Both Jews and Christians use the word "messiah," but we mean very different things using the same word. What are those definitions -- and what does the bible say?
I just mentioned that the word messiah appears 39 times in the T'nach. Ask yourself how many times that word is presented as "messiah" in Christian translations? Usually only once (in Daniel 9) where it is presented as "the Messiah" in the King James Version translation. There is no "the" with the word in Daniel 9, and there are no capital letters in Hebrew. Daniel 9 speaks of two messiahs (not one) -- neither of whom is "the" messiah (and again, the word "the" is not found in the text). Some Christian translations also use the word "messiah" in T'hillim / Psalm 2. Those two places are the only two where Christian translators use the word "messiah."
Here are just a few Christian translations to consider -- the word מָשִֽׁיחַ (moshiach aka anointed one) is translated as "anointed one" by Christian translators except for once or twice in Daniel 9 (and sometimes in Psalm 2). Here is a short list, check for yourself:
Most Christian translations of מָשִֽׁיחַ (moshiach aka anointed one) "messiah" in Daniel 9, including the King James Version / KJV, puts the definite article "the" in front of "messiah" ("the messiah") in Daniel 9 although the Hebrew word for "the" does not appear at all ('ha").
Interesting enough the NIV has "the anointed one" in Daniel 9 (and not "messiah") -- but note that they still say "the" even though the word isn't used! Still misleading, it should be "AN anointed one" not "the anointed one."
The T'nach (Hebrew) of Daniel 9 does not say "the messiah." It actually speaks of two anointed ones / messiahs (not one). Neither anointed one (messiah) is "the messiah." The term “THE messiah” (with the definite article “the”) does not occur anywhere at all in the T'nach (Jewish bible). But I digress. The point of this post is to explain the difference in meaning of the word "messiah" for the Christian versus how it is used in the T'nach (Jewish bible) and what it actually means in Hebrew.
If you look up the word "messiah" ("christ" is a modified Greek translation for the word) in your average English dictionary you will find it defined as "the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation prophesied in the Hebrew Bible" or "the expected king and deliverer of the Jews" or even "Jesus regarded by Christians as the Messiah of the Hebrew prophecies and the savior of humankind."
The word "christ" in the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) is "The title, also treated as a name, given to Jesus of Nazareth (see Jesus)."
Since you now know that the word מָשִֽׁיחַ (moshiach aka anointed one) appears 39 times in the T'nach ask yourself about the 37 instances that are presented as "anointed one" and not as "messiah." Ask yourself "why"? Ask yourself -- is the word "messiah" in the T'nach presented as the "expected king and deliverer of the Jews"? Is the word in the bible only pointing to "Jesus regarded by Christians as the messiah of the Hebrew prophecies and the savior of humankind?"
Nope, not even close -- which is why those translations chose to not confuse their readers by presenting the word as "messiah."
The 37 instances of "messiah" which the Christian translators give as "anointed one" and not "messiah" do not fit the Christian theology so they are not presented as "messiah" (which is an Anglicized version of the Hebrew word מָשִֽׁיחַ (moshiach), instead the meaning is given (the actual translation into English. Thus in 37 places it is "anointed one" which most Christians would not realize is presented as "messiah" in Hebrew.
As a result of these misleading translations many Christians think Jesus was the only messiah ever -- and given their mistranslations this is an easy mistake to make.
None of those definitions is correct. The translation of the Hebrew word מָשִֽׁיחַ (moshiach aka anointed one) as Χριστός (Khristós) in the Christian bible is the origin for the word "christ." It should have the identical meaning as the word מָשִֽׁיחַ (moshiach aka anointed one).
Quite simply the Hebrew word מָשִֽׁיחַ (moshiach) -- or "messiah" in English translates to "anointed one."
The noun מָשִֽׁיחַ (moshiach aka anointed one), in English "messiah" occurs 39 times in the T'nach. Thirty-four are nouns and the remaining five are adjectives.
Additionally there are other closely related words, such as מִשְׁחָה mish'ḥah (“anointment”) which occurs, for example, in the expression שֶֽׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת קֹֽדֶשׁ shĕmĕn mish'ḥat kōdĕsh (“anointment-of-holiness oil”)— this term is found twice in Sh'mot / Exodus 30:25 and again in Sh'mot / Exodus 30:31. שֶֽׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת קֹֽדֶשׁ shĕmĕn mish'ḥat kōdĕsh (“anointment-of-holiness oil”) is a special type of anointment with a particular oil for kings -- and this was never done with Jesus. Jesus was never a moshiach (messiah) -- and he did not have the "birth right" to be a rightful king of the Jews.
The Hebrew word is inseparable with the concept of the special oil in my last paragraph. This was a special mixture of spice and olive oil that was used for “anointing” of kings and priests. It is called שֶֽׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת קֹדֶשׁ shemen mish'ḥat kodesh (“Oil of Anointment of Sanctity”) in the passage of Sh'mot / Exodus 30:22-33 which gives the formula for making it and how to properly use it. . .
"G-d spoke to Moses, saying: 30:23 You must take the finest fragrances, 500 [shekels] of distilled myrrh, [two] half portions, each consisting of 250 [shekels] of fragrant cinnamon and 250 [shekels] of fragrant cane, 30:24 and 500 shekels of cassia, all measured by the sanctuary standard, along with a gallon of olive oil. 30:25 Make it into sacred anointing oil. It shall be a blended compound, as made by a skilled perfumer, [made especially for] the sacred anointing oil. 30:26 Then use it to anoint the Communion Tent, the Ark of Testimony, 30:27 the table and all its utensils, the menorah and its utensils, the incense altar, 30:28 the sacrificial altar and all its utensils, the washstand and its base. 30:29 You will thus sanctify them, making them holy of holies, so that anything touching them becomes sanctified. 30:30 You must also anoint Aaron and his sons, sanctifying them as priests to Me. 30:31 Speak to the Israelites and tell them, 'This shall be the sacred anointing oil to Me for all generations. 30:32 Do not pour it on the skin of any [unauthorized] person, and do not duplicate it with a similar formula. It is holy, and it must remain sacred to you. 30:33 If a person blends a similar formula, or places it on an unauthorized person, he shall be cut off [spiritually] from his people." Sh'mot / Exodus 30:22-33.
Thus Saul, David and Solomon were all messiahs -- anointed kings.
Isaiah 45:1 uses the term לִמְשִׁיחוֹ֮ (has anointed).
Rashi's commentary on Isaiah 45:1 is: "Every title of greatness is called anointing. Comp. (Num. 18:8) “To you I have given them for greatness (לְמָשְׁחָה).” Our Sages, however, said: To the King Messiah, the Holy One, blessed be He, says, “I complain to you about Cyrus,” as it is stated in Tractate Megillah 12a." The only kohén (priest) who is ever called הַכֹּהֵן הַמָּשִֽׁיחַ hakohén hamashiyaḥ “the anointed kohén / priest" is the Chief Kohén (in Vayikra / Leviticus 4:3, 4:5, 4:16 and 6:15).
Note that מִשְׁחַת mish'ḥat is basically the same word as מָשִֽׁיחַ moshiach (a “messiah”).
A person cannot, therefore, be “anointed” (in the sense that this word is used in the Scriptures) with water, or with a dove, or with “holy spirit”, or with anything else apart from the compound of spices and olive oil that is specified in the passage I referred to a moment ago. Thus by the very definition of "messiah" in the T'nach Jesus was not a messiah. Jesus was not properly anointed with the שֶֽׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת קֹדֶשׁ shemen mish'ḥat kodesh (“Oil of Anointment of Sanctity”).
Cyrus was not a Jewish king -- the anointing of a Jewish king is unique to Judaism. Cyrus was thus a messiah because he was a properly anointed king of his people.
Would it surprise you to know that Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is a messiah? She is a properly anointed queen of her people.
The first Jewish priest, Aaron, was also a messiah (an anointed one). Moses’ elder brother Aaron and his four sons Nadav, Avihu, El'azar and Itamar) were anointed personally. it was not necessary for subsequent priestly generations to undergo the physical procedure of anointing because the “status” of being “an anointed person” could be inherited by a son from his father.
This is true for kings as well. But the generations must be uncontested.
There was a 600 year gap between the previous Davidic king and Jesus supposed birth. Those 600 years break means that the messiah will have to be anointed with the special oil -- and again this rules out Jesus (as did his parentage, Jesus was never eligible to be the messiah, but I will save that discussion for another post).
Personal anointment for Jewish kings is only necessary in three situations:
There are biblical references the future King who is destined to reign one day over the whole world, but he is never explicitly called a “messiah”. It’s a post-biblical usage in Judaism to refer to him as a “the messiah” The prophet Ezekiel refers to "the messiah" as "the prince. This person is human. He must be descended from a Jewish mother and the father must be a direct descendant of Kings David and Solomon (also with Jewish mothers -- a non-Jewish mother means the child is not Jewish and even if the father is Jewish the child would have no tribal rights).
The messiah will have children, and the messiah (being human) will eventually die. We know that the messiah will not live forever because we are told that his children will inherit.
"Thus says the L-rd G-d: If THE PRINCE gives a gift to any of his sons, it is his inheritance to remain in the their possession; it is their property by inheritance. (17) But if he gives a gift of his inheritance to one of his servants, then it shall be his until the year of liberty, and then it returns to THE PRINCE; only to his sons shall his inheritance belong. (18) THE PRINCE shall not take any of the inheritance of the people to wrongfully force them out of their possession; only from his own possession shall he give his sons inheritance; so that My people should not be scattered, each man from his possession." Ezekiel 46:16-18 .
Although the word anointed (messiah) is used to speak of prophets, prophets were not formally “anointed”.
Even though G-d tells Éliyyahu / Elijah in 1 Kings 19:15-16 to go and “anoint” Ḥaza'él as king of Aram (Syria), Yéhu as king of Israel (the Northern Kingdom), and Ĕlisha as his own successor, He does not tell Éliyyahu / Elijah to take a supply of “Anointing Oil” with him (as He had done, for example, when He sent Samuel to anoint David in 1 Samuel 16:1). None of the three people Éliyyahu / Elijah was to “anoint” was a king of Judah so none of them was eligible to receive שֶֽׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת קֹֽדֶשׁ shĕmĕn mish'ḥat kōdĕsh (“anointment-of-holiness oil”).
When the time came for Éliyyahu / Elijah to appoint Elisha as his own successor, he didn’t actually “anoint” him at all, but simply threw his coat over the latter’s shoulders (1 Kings 19:19), symbolically transferring his authority to him.
So not only is the Christian definition very different from the biblical definition, it misleads the average Christian badly who does not speak and read Hebrew for themselves. Yet again we have very different meanings in the bible versus how it is used in Christianity (including the Christian bible).
The Jewish position on "the" messiah is all found in the T'nach (bible). He will be G-d's servant, ushing in an age of universal peace and Global knowledge of G-d. (Isaiah 2:1-4; Zephaniah 3:9; Hosea 2:20-22; Amos 9:13-15; Isaiah 32:15-18, 60:15-18; Micah 4:1-4; Zechariah 8:23, 14:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34)
We know he will be a descendant of King David and King Solomon who will rule Israel during this messianic era. (Isaiah 11:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; Ezekiel 34:11-31, 37:21-28; Hosea 3:4-5)
Since every King is a messiah, by convention, we refer to this future anointed king as The Messiah.
Sophiee Saguy has been countering false missionary claims about Judaism and the T'nach (Jewish bible) for nearly twenty years. You may find her on FaceBook and at the Messiah Truth forum.