What's In a Name?

Author: Dwight A. Pryor
“What’s in a name?” Juliet assures Romeo. “That which we call a rose by any other word
would smell as sweet.”
Shakeseare notwithstandin!" names in the #ible are imortant and meanin!$ul. They
con%ey character and callin!" urose and romise.
Si!ni$icant li$e trans$ormations are sometimes demarcated by name chan!es. Abram
becomes Abraham. Jacob’s hi!her nature is called $orth by his new name &srael" and
'oses renames (oshea" his youn! lieutenant" Joshua.
#ehind the name Joshua or Y’hoshua in (ebrew is the assurance that YAH )the *+R,-
yoshia )will deli%er or sa%e- (is eole . a timely reminder" when ten o$ the men sent
with Joshua to sy out /anaan see it as “a land that de%ours its inhabitants” and is $illed
with !iants )0umbers 12:23-.
4lays on words also are commonlace with (ebrew names.
At the an!el’s announcement o$ a son" Abraham like Sarah was incredulous" and he
lau!hed )va’yitzchak-. So the son o$ romise was named Yitzchak )&saac-. #ecause 5od
heard )ki-shama- (a!ar’s a$$lictions" she was !i%en a son named Yishma’el )&shmael-.
Jacob !rased his $irst6born twin brother 7sau by the heel )ba’akev-8 so he was called
W7 S77 T(&S W+R,64*A9 henomenon in the 5osels with the name Jesus. An
an!el aears to 'ary )*uke 1:21- and to Joseh )'atthew 1:31- announcin! the
di%inely ordained birth o$ a son. Then he adds" “And you shall call his name Jesus" $or he
will sa%e his eole $rom their sins.”
This is classic (ebraic e:ression and word lay. &n 7n!lish we normally would say"
“9ou shall name him;” or “/all him;” #ut the biblical attern is “9ou shall call his
name ;” )c$. 5enesis 1<:11 and 1=:1>-.
The si!ni$icant name lay is lost to 7n!lish readers but clear in (ebrew: “9ou shall call
his name Yeshua )Jesus- $or he yoshia )will sa%e- his eole $rom their sins.”
The name Yeshua )Jeshua- is $ound thirty times in the (ebrew #ible. #ut what is seldom
areciated by /hristians is that the name was a common one in the $irst century. 'y
collea!ue ,a%id #i%in o$ the Jerusalem School o$ Synotic Research has identi$ied it as
one o$ the $i%e most common male (ebrew names o$ the Second Temle eriod" alon!
with Shim’on )Simon-" Yosef )Joseh-" Y’hudah )Judah- and Yochanan )John-.
&n accordance with Jewish custom" Jesus was !i%en his (ebrew name at his circumcision
on the ei!hth day )*uke 3:31-. &n this case" it was a common name that held uncommon
si!ni$icance $or the identity and mission o$ Yeshua MiNatzeret )Jesus o$ 0a?areth-.
The name" roerly ronounced" consists o$ three syllables: 9e )the e soundin! like ei in
nei!hbor-8 shu )the u soundin! like oo in shoot-8 and a )like the a in $ather-. The accent is
on the second or middle syllable.
Why wasn’t the name Yeshua transliterated as Jeshua in the 0ew Testament as it is in
7n!lish %ersions o$ the +ld Testament? #ecause 0ew Testament scritures were
reser%ed in 5reek" not (ebrew" Yeshua was transliterated into the e@ui%alent 5reek
letters as Iesous )with the addition o$ a $inal s $or a male name-. The iota )&- subse@uently
was rendered by the letter J in +ld 7n!lish" ronounced as a 9 )as in halleluAah-. Thus we
ha%e the 7n!lish name Jesus" which in its current ronunciation seems $ar remo%ed $rom
the ori!inal soundin! 9eshua.
/hrist was not Jesus’ surname. (e wasn’t listed in the 0a?areth hone directory as
“/hrist" Jesus”B /hrist is the 5reek translation o$ the meanin! o$ the (ebrew title
Mashiach" the anointed one. 'essiah is its 7n!lish transliteration.
/hrist is a title" there$ore" not a second or last name. This is clear $rom Simon 4eter’s
resonse to Yeshua’s @uestion" “Who do you say that & am?” (e relies" “9ou are the
/hrist" the Son o$ the li%in! 5od” )'atthew 1<:1<-.
The early community o$ $aith called uon the name o$ Jesus )Yeshua- $or sal%ation
)y’shuah-. Whether in rayer or batism or healin!s" e%erythin! was done b’shem
Yeshua. “&n the name o$” is a (ebraic $i!ure o$ seech that means “with re$erence to” or
“in association with” the erson o$ Jesus.
(is name is e:traordinarily meanin!$ul to us but it is not a ma!ic $ormula. (ow one says
it is not as imortant as how one carries it. To walk in obedience to /hrist’s commands
and to conduct oursel%es in ways that sancti$y the name o$ his Cather in hea%en is the
biblical way to honor the name" Jesus.
D 3E1F The /enter $or Judaic6/hristian Studies.
All ri!hts reser%ed.

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