Talk About Jesus, Not Christ, to Non-Believers

Talk About Jesus, Not Christ, to Non-Believers June 20, 2014

Many Christians have a bad habit of talking about “Christ,” instead of “Jesus,” to the non-believing world. What’s bad about it? It is a failure to be sensitive to other people who are not Christians, who therefore don’t believe what they do about Jesus. The man’s name is “Jesus.” The title we apply to him is “Christ.” Yes, early Christians called him “Jesus Christ” by dropping the article in the phrase “Jesus the Christ.” But actually, the Apostle Paul’s New Testament letters have “Christ Jesus” more than “Jesus Christ.”

From a Jewish and New Testament perspective, what the early Jewish Christians were trying to do was to convince people that Jesus of Nazareth was “the Christ,” which means “the Messiah,” of Israel. The Tanakh, the Jewish Bible (Christian Old Testament), contains prophecies about a man called “messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” who would come to deliver Israel from its enemies and make it the greatest nation on earth and thoroughly devoted to worshipping the God of Israel’s covenant. That God would anoint this man.

Actually, the Hebrew writing prophets identify him by other titles rather than just mashiach (messiah; Ps 2.2), such as “a/the prophet” like Moses (Deut 18.15-19), “lord” (Ps 110.1), “the branch” (Isaiah and Jeremiah), “suffering servant” (Isaiah), “one like a son of man” (Dan 7.13), and “the Shepherd” (Zech 13.7).

But as for Jesus, he didn’t go around called himself “the Messiah/Christ.” However, he did acknowledge such privately to his disciples on occasion. Scholars call this reluctance of Jesus to identify himself as Israel’s Messiah as “the Messianic Secret.” Jesus had several reasons for being publicly silent about this until his appearance before the Sanhedrin.

Jesus’ favorite title that he applied to himself, often when speaking in public, was “the son of man” or “the Son of Man,” however you want to write it. He thereby alluded to “one like a son of man” in Dan 7.13. Since that figure is far greater in the Tanakh than mashiach is, it’s not a bad idea to refer to Jesus as the Son of Man. In fact, Jesus once asked a blind man whom he healed, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9.35). This guy is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. It’s partly because of how he spoke to the religious authorities who then excommunicated him from the temple. He answered Jesus, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus did, and the guy said, “Lord, I believe.” I can’t wait to meet this guy when we get to glory.

The God who anoints this man also has a name himself. Many Christians think it is “Father,” since Jesus constantly called him by this loving title. But that’s not his name. God’s name appears in the Hebrew Bible nearly 7,000 times as YHWH or YHVH, depending on whether the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is regarded as a waw or a vav. Because the Hebrew language died and was sort of resurrected by the scribal Masoretes in especially the 7th to 9th centuries, even today scholars are not sure how God’s name is supposed to be pronounced and therefore written. Plus, these Masoretes added vowels to the Hebrew alphabet in order to fix pronunciation. If Jewish Bible scholars pronounce or write God’s name at all, they generally prefer “Yehvah,” whereas Gentile Bible scholars usually pronounce and write it “Yahweh.”

So, when we Christians evangelize, what we should talk about to non-believers is whether or not Jesus is the anointed one of Yehvah/Yahweh. That’s what we read about in the early chapters of the New Testament book of Acts. The Apostle Peter and others were preaching to their Jewish brethren, proclaiming Jesus as the Christ/Messiah/the Anointed One (Acts 2.36; 3.18-20; 9.22). So, they were trying to convince fellow Jews that Jesus was and is the Christ. The two main things they were trying to convince the non-believing world about was that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and God raised him from the dead.

The Christian habit of talking to outsiders about “Christ” rather than “Jesus” originates mostly from reading the Apostle Paul’s New Testament letters. But that’s “inside terminology.” Paul is writing to believers, to “Christians,” to churches, to his apostolic associates, all of whom have identified themselves with this name given to them by others–“Christians” (Acts 11.26). The word obviously originates from the title “Christ” that Jesus’ disciples applied to him. Thus, it is fine to talk about “Christ,” meaning Jesus, when we Christians are talking to our fellow believers.

But when we Christians talk to non-believers, or the non-believing world, we shouldn’t use some of our inside terminology because, in this case, it can be disrespectful to others. It certainly is disrespectful and insensitive to Jews who are not Christians, meaning they don’t believe Jesus is the anointed one predicted by their writing Hebrew prophets in their Jewish Bible. That is what has separated religious Jews and Christians–whether or not Jesus is the Christ. Especially to Jews, if Christians are going to talk to them about Jesus, they should call him “Jesus,” not “Christ.”

An example of scholars exercising this sensitivity toward Jews is Westerners changing something about their Gregorian calendar. According to our tradition used only a few decades ago, this year in which we our living, would be called “AD 2014.” But nowadays, that is not kosher if I may use the term. It’s now supposed to be CE 2014. AD is the abbreviation for Anno Domino, a Latin expression meaning “in the year of our Lord.” “Lord,” of course, refers to Jesus of Nazareth. And CE is the abbreviation for Common Era, referring to the time period common to both Jews and Christians. Plus, whereas we used to say that years before AD years were BC years, now we’re supposed to identify those as BCE years. BC was the abbreviation for “Before Christ,” and BCE is the abbreviation for “Before the Common Era.”

So, if Christians would talk to the non-believing world about “Jesus,” and try to convince people that he is “the Christ,” that’s what I call–I know I’m going to get myself in trouble with Jews for this–KOSHER!

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  • I think you make some good points here. I appreciate the overall foundation of this being in light reaching out to the non-believer. Anyway we can improve our ability to do that – lets do it!

    I recently discovered some recent surveys which found the northeastern part of the United States, especially New England, where I live, the least “bible-minded” (here is a link to the survey – While this was depressing news to some, I thought it was great information. The reason why I feel this well, similarly to what you have written above, is that is armed me with a clearer vision of the place where I am living and praying to impact for God. If the church is talking about “Abraham”, our audience is probably thinking “Lincoln” rather than “father of he faithful, husband of Sarah”!

    This allows us to be more effective in communicating the gospel (with out compromising a thing!).

    Thanks again for your post. Good insight.

  • The Undercover Christian

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Great post. We create barriers with Special Language. I blogged on this a while back in a strangely football-themed post ( )… you’re bang on.