“WHAT IS THE MESSIAH’S NAME?” This seems like the answer to this question should be obvious, but there are those online and in various places who are using their alleged answer to this question to bring division to the body of Messiah (Christ). As a result, I felt like this was an issue that I needed to address.
When it comes to God, any aspect of God, or His Kingdom, our knowledge and teaching of these things need to be thoroughly based and found within the WHOLE BIBLE, from Genesis to Revelation. Any teaching or doctrine that cannot be found within the WHOLE BIBLE should not be acceptable or held up as doctrine by any one who claims to be a follower or disciple of God and His Messiah.
THIS IS A SALVATION ISSUE
Unfortunately, there are those online and around the world who are teaching that there’s ONLY ONE CORRECT FORM (OCF) of the Messiah’s (Christ’s) name, and that it is a sin or wrong to use any other form. At first, I did not believe that this was a “Salvation issue” until my brother-in-law, who is now dead, had gotten involved in this movement. Before his death, God spoke to my wife and told her that her brother had once believed in Him, but then he had been deceived by this teaching and had walked away from Him. He had her write down a letter that God wanted her to read to him. When she did, his eyes were opened to the truth, and He again confessed “Jesus” as his Lord and Savior. It was only a few days after this when he died. Thank God, He was able to reach out to him before his death.
As long as the name we use for the Messiah is found WITHIN THE BIBLE, then it’s okay which form we use; however, there are actually TWO groups who are pushing for ONLY ONE CORRECT FORM (OCF) of His name. One group is teaching forms which are NOT found in the Bible, and herein is the problem and deception, but the other group is teaching a form that is in the Bible, but this group is also teaching against another form which is also in the Bible.
SACRED NAME MOVEMENT
The first group that’s teaching forms which are NOT in the Bible is known as the “SACRED NAME MOVEMENT.” Those who are officially part of this group, or who only voice its teachings, believe that both the Father and the Messiah (Christ) only have one valid Hebrew name each, and that those two names are the only ones that should be used. The problem, though, is that many in this movement cannot agree on what the appropriate names actually are. However, most of them usually begin with “YAH,” but their doctrine is based on a over-literal rendering of John 5:43:
I HAVE COME IN MY FATHER’S NAME, and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him. [Emphasis Mine]
To come in “someone’s name” means that person has been authorized to come, or to be sent by one in authority. For example, in English, police officers will say, “Stop in the name of the law.” Now does that mean the word “law” is part of that officer’s name? No, obviously not. It means “the law” has authorized that officer to be able to tell you to stop. In the same way, Jesus here is saying that He has come in His Father’s authority, not that the Father’s name is literally a part of His name. And yet, even though He has come in His Father’s authority, the people did not receive Him, but He argues, another will come on his own authority (“come in his own name”), and they will receive that individual.
But there’s more to their argument than a clear misreading of the above verse. There’s a hidden agenda here that’s not openly discussed, and that is the belief that Hebrew is the only Divine language, and that any form of the name that is NOT in Hebrew is, therefore, not valid. Of course, there’s no biblical support for this claim since the Bible is written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek. If Hebrew is a Divine language because part of the Bible is written in Hebrew, then by that use of logic, Aramaic and Koine Greek should also be considered “Divine Languages,” since they were also used in the writing of the Scriptures.
The other group that’s teaching that there’s ONLY ONE CORRECT FORM (OCF) are some groups within mainstream Conservative or Evangelical Christianity. They don’t know enough about the Messianic Movement to know the distinction between them and the “Sacred Name Movement,” and so they often confuse the two. Consequently, they argue against any form of the name, except the name “Jesus.” For example, many in these Christian groups will accurately argue that the Father has multiple names given to Him within the Scriptures, but then they will not realize the same applies to the Son, and they’ll argue that the Son has only one valid name to call Him, which is the name “Jesus.” Any other name for Christ, besides this one, is calling Jesus another name than the one given to Him by the Father, through the angel Gabriel, and Joseph and Mary.
They also argue that there is no Hebrew copy of the New Testament to reveal a “Hebrew name,” but we do have over 5,000 copies of the Greek New Testament that we can use to verify His name as it is used in the Greek New Testament. Therefore, the only valid form of the name is the one that’s derived from the Greek New Testament, which is “Jesus.” Of course, this is a reactionary response to the Sacred Name Movement’s argument that the Sacred Name’s proposed Hebrew form is actually the ONLY “correct form” that should be used.
Although mainstream conservative and evangelical Christianity’s desire to protect the name of “Jesus” is to be commended, but their need to fight against the name of “Yeshua” for Him is actually misplaced. The name of “Yeshua” is not only found in the Old Testament post-Babylonian writings of Ezra, Nehemiah, and the books of I Chronicles and II Chronicles, as I will show, but it is also used throughout the Aramaic New Testament, called the Peshitta, for the name of the Messiah.
Most American Christians only know about Western Christianity, they don’t know or realize there’s another form of Christianity, known as Eastern Christianity. And just as Western Christianity holds that the New Testament was originally written in Greek, Eastern Christianity holds that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. This, of course, is one of the conflicts between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity. Personally, since scribes were used at that time to write documents, I don’t know why Paul, for example, could not have had two scribes writing down what he said: one writing it in Greek and the other writing it in Aramaic; therefore, making the claims of both the Western and Eastern churches equally true.
MESSIANIC JUDAISM’S ARGUMENT
In addition to these two extreme groups, there’s another group that’s more of “a middle of the road” position. They argue that the Messiah’s Hebrew and/or Aramaic name is “Yeshua,” this is how His family, friends, disciples, and even His Jewish opponents would have known Him, and they use it to give Him back His Jewish culture and ethnicity.
However, the mainstream conservative and evangelical Christian response to the Messianic use of Yeshua is likewise the same as to the Sacred Name Movement’s argument. For example, in an online article, called “Yeshua or Jesus?” the author writes, “the name Yeshua is found nowhere in all of the New Testament scriptures.” But as I’ve explained, this is because he is only looking in the English translation of the New Testament, and not in the WHOLE BIBLE, nor in the English translation of the Aramaic New Testament.
WHAT IS THE BIBLICAL EVIDENCE?
In examining the argument from these three positions, the question for me is “What is the biblical evidence for the name of the Messiah? And which position is better supported by the evidence?” As a college professor who taught argument for 25 years, I firmly believe, and have taught my students, that we need to examine the evidence on all sides, weigh the evidence, and then see which position tilts the scale more, and that is the position that we should take.
After literally spending years of research on this topic, i.e., on the various positions and the arguments given, I went back and checked the Hebrew Scriptures themselves, and I was surprised by what I learned.
JESUS – THE GREEK FORM OF JOSHUA
First of all, “JESUS” (Gk. Iesous) is the Greek form of the name “JOSHUA” (Heb. Yehoshua). This was a complete shock to me when I found this out because I had never heard anyone point this out to me, so when I started researching this topic, I thought I had stumbled across some great new truth, only to discover that it was already well known. For example, in the introduction of the book of Joshua, in my Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, it says,
This book describes the conquest of the land of Canaan under the leadership of JOSHUA, the successor of Moses. His name means “Jehovah saves” or “Jehovah is salvation.” The Greek transliteration of his name is “JESUS“ (Heb. 4:8′ Emphasis Mine). (294)
Is there any biblical support for this? Actually, there is, if we compare Acts 7:44-45 in the King James Version with more modern translations.
ACTS 7:44-45 (KJV)
ACTS 7:44-45 (NASB)
|Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. Which also our fathers that came after brought in with JESUS [Gk. Ιησους] into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;||Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with JOSHUA [Gk. Ιησους] upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David.|
In both versions, the same Greek form of His name is used, but in the King James Version, the Greek form is transliterated into English as “JESUS,” and in this same passage in the modern translations, the name “JOSHUA” is used. Why? Because in this passage, JOSHUA SON OF NUN is the one being referenced, but the Greek form of his name is IESOUS, or in English “JESUS.” We can also see this in Hebrews 4:8.
HEBREWS 4:8 (KJV)
HEBREWS 4:8 (NASB)
|For if JESUS [Gk. Iesous] had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day||For if JOSHUA [Gk Iesous] had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that|
Again, we can see the same Greek form of the name is used, but in the King James Version, the Greek form is transliterated into English as “JESUS” and in the NASB, and other modern translations, it is “JOSHUA.” And again, the person being referenced here is, in fact, JOSHUA SON OF NUN. Of course, my question is that, “If translators know that the name ‘JESUS‘ is the Greek form of the name ‘JOSHUA,’ then why not translate every occurrence of ‘JESUS‘ as ‘JOSHUA’?” Of course, if translators did that, even though it would be a valid form of His name being used, it would cause an avalanche of complaints from people, businesses, card companies, song companies, movie companies, etc.
Nor is this a recent revelation. Instead, the awareness that “JOSHUA” and “JESUS” were, in fact, equivalent forms of the same name goes back to when Greek was still the common parlance of the Roman Empire. For example, This was also discussed in the book Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: Complete and Unabridged, translated by C.F. Cruse (1998). Eusebius, who lived from 264-340 C.E., is known as “the Father of Church History,” and he wrote in his first book of Church History (or Ecclesiastical History),
The same Moses, under the divine Spirit, foreseeing the epithet JESUS, likewise dignified this with a certain distinguishable privilege. This name, which had never been uttered among men before Moses, he applied first to him alone who, by a type and sign, he knew would be his successor after his death in the government of the nation. His successor, therefore, who had not assumed the appellation JESUS (JOSHUA) before this period, being called by his other name OSHEA [Heb. HOSHEA], which his parents had given, was called by Moses JESUS (JEHOSHUA, JOSHUA) (Num. 13:16). (Book 1, Chapter 3, page 10).
The name “JOSHUA” was NOT given to him by his parents, but instead the name they gave him was HOSHEA, or the Greek form OSHEA, but it was Moses who changed HOSHEA’S name into “JOSHUA.” Being a Greek-speaker, Eusebius here clearly identifies the name “JOSHUA” (Heb. “YEHOSHUA“) and the name “JESUS,” derived from the Greek and Latin, as the same name. Also, he believed that the reason Moses changed HOSHEA (JOSHUA’S name originally; Numbers 13:16) to “JOSHUA” was because he would be “a type and sign” of the future Messianic “JOSHUA,” “JESUS CHRIST.” In his book, Eusebius goes on to say,
This name, as an honorable distinction far superior to any royal diadem, was conferred on JOSHUA, because JOSHUA the son of Nun bore a resemblance to our Savior as the only one after Moses and the completion of that symbolical worship given through him that should succeed him in a government of pure and undefiled religion. (Book 1, Chapter 3, page 10)
Consequently, the name “JOSHUA” in the Old Testament is the same name as “JESUS” in the New Testament, one from the Hebrew and other from the Greek, respectively. And up until the Babylonian Exile, the name “JOSHUA” had only one basic form. It isn’t until after the Babylonian exile where we see a change in that.
YESHUA – THE ARAMAIC FORM OF JOSHUA
Ezra and Nehemiah were both born and grew up in Babylon. Ezra was sent to the land of Israel in 457 B.C.E. to teach people the Law of God (Heb. Torah), 129 years after the Babylonian Exile in 586 B.C.E. Nehemiah, on the other hand, was the cup bearer of the King and was not sent to the land of Israel until 445/444 B.C.E. (or 142 years after the Babylonian Exile). Obviously, these men would have been born in Babylon as stated and grown up reading, writing, and speaking both Aramaic and Hebrew. It is in their writings, as well as the books of I Chronicles and II Chronicles, which according to tradition, were written by Ezra after the Babylonian Exile, that we find the Aramaic form of “YESHUA” being used, rather than the traditional form of “JOSHUA” (Heb. Yehoshua). An example of this can be seen in Nehemiah 8:17,
And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of JESHUA the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness. (Emphasis Mine)
Although the name “JESHUA” begins with the letter “J” in our English translations, when I looked in a Hebrew Bible, I discovered that the first letter is actually a yodh (or “Y”), and so the name here is really “YESHUA.” But then when I looked at this same verse in my New American Standard Bible (as well as all other more modern versions), the name “YESHUA” (or “JESHUA“) was replaced with the name “JOSHUA.”
The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of JOSHUA the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. (NASB, Nehemiah 8:17; Emphasis Mine)
Consequently, then, the names “JOSHUA” and “YESHUA” (or “JESHUA“) are synonymous and interchangeable, one coming from the Hebrew and one coming from the Aramaic.
YESHUA – HEBREW OR ARAMAIC?
There’s a debate right now as to where the name “YESHUA” originated. Modern day Messianic Jews argue that the name “YESHUA” is a shortened, abbreviated form of the name “JOSHUA” (Heb. “YEHOSHUA“; the “HO” being removed) and, therefore, it is Hebrew. I have two reasons for calling this into question:
- The name “YESHUA” does not show up in any of the biblical writings prior to the Babylonian exile; and
- The name “YESHUA” is used throughout the Aramaic New Testament for the name of Messiah (or Christ).
If the name “YESHUA” is originally Hebrew, then why is it used throughout the Aramaic New Testament (called the Peshitta). For example, here is Matthew 1:21 from the English translation of the Aramaic NT,
And she will bear a son and she will call his name YESHUA for he will save his people from their sins. (Peshitta Aramaic/English Interlinear New Testament, found at http://www.peshitta.org)
So when a pastor says that the name “YESHUA” is NOT used in the New Testament, that all depends on what language you are looking at. If you are looking at the Greek New Testament, then no, it is not there, but if you look in the Aramaic New Testament, then yes, it is there. It just depends on where you are looking.
But again, if the name “YESHUA” is HEBREW in origin, then why didn’t it show up prior to the Babylonian exile and why is it used in an ARAMAIC version of the New Testament? I have a couple of ideas about this:
- The name “YESHUA” is an Aramaic form of the name “JOSHUA” that was adopted into the Hebrew language during the Babylonian captivity, and so by the time of the New Testament and onward, it was considered Hebrew; OR
- The name Yeshua is the transliteration of the Hebrew name “JOSHUA” into Aramaic.
I personally tend to favor the second option, because according to some research sources, there was a law passed in Babylon requiring the use of the official language, Aramaic. So what if the traditional form of the name “JOSHUA” was transliterated into the Aramaic to form the name “YESHUA” in order to comply with this mandate? This would support the name originating in the Hebrew, as well as explain why we do not see the name being used in Scripture until after the Babylonian Exile.
HAGGAI AND ZECHARIAH
Some of the Jews were allowed to leave Babylon in 536 B.C.E. (about 50 years after the Exile) when Cyrus the Great issued the Edict of Cyrus, and with that edict, the first group of Jews was allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. In this first group were the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, who were very young when they had been taken from Israel to Babylon in 586 B.C.E., but are now fifty years older when they are now returning to the land of Israel.
In both the writings of Haggai and Zechariah, the High Priest at the time was named JOSHUA SON OF JOSEDECH.
|In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to JOSHUA the son of Josedech, the High Priest.||Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and JESHUA (or Yeshua) the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.|
Just as Ezra did with JOSHUA SON OF NUN, so he has done with JOSHUA SON OF JOSEDECH, the High Priest. Not only did he use YESHUA (instead of JOSHUA) in both cases, but in writing the name of JOSHUA‘s father, Ezra again took the shortened Aramaic form, from JOSEDECH to JOZADAK. And just as Haggai used the original HEBREW form, so does ZECHARIAH, both of whom were old enough to remember the original HEBREW form, even after spending 50 years in Babylon.
|Then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of JOSHUA the son of JOSEDECH, the High Priest; and speak unto him, saying, Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is the BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD.||Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of God of Israel, even unto them. Then rose of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and JESHUA the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.|
Again, as we saw before, Zechariah, like Haggai, uses the original Hebrew form for the name of “JOSHUA” and for the name of his father “JOSEDECH.” However, Ezra uses the shortened Aramaic form for both names: JESHUA (Heb. YESHUA) and JOZADAK.
Therefore, Haggai and Zechariah, as well as Ezra and Nehemiah, all mention the High Priest; however, Haggai and Zechariah call him by the original Hebrew form of His name, “JOSHUA” (Heb. YEHOSHUA); whereas, Ezra and Nehemiah call him the shortened Aramaic form, “JESHUA” (Heb. YESHUA). Just as the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) call “JOSHUA” by the original Hebrew form given to him by Moses, but Nehemiah, instead, uses the shortened Aramaic form of his name, “JESHUA” (Heb. YESHUA. Therefore, we have two biblical examples, Joshua son of Nun and Joshua the High Priest, where two biblical writers call them “JOSHUA” (Haggai and Zechariah) and two biblical writers call them in Hebrew “YESHUA.”
As a result, “JOSHUA” and “YESHUA” are two forms of the same name, and which one is used is really just a matter of preference. The Bible supports the usage of both. And just as “JOSHUA” and “YESHUA” are interchangeable, so are “JOSHUA” and “JESUS;” consequently, “YESHUA” and “JESUS” must be seen as equivalent forms of the name “JOSHUA.”
I point this out because there are those who try to argue online and in various places that the Messiah only has ONE form of His name (and it usually involves some Hebrew form that begins with “YAH” as I mentioned earlier), and they say that this ONE FORM is “the ONLY CORRECT FORM (OCF)” and all others are false. But as we can see here from the Scriptures, the Bible does not support this position since both the names “JOSHUA” (Heb. YEHOSHUA) AND YESHUA are used for “the son of Nun” and for the same High Priest. Therefore, which form of the name that’s used in the Hebrew text is merely a matter of personal preference. There is NO SUCH THING as ONLY ONE CORRECT FORM.
FROM HEBREW & ARAMAIC INTO GREEK
There are numerous articles online, written by those in the Messianic Jewish Movement, showing how the name “YESHUA” was transliterated to form the Messiah’s name in Greek. However, what you will not find mentioned in any of these same articles is that the name “JOSHUA” (Heb. Y’hoshua) was also transliterated into the same Greek form of His name. And what I found surprising is that there’s lack of teaching in Messianic Judaism regarding the connection between the names YESHUA and JOSHUA.
Therefore, both forms – “JOSHUA” and “YESHUA“- were transliterated into the Greek form, Ιησους (Iesous; pron. “Yay-soos” or “ee-ay-soos“) by Jewish scholars 250 years before JOSHUA/YESHUA/JESUS was ever conceived. Consequently, the accusation that this Greek form was the creation of the early Christians is FALSE. The Hebrew Scriptures had already been translated into Greek before JOSHUA/YESHUA/JESUS was born, so when it came time to write the New Testament, the disciples just made us of the Greek names and words that were already in use.
ARAMAIC ADOPTION INTO HEBREW
In ending this study, we need to realize that just as words from other countries and languages have been brought into the ENGLISH language, like the word “captain,” which is originally FRENCH, but is now seen as being ENGLISH, so ARAMAIC words were brought into the HEBREW language when the Jews were taken captive and lived in Babylon for 70 years. And by the time of the New Testament and Jesus’ ministry, these ARAMAIC words and names were then considered to be HEBREW.
So is there ONLY ONE CORRECT FORM of the Messiah’s name found within the Bible? No, there’s not. There’s actually the following biblical forms: “JOSHUA” (Heb. Yehoshua); “JESHUA” (Heb. Yeshua); and the Greek form IESOUS and the Early Latin form, IESVS, which, in addition to “YESHUA,” both the Greek and Latin forms were used during Jesus’ life. In fact, all THREE of these forms – the Hebrew, Greek and Latin, YESHUA, IESOUS, and IESVS – were written on the sign that was nailed above His head on the cross (John 19:19-20). Later, the Latin form IESVS became IESUS, which is the form that was originally written in the King James Version in 1611. Then in 1728, after the letter “J” came into the English language, the form used in the King James was changed from IESUS to “JESUS,” the same form of His name that’s used in English Bibles to this time.