Jesus is arguably the most commonly referenced name on earth. It is used by believers who hold the name in high regard and non-believers who ridicule it. It is written in spiritual and fiction literature for all manner of reasons. But not everyone who says “lord, lord” actually understands the name of Jesus. For instance, some use the name Jesus H. Christ without even understanding its meaning.
The early Christians used a symbol that combined the first four letters of the Greek alphabet that spelled the word Jesus. These three were JHS or JHC. Eventually, the non-Greek-speaking Christians assumed it was a Latin abbreviation and therefore assumed that H. was the middle name of Christ.
We will look into this in more detail below but first, let’s define the name Jesus Christ.
The Meaning of Jesus Christ
Before we delve into the meaning of H, let us first look at the meaning fo Jesus Christ. The name Jesus is a transliteration of the Latin name Lesus which was also transliterated from the Greek name Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoũs). This Greek term was a Hellenized form of the ancient Aamiaic name יֵשׁוּעַ (yēšūă‘), which was a shorter version of the Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (y’hoshuaʿ) that literally means “Yahweh is Salvation.”
y’hoshuaʿ was the Hebrew name that was originally given to Joshua who took over from Moses and led Israel into conquering their promised land. Because of this history, yēšūă‘ was a common male name in Galilee and Judea during the time of Jesus. This explains why there are several people who are mentioned in the New Testament with the same name. These include Jesus Barabbas, and Jesus Justus (Colossians 4:11).
Christ is another interesting name. Even though we consider it a name today, it wasn’t originally so. Christ is actually a descriptive title that was given to Jesus. It’s purpose was to distinguish Jesus from the other Jesus as well as introduce him. The English word Christ is a transliteration of the Latin word Christus which was Latinized from the Greek word Χριστός (Christós). Christos literally means “the anointed one.” Jesus Christ is therefore Jesus, the anointed one.
The origins and meaning of h
The addition of H to the name of Jesus Christ to end up with Jesus H. Christ is believed to have originated from the Chi Rho monogram that was used by early Christians to denote Jesus Christ. The symbol was derived from the first three letters in spelling the Greek name of Jesus (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ). These three letters can be transliterated to iota-eta-sigma and they can be written as IHS or IHC. Eventually, the I was substituted for J because J was historically a variant of I. This resulted in the abbreviation JHS or JHS being used as an abbreviation for Jesus. The three letters were then superimposed to come up with the Chi Rho monogram
This symbol was used by the early Christians to avoid writing the name of Jesus Christ in full. As the gospel spread, some Christians who didn’t understand the origin of the symbol thought the JHC was a short form of the full name of Jesus. It is not clear when this misconception took root but it was around the 19th century. This misconception was probably started by Americans because they were accustomed to the Latin alphabet but were mostly ignorant of the Greek alphabet. Originally, the symbol was JHS but they substituted the S for C and then made the assumption that the three letters in the symbols represented the three names of Jesus. But since no one knew what H stood for, they just accepted it as a letter that represented the middle name of Jesus. This is what gave birth to the tradition of referring to Jesus as Jesus H. Christ.
After the name caught on, and especially after it became apparent that no one knew what the H stood for, the name Jesus H. Christ started to be used as a joke or a mild expletive.
The famous American author, Mark Twain, narrates a story in his autobiography of how one of his friends used the name as a practical joke. Twain recounts how he was an apprentice at a printing shop and how Alexander Campell, who was a famous evangelist, hired their firm to print some gospel pamphlets. Just before they went to print, the editors realized they needed to make room for some extra words so they shortened the name Jesus Christ to J.C. When Campbell read the proofs, he was not amused and indignantly protested saying “So long as you live, don’t you ever diminish the Savior’s name again. Put it all in” The printing firm obliged but took it a step further – they printed the name as Jesus H. Christ.
Why Jesus H. Christ is blasphemy
As we have already demonstrated, adding the H to the name of Jesus was done in error. The fact that people continue to use it as a joke is enough reason to say that using it is blasphemous.
Blasphemy is the act of showing disrespect or irreverence towards God or sacred things. When you speak something untrue about God, you are guilty of blasphemy. And God doesn’t take the sin of blasphemy very lightly. In fact, it was a capital crime under the Mosaic covenant.
“Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.” (Mark 14:64)
When issuing the 10 commandments, God specifically stated that his name should not be used in vain. The addition of H to his name as a joke is one example of using God’s name in vain. As the Bible records, anyone who uses God’s name in vain is guilty of breaking the law and liable for the consequences. Granted, we live under the covenant grace so you may not necessarily be stoned to death for using God’s name in vain. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have escaped God’s judgment.
As we have seen, H was added erroneously to the name of Jesus when meaning was lost in transliteration. Every Christian must therefore desist from referring to Jesus as Jesus H. Christ. Otherwise, you will be guilty of blasphemy which is considered a capital offense in God’s law.