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Christ, from the Greek Χριστός, or Khristós, means anointed, and is equivalent to the Hebrew term Messiah. In the Christian religion it is a proper name for Jesus of Nazareth.

History in the Old Testament

In the Hebrew faith tradition, anointing (with oil) was a key element of religious ceremony by which specific people were explicitly marked or set aside for a specific role: priests, kings, and prophets. In some cases other materials were anointed with oil as well, to prepare them for religious ceremony. The importance of anointing is sometimes stressed by mentioning the need for it alongside reference to the person in question: e.g., "The priest that is anointed shall carry of the blood into the tabernacle of the testimony" (Lev 4:16). The Jews grew to expect a savior who would embody the elements of priest, king, and prophet, and whom they therefore termed "the Messias", which served as a title. The association with being anointed and being the savior makes these words in some senses equivalent. They expressed their hopes for this savior particularly in their prayers known as the Psalms, which often make reference to "his anointed", many of which references Christians interpret as prophetical.

History in the New Testament

In the New Testament it is indicated that the savior, long awaited, did come: He experienced not an anointing with oil, but "is inducted by His heavenly Father into His Messianic office" (Ott; see Lk 3:22). As Jesus demonstrates, over time, to his disciples that he is the savior, they come to call him by that name, which again was a title, i.e. normal usage being "the Christ". After the Resurrection "Christ" became a proper name used to refer to Jesus.

Distinction between "Jesus" and "Christ"

Today the term "Christ" is largely synonymous with "Jesus". A difference in usage is sometimes for variety of speech, and sometimes a subtlety intended to emphasize the totality of His person and function in salvation. For example, Ott refers to "Jesus" when emphasizing an event in the New Testament, while he refers to "Christ" in discussing the nature of God.

Related uses of anointing

Anointing is used in the New Testament to heal the sick, to bless for ministry, to give thanks to Jesus, and to prepare for burial. As Christ was the anointed one, so is apostolic succession, manifest in those priests who carry on the ministry of Christ, premised upon an anointing. Oil is used in a number of Christian sacraments. Practices vary slightly from East to West. Every Christian in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches is anointed with oil at least once, if they receive the sacraments according to plan.

Gnostic christ

The gnostics generally believed not in a Jesus who was a fusion of a Divine Person and a human person, but in a spiritual Christ who indwelt Jesus and left him at different times, and who did not suffer death. Through the spiritual path of gnosticism, followers of these schools believed that they could experience the same knowledge, or gnosis. Their theology was or is dualistic and premised upon demigods, salvation for the elect, and the actions of God who sends periodic saviors.

Sanskrit: a possible origin of the term

Hare Krishna writers consider plausible an etymological link between the Sanskrit term krishna and the term christ. According to one example of this theory, "krishna" means "all attractive" and is a term for God. By considering the apparently equivalent functions the respective terms are intended to fulfill, as well as the related sounds, it is proposed that "krishna" is analogous to and a root for "christ".

Slang usage

The term "Christ" is often used merely for emphasis, especially in surprise or anger, without direct reference to, while yet drawing from, the historical meaning and weight the word carries. People with religious sensibility find this usage offensive, as they use the word in prayer and other serious contexts.