Greetings again dear reader:
A few days ago I saw a post in Facebook posing a question. However, I can’t remember exactly where so decided to write on the subject here and post links in several places hoping my reflections might help. The question was asked why we find in the Greek text Jesus called Jesus Christ in some places and Christ Jesus in others? After reflecting on the question some while other things were going on I finally figured out how I wanted to address it. The answer is really kind of simple, but the explanation not so for the layman in linguistics. So please let me lay a little ground work as simply as I can.
Humans are such a diverse collection of tribes in every sense of the word. Through the millennia since our creation we’ve tried about every way to live possible, and out speech is no exception. Of course students know the story of hos our languages became so diverse in the first place. After the flood of Noah’s day some men succeeded in concentrating most of the early population in Mesopotamia and tried to challenge God. Their first attempt to frustrate his plans were brought to an end when he went down to where they were and scrambled the people into many languages, the Bible hints at around 70 were created. The story is found at Genesis chapter eleven.
Those who study languages, of which there are now thousands, find an astonishing number of ways to express meaning in human languages. But the two most common ways, which to some extent can be found in almost every language on earth either singly or together are word position in a sentence and word inflection. The first is self-explanatory; words derive their function from their position in a sentence. The second, inflexion, is the method whereby words derive their function from adding endings, prefixes or both to a root, or foundational word.
English combines both methods. I see Jane. Is a simple sentence in English where the first word is the subject, the second the verb, indicating action, and the object, indicating the recipient of the action. We instinctively know the function of each word from it’s position. But look at word two in the same sentence, see. The meaning of the sentence would change completely if we changed it to saw or have seen. Notice the word itself has three different forms. That is an example of inflection.
For hundreds of years students have learned the Latin sentence “pullae poeta amant.” The means “the girls love the poet.” Now in Latin the word order is almost irrelevant. We can write that in any of the nine ways it can be written as far as word order goes and it still means the same thing. That is because words in Latin primarily derive their function, or relationship to each other from the ending of the word. True, Latin does have a customary word order which was habitual, and the example is in that word order, but that is almost unimportant, more on that in a minute.
Greek, like Latin, is what linguists call a highly inflected language. That means that function mostly derives from form. Take the definite article, or the word the in English, in Greek it has twenty two forms to wit:
Ο, η, το
Του, της, του
Τω, τη, τα
Οι, αι, τα
Των, των, των
Τοις, ταις, τοις
Although some forms appear to repeat they are considered different, yet all mean the in English. Verbs, pronouns, nouns, and other classes of words have their own set of endings and these are the prime determinants of relationship and subtlety of meaning for Greek words just like Latin. It is easily possible to mix up word order and still get the same meaning. Often dialects of Greek primarily differentiate themselves by subtle differences in the word order the particular Greek population used. For instance Koine speakers often used Semitic word order simply because their primary language was another, like Aramaic. That’s much like English speakers today reversing the proper order of Spanish nouns and Adjectives, which in Spanish are in the reverse of English when speaking in Spanish.
Now that we’ve laid the foundation we can move onto the likely answer to the question, which is kind of simple. Remember the Latin sentence from earlier? While there was a word order which were “normal” changes in word order were used to subtly lay emphasis. The general rule in that and Greek is that of any two words, sometimes more, the one on the left had more emphasis than the one on the right. We can illustrate that in English with the phrase in question. In the case of Jesus Christ the name, Jesus, or who he is carries the emphasis and the two words are often thought of and used as his name.
However when we reverse the order, placing the modifier first, Christ Jesus, it is the title, what he is which is emphasized. The stress is laid on the fact he is the Christ or Messiah. It is a subtle way to indicate meaning for us which those other than we writers often aren’t conscious of but it’s there all the same.
So it is with ancient Greek. Normally a modifier of a word will come after it, like in Spanish. Thus a black wall becomes in Greek a wall black. However, if an ancient Greek wanted to emphasize the wall being black he could reverse the word order and his readers would know that he was talking about a black wall. So word order had its role in ancient Greek.
In the case of the phrase we’re talking about the order in Greek which Christ follows Jesus is treated much like a name in English and has roughly the same meaning as the Greek through usage that way. And reversing it has the same effect in English as the Greek. This is a case of the rule being the exception in English. Because of that translators render the two words together as they appear in the Greek as a rule. I won’t get into exceptions here as there is at least one I can think of which involves the presence or lack of the definite article.
I hope this little tour through linguistics and Greek grammar was helpful for those who wonder about that topic.