Mysteries of the Kingdom

            in awe of scripture, viewing it through the lens of the kingship of Jesus

The Least Translated Word

     "Christ" (our treasured title for Jesus) is an untranslated word with serious implications. The Hebrew scriptures promised for centuries a King would come to Israel, bringing peace to all the world. In a few key passages, that King was called, "the Anointed." In Hebrew, the word for anointed is "meshiach" which many pronounce as messiah. By the time Jesus was born, the people of Israel spoke of their coming king by the title "Meshiach." Therefore literally, they were calling the coming King "the Anointed."

      In Greek, the word for Anointed was Christos. Oddly enough, Christos is rarely ever translated into English as literally "Anointed" nor translated as it was meant: "King." Instead, most Bible translators choose to simply change the sound of the Greek word Christos into "Christ" as if it were the second name of Jesus. Christ is not His last name like Smith or Jones. Rather, Jesus has a job-title like plumber, florist, or "King." Every time our Bibles say "Christ" we lose the meaning of His job as King because we see "Christ" as if it were only His name.

      Consider how much richer scripture sounds when Christos is translated. The ESV renders Colossians 3:15, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts..." With Christos translated, it would read, "Let the peace of the King rule in your hearts..." Even if it read literally, "Let the peace of the Anointed rule in your hearts," I believe the meaning is much richer. 

     To the modern reader, "Christ" has no connotative meaning. Our minds simply equate "Christ" with Jesus as His name so that Romans 6:23 saying "...the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," which sounds in our minds like, "the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Jesus our Lord." Translating Christos instead would render it, "the free gift of God is eternal life in King Jesus our Lord."

     The non-translation of Christos into "Anointed" or "King" takes away from the rich meanings of individual verses, but it also detracts from the over-all message of the New Testament. Taken as a whole, the message of the New Testament is the Kingship of Jesus, the good news of His Kingdom, the benefits of citizenship on His Kingdom, and the ongoing triumph of His Kingdom over what Colossians 1:13 calls "the domain of darkness."

     Our benefit then will be to translate "Christ" while reading the New Testament. Wherever we see the word "Christ," let us speak the word "King" and see new depth, new beauty, and the consistent message of the New Testament: Jesus is King!

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"The Least Translated Word" by Matthew Bryan was first published at January 1st, 2013. All rights are reserved.