Zelophehad’s Daughters

And his name shall be called…

Posted by Ziff

In a recent post at T&S, Kaimi suggested

it seems to me that church members (and leaders) tend to de-emphasize the use of the single-name description Jesus. We regularly use the name Jesus when it is associated with the title Christ. However, when we use a single-word name, LDS speakers — unlike speakers I’ve heard from other denominations — tend to use the name Christ, not Jesus.

I think he’s probably right, but I thought it might be interesting to gather a little data to check.

To answer the question of whether Mormon usage of titles for Jesus differs from more general Christian usage, I compared use of several titles for Jesus in LDS publications on lds.org to use of the same titles in Christianity Today. I chose this publication because my understanding is that it’s published by evangelicals, and Kaimi and several commenters on his thread suggested that perhaps Mormons don’t say “Jesus” so much because we think that’s what evangelicals do.

These are the titles I compared:

  • Jesus Christ
  • Jesus
  • Christ
  • Lord
  • Savior
  • Redeemer
  • Son of God
  • Jehovah
  • Messiah

(Notwithstanding the title of this post, I did not include Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, or the Prince of Peace, as I think they are just not used all that often.)

I searched for “Jesus Christ” and “Son of God” as phrases. To get counts for “Jesus” and “Christ” separately, I took counts for each of them and subtracted the number of hits for “Jesus Christ,” since a search for “Jesus” or “Christ” alone would also match “Jesus Christ.” Finally, in the LDS searches, I subtracted from “Jesus Christ” the number of documents that matched only “in the name of Jesus Christ” in order to reduce the number of hits based solely on the fact that the article was a talk (and therefore necessarily ending with “in the name of Jesus Christ”)1.

Christianity Today has at least partial archives from 1994, so I compared use of the different titles aggregating across the years 1994-2009. Here’s a graph:

lds-publications-vs-christianity-today

In this graph, I am comparing how often each title is used in each publication versus the other titles in the same publication. In other words, I am concerned with relative frequency rather than absolute frequency. (I don’t care, for example, if LDS publications or Christianity Today refers to Jesus more overall; I just want to know when the do refer to him, which titles they use more or less often.) To show relative frequency, I converted the number of hits for each title into a percentage of the most frequently used title for the publication. For example, for LDS publications, the most frequently used title was “Lord,” which had 9178 hits. So where the graph shows “Jesus Christ” with a bar reaching to over 70%, this means there were over 70% as many hits for “Jesus Christ” as for “Lord” (6670, if you’re curious: 6670/9178 = 73%). Similarly, for Christianity Today, the most frequently used title was “Jesus,” which had 7390 hits. So where the graph shows “Lord” with a bar reaching to just under 50%, this means there were just under half as many hits for “Lord” as for “Jesus” (3597; 3597/7390 = 49%).

It looks pretty much as Kaimi said: LDS publications use “Lord,” “Jesus Christ,” “Savior” and a little of the others. Christianity Today uses “Jesus” and “Christ” separately a lot more than do LDS publications, with some “Lord,” “Jesus Christ,” and “Savior” and a little of the others. At the low end, neither LDS publications nor Christianity Today uses “Redeemer” a lot, but LDS publications do use it quite a bit more frequently.

Change Over Time in LDS Publication Use of Titles

Since I had the data, I also looked at the question of whether use of the various titles for Jesus has changed over time in LDS publications. Here’s a graph showing use of each title from 1971-2009:

lds-publications-1971-2009

In this graph, I am comparing not only how often each title is used versus the other titles, but also how often the titles are used as a percentage of all articles. (In the previous analysis, I ignored this because it wasn’t of interest whether the LDS publications and Christianity Today referred to Jesus at the same rate.) Therefore, the percentages shown in this graph are percentages of all articles. For example, where “Lord” starts at just below 60% in 1971, this means that just under 60% of all articles in 1971 used “Lord” at least once2.

It looks like the overall pattern from the previous graph–“Lord” is most often used, followed by “Jesus Christ” and “Savior” with a little of the others–has been somewhat consistent over time. While the ordering of which titles are most often used has largely been maintained, use of some titles has increased over time, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s. I found statistically significant increases3 for “Jesus Christ” (increasing 9 percentage points per decade), “Savior” (6 percentage points) “Lord” (2 percentage points) and “Redeemer” (1 percentage point). Statistical significance means that their increases across the 39 year period are unlikely to be simply chance fluctuations. Some of the changes, though, particularly for “Lord” and “Redeemer” are quite small even though unlikely to be due to chance.

_____________

1In all these calculations, I was limited by the advanced search feature of lds.org, which does not handle Boolean OR searches well and doesn’t do NOT searches at all. Otherwise, I could have figured some of these counts more directly. Christianity Today is kind enough to use intuitive URLs for their archives, so even though their site doesn’t have an advanced search feature, it was possible to search their archives using Google.

2Unfortunately, the advanced search at lds.org does not tell how many total articles there are for any time period. I estimated the number by searching for a few very common words. This required some trial and error, as the search tool refuses to search for the most common words–articles, pronouns, most helping verbs, etc. Oddly, while it appears to interpret two words as being joined by OR–the number of matches is greater than the number of matches for either word alone–for more than two words it starts assuming AND, as the number of matches starts to go down. Anyway, I settled on searching for “may or come,” as it consistently got the most hits across several years in comparison with other pairs of common words.

3All p = .0001 (two-tailed) using a permutation test and shuffling the data 9,999 times. To do permutation tests, for each title, the best fit line was estimated for the original data and for each shuffled sample. The proportion of all 10,000 samples (the original unshuffled sample and the 9,999 shuffled samples) in which the slope of the best fit line was equal to or greater than the slope for the unshuffled data is the p-value for the test.

35 Responses to “And his name shall be called…”

  1. 1.

    Looking at the peaks for “Christ” and “Jesus” separately in Christianity Today, I’m wondering if a lot of those not actually separate uses but instances of the bigram “Christ Jesus”? (similar to our frequent use of the bigram “Jesus Christ”)

  2. 2.

    Also, I’m wondering if some of our avoidance of “Jesus” and “Christ” individually is that they sound like cursing to our ears when used thus? Of all the options, “Lord” is the least likely to be used by the general populace as a curse word, and that’s the one we use the most.

  3. 3.

    Good thought about “Christ Jesus,” Cynthia. I went back and searched that term at Christianity Today but it came out even less than any of the ones in the first graph–2.7% (“Redeemer” is 3.2%). Even if that’s not apparently a popular one, you’re likely on to something in thinking there are likely to be common terms for Jesus used by evangelicals that I’m not familiar enough with to even think of searching.

    Also good point about our trying to avoid sounding like we’re swearing. At least to my ears, “Lord” sounds pretty mild. And I’ve never heard anyone use “Savior” as an expletive.

  4. 4.

    I also think there is theological reasons we use “Jesus Christ” and “Christ” or other terms over “Jesus” only. There would need to be more study, but I find that the single “Jesus” is used when talking about his mortal life, but all others when talking about his divine mission and role. Since we focus on the latter more than the former it is only logical this would be the case; assuming my observations are correct.

  5. 5.

    Good point, Jettboy. There are, after all, millions of boys and men named “Jesus” in the world (in particular the Spanish-speaking world).

  6. 6.

    Interesting point, Jettboy. I would have guessed, along those lines, that “Christ” alone would have been used more often than “Jesus” alone, but they’re virtually tied.

    Of course, if I didn’t acknowledge it before, I should point out now that this is a very crude measure of title preference, since it counts only whether a title is used or not at the level of the document rather than counting the individual uses of the titles.

  7. 7.

    Ziff, you never cease to amaze me that you have time to do research like this. Very interesting, thanks.

  8. 8.

    If only we could include data from the Watchtower.

  9. 9.

    Way fun stats!

  10. 10.

    LOL, Jacob! As you might guess, the Jehovah’s Witnesses use “Jehovah” most often, followed by “Jesus” about a third as often. But then of course they believe Jehovah and Jesus are different people, which opens a topic I ignored above: LDS writers and Christianity Today writers aren’t going to agree on Jesus vs. Jehovah either. I have no depth of understanding of arguments about the Trinity, but I’m sure there would be disagreement.

    (Also, as much as I complain about the lds.org search, the watchtower.org search isn’t much better. It allows you to use Boolen AND, OR, and NOT, but it refuses to search for phrases. This is just as bad as the lds.org search not doing Boolean searches. Because of this, I can’t separate “Jesus Christ” from “Jesus” or “Christ” and I can’t tell if the surprisingly high usage of “Lord” is just part of a lot of “Lord Jehovah” titles.)

  11. 11.

    Thanks Emily and Johnna. Emily, I actually don’t have time for this kind of stuff–I probably put off more important work too often because of it. But it’s so much fun! (Also, this is part of why I post only once in a blue moon.)

  12. 12.

    Interesting study!

  13. 13.

    The “Jehovah” bars just look so pitiful.

    There is a special place in hell for search features which don’t work on a phrase.

  14. 14.

    Hmm. Another way to rebel against cultural Mormonism (without rebeling against religious Mormonism). For a man, come to church in a colored shirt, facial hair, be registered as a democrat, watch R-rated movies selectively, and refer to Jesus Christ as “Jesus”. For those who really want to push the envelope–watch football games on TV on Sunday, use you and your in prayers, and wear a cross necklace.

  15. 15.

    I like it, David! In a similar vein, I remember a commenter a while back (sorry, I don’t recall who, but I think it was at Mormon Matters) saying that there’s nothing to get under Mormons’ skin quite like referring to GAs without their first/middle initials: Thomas Monson, Boyd Packer, etc.

  16. 16.

    Ziff,
    As always, wonderful work.

    What must be most frustrating for you is that you have to imagine this information is available and searchable somewhere at church HQ. If only you were on the inside and had access to the real database and search engine.

    Perhaps there is some kind of mission impossible we could organize to get you access to the the information you need.

  17. 17.

    Magnificent — that the idea of measuring this even occurred to you, much less that you figured out how to do it and then DID it!

    Jettboy’s #4 seems to me to be right on target. It feels very natural to say “Jesus once was a little child” and “Jesus of Nazareth” and “Jesus feeding the multitude” and “Jesus casting out devils” and “Jesus blessing the children” and other specific references to his mortal ministry. It does not feel natural to refer to him solely as Jesus when, say, listing the members of the Godhead or speaking about the creation of the earth or about the final judgment, or others of his roles outside mortality — in fact, it feels so unnatural and wrong, so minimizing, that I can’t even bring myself to type examples! Odd. But I think Jettboy is right.

  18. 18.

    Really Jettboy and Ardis? These examples sound unnatural and wrong?

    1) The members of the Godhead are Heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost.
    2) Jesus created the earth.
    3) Jesus will sit in judgment.
    4) Jesus will reign in power and glory.
    5) Jesus was chosen to fulfill the role of Messiah in our Heavenly Father’s plan.

    My take is that the name “Jesus” standing alone is simply too common; there are lots of Joshuas running around, lots of our latin brothers named Jesus. The name by itself does not denote his sacred role as Christ and Messiah.

  19. 19.

    Once again, very cool, Ziff.

  20. 20.

    Yes, Struwelpeter, those examples sound odd to me, where using “Christ” would not. “Jesus” feels too informal for his divinity. (Note that neither Jettboy nor I said it was disrespectful or doctrinally wrong or anything like that, just that custom or intuition points us to a different linguistic use. Also note that you say virtually the same thing — that “Jesus” alone is too common and doesn’t denote his divine roles.)

  21. 21.

    Ziff – another quite common Protestant term for Jesus Christ in the early and middle twentieth century is “the Master.” It’s my impression that this really never took off in Mormonism at all. Am I wrong?

  22. 22.

    Thanks, Jessawhy, Ardis, and E.

    Good point about the data, Jessawhy; maybe the Church will hire me as a consultant to analyze some of their more interesting data, and I’m sure they do have a ton of interesting data that I would love to look at! (Of course I might be a little too unorthodox to actually pull this off. :) )

    Matt, good question. In the 1994-2009 time represented in the first graph, “the Master” scores as 8% as popular as the #1 title (“Lord”). It doesn’t sound like much, but it beats “Jehovah” (4%) and “Messiah” (5%) handily and isn’t too far behind “Jesus” (10%). In Christianity Today it was used a lot more, at 32% as much as “Jesus,” which means it would take over the #4 spot from “Jesus Christ” (30%). Thanks for mentioning this one!

  23. 23.

    Interesting, Ziff. Thanks. Interesting comments, too. (These make me wish I had gone ahead w/ my plans to major in stats.)

  24. 24.

    I would say “5) Jesus was chosen to fulfill the role of Messiah in our Heavenly Father’s plan.” is the only one on the list that doesn’t sound off. That is, I believe, because his role is mentioned. The others seem to either need Christ or Jesus Christ. For some reason “Jesus loves everyone unconditionally” doesn’t sound strange to me, but I wonder if that one is a cultural cross-over.

  25. 25.

    Love this. If you have nothing else to do, maybe you could do terms for Satan. My husband, a non-Mormon, loves to refer to “The Adversary” when he’s doing his Gen Conference voice. He says he never heard that growing up in the Episcopal church.

  26. 26.

    That’s a great thought, Elizabeth. It seems like we’re hesitant to even say “Satan,” which goes along with saying “the Adversary” a lot.

  27. 27.

    Great analysis, as always, Ziff!

  28. 28.

    Nice work!

    Quite another thought: There is a “cultural” component to it as well!
    If you would run a stat like this on talks given in Germany (which aren’t published though), “Jesus” would have a way higher percentage. Jesus doesn’t sound too personal over here — well, on the other hand: we also use the informal/familiar “you” and “your” in our prayers, while using a formal/respectful form when speaking to strangers (up to the moment the informal “you” is offered)…

  29. 29.

    Great post.

    If I might add a tangent to Jettboy’s observation (based solely on my own experience and anecdotal evidence), I would say that “Jesus” is likely the most common way to refer to Jesus when in Primary. I suppose that the little children get more first-name privileges.

  30. 30.

    Jettboy #24: If I might twist this to support my #29, perhaps “Jesus loves everyone unconditionally” doesn’t seem weird because it sounds a lot like things you see in the Children’s Songbook (“Jesus said love everyone,” etc.).

    #25-26: It bothers me when people won’t say “Satan.” It’s like some Voldemort-type name jinx or something.

  31. 31.

    Good point about kids, Orwell–I think you’re right.

    But about Satan the Adversary, shhhh! He’ll hear us! :)

  32. 32.

    Knock knock.

    Who’s there?

    You know.

    You know who?

    That’s right — and now, avada kedavra! Mwahaha!

  33. 33.

    .

    This is utterly off topic, Ziff, but you seem like the best person to ask:

    Do you know if there is data to back up the assertion we always hear that mission presidents and general authorities tend to be wealthy?

  34. 34.

    None that I know of, sorry. It certainly seems to be true, and it would make sense certainly for mission presidents at least since they have to pay their own way. I’ve just not seen it studied systematically.

    But then, I’m not up on what’s been done. It also kind of sounds like a question someone might have tried with a Dialogue article sometime.

  35. 35.

    […] a similar post a couple of years ago about usage of names of Jesus, I compared LDS usage to evangelical Christian usage by looking for the same names in Christianity […]

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