Χριστός in Luke (Part 1)

by James Dowden

1. Introductory bit in which I observe how unrevolutionary this methodology is

Way, way back in 1953, Nils Dahl wrote an essay entitled “Die Messianität Jesu bei Paulus”, in which he made four observations of how Paul used the term χριστός:

  • it is never a general term (rather than a byname for Jesus of Nazareth)
  • it is never part of a copula predicate (“to be the χριστός”)
  • it is never modified by a genitive (“God’s χριστός”)
  • the definite article is usually absent

On this basis, Dahl concluded that in Paul, χριστός was a proper name, i.e. Christ.

So what happens if we look at these four criteria in Luke?

2. Let’s get on to Luke

In the SBL text of Luke, the word χριστός appears twelve times (the Textus Receptus adds a thirteenth), namely at 2.11,26; 3.15; 4.41; 9.20; 20.41; 22.67; 23.2,35,39; 24.26,46.

A. General term or byname

In ten of the twelve cases, χριστός is clearly a general term. The exceptions are 2.11 and 23.2, which will be further discussed at C and D below respectively.

B. Copula predicate

Eight (2.11; 3.14; 4.41; 9.20; 22.67; 23.2,35,39) are part of a copula predicate. Three more (20.41; 24.26,46) discuss the identity of the χριστός without using this grammatical structure.

C. Modified by a genitive

On three occasions in the text (and in a variant of another), χριστός is modified by a genitive:

  • the Lord’s χριστός at 2.26 (κυρίου without article, which coupled with the so-called Septuagintal style of chapters 1-2…)
  • God’s χριστός at 9.20 and 23.35

UBS3 notes a variant at 2.11. Although it presents χριστὸς κύριος (“Christ the Lord”) in the main text and gives it an A rating, some Old Latin and Syriac manuscripts, along with the Diatessaron and a quotation in Ephraem have χριστὸς κυρίου (“the Lord’s anointed”).

D. Presence of definite article

The definite article is present in ten of the twelve cases. The exceptions are 2.11 and 23.2.

The absence of the article is easily explicable at 23.2, due to the juxtaposition with another noun without the article:

καὶ λέγοντα αὑτὸν χριστὸν βασιλέα εἶναι
and saying he is the Messiah, a king

Nevertheless, this clause is genuinely ambiguous: it could also be read as:

  • a proper name: “and saying he is Christ, a king”
  • an adjective: “and saying he is an anointed king”

3. Preliminary conclusion

These four criteria are good evidence that Luke’s use of χριστός is diametrically opposite to that Dahl found in Paul. At least from chapter 3 onward — we will leave the peculiar style of chapters 1-2 aside for now — Luke consistently uses χριστός as a title, and not as a name.

Coming up in Part 2: can we tell anything from Luke’s redaction of Mark and Matthew*?
* aka “Q” for two-source hypothesis fans.

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