The word Messiah is found only twice in the New Testament, both in the fourth Gospel. Historically, the first occurs with the woman at the well. The second is a parenthetic note added by John at the time the Gospel is written:

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah comes, he who is called [λεγόμενος] Christ. When he has come, he will declare to us all things.” (4:25 WEB)

He first found his own brother, Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which is, being interpreted [μεθερμηνευόμενον], Christ) (1:41 WEB)

Since John is adding the note to Andrew's statement why not say "which is called Christ."

Is John saying the woman's understanding, which he accurately reports, is not quite right; that the Messiah is interpreted yet not called Christ? Or is he adding to what the woman says; that the Messiah is both called and interpreted Christ?

Why does John use interpreted/μεθερμηνευόμενον if the Messiah is called/λεγόμενος Christ?


3 Answers 3



As existing answers note: (1) "messiah" (Hebrew mashiach) and "christ" (Greek christos) are equivalent words meaning "anointed one", and in the context of Graeco-Roman Judaism and early Christianity these were technical terms referring to a future agent of divine deliverance. And (2), in the gospel of John, Hebrew and Aramaic words are regularly translated for readers: see 1:38,41,42; 9:7; 19:17; 20;16. These are all given as parenthetical asides by the evangelist.

OP asks about two such cases, and 1:41, and 4:25. The facts noted above are sufficient for explaining 1:41, and it features in the list of such texts under my (2), above.

The Strange Case of 4:25

However, 4:25 calls for a slightly different explanation, even though it, too, is a parenthetical explanation in context. Typically when "translation explanations" are provided in gJohn, either the verb μεθερμηνεύω methermēneuō or ἑρμηνεύω hermēneuō -- related, obviously, meaning something like "interpret" or "translate" -- is used. In 4:25 the formulation is slightly different:

...he who is called [ὁ λεγόμενος ho legomenos] Christ...

using a participial form of the verb λέγω legō, "to speak". There are two occasions when this verb is used to explain a translation, 19:17 and 20:16; but in both of these it is made explicitly clear that a translation is being offered.

There are, however, a number of places where gJohn offers an alternate designation for identifying an individual using λεγόμενος: John 9:11 (referring to Jesus himself), and John 11:16; 20:24; and 21:2, each of which identifies Thomas as "the Twin" (Θωμᾶς ὁ λεγόμενος Δίδυμος).

Why should this formulation be used in 4:25, then?

It is widely noted in the commentaries that Samaritans did not have a specifically messianic expectation. Rather, the Samaritan hope was to look towards the "Taheb" -- a "returning one" or "restoring one" (rather than "anointed one"), a coming prophet like Moses (not a king like David) who would inaugurate a reign of beatific peace.1

Commentators sometimes pause at 4:25 to reflect that the Samaritan "woman at the well" was not expecting a messiah, but a taheb. However, as noted by John Bowman and repeated by commentators after him, the discussion that unfolds is very much in "Samaritan" terms, even though the nomenclature is "Jewish".2

Now, it's possible that this information isn't needed to see that in John 4:25 "Christ" is to "Messiah" as "Didymus" is to "Thomas" in later passages, that is, an alternate designation for the individual in question. But it does highlight the further linguistic adjustment that gJohn makes in recounting the story in John 4.


So to return to OP's question, then:

Why does John use interpreted/μεθερμηνευόμενον if the Messiah is called/λεγόμενος Christ?

I put this together as follows:

  • 1:41 follows John's normal practice of explaining in Greek the Hebrew/Aramaic technical terms, etc., for his readers;
  • but in 4:25, having already established the translation equivalence in 1:41 of "christ" and "messiah", he records the same pair this time as alternate designations of the same (expected) individual.

That is, I confess, speculative -- but informed, I hope, by the evidence provided by the book itself, and respecting the patterns it contains.


  1. For these details and more, see Alan Crown's review of F. Dexinger's 1986 monograph, Der Taheb, in The Jewish Quarterly Review n.s. 80 (1989): 139-141; and cf. Ferdinand Dexinger, "Die Taheb-Vorstellung als Politische Utopie", Numen 37 (1990): 1-23.
  2. John Bowman, "Samaritan Studies", Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 40 (1958): 298-327 (see pp. 299ff.).
  • I think the question of whether v25 is parenthetic is based on the Samaritans use of Christ (in v29,42). Bowman believes they used taheb which was changed by the writer. If the use in v25 is parenthetic did the woman say taheb which the writer changed to Messiah? Or did she say Messiah and the writer's parenthetic serves both as an explanation of Messiah and the substitution for taheb in what follows? Jan 12, 2017 at 7:22
  • Discussion follow-up to comment questions took place in the chat room.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jan 13, 2017 at 10:13

The author of the fourth gospel was writing in Greek for a Greek-speaking audience, but at the same time he wants to portray authentic words when using direct speech. He knows the woman and Andrew would not have been speaking Greek, so he has them say "Messiah", rather than "Christ", while otherwise writing their words in Greek. Because he assumes that his readers do not know Hebrew or Aramaic, when he uses this Hebraism, he needs to explain the word for his intended audience, therefore adding, respectively:

"(which is, being interpreted [μεθερμηνευόμενον], Christ)" - John 1:41.
"he who is called [λεγόμενος] Christ" - John 4:25


"Messiah" (משיח) and "Christos" (Χριστός) are translation equivalents. They both mean "anointed" (or "anointed one") in Hebrew and Greek, respectively (the Greek is a participle of the verb χρίω). They could be used interchangeably by/between people who understand both languages. 1 Samuel 2:10 reads, for example, from the Masoretic Text (KJV):

The LORD shall judge the ends of the earth; And he shall give strength unto his king, And exalt the horn of his anointed [Heb. messiah].

Brenton's Septuagint translation keeps the underlying Greek word to provide an interesting reading (1 Kingdoms 2:10 LXX):

He will judge the extremities of the earth, and he gives strength to our kings, and will exalt the horn of his Christ [Gr. Χριστός].

  • I re-read the question. I don't see any better way to answer it.
    – user15733
    Jan 9, 2017 at 20:36

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