They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

There’s Just Something About That Name

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ –Matthew 1:1

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” – Matthew 1:21

We are so familiar with and say the name Jesus Christ so often that it almost sounds as if Jesus is his first name and Christ is his surname. You can almost picture his name in the Nazareth phone book as: Christ, Jesus; 77 Cana Rd., Nazareth! However, neither name was actually his name in his Hebrew language! What was his name in Hebrew and was there really something about his name that was different than the other names in his culture? This makes for an interesting study.

“Yeshua” is Jesus’ name in Hebrew and Aramaic, the language that he spoke. The thirty three years he lived on earth, everyone called him by his Hebrew name. According to David Bivin, a well respected Jewish scholar, Yeshua was one of the five most common names given to Jewish males in the first century, along with Shimon (Simon), Yosef (Joseph), Yehudah (Judah), and Yochanan (John). In accordance with Jewish custom, he was given his Hebrew name at his circumcision on the eight day after his birth (Luke 2:21). His name was a common Jewish name, but did it have some uncommon significance when it came to identifying who Yeshua was and what his mission on earth was to be?

In the Bible, Hebrew names are often a play on words. When God told Abraham that he was finally going to have a son at 100 years of age (Genesis 17:17-19), he fell face down and he laughed (Hebrew – va’yitzchak). God told him to name this son of the promise Yitzchak (Isaac) which means, “he laughed”. In the story of the birth of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:19-26), Jacob grabbed his twin brother by the heel (Hebrew ba’ akev), so he was called Ya’akov (Jacob), which means, “he grasps by the heel or he deceives”. There are many other examples like these in the Hebrew scriptures. This same type of word play is present with the naming of Yeshua. When the angel appeared to Joesph announcing the divinely ordained birth of a son to Mary, he said to her, “give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins”. This significant word play is lost in English, but is very clear in Hebrew. “You shall call his name Yeshua (he saves or delivers) for he will “Yoshia” (will save) his people from their sins. The Hebrew word for, ”he will save” is Yoshia, which has the same Hebrew root as the name,”Yeshua”. The Messiah’s name is explained on the basis of what He will do. Also, the name Yeshua is a contraction of the word, Y’hoshua (Joshua in English), which means, “YHVH saves”, and also the masculine form of the Hebrew word, Yeshu’ah, which means salvation. You can see that this is what the Bible writer in Hebrew wanted to portray because he says, call him the name Yeshua for he will Yoshia his people. In English, saving people from their sins is no more a reason for calling someone Jesus than for calling him Bill or Jim. Only in Hebrew does it make sense.

How then did we get the name Jesus from Yeshua? The word,”Jesus”, represents the efforts of English speakers to pronounce the name as it appears in the Greek. “Iesous” (yee-soos or yay-soos) was the word that Greek translators used to say Yeshua. The iota (I) was replaced by the letter J in Old English and thus came the name Jesus. Our current pronunciation of the English name, Jesus, seems far removed from the original Hebrew sounding Yeshua.

What about the Christ in Jesus Christ? Christ is the Greek translation (Christos) of the meaning of the Hebrew title, “Mashiach, which means, the anointed one. Christ is a title, not a second or last name. The significance in Hebrew of being known as the “anointed one”, is that both Kings and Priests were given their authority in a ceremony that required anointing with oil. Therefore, inherit in the concept of Messiah (Mashiach) is the idea of being given God’s priestly and kingly authority. To use the title, Maschiah, the promised one in the scriptures, who would be a prophet, priest, and king that would save and lead the Jewish people, is much more revealing than just, ”Christ”.

Jesus Christ’s real name in Hebrew then is, “Yeshua Ha Maschiah”. His name is not a magic word or some magical formula, that if we say it long enough or loud enough, miracles will happen. But, his name is extraordinarily powerful to us in light of its Hebrew meaning. How we say it is not nearly as important as how we carry it. To know that Yeshua is our salvation and that he is our promised and anointed King and Savior is huge. The way to honor his name is to walk in obedience to his commands and to conduct ourselves in a manner that would lift up and honor everything his name stands for.

For further reading:
Listening to the Language of the Bible (Tverberg & Okkema)
Jewish New Testament Commentary (Stern)
A Continuing Quest (Pryor)