For my first semester of college I attended the local community college. I was Baptist at the time, so as soon as I arrived I joined the Baptist Student Union. A few months later the Christmas season was upon us and some members suggested we promote a ‘Put Christ back in Christmas’ campaign as an objection against the term ‘Xmas’, where the name of Christ is ‘X’d’ out.
They seemed excited about it, but after a bit of discussion I spoke up: “Wait a minute guys; Christ is already in Xmas!” I then explained the ancient use of the Greek letter ‘X’ (Chi) for ‘Christ’; there is nothing nefarious about it.
Most of the earliest Christians spoke Greek, and Christ is spelled ‘Χριστός’. So in their writings they abbreviated words that began with ‘Christ’ as ‘X’ (‘Xian’ for example).
This surprised some of the students, but they accepted the explanation and we didn’t do the campaign. But they were not the only ones who misunderstand the use of Xmas. Many believers mistakenly think it is a deliberate attempt to take Jesus out of the Christmas season.
Other Abbreviations Related to Jesus
Every year around this time believers begin campaigning to put Christ back in Xmas with the idea that the ‘X’ in ‘Xmas’ crosses out Christ. But if we object to the use of ‘X’ to represent ‘Christ’, should we also object to other abbreviations that do not spell out ‘Christ’ or ‘Jesus’? I don’t think anyone wants that.
Here are a number of such abbreviations.
XP – Chi-Rho. Another ancient abbreviation used in the church is the Chi-Rho symbol for Christ, which comprises the first two letters of ‘Χριστός’ (Christos); the P is superimposed over the X to create a Christogram. The Chi element in the symbol also depicts the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and you can still see the Chi-Rho in Christian contexts today.
IXθYΣ. Who hasn’t ridden behind a car displaying this set of Greek letters inside the outline of a fish? The word IXθYΣ (sounds like Ickthoos) is Greek for ‘Fish’–a symbol used very early by Christians as a code indicating that one is a Christian. The letters represent Jesus Christ, Son (of) God, Savior.
IHS (Iota, Eta, Sigma). Many churches also use the early symbol IHS which are capitals of the first three letters of Jesus in Greek (ΙΗΣΟΎΣ). It is found on communion wafers, altars, baptismal fonts, books, stained glass, and in other places.
INRI (Latin). The earliest of all abbreviations representing Jesus is found in the Bible itself, but it was not a Greek abbreviation but a Latin one. When Pilate had Jesus crucified, he ordered a placard nailed on the cross above his head bearing ‘INRI’, which in Latin stands for Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews.
Early believers also used an abbreviation for a word describing Jesus that did not include the words ‘Christ’ or ‘Jesus’. It is still popular today.
AΩ – Alpha and Omega. Everyone is familiar with the Alpha-Omega; the phrase is found in three places in the book of Revelation to represent Jesus as the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
Abbreviations for Jesus are Part of Our Christian Heritage
These abbreviations are part of our rich heritage. What a loss for us if we no longer had these old symbols of Jesus; let’s not try to ban any of these legitimate abbreviations for our Lord—including Xmas.
So MERRY XMAS to you! I hope you are having a happy holiday season.
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