What does it really mean to be a Christian? The word “Christian” essentially means a follower of Christ, which comes from the Latin word “Christus” (Greek=Χριστός) which derives from a Hebrew word rendered into English as “Messiah.”
Whew. That was complicated. (And I left out a couple of steps.)
So what does the word messiah actually mean? Well, it doesn’t mean someone who was sent by God as the savior of humankind. It means someone who has been anointed with oil. That’s it. Who was anointed with oil? Kings, Priests and Prophets. Think of it as someone using a sword to tap someone’s shoulders and make him a knight. Same idea. Pouring oil on someone’s head dedicated that person to God and made their position official.
The Old Testament calls Aaron and his sons messiahs. They were anointed to become priests. Saul was anointed when he became king, and he turned around and anointed David, thereby making him a messiah, since the word means “anointed person.” I could make a long list of the others in the Bible who are called messiahs.
So, technically, Jesus Christ means Jesus, someone who had oil poured on his head
And Christian means a follower of someone who had oil poured on his head.
That’s all it means.
And I hate to have to add this, but in case you missed the memo, no, Christ was not his last name. He would not be referred to as Mr. Christ in a formal setting. It was his title, like Joe the plumber or Sally the doctor.
A lot of Christians will accuse me of being flippant about the most important aspect of their religion, and… well… I am, but with good reason. If we want to talk meaningfully about the message of Jesus the messiah, we need to know what that word meant.
A lot of Christians understand Jesus as THE Messiah, as THE Christ. The one and only forever and ever amen. Well, the fact is there were lots of messiahs/christs. The fact that you use the word for one person and one person alone doesn’t change the indisputable reality that lots of people had the exact same title. Just adding a capital letter to the word doesn’t change any of that. (Don’t get me started on the arrogance of a god named God. That’s a different debate.)
Now, we can have a discussion on whether Jesus was the best messiah, or the messiah who actually sorted things out so we didn’t really need any more after that. That we can discuss, but first you need to let go of the lie that he was the only one ever.
Take Batman. A lot of comic book enthusiasts will argue quite vehemently that Bruce Wayne is the ONLY Batman. If someone points out that, for instance, Richard Grayson wore the cowl more than once, the Only One Batman crowd will say, “No, that was just Dick in a suit. He was never REALLY Batman.” They get upset if you try to contradict them. Really.
But that’s a problem. See, there have, in fact, been a number of people called Batman. So we can discuss who was the best Batman, who is the most important Batman, the Batman who most closely conforms to the Platonic form of Batman-ness… but if the fan insists there was only ever one true Batman, then we can’t even talk about it in any meaningful way.
So who cares?
When Christians claim that Jesus was The One and Only True Messiah, there’s no way to talk about it. He wasn’t. There were lots of messiahs. There were even a number of competing messiahs at the time who had followers just like Jesus. And, just like Jesus, most of them died horribly at the hands of the Romans.
So what makes Jesus stand out? For whatever reason, that particular messiah is still interesting to a lot of people to this day. He’s the only one still worshipped and adored by millions. THAT, to me, is interesting. What about this particular messiah, as opposed to all the hundreds of other messiahs, made him stand out? What made his message last to the modern era? (How much of his actual message has survived is also a topic for another time.)
If a Follower of Someone who had Oil Poured on his Head wants to discuss why Jesus’ message is so important, I’m willing to listen. But Christians who attack my ideas without knowing things like the origin of their own name need to back off. If I know more about your religion (and your Bible) than you, who is really the better Christian?