The Meaning of al-Masih

Memsuah Mansoor

The Arabic word, "masih" differs from "mamsuah" in that "mamsuah" simply means "anointed" and signifies a lesser anointing. "Masih" however, is based on the grammatical form which emphasizes the fact of the anointing being possessed by someone or something. It is an "intensive form" that often indicates "a very high degree of the quality which their subject possesses or an act which is done with frequency ... by their subject." (Bold emphasis mine.) (A Grammar of the Arabic Language, vol. 1, Edited by W. Wright, L.L.D, copyright 1967, p. 136) Although words of the "fa`eel" form (the form which "masih" is from) when derived from transitive verbs, has usually a passive sense" (Wright, p. 136), they can also be used in a higher sense as cited above. Beeston in The Arabic Language Today, states "The reader faced with a participle pattern will always need to consider whether in the given context it is being used in the fundamental value or in one of the specialized meanings ..." (p. 35) Wright cites the form "fa`eel" as being an adjective which is "made like, or assimilated to, the participles, viz. in respect to their inflection." (p. 133) He also states that adjectives of the "fa`eel" form express "a quality inherent and permanent in a person." (p. 133) Based on these definitions and the examples of other Arabic words in the cited book by Wright, "masih" is grammatically capable of carrying the idea of "very anointed" or "most anointed" both of which would express "a very high degree of the quality which their subject possesses" or even "anointing one" which would express "an act which is done with frequency ... by their subject". Because of the extent of the anointing, it follows logically that the anointed one, "masih", has the responsibility and the right to anoint others, making him also an anointer. In the same way "shaheed", which is the same grammatical form as "masih", means witness, meaning one who witnesses, or witnesser, because the one who has witnessed the truth logically becomes the witnesser, or the one who is witnessing to the truth. God is referred to as "as-Shaheed" because He is the witness above all witnesses.

Three factors work together to determine the meaning of "masih" when referring to Isa al-Masih, these are: 1) the grammatical form, 2) the logical progression of carrying out the responsibilities inherently existing within the anointing, and 3) the context of the use of "masih". After Muslims realize that it is unreasonable to simply treat it as a title which has no meaning, and that it is distinct from "mamsuah", they consistently give one of the following definitions of "masih": "most anointed, who naturally has the ability to anoint others" or "anointer". One Arab from a Muslim background actually stated, "As the anointed holy messenger, he anointed by purifying and giving benedictions [blessings]." Many times, however, people attempt to suppress the full meaning of "al-Masih". Yet the Qur'an never refers to any other prophet as being "masih" much less "al-Masih".

For those who still want to simply call "al-Masih" a title for Jesus Christ, please consider the following. If today in Saudi Arabia, a ordinary citizen claimed to be the King of Saudi Arabia, and began calling himself the Sheikh of Saudi Arabia, either the authorities would say he was mentally deranged and he would be a laughing stock or they might even escort him out of the country--or worse. When Jesus Christ was born, it was revealed by God that he would be a king. (Injil, Matthew 2) (That is part of what "masih" signifies.) In fact, it was written that he would be the Messianic King. Even though "King" is a title, King Herod did not take this lightly because he understood that "king" had a very clear meaning. As a result, he very cleverly tried to kill Jesus. This type of scenario is constantly occurring around the world today. To say that the term "al-Masih" is simply a title, without meaning, fails to take into account the logical and grammatical sense.

There are those who suggest that the term "masih" is a borrowed word from the Hebrew. Obviously there is a definite connection, as with many other Hebrew and Arabic words, because of the close connection between the Hebrew and Arabic languages. However, to say that it was only a Hebrew word doesn't fit the evidence.  "Msh" from which "masih" comes is listed in every dictionary I have looked at, as a genuine Arabic word and "masih" is a genuine Arabic form. But in any case, since it is referring to a person referred to in the Hebrew language, the title "masih" should not be separated from the fullness of the meaning which it held in the Hebrew context. Though not always admitted in Islamic doctrine, the significance that the Jewish Messiah had is brought across in the Arabic grammar because "al" makes reference to "a previously known" or "specific" masih, and is often used to indicate the greatest one.

The meaning of "al-Masih" is significant when we recognize that Jesus Christ was the only one who is referred to in the Bible or the Qur'an as being "the masih" which is expressed in Arabic as "al-Masih" and in Hebrew as "Ha-ma-shee-ach". None of the other prophets are referred to by this title. In both cases the articles "al" and "Ha" refer to someone or something of pre-eminence, or someone or something previously known and recognized. Having established this important foundation, it is necessary to discover what kind of anointing this is. What was Jesus Christ anointed with, which he was given the responsibility of passing on?

As cited above, the context is important to show the full extent of the meaning of "al-Masih". The Qur'an refers to "spirit" in regard to Jesus in Sura 4:171, 2:87 and 5:110. In order to understand it's meaning, we need to follow proper rules of context and go back to the books that came first. Injil, Luke 1:35 describes how the angel Gabriel (Jibra`el) spoke to Mary (Miriam), "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God." Jesus Christ not only had a special anointing of God's Holy Spirit at his baptism (Injil, Matthew 3:16); he had a special anointing of the divine essence at his birth in that he was the eternal Word of God come in human flesh (Injil, John 1:1,14; John 4:24; Colossians 2:9). This shows us that as a man, he was more than a prophet. However, this is not the spirit some Muslims say simply refers to the breath of life that each person has, and is referred to in the Qur'an in Sura 15:29, 32:9 and 38:73. Neither is it the spirit some Muslims say refers to Jibra`el (Gabriel) in Sura 16:102. It is not the "Holy Spirit" that some Muslims say refers to Muhammad, nor is it simply a spirit proceeding from God.

The Qur'an specifically states in Sura 2:87 and 5:110 that he was strengthened by the Holy Spirit. In 5:110 it states that this anointing of the Holy Spirit caused him to do many miracles. The Bible describes how he was anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism that publicly announced the presence of and unleashed the power of God already in Him and began his public ministry. Jesus' apostle, Peter, in the Injil describes it like this,

You know what has happened ... after the baptism that John preached--how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. (Injil, Acts 10:37-38)

This special anointing is evidenced by his authority as a man to forgive sin (Injil, Mark 2:5-12), in Injil, Luke 4:14-44 by his power to preach and do miracles as predicted in these verses,

The Spirit of God is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. (Injil, Luke 4:18-19)

His anointing was so great that he even claimed to be over the Law of Moses by being the Lord of the Sabbath. (Injil, Luke 6:1-11)

In the Holy Bible the Holy Spirit was symbolized by the dove that came down on Jesus Christ (Injil, Matthew 3:16; Luke 3:22) and was spoken of by Jesus (Injil, John 20:21-22) and came on Jesus' disciples. (Injil, Acts 2:4) Jesus Christ not only had the breath of life, he also was anointed with the Spirit of God like no other man. If "spirit of God" means the physical breath of life, as some Muslims teach, then any ordinary man who is breathing should be able to do miracles just like Jesus did. Also, there would have been not reason for Jesus to say to his disciples who were alive, breathing men, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (Injil, John 20:22) But that is not the case. It is written in the Injil,

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (Injil, John 7:37-39)

Because "God is spirit" (Injil, John 4:24) and Jesus was the Word and "the Word was God" (Injil, John 1:1), this eternal Word, possessed the divine spirit and nature and essence of God. It was this Word that became flesh (Injil, John 1:14) It is because of these facts that the Scriptures state, "For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form," (Injil, Colossians 2:9) This union of God and man can be described as an anointing. This anointing of divine spirit, nature and essence that existed from Jesus' conception, is not to be confused with the anointing that causes people to be called "sons of God" as is mentioned in Injil, John 1:12-13, "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or of a husband's will, but born [produced] of God." and Romans 8:14, "because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." (NIV) These verses are speaking of grown human beings upon whom the Holy Spirit comes, allowing them to be called "sons of God." Jesus Christ, however, was the eternal Word, as mentioned above, revealed in human flesh to live among us for a while. His body was human flesh embodying the very nature and essence of God, which kept his body free from sin and impurity. For this reason he and he alone is called "the Son of God." This term expresses the uniqueness and greatness of his anointing expressed in the Arabic words chosen for him--al-Masih--making him not only the Son of God but also the Judge of all mankind (Injil, Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31) and who today is anointing men and women with the Holy Spirit of God.

The author welcomes your thoughts, critique or further questions!

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NIV®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by IBS. All rights reserved.

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