The Gospels Are About Christ not Jesus

In my previous post, Is There a Distinction between Jesus and the Christ?, I showed how “Jesus” is found far more often in the gospels than “Christ.” Further, when “Jesus” is used alone without “Christ” in the New Testament, the vast majority of the time this occurs in the gospels.

Yet, the gospels are about Christ, not Jesus.

Wait a minute. The gospels are not about Jesus?

Admittedly, perhaps I am overstating the case, but, yes, the gospels are not about Jesus. They are about Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ, or Jesus who became Christ.

How so?

Well, let’s look at the introduction to each of the gospels.

Matthew 1.1 says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Oops…that’s not right.

It really says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

As Matthew works through the genealogy of Jesus Christ, he concludes it in Matthew 1.16 by saying, “and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.”

Then in verse 17, Matthew summarizes the genealogy, saying, “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” Not the deportation to Babylon to Jesus, but the deportation to Babylon to the Christ.

Finally, in verse 18, Matthew writes, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place this way.”

Throughout the introduction to the gospel of Matthew the emphasis is on the Christ, or Jesus Christ, not Jesus. Although Herod inquires where the Christ was to be born in Matthew 2.4, the early emphasis on Christ in Matthew is all the more striking when we recognize that the word “Christ” does not appear again in Matthew’s gospel until 11.2. There are two more uses of Christ in chapter 16. Then, the gospel closes with a flurry of uses of Christ in chapters 22 through 26.

By emphasizing Christ at the beginning and end of his gospel, Matthew is signaling that he is not writing about Jesus, the son of Mary, or Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus, a carpenter’s son, or Jesus, a great teacher, or Jesus, a prophet, or Jesus, a king, or Jesus, a healer, or any other way we want to describe Jesus. Yes, Jesus was all of those things, and Matthew wrote about many of them. However, Matthew’s gospel is about Jesus the Christ.

The gospel of Mark primarily presents Jesus as a servant. Yet, the very first words of the gospel in Mark 1.1 state, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Like Matthew, Mark’s gospel uses “Christ” in its introduction but doesn’t use the term again until two isolated uses in chapters eight and nine. However, like Matthew, the gospel of Mark closes with a flurry of uses of Christ in chapters 12 through 15. Again, in ancient writings, this sort of bracketing in a story provides important insight into the true subject matter of what is written. This bracketing reveals what is really important, what is being stressed In the case of Mark, the true subject matter of the entire gospel is Christ.

Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not use the term “Christ” in the opening sentence of his gospel. Instead, Luke gives a lengthy sort of preamble to the birth of Christ. So, in Luke 2.10-11, when the angel of the Lord announces the Christ’s birth to the shepherds, he says, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Who did Luke say was born?

Not Jesus.

But, the “Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Just before the child Jesus was brought into the temple for purification, “it had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had the Lord’s Christ.” Luke emphasizes that Simeon was not going to see Jesus, a mere child like any other, but the Christ.

Just like Matthew and Mark, after the introduction and birth of Jesus Christ, Luke uses the term “Christ” quite sparingly with just three mentions in chapters three, four, and nine. However, Luke closes his gospel with seven uses  of “Christ” in chapters 20 through 24. Once again we see the bracketing of the entire story of Jesus with the term “Christ” to emphasize exactly who Luke is writing about – the Christ, or Jesus Christ, and not Jesus.

The beginning of John’s gospel, the famous prologue, is one of my favorite portions of the Bible. John begins by telling us about the Word. Everything was made by the Word. In the Word was life. The Word was the true light of all men. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word was the son of God, full of grace and truth.

Who was this Word?

Not Jesus.

Rather, the Word is Jesus Christ.

The conclusion of the prologue, John 1.17, says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

We received grace and truth through Jesus Christ, and it was the Word that became flesh that was full of grace and truth. Therefore, Jesus Christ and the Word are one and the same.

Unlike the first three gospels, the gospel of John uses the term “Christ” throughout. Instead of introducing the gospel of the Christ, telling the story of Jesus, and closing with the recognition of the Christ, John’s gospel is about the Christ all the way through. I plan to cover why John’s gospel is unlike the others in this respect in a future post.

So, even though “Jesus” is far more prevalent in the gospels than “Christ,” even “Jesus” takes up the bulk of the story of the gospels, the construction of the gospels tells us they are not simply about Jesus. Instead, God’s good news, God’s gospel, is the Christ.

The gospels are about the Christ not Jesus.

Is There a Distinction between Jesus and the Christ?

Jesus Christ has been on my heart and in my mind a lot lately.

You might be saying to yourself, “Of course he is. You are a Christian. And, you write a blog about seeing Jesus Christ in the Bible.”

But, that is not what I mean.

Christians are very accustomed to saying “Jesus Christ” without truly thinking about what they are saying. As the cliche goes, Christ is not the last name of Jesus. At the very least, Christ is the title, the office, of Jesus. In reality, Christ is something much more than that.

Therefore, when I say that Jesus Christ, or, more clearly, Jesus the Christ, has been on my heart and mind a lot lately, I mean to say I have been meditating quite a bit on the difference Jesus and the Christ. In meditating on the distinction between Jesus and the Christ, I have come to understand that this distinction is important and significantly affects how we worship and trust God in our daily lives.

So, in this post and the ones following (I don’t know how many), I’m going to write about my meditations on the distinction between Jesus and the Christ.

I take lots of long walks, and these meditations started on those long walks with the simple question “Do the New Testament writers use the words ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’ with different frequencies?” Based on the many times I have read through the Bible the last 10 years, I suspected the answer was yes, but I did not know for sure. And, if the answer was yes, then what does the different usage of “Jesus” and “Christ” by the New Testament writers mean for me and you?

Not only was my suspicion correct that the New Testament writers use “Jesus” and “Christ” in different frequencies, there is a staggering difference in the usage of the two words between the four gospels and Acts (hereafter “gospels”) and the rest of the New Testament (hereafter “the letters”).

Based on my best effort to count the uses in Greek, the word “Jesus” appears 909 times in the New Testament. Of these, “Jesus” is used 632 times in the gospels and 277 times in the letters. Therefore, 70% of the uses of “Jesus” are in the gospels while just 30% of the uses of “Jesus” are in the letters.

The word “Christ” appears 529 times in the New Testament. Of these, “Christ” is used just 79 times in the gospels. But, in the letters, “Christ” is used a whopping 450 times. Therefore, only 15% of the uses of “Christ” are in the gospels while an overwhelming 85% of the uses of “Christ” are in the letters.

Notice how the gospels and the letters make use of “Jesus” and “Christ” in almost exactly the opposite proportions. The gospels are very much focused on Jesus while the letters are very much focused on Christ.

Of course, the words “Jesus” and “Christ” often appear together in the New Testament as either Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus. So, the above analysis becomes more interesting when we consider how often “Jesus” appears on its own in the gospels and the letters.

OF the 909 times, “Jesus” is used in the New Testament it is used alone, that is, without Christ, 693 times. “Jesus” alone is primarily found in the gospels. In fact, 88% of the uses of “Jesus” without Christ occur in the gospels. So, in the letters we find “Jesus” alone just 12% of the time.

These numbers are virtually flipped if we consider the use of “Christ” alone. Of the 529 times “Christ” is used, it is used on its own 313 times. Just 19% of the uses of “Christ” without “Jesus” are found in the gospels while the other 81% are found in the letters.

Instead of looking at the use of “Jesus” and “Christ” across the New Testament, we could look at the use of the two words within the gospels and within the letters.

In the gospels, “Jesus” is used 632 times. Of these 632 uses, “Jesus” is used without “Christ” 612 times, which means that 97% of the time in the gospels the “Jesus” is used without the “Christ.” That means the phrase “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus” makes up just 3% of the uses of the word “Jesus” in the gospels. However, in the letters, “Jesus” is used 277 times. But, “Jesus” is found alone just 81 times, or a mere 29%. In the letters, if we find “Jesus” we are far more likely to find “Christ” attached.

While the gospels are dominated by “Jesus,” eight out of the 22 books of the letters never use the word “Jesus.” A number of those do mention “Christ” either, but it is noticeable that “Jesus” disappears from many writings outside the gospels.

It’s not the case that the gospels were written first therefore they focus more on Jesus while the understanding of Christ developed later and therefore the letters contain more of Christ and less of Jesus. In fact, most of the letters were written before the gospels.

So, the gospels are about a particular man, Jesus, that the disciples lived three years with. But, the gospels rarely mention Christ even though by the time they were written the gospel writers would have had plenty of time to reflect on “Christ.” It would have been possible for them to mention Jesus as the Christ, or Jesus Christ, for more frequently like the letters.

The letters, even though they were written before the gospels, make far more mention of Christ of Jesus Christ than the gospels. Seemingly, the gospels are no longer about this particular man, Jesus, that the disciples lived with for three years. Rather, the letters are about someone the same as Jesus but distinct from Jesus.

What happened to cause such distinction in the use of “Jesus” and “Christ” within the books of the New Testament?

The simple answer is the eventual identification of Jesus as the Christ, which Peter makes before the crucifixion. In Luke 24, Jesus specifically says that it was necessary for the Christ, not Jesus, to suffer and rise from the dead to enter his glory.

And, the distinction in use between “Jesus” and “Christ” begs the question “Why?”

What happened to Jesus for him to be known as the Christ and why it matters to us will be the subjects of future posts.

The Scriptures Are a Shut and Open Case

An open and shut case is a court case, legal matter, or problem that is easy to decide or solve because the facts are clearly known or plainly obvious to all.

But, the scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, are not an open and shut case. The truth within them is not clearly known and plainly obvious to all. There are problems and questions in the Old Testament that are not easy to solve or answer.

So, instead of being an open and shut case, the scriptures are a shut and open case. In a fascinating way, the gospel of Luke reveals just this to us. But, Luke’s gospel also reveals the one who can solve and answer the difficult problems and questions of the Bible for us – Jesus.

Take Zechariah.

An angel of the Lord came to Zechariah and told him that he would have a son that would be great before the Lord and turn the hearts of the children of Israel to God. But, Zechariah doubted the word of the angel. So, the angel told Zechariah, “And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place.” (Luke 1.20) In other words, Zechariah’s mouth was shut. But, when everything that the angel told Zechariah would happen happened, “immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed.” (Luke 1.64)

What had been shut was now open.

Take Mary.

She was a virgin. Her womb was shut. But, after Mary gave birth to Jesus, their time for purification came. So, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord. Luke 2.23 says they did this because “as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.'”

Take the heavens.

They were closed. But, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened.” (Luke 3.21) The heavens could not have been opened at Jesus’ baptism if they were not closed before it.

Take the door.

Jesus tells a parable about a man who goes to a friend at midnight asking for three loaves. The friend tells the man not to bother him because the door is shut. But, Jesus is that door. “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11.9-10)

Luke repeatedly tells us of things that were previously shut that have now been opened. This is an important theme throughout Luke’s gospel as each shutting and opening foreshadows the final opening of what was shut in Luke’s gospel.

So, take the scriptures.

They were shut to everyone. No one understood their true meaning.

Even the disciples did not understand the scriptures. Because of this, Jesus said the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were slow of heart to believe all the prophets, meaning the scriptures, had spoke. So, Jesus taught them from Moses and all the prophets about himself, how it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and enter into his glory.

Jesus simply teaching these two disciples where he was in all the scriptures did not reveal the true meaning of the scriptures to these two. The answers to they had were still hard to come by. The case was still shut and not open.

But, Jesus broke bread and gave it to them.

In other words, these two disciples experientially shared in the suffering of Jesus. They symbolically received the broken body of Jesus and ate it.

“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'” (Luke 24.31-32)

After doing this for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus did it for the other disciples as well.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” (Luke 24.44-47)

Over and over, Luke shows what was shut is now open.

By the end of Luke’s gospel, the shut and open case of the scriptures has been solved.

The difficult problem of understanding the truth of scripture was solved as the disciples shared in the suffering of the Christ.

Jesus solved the shut and open case of the scriptures for us.

Jesus opens that which has been shut.

Jesus, and only the suffering of Jesus, can open our minds to understand the truth of scripture.

How Did Paul Speak God’s Word Sincerely and Not as a Peddler?

TODAY’S READING: 2 CORINTHIANS 1-4

“For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 2:17

Paul is comparing the ministry of him and his co-workers with others that have come to the Corinthians. Paul says that he and his co-workers speak in Christ in sincerity while the others are peddling God’s word.

So, how did Paul and his co-workers speak in Christ in sincerity and not peddle God’s word?

First, we need to understand that Paul is referring to God’s word and Christ as the same thing. You can be a peddler God’s word or you can speak in Christ. God’s word, or the word of God, and Christ are the same thing.

For Paul, the word of God is not the Bible. Elsewhere in his letters, when Paul is referring to what we know as the Bible, he uses the Greek word graphe, which means writings or scriptures.

Then, for Paul, what is God’s word, the word of God, Christ?

In Luke 24:25, Jesus asked the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then, in Luke 24:46-47, Jesus said to all the disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

It was necessary that Christ should suffer to enter his glory.

Why?

The Christ suffered and rose from the dead so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed.

This is the word of God.

This is Christ.

As Jesus told the disciples, the scriptures – the law, the prophets, and the psalms – witness to this word of God, Christ. But, the scriptures themselves are not the word of God, Christ.

It is the word of God – the necessity of Christ suffering and rising from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins – that was Paul’s singular focus. In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul was occupied with the word of God, Christ.

According to Paul, this word of God, Christ, can be handled in one of two ways. It can be peddle. Or, it can be spoken of in sincerity.

What is the difference?

The Greek word translated peddler is kapeleuo. It means to trade in, to peddle for profit, to traffic in something for gain. Kapelos were small retailers or shopkeepers in comparison with emporos who were much larger merchants. Kapelos were often resellers, trading in second-hand goods.

How does a kapelos sell?

They haggle. They negotiate. They wheel and deal. These traders had a reputation for lying about their product and/or cheating on the price of their product for their own personal gain at the expense of their customers.

Tradition says that a kapelos was typically a wine merchant, but there is little written evidence of this. However, the Septuagint does make this association.  Isaiah 1:21-22 says, “How did a faithful city, Zion, full of justice, in whom justice slept, become a harlot, but now murderers are in her? Your money is not genuine; your innkeepers mix the wine with water.” The word innkeepers is the Greek word kapelos.

How do peddlers sell?

Mixing water into wine. Mixing something of lesser quality into the product they are selling.

But, consider Jesus’ first miracle in John. He turned water into wine. He did not mix wine with water. Therefore, “When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.'” (John 2:9-10)

John says this was the first of Jesus’ signs that manifested his glory (remember the Christ must suffer to enter his glory) and caused the disciples to believe in him. Turning water into wine was such a powerful sign of Jesus’ glory because he said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Jesus came to give life, abundant life. Jesus never mixed anything, especially death, with the life he came to give.

So, a peddler of God’s word mixes something else into the pure message. The pure message is that the Christ needed to suffer and rise from the dead so that repentance and the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed. The peddler, though, mixes other things into that pure message.

Why?

For their own personal gain.

But, Paul is not preaching the word of God, Christ, for his own person gain. He just said that through him and his co-workers God “spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him [Christ] everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)

What does Paul mean that they are a fragrance, the aroma of Christ?

In the Old Testament, when a sacrifice was offered it was done to emit a pleasing aroma to God. So, when Christ was crucified on the cross, his sacrifice emitted a pleasing aroma to God. Not because God was pleased to harm Jesus, but because of the love of God that Christ revealed on the cross. So, Christ’s suffering love emitted this pleasant aroma.

Paul says that he and his co-workers are also emitting this pleasing aroma of suffering love. Therefore, their preaching is a sacrifice. It brings suffering to them. It is not for their own personal gain. It is sincere.

The Greek word for sincerity Paul uses here is eilikrineia. it is a compound word of krinos and eile or eilo. Krinos means judge, discern, distinguish. Eile meas sun. And, eilo means cause to turn.

Some think that that eilekrineia means distinguished from or by the sun. The idea was that the thing being done was suspended from the rays of the sun. Therefore, the thing was pure, without spot, and immaculate.

But, it seems likely that eilo, not eile, is the actual word combined with krinos. In this case, the idea would be a judgment that causes turning. According to the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, the metaphor was that of grain or wheat sorted and purified by rolling or bouncing on the screen. You would end up with pure grain, or grain without mixture.

Therefore, Paul and his co-workers did not mix anything with the pure of God, Christ. Paul preached in sincerity, without mixture, that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

What does preaching a mixed word of God look like versus preaching it purely?

That’s what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3.

To preach a mixed word of God means that you are a minister of the letter. A peddler teaches the literal scriptures. Instead of sticking purely that Christ suffered for you to give you life, the peddler adds the letter of the Old Testament to the pure message of the word of God, Christ. And, the letter of the Old Testament says that you need to offer sacrifices to God, you need to kill, in order to have your sins forgiven.

This is why Paul calls the ministry of the letter, the ministry of the literal reading of the Old Testament, a “ministry of death” and a “ministry of condemnation.” “For the letter kills.”

When you are a peddler of God’s word, you mix in death, condemnation, and causing suffering to the pure word of God, which is dying, justification, and suffering for others so that their sins are forgiven. Having your sins forgiven is life.

Paul contrasts this with his ministry, which is “of the Spirit.” “The Spirit gives life.” Therefore, Paul has a “ministry of righteousness.”

People peddle God’s word for their personal gain. They mix into the pure word of God – Christ must suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins – the need to obey rules, tithe, make sacrifices, etc. to receive forgiveness. Peddlers personally gain from this because they can control those who are following them. This is religion.

Paul’s ministry is not for his personal gain. He himself is suffering by speaking the word of God, Christ, in sincerity, without mixture. Paul’s ministry is of the Spirit, and the Spirit only says what Jesus said – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Therefore, Paul says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Freedom, not control, is the result of Paul’s ministry.

How did Paul preach the word of God, Christ, in sincerity and not as a peddler?

Without adding anything to it.

By the Spirit and not the letter.

Always speaking life, never death.