Friday, December 21, 2012

Xmas or Christmas?

During this time of year a lot of folks get hung up on the use of the term "Xmas." Most think of it as the world trying to take Christ out of Christmas. I can fully understand their reasoning for it surely looks to be so. And to be sure, for some it is so. We are living at a time in history when the news media and most government and public sectors would like to see Jesus completely eradicated. But this is just a pipe-dream for them because it will never be. You may take Jesus out of the public eye but you cannot remove Jesus from the heart. The question is, "Is it ok to use "Xmas" in place of Christmas. Theologically, linguistically,  and historically the answer is yes. I have always known the "X" to stand for the Greek letter "Chi". Chi is the first letter of the name of Christ in the Greek language which is the language that most of the New testament was written in. The early church used this widely when they scribbled symbols on walls and in caves leaving a witness of their early first century presence. A very good example is the Greek word "Icthus" which means "Fish". Since Christ called His followers "Fishers of Men" it is easy to see why this had so much meaning. But it even goes deeper than just the symbol of the fish. The word "ICHTHUS" in Greek is "ΙΧΘΥΣ" the same word you see on millions of bumper stickers and placards on automobiles. It is what we call an acronym. Each letter as a special meaning: Iesous (I-Iota), Christos (X-Chi), Theou (Θ-Theta), Uios (Υ-Upsilon), and Sotor (Σ-Sigma). This translates to Jesus the Christ, God's Son, our Savior!!

For some reason we do not care if Christ is represented by "X-Chi" in the Fish Symbol but we get all riled up when it is used in "Xmas". I say let the secularists, atheists, modernists, liberals, and progressives use it! Inadvertently, and most likely unknowingly, they are still associating Christ's name with the "Holy Day" or holiday.

Another use of the letter "X" is it's symbolism for the cross. Christ died on the cross for the sins of mankind. So using the "X" was also of great import to early believers as well as believers today. Most all churches around the world have a Cross somewhere in or in the building. Any many Christians don it around their necks as a symbol of their faith. For more on this see the history below.

On the flip side of the coin, as a Christian, I also must be aware of those who do not know the above reason for using "X" or "Chi" for Christ's name. Therefore, because they do not know it I prefer to never use it. But if I see it I am never offended, I just say "Merry Christmas to you as well!" 

For some early history David Capes writes the following on the "Hear the Voice Blog," titled Xmas: is it taking Christ out of Christmas? 

Early Christians developed their own way of signaling respect for the names and titles associated with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Copying the New Testament books in Greek, they abbreviated the names (usually first letter and last letter) and placed a line above those letters. You can see this in the picture.  Scholars refer to these as nomina sacra (Latin for “sacred names”).  Copyists continued to write sacred names this way for centuries.  It remains a common practice still among artists who create the icons used in the eastern churches.  Many names and titles were written this way including “God,” “Father,” “Jesus,” “Son of God,” “Son of Man,” “Christ,” “Lord,” “Holy Spirit.” For our purposes note the nomina sacra for “Christ;” it was written XC. Now remember these are letters from the Greek alphabet not our Latinized version. It is not “X” (eks) the 24th letter of our English alphabet but the Greek letter “Chi,” the first letter of the title “Christ.”

Earliest versions of writing Christmas as “Xmas” in English go back to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (about 1100).  This predates the rise of secularism by over 600 years.  The Oxford English Dictionary cites the use of “X-“ for “Christ” as early as 1485.  In one manuscript (1551) Christmas is written as “X’temmas.”  English writers from Lord Byron (1811) to Samuel Coleridge (1801) to Lewis Carroll (1864) used the spelling we are familiar with today, “Xmas.”

The origin of “Xmas” does not lie in secularists who are trying to take Christ out of Christmas, but in ancient scribal practices adopted to safeguard the divine name and signal respect for it.  The “X” in “Xmas” is not the English letter (eks) as in “X marks the spot,” but it is the initial Greek letter of the title “Christ."

For some history of the cross see BAR issue Nov/Dec 1979 -Crosses in the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Waystation on the Road to the Christian Cross -Jack Finegan.

He wrote: "These are the first letters of the Greek words When alphabets were invented in about 1700 B.C., a variety of signs were devised to signify different letters. The cross-mark naturally lent itself for this purpose. It is found in alphabets used to write a number of ancient languages, including Canaanite, Phoenician, Aramaic, and Hebrew. In proto-Sinaitic inscriptions at Serabit el-Khadem in the Sinai Desert, the sign is written as +; in a Phoenician inscription at Byblos it is written as X. In ancient Hebrew (prior to the adoption of the square Arabic characters still used today) the last letter of the alphabet was written interchangeably as + or X. The Hebrew name of this letter—Taw (pronounced Tov) may also be translated as the Hebrew word for “mark.”3 Job, in lamenting his woes, exclaims, “Here is my mark, let the Almighty answer me.”

The Semitic name Taw became Tau in the Greek alphabet and “T” in the Latin alphabet. But as the last character in the Hebrew alphabet, the Semitic Taw was sometimes considered the equivalent of Omega, the last letter in the Greek alphabet. Because of its form, as either + or X, the Semitic Taw was also considered equivalent to the Greek Chi, which was written over the centuries both as + and X. The later and now more usual form of the Greek Chi was X, like the Latin X.

Note the "X's" in Margin of the Isaiah Scroll
Near the beginning of his work “On Weights and Measures,”Epiphanius lists a number of signs which are employed, he says, in manuscripts of the prophetic writings of the Bible. One of these signs is a cross-mark and appears in the Greek manuscripts of Epiphanius as +, and in the Syriac manuscripts of Epiphanius as X. In other words, it is precisely the cross-mark which we have described above, and which appears in the Isaiah Scroll from Qumran in the X-form, marking the passages listed. This sign, Epiphanius says, stands for the Messiah, the Christ, and is used to mark passages of messianic import."

I agree with David and after reading this I hope you will as well. Although I prefer to say "Merry Christmas" and most always will, for this post I do not have any qualms saying "Merry Xmas" to you and your families this Holy Day season!
God Bless  


Bernie Lutchman said...