The name “Christ” is one of the most recognizable names in the world and arguably the most significant in human history. It is significant because it has become inextricably associated with Jesus of Nazareth. Beyond being an identifier, does Christ mean anything? Now I am not the first person to try to answer this question neither will I be presenting anything original. However, I do want to bring attention to some major contributions in New Testament scholarship on the topic which greatly impact how we see Jesus and his gospel message.
The first book is Matthew K. Novenson’s Christ among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism. Novenson’s thesis is that “Christ” is not a name (as most scholarship has assumed) or a title (the minority position.) It is both a name and a title, which is something known as an honorific. An honorific is a title that becomes so specially associated with an individual that it becomes a personal name. A famous example of this is Augustus, a title that became the personal identifier of the Roman emperor Octavian.
According to Matthew Thiessen, another NT scholar, Novenson’s work has “decisively overturned” the majority scholarly conclusion on what Christ means in Paul. Larry Hurtado, a familiar name on this blog, considers it now to be the “pre-eminent” work on the subject. You can find his layperson friendly review of the book here. For a more detailed review you can go here. These reviews summarise the main arguments of his book so they are well worth reading.
The second book which builds off the “game changing” insights of the first is Christ is King: Paul’s Royal Ideology by Joshua W. Jipp. He argues that since the name Christ does mean king, then the centre of Paul’s worldview and theology is that Christ is the “Ideal King.” For great reviews go here and for an excellent in-depth interview over at OnScript go here.