Let’s Keep the “X” in “Xmas”

This morning a customer wrote to complain about our use of XMAS in a promotional priority code in one of our marketing emails, prompting this article.

Christians and Christian values are under attack in America today. Nothing like elsewhere in the world, of course, where Christians are being killed or imprisoned for simply thinking a certain way about God. But given that this country was founded on biblical principles by people who held Christian beliefs, it is especially troubling to see those principles and beliefs under direct attack from those who benefit from them but neither understand nor appreciate them.

Because of the constant bullying we all face from “open minded” people who “respect differences”, we are sometimes quick to see offense where none really exists. The concern that some Christians have over the use of the abbreviation Xmas for Christmas is one such situation.

The X in Christmas is actually the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter in the Greek word Χριστος, from which we get “Christ”. Its English counterpart (X) has been used as an abbreviation for Christ for centuries — by some accounts, about 1000 years. The abbreviation X for Christ, and variations such as Xt and Xr, can be found in texts from the 1700’s. In no case is it used to “remove Christ” from the text, but rather as a simple shorthand or perhaps as a recognition of the sacred nature of the name — in the same way that speaking the name of God was prohibited among the Jews, resulting in the unpronounceable 4-letter name (יהוה) that we sometimes see as YHWH in English. The substitution of chi for “Christ” was never meant as an insult but was used by Christians as a way of writing Jesus’ name.

Christianity is full of symbols. The cross in its various forms (the simple ✞ and many variations, including ⳩ and ⳨). The dove that we use in our PocketBible icon. The “fish” symbol. None of these are intended to denigrate the name of Jesus or to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. Instead, they serve as powerful shorthand for the great concepts they represent. The cross isn’t just two intersecting lines; it reminds us of Jesus’ substitutionary death on behalf of sinners. It is empty, reminding us of his resurrection. It connects heaven and earth. It spans the gulf between God and humans.

When an unbeliever writes “Xmas” to avoid using the name of Christ, he or she is actually honoring Jesus. To the Christian, the X or chi in Xmas honors Jesus. And it connects us across the centuries to our ancient brothers and sisters in Christ. It is the “secret handshake” that communicates deep spiritual truths that are evident to the believer but hidden from the world. So well hidden, in fact, that some well-meaning believers actually resist its use, arguing that it removes “Christ” from “Christmas”. But they are ignorant of the long history of Christian symbolism. “Xmas” is a Christian term, invented by Christians, with a long history of use in Christian literature, based on the ancient practice of abbreviating the title “Christ” with the Greek letter ​chi​. It is not the invention of political progressives to remove Jesus from the name of the holiday that celebrates his birth.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the animosity that exists in our society between Christians and non-Christians. But the use of Xmas as shorthand for Christmas is not one of them.

Is Your Bible “Missing” Verses?

We occasionally receive reports from PocketBible users that a PocketBible Bible is missing a verse (or verses). These “errors” are usually discovered in a group Bible study situation. Following along as someone else reads, you realize that a verse appears to be missing in your Bible. But in this case, there is more to this than meets the eye.

What are these “missing” verses and why are they missing?

The numbering scheme for verses in the English Bible was first used in the Geneva Bible in the year 1560. This pattern was followed in subsequent English translations including the King James Version, published first in 1611. In the years since these Bibles were translated, many additional manuscripts have been found which predate those used by the translators of the Geneva and King James Bibles. Because of their age, these older manuscripts are believed by many scholars to more accurately represent the original documents. In many cases, however, they do not include all the verses that are in the more recent manuscripts.

Translations such as the New International Version, Revised Standard Version, and other newer translations take advantage of these more recently discovered manuscripts and therefore do not include all of the verses found in the older translations. Rather than reinventing a numbering scheme for the whole Bible, the translators decided to use the same verse numbers as the older Bibles but leave the missing verses blank (or move them into footnotes). The result of this is that several verses in these newer translations appear to be “missing”.

The affected verses are:

  • Matthew 17:21; 18:11; 23:14
  • Mark 7:16; 9:44,46; 11:26; 15:28
  • Luke 17:36; 23:17
  • John 5:4
  • Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:7; 28:29
  • Romans 16:24

For the Revised Standard Version, in addition to the above list, there are other verses and points of interest:

  • Matthew 12:47; 21:44
  • Luke 22:43,44
  • The order of Exodus 22 in printed form is 1, 4, 2, 3, 5. PocketBible displays these verses in numeric order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  • James 1:7,8 was combined in verse 7 leaving 8 blank. 3 John 14 was split into 14 and 15.

Another point of view

Some are quick to jump on the idea that the newer translations are removing text from God’s Word and therefore are not to be trusted. It is important to note that it could just as correctly be argued that the older translations added text to God’s Word. Where one comes down on this argument depends on the nature of one’s own research, or on which scholars one decides to trust. We’ve determined it’s best to present a variety of options to you so that you can come to your own conclusions when choosing the Bible (or Bibles) that you find to be the most beneficial to your own spiritual growth.

If you enjoy learning about the history of the Bible, consider the PocketBible book: The Origin of the Bible by Philip Comfort.

The Trail of Blood: Following the Christians Down Through the Centuries

Back when I was at Parsons Technology in the late 80’s and 90’s I was attending a Baptist church. Somewhere along the way I picked up a copy of this little booklet — probably at a Jack Hyles or Curtis Hudson revival meeting. The Trail of Blood is a history of the church starting with the church in Jerusalem through the present day (well, through the early 1930’s, which is when it was written). What’s interesting about it is that it lays out ten or twelve distinctive doctrines that the author identifies as characteristic of Bible-believing Christianity and follows those doctrines — not the dominant churches of the day.

Whether you attend a Baptist church, consider yourself basically “baptistic” in doctrine, or are just interested in church history, this is an interesting book. I happened to think of it the other day, contacted the copyright owner, and discovered that it has recently passed into the public domain. So I quickly tagged it for PocketBible.

The Trail of Blood suggests that it was the Catholic church that split from the “true church” and points out that Protestant churches didn’t so much rise out of traditional Christian doctrine but rather Catholic doctrine, and that Catholics and Protestants together persecuted those who held to the doctrines that the author believes Paul and the early church would be most comfortable with.

Admittedly, this is a controversial title. (That’s why we didn’t make it free — so it wouldn’t show up automatically in everyone’s download account.) Obviously by suggesting that Catholics and Protestants are branches of the same, doctrinally flawed stock, he will offend most of Christendom. And contemporary scholars with access to more recent archaeological discoveries and historical documents would challenge his characterizations of some early groups of Christians. But the concept is an interesting one to consider and certainly worth dropping a dollar on to learn more. The historical chart it includes, showing the “trail of blood” through the centuries, is worth at least that much.

If it bothers you, skip it. But I think many of you would find it fascinating. In my case, while I no longer fellowship with a Baptist church, it was very formative of my understanding of the transmission of truth through the centuries.