Three Motifs in Early Christian Oil Anointing


Early Christianity, Christianity, Religious Studies, Religion in Art


Early Christian ritual was rich with symbolism and mystery. Such ritual practices as baptism and the Eucharist taught initiates about Deity through symbolic words and actions that most often pertained to the mortal life of Jesus Christ. One important practice that took place was the ritual of anointing with oil called “chrism.” The word xrisma in Greek derives from the verb xriw, meaning “to anoint, rub or touch on the surface.” Scholars have debated the specifics of the ritual. The purpose of my paper will be to show three recurring themes in the writings of early influential Christians during the first four centuries of the church. My study paints a clearer picture not only of the ritual itself but what it symbolically meant. The three themes are first, a literal anointing; second, a symbol for the reception of the Holy Spirit; and third, an endowment of knowledge or power.

Original Publication Citation

Daniel Becerra, “Three Motifs in Early Christian Oil Anointing,” in BYU Religious Education 2009 Student Symposium (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 3–15

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Religious Studies Center




Religious Education


Ancient Scripture

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor