Symbolism: Why “INRI”?

Yesterday was the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross. With that in mind, I’d like to share something that happened a few days ago. I was at Mass and, after communion, I was looking up at the large crucifix behind the altar. My eyes settled upon the sign above Jesus’ head and the thought crossed my mind:

“Huh…you know what?…I’m not really sure what ‘INRI’ stands for…”

How many thousands of crucifixes have I seen over the course of my life?!

Now, I wasn’t completely ignorant. I did remember the section of the Gospels where this sign is mentioned:

“Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS…and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek” – John 19:19-20

Hmm…so how exactly does “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” get reduced to “INRI”? It turns out that these are the initials of the Latin version of notice:

Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum
Jesus (of) Nazareth, King (of the) Jews

The meaning of this acronym is less obvious to us because, in the Latin translation, the words for “Jesus” and “Jews” don’t begin with the letter “J”, but instead start with an “I”.  Since Classical Latin doesn’t have a “J”,  an “I” is used instead.

So, next time you’re looking up at a crucifix and see the sign, you’ll know what it means. Behold your king!

“Here I stand, covered by grace
Under the blood that was shed for me
Here I kneel, before the King upon His throne
Here I bow, to worship the Lord
Enjoying his favour on my life today
Knowing that we’ll never be apart” – Here I stand, Phatfish

One comment

  • Q. What does that phrase “INRI” above Jesus’ head on the crucifix mean?
    A. (by Fr. Andrew Younan) It’s Jesus’ Myers-Briggs personality.

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