Theology Research Paper
Names and Titles of Jesus
Emmanuel, Christ, Logos, Lord, Son of God, Son of Man, and Lamb of God are just a few examples of names and titles which all refer to one man, Jesus. After the crucifixion of Jesus, He became a symbol of salvation. The Church began to focus on Jesus and his message which led to the attribution of several titles for Jesus. These titles were influenced heavily from early Jewish tradition and messianic interpretations. Some of these titles were adopted from Jewish history and interpreted into the New Testament. Other titles appeared in early Christian Christologies which refer to the message and teachings of Jesus. Christology is a part of Christian theology which centers on Jesus’ life, work, and identity. The name of Jesus eventually became more than just a name and now carries divine significance, especially in regards to salvation. An example of this attribution is found in Matthew 1:21, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”. Before the titles and other names for Jesus can be discussed it is important to have a brief understanding of the background behind the name Jesus. The most common origin proposal states that the name has Jewish roots. The name in Hebrew is Yehoshua which is translated to Joshua. The Hebrew name is derived from the root meaning “to save”. This name was translated throughout history based upon the dominant language in the Judean region. The major ruling languages went from Hebrew to Greek to Latin. Eventually it became the name known in English today as Jesus. A name for Jesus which has been under contention for many years comes from the relation in the prophetic message provided in Isaiah 7:14. This verse states that a messiah will 1
come and be named Emmanuel. In the New Testament, specifically Matthew, Jesus is referred to as Emmanuel. This name in Hebrew means “God is with us”. Jesus is not mentioned as Emmanuel anywhere else in the New Testament. Matthew does spend time to signify the relationship between Jesus and Emmanuel, as the Messiah who will be there at the end of the world. One of the most popular titles which have been related to Jesus is the Son of Man. This title is translated to mean humanity or man’s child. This term appears in several places throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament and the Jewish interpretation, Numbers, Psalms, and Isaiah for example, Son of Man seems to refer more toward humanity as a race stemming from Adam and describes humanity as a whole. In the New Testament and the Christian interpretation, many scholars believe that Son of Man is used to refer specifically to Jesus. This leads one to wonder why such a “humanly” term was used to describe a divine figure such as Jesus. The best possible answer stems straight from the proposed question. The title is meant to shift ones focus towards Jesus’ humility. The authors of the New Testament wanted Jesus to be an example of humanity not as someone above the level of humanity. This is very important because now Jesus can be seen as the perfect example of how mankind should strive to live and mimic instead of just praise as some unworldly being. The next title applied of Jesus that will be discussed is Logos. This title, originally Greek, is literally translated in English as “the Word”. In the beginning of the Gospel of John a verse, 1:1, reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. This is the core passage in the Catholic belief in the Holy Trinity. The belief is that Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are all equals and the same entity. In early Jewish tradition, terms like
Logos were used in a similar sense. The Word of God was considered a bond between all living things and prevented them from ever being separated. In the verse from John mentioned earlier the statement, “In the beginning” implies that Jesus existed then and is thus an eternal being like God. The verse then implies a distinction between Jesus and God by saying, “the Word was with God”. Finally, the ending of the verse “the Word was God” implies the divine nature of Jesus and the unity shared with God. The next title is one which appears most prominently around Jesus’ birth and His death. The title is the King of the Jews. The first use is seen in the account of the nativity story. The three wise men are searching for Jesus, but call Him the King of the Jews. The other instance is seen at the end of the Passion of Jesus. When Jesus is crucified on the cross a sign is placed above Jesus that reads INRI. Those letters are translated to mean “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. From a literal standpoint the sign was placed there to mock Jesus and show the power of Rome. A deeper meaning may be found when looking at the context of the author’s time period. The Davidic line of Jewish kings was in question and there was a need to take away this uncertainty. Jesus was seen as a direct descendent of the Davidic line and thus fit to be king. By applying this title to Jesus at the crucifixion, the kingship was secured. Jesus would be considered the true King of the Jews. One name for Jesus, Christ, has led to much debate between Christian and Jewish communities. From Hebrew “Christ” is translated into “Messiah” and is considered a title instead of a name. Christians use this name because they believe that Jesus is the messiah from the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14 in the Old Testament. Christians believe Jesus will come again to fulfill the messianic prophecy. In the Jewish theology, Jesus is not considered the messiah which
the prophecy speaks of. The origin of the name Christ stems from its use as a title in Hebrew scripture. In the Old Testament there are several passages with messianic implications. Messiah was used as a title to describe the savior who all had been waiting for. In the New Testament the term Christ is developed from a title into a name for Jesus. This signified the Christian belief that Jesus is the one who fulfills the prophecy and is the Messiah of the Jews. At the beginning of the Gospels, Christ is used more of as a title. One such example is found in Matthew 1:16, “Jesus, who is called Christ”. Toward the end of the Gospels, Jesus accepts the name Christ during the trial with Pilate. The last title for Jesus which will be discussed is “Light of the World”. This title is mainly used to describe Jesus as the one who brings light into the world and take away the darkness. In the New Testament, one example of Jesus using this title is when he is asked to cure a man who had been blind since birth. Jesus is fulfilling the messianic interpretation by healing the sick and taking away their sins. Those who believe and follow in Jesus will not be in darkness, and in death will be granted the light of life. All of these titles have developed since the 1st century, through time, and are still widely used in modern society. Jewish tradition and messianic interpretation have played large roles in the development of the names and titles. There are many other major and minor titles, based upon use and popularity, which were not mentioned but still refer to Jesus in several ways. Some refer to Jesus with regards to the Trinity, others refer to a historical Jesus, and some lend a political view to Jesus. The titles and names ultimately were selected to reinforce the teachings, missions, and messages which Jesus proclaimed. The influence of a society can affect theology and religion in many ways. Jesus, as a
figure, was shaped by the authors of the New Testament and the Jewish context of the era. Since the 1st century society has still been a leading influence in the interpretation of texts, teachings, and figures from the past. With all of this change in theology, one must always remember the importance of the roots and be sure that messages and their true meanings are never lost to interpretation and time.
Burkett, Delbert Royce. An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2002. Print. Cecil, J. Intro To Modern Biblical Scholarship. Web. 08 Apr. 2011. <http://liberalcatholicbiblestudy.blogspot.com/>. Dunn, James Douglas Grant. The Historical Jesus in Recent Research. Winona Lake, Ind: Eisenbrauns, 2005. Print. Hurtado, Larry W. "NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTOLOGY: A CRITIQUE OF BOUSSETS INFLUENCE." University of Manitoba. Web. 04 Apr. 2011. <http://www.ts.mu.edu/content/40/40.2/40.2.4.pdf>. Marshall, Howard. "The Messiah in the First Century: A Review Article." Criswell Theological Review. The Criswell College, 1993. Web. 04 Apr. 2011. <http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/NTeSources/NTArticles/CTR-NT/MarshallMessiah-CTR.pdf>. Rainbow, Paul A. "Jewish Monotheism as the Matrix for New Testament Christology: A Review Article." Novum Testamentum XXXIII. 1991. Web. 04 Apr. 2011. <http://www.michaelsheiser.com/TwoPowersInHeaven/RainbowJewishMonotheism.pdf>. Swanson, Scott A. "Can We Reproduce The Exegesis Of The New Testament?" Bible Research by Michael Marlowe. Trinity Journal 17:1, 1996. Web. 08 Apr. 2011. <http://www.bibleresearcher.com/swanson.html>. Wallace, D. H. "Messiah: Advanced Information." Mb-soft.com. Elwell Evangelical Dictionary, 07 Jan. 2011. Web. 08 Apr. 2011. <http://mb-soft.com/believe/text/messiah.htm>. Wright, N. T. "What Is This Word?" Christianitytoday.com. Christianity Today, 21 Dec. 2006. Web. 17 Apr. 2011. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/decemberweb-only/15142.0.html?start=2>.