Where does ‘Masih’ of Isa & ‘Christ’ of Jesus come from?

The Qur’an refers to Isa (Jesus – PBUH) as ‘al Masih’.  What does this mean?  Where does it come from?  Why do Christians refer to him as ‘the Christ’?  Is ‘Masih’ the same as ‘Christ’ or is this some contradiction or corruption?  The Zabur (Psalms) provides the answers to these important questions.  However, to understand what I write in this article you need to first read the article on ‘How was the Bible translated?’ as I will use the background knowledge that was explained in that article to help us understand these questions about ‘Masih’ or ‘Christ’.

The Origin of ‘Christ’

In the figure below I follow the translation process as explained in ‘How was the Bible translated?’, but this time I am specifically focusing on the word ‘Christ’ that appears in  the modern-day Injil or New Testament.

The translation process showing that ‘Anointed One’ = ‘Messiah’ = ‘Christ’

You can see that in the original Hebrew of the Zabur (Psalms) the term was ‘mashiyach’ which the Hebrew dictionary defines as an ‘anointed or consecrated’ person. This is Quadrant #1 in the figure.  Certain passages of the Zabur (Psalms) spoke of a specific mashiyach (with a definite article ’the’) who was prophesied to come. When the Septuagint was developed in 250 BC (see How was the Bible translated), the scholars used a word in the Greek for the original Hebrew mashiyach that had a similar meaning – Christos – which came from chrio, which meant to rub ceremonially with oil. Therefore the word Christos was translated by meaning (and not transliterated by sound) from the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ into the Greek Septuagint to refer to this specific person. This is Quadrant #2 in the figure.  The disciples of Isa (Jesus – PBUH) understood that he was this very person that was spoken of in the Septuagint so they continued to use the term Christos in the Injil (or New Testament). (again in Quadrant #2)

But with modern-day English (or other languages), there was no readily recognized word with a similar meaning so ‘Christos’ was then transliterated from the Greek into English (and other European languages) as ‘Christ’. This is the lower half of the figure labelled #3.  Thus the English ‘Christ’ is a very specific title with Old Testament roots (specifically from Psalms of Zabur), that comes by translation from Hebrew to Greek, and then transliteration from Greek to English. The Hebrew Zabur is translated directly to English and translators have used different words in rendering the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ into English. Some  (like King James) transliterated the Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ to the English word Messiah by sound. Others (like New International) translated ‘mashiyach’ by its meaning and so have ‘Anointed One’ in these specific passages of the Psalms (or Zabur). In either case we do not see the word ‘Christ’ in the English Psalms and therefore this connection to the Old Testament is not obvious. But from this analysis we know that in the Bible (or al kitab):

‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’

and that it was a specific title. The original Greek readers of the New Testament would have directly seen the Christos from the Septuagint and would have seen the direct connection, while we have to follow this analysis to see it.

So where does ‘Masih’ come from in Qur’an?

So far I have shown how ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’ which are equivalent titles that you find in different parts of the Bible (al kitab).  But what about how ‘Christ’ is referred to in Qur’an?  To answer I will extrapolate from the figure above which showed the flow of Mashiyach->Christ in the Bible (al kitab).

The figure below expands the process to include the Arabic Qur’an which was written after the Hebrew and Greek translations of the Bible (al kitab).  You can see that I have divided quadrant #1 into two parts.  Part 1a is the same as before dealing with the original ‘mashiyach’ in Hebrew Zabur as explained above.  Part 1b now follows this term into Arabic.  You can see that the term ‘mashiyac’h was transliterated (i.e. by similar sound) in the Qur’an (as مسيح).  Then, when Arabic-speaking readers of the Qur’an rendered the word into English they again transliterated it as ‘Masih’.

The translation process showing that ‘Anointed One’ = ‘Masih’ = ‘Messiah’ = ‘Christ’

With this background knowledge we can see that they are all the same title and all mean the same thing in the same way that “4= ‘four’ (English) = ‘quatre’ (French) = IV (Roman numbers) = 6-2 = 2+2.

The Christ anticipated in 1st Century

Armed with this insight, let’s make some observations from the Gospel (the Injil). Below is the reaction of King Herod when the wise men from the East came looking for the king of the Jews, a well-known part of the story of the birth of Isa (Jesus – PBUH). Notice, ‘the’ precedes Christ, even though it is not referring specifically about Isa (Jesus – PBUH).

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. (Matthew 2:3-4)

You can see that the very idea of ‘the Christ’ was already commonly accepted between Herod and his religious advisors – even before Isa (Jesus – PBUH) was born – and it is used here without referring specifically to him. This is because, as explained above, ‘Christ’ comes from the Zabur (Psalms) written hundreds of years earlier by Prophet and King Dawud (David – PBUH), and it was commonly read by Jews of the 1st century (like Herod and the chief priests of his day) in the Greek Septuagint. ‘Christ’ was (and still is) a title, not a name. From this we can dismiss right away the ridiculous notions that ‘Christ’ was a Christian invention or an invention by someone like the Roman Emperor Constantine of 300 AD popularized by movies like Da Vinci Code. The title was in existence hundreds of years before there were any Christians or before Constantine came to power.

Prophecies of ‘The Christ’ in Zabur

Let’s look at these first occurrences of the prophetic title ‘Christ’ in Zabur (the Psalms), written by Prophet Dawood (David – PBUH)  ca 1000 BC – far, far before the birth of Isa (Jesus – PBUH).

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Anointed One … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill….”. (Psalm 2:2-4)

The Greek Septuagint was far more widely read than the Hebrew in the first century (for both Jews and Gentiles). Psalm 2 of Zabur in the Septuagint would read in the following way (I am putting it in English with a transliterated Christos so you can ‘see’ the Christ title like a reader of the Septuagint could)

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Christ … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill … (Psalm 2)

You can now ‘see’ Christ in this passage like a reader of the 1st century would have. And the following transliteration would have exactly the same meaning:

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Masih … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill … (Psalm 2 of Zabur)

But the Zabur (Psalms) continue with more references to this coming Christ or Masih. I put the standard passage side-by-side with a transliterated one with ‘Christ’ and with ‘Masih’  so you can see it.

Psalm 132- From Hebrew Psalm 132 – From Septuagint Psalm 132 of Zabur with Arabic transliteration
O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant, do not reject your anointed one.11 The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne—
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my anointed one. 18 I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown on his head will be resplendent.”
O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant, do not reject your Christ.11 The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants I will place on your throne— …17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my Christ. 18 I will clothe his enemies with shame, but the crown on his head will be resplendent.”
O Lord, … For the sake of  Dawud your servant, do not reject your Masih.11 The Lord swore an oath to Dawud, a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants I will place on your throne— …17 “Here I will make a horn grow for Dawud and set up a lamp for my Masih. 18 I will clothe his enemies with shame, but the crown on his head will be resplendent.”

You can see that Psalm 132 specifically speaks in the future tense (“…I will make a horn for David (or Dawud)…”), like so many passages throughout the Taurat and Zabur. This is important to remember when assessing the prophecies. It is as clear as words can be that the Zabur makes future-looking claims and predictions – and this is without considering the Injil. Herod was aware that the Old Testament prophets made predictions about the coming ‘Christ’ – which was why he was ready for this announcement. He just needed his advisers to fill him in on the specifics of these predictions because he did not know the Zabur very well. The Jews are known to be waiting for their Messiah (or Christ). The fact that they are waiting or looking for the coming of their Messiah has nothing to do with Isa (or Jesus – PBUH) in the Injil or New Testament (since they ignore that) but rather has everything to do with the explicitly future-looking prophecies in the Zabur.

The prophecies of Taurat & Zabur: Specified like a lock of a lock-n-key system

The fact that the Taurat and Zabur are explicitly predictive of the future makes them uniquely like the lock of a door. A lock is designed in a certain shape specification so that only a specific ‘key’ that matches the specification can unlock it. In the same way the Old Testament is like a lock. We saw that the specifications are not just in these two Psalms I looked at here but already we have seen others in the posts on the Great Sacrifice of Ibrahim (PBUH), and the Passover of the Prophet Musa (PBUH) and the coming Sign of the Virgin’s Son (please review if they are not familiar).  Psalm 132 of Zabur adds the specification that ‘the Christ’ would be from the line of Prophet and King Dawud (=David – PBUH).  So the specifications of the ‘lock’ become more and more precise as we read the prophetic passages through the Old Testament. But the Zabur does not end with these prophecies.  It tells us in much further detail what the Masih would be and do.  We continue in our next article.

One thought on “Where does ‘Masih’ of Isa & ‘Christ’ of Jesus come from?

  1. One point:
    The Arabic word مسیح is, I believe, not a transliteration of the Hebrew. If it were, would not the final letter be a خ (kh) rather than a ح (h)?
    My Arabic dictionary derives it from the root مَسَحَ (masaha) – to wipe, stroke, comb, wash (with water), anoint etc. مسیح , my dictionary says, means smooth, anointed, Messiah, … and great traveller.
    Most of our friends do masah during their wudhu (washing) before salaat (prayers). This is the wiping of water onto the head, neck and ears. I’ve just come across this demonstration on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DmoChMnnwg. Masah starts at 4.30 and ends at 7.45.
    Just as in wudhu masah, performed on oneself with water, is a preparation for salaat, so in the Bible masah, performed by another with oil, is preparation for prophethood, priesthood or kingship. Al-Masih (THE One wiped with oil) is the one who has been supremely prepared for all three roles.
    Many of our friends don’t know why the word Masih is applied to ‘Isa. We have the wonderful privilege of explaining it.
    May Almighty Allah remind our friends 5 times a day of the One who was given the highest masah.

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