One iota

by peacefulpete 8 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • peacefulpete

    This topic deserves much more time and space than I can give it.

    Christus (Greek Christos) or Chrestus (Greek Chrestos) that is the question, and an important one. Most anyone doing research on Christian origins has encountered the use of the word "Chrestus", often wrongly equated with Christ in dictionary and commentary. For instance the infamous Suetonius reference to a rebellion in Rome that needed to be squelched. Quote: "drove the Jews out of Rome, who at the suggestion of Chrestus (Latin for Chrestos) were constantly rioting." is often hailed as proof of the existance of an historical Jesus. The obvious problems with identifying this person with Jesus (Jesus not in Rome and Christains starting riots?) with this conclusion aside we have to ask what the word 'Chrestus' meant. Rather than being a simple misspelling of Christus, "Chrestus" was a comon name found in over 80 inscriptions meaning "good, sweet, useful". It was often used in reference to slaves that had earned freedom. It also however had a long standing religious use as name of divine agents and deities such as Mithra, Apollo and Serapis. This last point is significant. To those that perceive earliest Christain origins from the pagan Mysteries it seems quite expected that the earliest references to the faiths leader us the name Chrestus as it was in use by similar cults. To those who feel Jewish messianism was the home soil of the new faith then the form Christos (word coined as rough equivilant of Hebrew Messiah) would be assumed the original with Chrestus being a corruption. Interstingly Gnostic Christains felt the two terms were grades of initiation, the newbie convert called Chrestus until reaching full intiation and annointing then called Christus. They (broad brush) felt Jesus was not the only Christus but all could attain to this Christus state. ( Makes me think of Paul.) The actual NT is of little help as the titles and names of God and Christ have been reduced to abbreviations in the tradition of the Nomina Sacra.

    Below I will list some of the usages of these and related words (other than the references to pagan deities):

    Sibylline book, the Erythrean, contains an acrostic in Greek, now extant, the initial letters of which are--

    ....[six Greek words]* ["*Iesous Chreistos, Theou Uios, Soter, Stauros. Jesus Chreist, God's Son, Savior, Stake."

    Note: the spelling Chreistos may reflect older from of Chrestos The most ancient dated Christian inscription (Oct. 1, 318 A.D.) on Marcionite church runs "The Lord and Saviour Jesus the Good (Chrestus)"

    Clement of Alexandria said, "all who believe in Christ are called Chrestoi, that is 'good men."

    Hadrian wrote, "There are there (in Egypt) Christians who worship Serapis; and devoted to Serapis, are those who call themselves 'Bishops of Christ'."

    Note: I included this because it may reveal a relataionship

    Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 168-188) puns upon the name Christian. "I, for my part," says he, (B. i, ch. 1,) "avow that I am a Christian, and bear this name beloved of God, hoping to be serviceable, (euchrestos.)" In ch. 12 this punning is kept up throughout, thus:

    "And about your laughing at me, calling me 'Christian,' you know not what you are saying. First, because that which is anointed is sweet (Chrestos) and serviceable, (euchrestos,) and far from contemptible......And what work has either ornament or beauty unless it be anointed or burnished? Then the air and all that is under heaven is in a certain sort anointed by light and spirit, and are you unwilling to be anointed with the oil of God? Wherefore we are called Christians on this account because we are anointed with the oil of God."

    Note: here Theo (if not altered) is addressing the issue of the names by finding value in both, also identies himself as Christian because he was annointed not because of being follower of a Christ. Similar to Gnostics as noted above.

    Lactantius, (A.D. 301-330,) who wrote in Latin said the Greeks "were accustomed, through a mistake of ignorance (?) by the change of a letter, to say Chrestus." (Div. Inst., B. iv, ch. 7.)

    Here a Latin speaking writer suggests the Greeks had confused the Greek word.

    Tertullian (A.D. 193-220) also Latin speaking, says:

    "But Christian, so far as the meaning of the word is concerned, is derived from anointing. Yes, and even when it is wrongly pronounced by you Chrestianus, (for you do not even know accurately the name you hate,) it comes from sweetness and benignity." (Apol., Sec. 3. See also Ad. Nat., ch. 3.)

    Note: again Latin writer blaming Greeks for mispronouncing a Greek word, also note Christian is referring to their annointing not to a Christ follower. Both Tertullian and Lactantiuselsewhere said the common people usually called Christ Chrestos.

    Here an example that show evidence of altering the name from "e" to "i":

    Justin Martyr [c. 100 - c. 165]"First Apology," ch. 4, this passage occurs:

    "So far, at least, as one may judge from the name we are accused of, we are most excellent (crestotatoi) people......For we are accused of being Christians, and to hate what is excellent (chrestos) is unjust."

    Here the in word Christianoi the e has evidently been changed to i, for the sentence certainly requires Chestianoi for the argument to flow.

    Here's an interesting verse that has been altered, apparently at the time when the transformation from Chrestus to Christus was being made.

    In 1 Pet., ii, 3, we read, "If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is good (chrestos.)" Some manuscripts have christos, an evident corruption. " The passage is evidently taken from Ps. xxxiv, 8, which reads, "O taste and see that the Lord is good"--chrestos in the Septuagint.

    This raises questions about passages like Phil. i, 21, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain," the parallelism seeming to require Christ here mean Chestos to correspond to kerdos, "gain."

    Comments wecome

  • A Paduan
    A Paduan
    To those who feel Jewish messianism was the home soil of the new faith then the form Christos (word coined as rough equivilant of Hebrew Messiah) would be assumed the original with Chrestus being a corruption. Interstingly Gnostic Christains felt the two terms were grades of initiation, the newbie convert called Chrestus until reaching full intiation and annointing then called Christus. They (broad brush) felt Jesus was not the only Christus but all could attain to this Christus state. ( Makes me think of Paul.)

    I wouldn't say one had to be the original - there are two considerations - they can simply be parallel notions of the time

    Interestingly the gnostic understanding isn't too far removed from the idea of baptism with water, and spirit - but it seems that there may have been men involved judging an orderley second step (accurate knowledge? lol)

    Regarding "christian" - if one follows Russell, one is a Russellite - if one follows the annointed (christus), they are christian - they may be annointed too, or a son, as He is a son etc.

  • A Paduan
    A Paduan

    Some have interpreted Chrestus as a misspelling of Christus, and thus as a possible reference to Jesus. However, Suetonius implies that the person in question was in Rome in 54, making the likelihood that he is writing about Jesus very slim.

    The term Chrestus also appears in some later texts applied to Jesus, indicating that such a spelling error is not unthinkable. However, Chrestus is itself a common name in Rome, meaning good or useful. It was a particularly common name for slaves, and, indeed, the passage deals with a slave revolt. As such, this passage is not held by the vast majority of scholars to be a reference to Jesus.


    As I was saying - they can simply be parallel notions of the time - though the term, being a common word was understandiingly utilised with christians, as they celebrated those traits

  • peacefulpete

    If the new faith did not originally identify its leader as Christus but as Chrestus then the associations with Messianism may be secondary as held by a growing number of scholars for other reasons. On the other hand if Chrestus was a secondary name then syncretism with the Mysteries on this point was welcomed widely very early and its Jewish roots needed to be reestablished by later church Fathers. Of course the picture is likely more complex then that, perhaps both threads merging under the banner of Catholicism.

  • Narkissos

    Very interesting topic. The problem is that prior to the first explicit connection of khristos with khrèstos (which were probably already tending to full homonymy as is the case in modern Greek), which might be ascribed to Justin, one can never be certain how far a pun is involved (Matthew 11:30; Romans 2:4; Philemon 11 are good candidates though, especially the latter).

    But the frequency of the pun tends to grow from the mid 2nd century onward (one interesting case is the Sinaiticus systematically writing khrèstianoi in the Sinaiticus, cf. TDNT IX 488f): this of course does not rule out antiquity, but it doesn't seem like a "shameful origin" which Chre/istians would strive to sweep under the carpet.

    Moreover, I think it is wrong to connect khristos exclusively or even in a prioritary way with Jewish messianism, especially in the reduced form in which it is popularly known today (from both rabbinical and Christian tradition), i.e. mashiach = khristos = the ultimate Davidic King. First, there is an equally important priestly messianism in apocalyptical Judaism; second, the symbol-metaphor of anointing reaches much farther. The NT (2 Corinthians, 1 John) does use khriô and khrisma with deep religious but no "messianic" overtones, and the only "anointing" (although khriô is avoided) which Jesus receives in Mark is related to his burial -- being more evocative of an Isis-Osiris imagery than a king's anointing.

  • peacefulpete

    Good points. As far as the priestly Messianism goes, yes both in Qumran and other works a priestly figure plays dominant role but generally the kingly aspect is in the background either as a separate character or in dual roles. I wonder if in its attempt to supplant protognosticism or Marcionism the protoOrthodoxy deliberately reached toward the antiquity of Judaism for an image boost. The appeal of corporeal, tangible government over conceptual esotericism would resonate with the masses. This would however seem to counter the general movement away from Judaism at a time when pretending to be Jewish in the Roman world wouldn't have seemed a wise move.

    Mark 11, with its processional entry on an ass clearly does hearken 1 Kings1 where the annointing is explicit so I'm not sure we can suggest that the only annointing implicit is at his burial.

  • peacefulpete

    I think that John 1:41 and John 4:25 are the only two instances where the word messiah actually appears in the NT and in both cases someone added a parenthetical gloss (which means Christ) and (who is called Christ). In fact this is the only case where the word Christ is defined explicitly as Messianic. So why then have the Samaritan woman call him the Messiah in 4:25 then sudddenly speak Greek and use Christ (Chrestos?) in verse 29? Was the first instance (25) originally a priestly Messiah (he will teach us...) and the sencond case (29) Chrestos? Did the the editor by adding the parentetical comment in verse 25 associating the Messiah with Christ (Christos) mask the original meaning of the word in question in verse 29?

  • Narkissos

    If one looks for traces of royal messianism in the Gospel, a better starting point imo is the expression "Son of David" -- which is both ascribed to Jesus (Mark 10:47f//; 11:10f) and apparently denied by him (12:35ff, using khristos; here khrestos would make little sense I guess).

    About John 4, if it really has a Samaritan background (as R.E. Brown for instance held) it may be interesting to note that the Samaritan "messianism" (for lack of a better word) was entirely different. The expected figure was not a messiah but the ta`eb, a restorer and revealer who would among other things make Moses' tabernacle appear again before the last day (whence the incident in Josephus, A.J. 18:85-89, where Samaritans expect to see the "hidden utensils" on the sacred mount Garizim, alluded to in John 4:22ff).

  • peacefulpete

    Interesting, we've touched on this stuff some time ago, but whatever the source of the story the way the writer presented it is what now interests me. What do you make of the switch from Mesisah to Christ(Chrestos) in the woman's dialog in chapter 4?

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