdom of God" and uses kings as characters in his parables. The inscription place on the cross above Jesus' head said "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" (John 19:19; cf. Mark 15:2-26; Matt 27:11-37; Luke 3-38), from which is derived the common abbreviation INRI (from the Latin "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum").
OT: The most important early prophets are Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 16 — 2 Kings 9), who both perform many miracles. The four major prophetic books are attributed to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The OT also promises that "a prophet like Moses" will appear (Deut 18:15-18) and/or the prophet "Elijah will return" (Mal 4:5-6) in the last days.
NT: The OT prophets are often mentioned and quoted, esp. in Matthew. Both John the Baptist and Jesus are appropriately considered "prophets," because of their speech and actions, even though they have very different styles. In the Synoptics, Jesus says that John the Baptist was a prophet and compares him to Elijah (Matt 11:7-19; Luke 7:24-35), but in the Fourth Gospel, John [the Baptizer] himself disputes that he was the Elijah-figure people were expecting (John 1:19-23). Jesus is also considered a "great prophet" by many people (Mark 6:14-16; 8:28; Matt 21:11; Luke 7:16; 24:19; John 6:14; etc.).
A Greek transliteration of the Hebrew "Rabbi" occurs only in the Gospels (3 Mk, 4 Mt, 0 Lk, 8 Jn), while a transliteration of the Aramaic "Rabbouni" occurs only in Mark 10:51 and John 20:16. Both titles are explicitly translated in John as meaning "teacher" (1:38; 20:16), and both are almost always applied to Jesus (except Matt 23:7-8, where Jesus talks about people being called "rabbi", and in John 3:26, where John the Baptist is called "rabbi"; cf. Luke 3:12). These titles are used almost exclusively by his own disciples (Peter, Judas, etc.), or by a few minor characters (Bartimaeus, Nicodemus, or the "crowd" in general).
The NT frequently also uses the equivalent Greek word "didaskalos" (meaning "teacher" - 12 Mk, 12 Mt, 17 Lk, 8 Jn), usually when Jesus is addressed by various people (disciples and opponents), but sometimes in Jesus' own sayings about "teachers" (see esp. Matt 10:24-25; 23:6-12). Outside of the Gospels, some early Christian leaders are also called "teachers" (Acts 13:1; Rom 2:20; 1 Cor 12:28-29; Eph 4:11; etc.)
OT: "Savior" is sometimes applied to human leaders (e.g. Neh 9:27), but is used mainly as a title for God (ca. 12 times).
NT: The title is rarely used in most NT writings (0 Mk, 0 Mt, 3 Lk, 1 Jn, 2 Acts, 1 Paul), but is more common in the later "Pastoral" and "Catholic" epistles (25 times). In Luke, "Savior" only once refers to God (Luke 1:47), and twice to the new-born Jesus (1:67, 2:11). The longer phrase "Savior of the world" occurs only in John 4:42 and 1 John 4:14. However, as mentioned in the introduction above, the name "Jesus" (or "Joshua" or "Yeshua") itself means "God saves" (cf. Matt 1:21). Also, the verb "to save" is frequently applied to Jesus' ministry (cf. Matt 8:25; Mark 13:13; Luke 7:50; John 3:17; etc.).
The ancient symbol at the right contains abbreviations for the name "Jesus" and "Christ" (the first and last letters of each word in Greek), along with the verb "NIKA", meaning "to conquer, win, be victorious"; thus the phrase means "Jesus Christ is victorious".
In 1 Cor 5:7, Paul calls Jesus "our Passover" (Gk. pascha) which is rendered "Paschal Lamb" in some English translations. The expression "Lamb of God" (amnos tou theou) is used only in John 1:29, 36, as John the Baptist points to Jesus (cf. Acts 8:32; 1 Pet 1:19). This image became much more popular in later Christian art and in the celebration of the Eucharist. In John it is related to the detail that Jesus' death occurs at the very same time that the Passover lambs were slaughtered in the Jerusalem Temple (John 19:28-42 - on the "Day of Preparation"), so Jesus himself replaces the sacrificial lambs, whose blood was necessary for the forgiveness of sins in the Jewish sacrificial system. The "lamb (arnion) standing as if it had been slain" is also prominent in the Book of Revelation (5:6, and 30 times total).
OT: In part because the patriarch Jacob and his sons were literally herders of sheep, goats, and other flocks (Gen 37:2; 46:32-34; 47:3), God is sometimes described as the "Shepherd of Israel" and related imagery (Ps 80:1; cf. Gen 48:15; Ps 23:1; 28:9; Isa 40:11; Ezek 34:11-24). Some of the later leaders of the Israelites were also literally shepherds, including Moses (Exod 3:1), Amos (1:1), and especially King David as a youth (1 Sam 16:11; 17:40; 2 Sam 5:2). Thus, shepherd imagery is frequently applied to the rulers of Israel, both the good and the bad ones (2 Sam 7:7; Jer 3:15; 23:1-4; 25:34-36; Ezek 34:1-10; Zech 10:2-3; 11:3-17). Some of the prophets express hope that a future ruler of Israel will be a good shepherd like David (Ezek 34:23; 37:24; Micah 5:1-4).
NT: Not only does Matthew refer to the above-mentioned prophecies while telling of Jesus' birth (Matt 2:6, citing Micah 5:1; 2 Sam 5:2), but Jesus himself uses shepherd imagery in some of his parables (Matt 18:12-14; 25:31-46). The evangelists also quote certain OT passages in describing the ministry and the death of Jesus (Mark 6:34 & Matt 9:36, citing Num 27:17 & par.; Mark 14:27 & Matt 26:31, citing Zech 13:7). In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus calls himself the "Good Shepherd" (John 10:11-16). Later NT writings similarly refer to Jesus as "the great shepherd of the sheep" (Heb 13:20), the "shepherd and guardian of your souls" (1 Pet 2:25), and the "chief shepherd" (1 Pet 5:4), while the Book of Revelation explicitly combines references to Jesus as both Lamb and shepherd (Rev 7:17).
German biblical scholar Anselm Grün (Images of Jesus. Trans. by John Bowden; New York; London: Continuum, 2002) briefly discusses "Fifty Images of Jesus," all of which are biblically-based, but some of which are more creative and provocative than the standard "titles" of Jesus explained above.
Throughout Christian history, other titles and images have been used for Jesus. Among the best recent printed surveys of Jesus in art and in films are:
"Messiah"; "Alpha"; "David"; "Immanuel"; "Jesus Christ"; "King"; "Lamb of God"; "Logos"; "Lord"; "Melchizedek"; "Names of God in the NT/ in the OT"; "Prophet"; "Rabbi, Rabbouni"; "Savior"; "Servant"; "Son of God"; "Son of Man"; "Sons of God".
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