Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus
by John D. Morris, Ph.D.
“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20)
The doctrine of verbal inspiration implies that not only are the words of Scripture inspired, but the very order in which they appear is also inspired. Studies by commentators and translators have rightly noted that a change in the order of the words would at times change the meaning or emphasis of a passage. This phenomenon is often seen in the order in which the various names of Christ appear. By noting this order, one may sometimes gain new insight into a passage.
While the name Jesus, alone, normally appears in the gospels and the book of Acts, the compound name Jesus Christ appears on occasion. Interestingly, the same compound name is used exclusively by the disciples John and Peter in their letters, and by James and Jude, the brothers of our Lord. Of course, these men knew Him first by His human name, Jesus, and only fully comprehended the fact that He was the Christ (meaning “the Anointed,” or “the Messiah”) after His resurrection and ascension.
Paul, on the other hand, first encountered Christ in all His glory on the road to Damascus. Perhaps, as a consequence, he frequently reversed the order, speaking of Christ Jesus, although he used both orders many times.
The reason for this choice of order perhaps can best be illustrated in Philippians 2:5-11. In verse 5, Paul described the Anointed One, who first emptied Himself of certain aspects of His deity to take on human form. Therefore, Paul used the name Christ Jesus. In verse 11, however, the order is reversed. In this case, as in our text, the movement is from humanity to glory. In one, the glory of the risen Savior is emphasized; in the other, the glory that we shall share with Him. This glory is assured us through His victory. JDM