What does the H in Jesus H Christ stand for?
Much like the perennial questions of Philosophy; What is truth? What is beauty? Why does my toast always land butter side down?, there is one question above all others that taunts, teases, and to this day, avoids definitive explanation. We will attempt to offer several answers to this deepest of all questions, and invite you to vote on your own preference in order to settle the score once and for all. Some suggestions are humourous, others highly plausible and backed with (seemingly) sound historical evidence. It’s important to remember that the phrase ‘Jesus H Christ’ is only used in the vernacular; sometimes used for comic effect or more often uttered as an expletive or as a means of venting frustration. The phrase is not used within conventional Christian teaching or worship, and it is not our intention to be blasphemous or offensive in expanding further the debate on this most intriguing of questions.
Origins and earliest usage:
One of the few things we can say with any degree of certainty, is that the phrase is a relatively recent phenomenon. Specific references to ‘Jesus H Christ’ are absolutely not to be found within any of the Gospels or Epistles of the New Testament. In fact the earliest occurence of the phrase is thought to be no earlier than the late 19th Century. In the autobiography of famous writer Mark Twain, Twain shares a childhood anecdote of working as a printer’s apprentice; a waggish young peer of Twain would often be berated by preacher Alexander Campbell for abbreviating ‘Jesus Christ’ to ‘J. C.’ within the preachers printed sermon – the preacher unimpressed with this apparent lack of respect. The printer’s apprentice responded in future sermons by writing out Christ’s name in full, with one small addition: ‘Jesus H. Christ’. If this legend is to believed, it would date the first written use of the phrase to around the 1850s.
Runners and Riders – The Favourites:
‘H’ is for ‘Harold': The Lord’s Prayer
“Our Father, who art in heaven, ‘Harold’ be thy name” or so the prayer supposedly goes. A simple and humorous parody on the actual words ‘Hallowed be thy name’ of the Lords Prayer. Surely much loved by young worshippers and bored altar boys throughout the generations.
‘H’ is for ‘Howard': The Lord’s Prayer 2.0
No prizes for guessing: a simple variant on the above mentioned parody.
‘H’ is for ‘Hominum': Saviour of Men
The monograms ‘IHS’ and ‘IHC’ are familiar ‘trigraphs‘ within Christian symbolism. These monograms can be found widely within medieval and early renaissance art. The monograms ‘IHS’ and ‘IHC’ are derived from the first three letters of the Greek name for Jesus which when transliterated become ‘iota-eta-sigma’ – or ‘IHS’ (The ‘C’ of the ‘IHC’ alternative comes from the Byzantine form of sigma). Interestingly, the middle intial ‘H’ is actually incorrectly derived from the capital form of ‘eta’ which looks very similar to a capital ‘H’. The monogram ‘IHS’ is often expanded to give the Latin phrase ‘Jesus Hominum Salvator’ – meaning ‘Jesus Saviour of Man’. So ultimately, the middle initial ‘H’ for Jesus could have been as a result of an ancient mix-up between Greek and Roman letters!
Runners and Riders – Also rans:
‘H’ is for ‘Haploid': The Biology Student
Witty and erudite solution handed down to Biology students over the years: a reference to the immaculate conception. By virtue of the holy mystery of the virgin-birth, Jesus would technically have had no biological father, and would therefore have been ‘Haploid‘ – with only one set of chromosomes. A clever solution to the question of the sacred middle initial, but highly unlikely to have been the true origin of the phrase.
‘H’ is for ‘Heli': The generation game
Perhaps a long shot at best, the ‘H’ could possibly stand for ‘Heli’ which was Jesus’s Grandfather’s name. Luke 3:23 states “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli..”. Even with a profound respect for his grandfather, this explanation seems highly tenuous; Luke 3:23-38 goes on to list a whopping further 74 generations back after Heli.
‘H’ is for ‘Holy': The North / South divide
One theory has the ‘H’ standing for ‘Holy’ – which would seem quite an obvious and overlooked solution. ‘Jesus Holy Christ’ was a common, possibly intentionally blasphemous phrase adopted within the southern states of the U.S., abbreviated by fast-talking ‘Northerners’ to ‘H’. Other derivatives included ‘Hebrew’ and ‘Hebe’, all shortened in the same manner.
‘H’ is for ‘Hallowed': The Lord’s Prayer 3.0
A little leftfield perhaps: “Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy (middle) name”? An unlikely solution, but worth a try all the same!
‘H’ is for ‘T’ (!?) : The common error
This one has the potential to throw a spanner in the works: technically speaking ‘Christ’ was not Jesus’s last name – and therefore the much-pondered origin of the middle name ‘H’ is actually irrelevant. ‘Christ’ would actually have been, more accurately, Jesus’s title – it meant ‘king’ in ancient Greek. Therefore the literal translation would have been ‘Jesus the King’ giving him a middle initial ‘T’!
If you’ve read all of the evidence above, and think one of the explanations more likely than all others, why not cast your vote and then compare it with what others think the ‘H’ in Jesus H Christ stands for.