From Latin to English

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In the previous section, the question was asked,  “If Ιησους (Iesous) is the ordinary Greek form of the name “Joshua,” then why don’t we see the name “Joshua” used in our New Testaments for the Lord’s name?  Rubin Barrett, in his online article “The History of the Name ‘Jesus’,” answers this question in the following footnote:

Why, then, do we refer to Joshua and Jesus by different names, since the New Testament authors and audience understood that their names were the same (Joshua and Jesus)?  Jerome, in translating the Bible into Latin in the late 4th century, made this distinction.  He translated the classical Hebrew Yehoshua and the Aramaic-Hebrew Yeshua into Latin as Iosue.  But in the New Testament, He rendered Iesous consistently as Iesu or Iesus, even though it referred to Joshua in [two] places.  If he had used the Septuagint as his source for the Old Testament instead of the Hebrew, then he would have likely rendered everything consistently as Iesu(s), and today we would have never heard of Joshua.  We would be calling him Jesus the son of Nun.  The same scenario is at work regarding the apocryphal book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus).  Its author was Yeshua ben Sirach.  Before the discovery of its original Hebrew editions, the work was only known through its Greek and Latin versions.  So he is usually referred to as Jesus the son of Sirach. Source text: Biblia Sacra Vulgata.  (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1969)

Consequently, in translating the Bible into Latin, it was Jerome who made the distinction between “Joshua” in the Old Testament and “Jesus” in the New Testament.  He translated the Hebrew Bible (i.e., Old Testament) and the Greek New Testament into Latin in the 4th century C.E. The translation is called the Latin Vulgate.  For example, here is Joshua 1:1 in our English Bibles:

Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying,

Now here’s the same verse from the Latin Vulgate:

 et factum est ut post mortem Mosi servi Domini loqueretur Dominus ad Iosue filium Nun ministrum Mosi et diceret ei (Joshua 1:1)

As you can see the Latin form of “Joshua son of Nun” is Iosue filium Nun; however, when we look into the Latin version of the New Testament, we don’t see the spelling Iosue for the Lord’s name.  For example, here is Matthew 2:1 in our English Bibles:

When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Judah, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem,

And now here is the same verse from the Latin Vulgate:

cum ergo natus esset Iesus in Bethleem Iudaeae in diebus Herodis regis ecce magi ab oriente venerunt Hierosolymam.

In comparing the Latin version of Joshua 1:1 with the Latin version of Matthew 2:1, we discover, as Barrett notes, Jerome used two different spellings (Iosue for Joshua, and Iesus for the Messiah) for what in Greek is the same name, “Joshua.”

Jerome’s Latin Vulgate became the official Bible of the Christian church for the next 1,000 years plus, until the time of Martin Luther, who was the first to successfully translate the New Testament into another language besides Latin, which was German.

And again, as Barrett points out in his footnote, it was Jerome who made the distinction between the two names – Joshua and Jesus – in his Latin translation.  Barrett argues, though, that if Jerome had not done so, we would have never known of the name “Joshua.”  However, I disagree.  The name “Joshua” (Heb. Y’hoshua/Yeshua) is clearly evident in the Hebrew Bible, and I believe God would have found a way of bringing this information to light.

However, I would also like to point out that in the early English translations of the New Testament, it is the Latin spelling, Iesus, that we see used for the Lord’s name, rather than the spelling “Jesus” that we see today.

A Brief History of our English Bibles

Translators and theologians started putting together English Bibles as we know them not long before the invention of the printing press (the Wycliffe Bible was the first English New Testament translation of the Bible in the 1380s) and then other New Testament translations into English came along after the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in 1454.  According to the online article “Part 1: From Wycliffe to King James (The Period of Challenge),” there was John Colet’s translation of the New Testament in 1496 and William Tyndale’s translation in 1525-1526.  The Coverdale Bible was the first complete English Bible printed on October 4, 1535.  However, the Bible that was the most popular, even more so than the King James Version in the KJV’s first fifty years, was the Geneva Bible (1560). The writer of this article goes on to point out that the Geneva Bible was –

  • The first English Bible translated entirely from the Greek and Hebrew.
  • The first English translation done by a committee.
  • The first English Bible with verse divisions.”

In addition, the Geneva Bible “was the Bible the Pilgrims took with them when they came to America and landed at Plymouth.  It was also the Bible that Shakespeare used” (“Part 1: From Wycliffe”).  But what I found rather interesting from the article was that –

During the 45-year reign of Queen Elizabeth nearly 100 editions of the Geneva Bible were  published!  Even fifty years after the KJV appeared, the Geneva Bible was the most popular Bible in England.  Ultimately, it would not survive because of politics: a new king [James I] would come along who wanted his own translation – one that was not so Calvinistic. (“Part 1:  From Wycliffe”)

It makes you wonder if politics had not been involved, and King James had allowed both translations equal access to the public, which translation would be popular today?  The King James Bible was not published until 1611.

The Name “Jesus” & Changes in English

In these original English translations, including the original King James Version, as I mentioned previously, the name “Jesus” was written using its Latin form, Iesus.  For example, here is Mark 1:1, as it appears in the Coverdale Bible (1535):

This is the begynnynge of the gospell of Iesus Christ the sonne of God (“Bible Search”)

As you can see, the English language did not look the same as it does today.  Here’s the account of “Jesus” calling Andrew and Simon to follow Him from the same translation:

So as he walked by the see of Galile, he sawe Symon and Andrew his brother, castinge their nettes in the see, for they were fysshers.  And Iesus sayde vnto the: Folowe me, and I wil make you fysshers of me.  And immediatly they left their nettes, and folowed him. (Mark 1:16-18, Coverdale, “Bible Search”)

Now let’s look at Mark 1:1 in some other early English translations for comparison.

The Bishop’s Bible (1568)
The begynnyng of the Gospel of Iesu Christ, the sonne of God.

The Geneva Bible (1587)
The beginning of the Gospel of Iesus Christ, the Sonne of God:

Mark 1:1 in the Geneva Bible is getting much closer to what we see in Bibles today.  Now let’s look at the same verse in the original King James Version.

The King James Version (1611)
The beginning of the Gospel of Iesus Christ, the Sonne of God.

As we can see, Mark 1:1 was written the same way in both the Geneva Bible (1587) and in the original King James Version (1611).  Of course, these two translations were only 24 years apart, so not that many changes had happened to the language in those few years. Also, we can see that the King James Version that is published today has continued to change and develop as well.  However, when we compare the King James Version (1611) with the Mace New Testament of 1729, we do note some changes:

 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the son of God.

With the Mace New Testament (1729), the verse now looks like what we are used to seeing with the name “Jesus” spelled with the letter J, just as it is in our English Bibles today, rather than the Latin form, Iesus, that was used in previous English translations.  According to the article “The Latin Alphabet” on the University of Denver’s website,

The Latin alphabet of 23 letters was derived in the 600’s BC from the Etruscan alphabet of 26 letters, which was in turn derived from the archaic Greek alphabet, which came from the Phoenician. The letters J, U, and W of the modern alphabet were added in medieval times, and did not appear in the classical alphabet, except that J and U could be alternative forms for I and V. (Calvert)

As stated in the article, the letter J was added in Medieval times in the Latin language. However, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it provides us with more detailed information regarding the origin of the letter J in the Latin,

one of the most stable English letters (it has almost always the same sound), it is a latecomer to the alphabet and originally had no sound value. The letter itself began as a scribal modification of Roman -i- in continental Medieval Latin. The scribes added a “hook” to small -i-, especially in the final position in a word or roman numeral, to distinguish it from the strokes of other letters. The dot on the -i- (and thus the -j-) and the capitalization of the pronoun I are other solutions to the same problems.

Originally, the letter J did not begin as a letter at all, but as a way to distinguish the final “i” in words from the strokes of other languages.  The article goes on to say,

In English, -j- was used as a roman numeral throughout Middle English, but the letter -y- was used to spell words ending an “i” sound, so -j- was not needed to represent a sound.  Instead, it was introduced into English c. 1600-1640 to take up the consonantal sound that had evolved from the Roman i- since Late Latin times. In Italian, g- was used to represent this, but in other languages j- took the job. This usage is attested earliest in Spanish, where it was in place before 1600.

So here we can see that the letter J came about to serve a particular need in the English language.  It happened because all languages are intricately interwoven with the culture that uses them, and as the culture changes, the language changes.  All languages are dynamic and ever-changing, and no language is static, not English and not Hebrew. Hebrew, like English, has gone through its own changes, and like English, it is also continuing to grow and to develop.   In reference to words coming into English from the Hebrew, the writer notes,

In English words from Hebrew, -j- represents yodh, which was equivalent to English consonantal y (hence hallelujah) but many of the Hebrew names later were conformed in sound to the modern -j- (compare Jesus).

The letter J originally made a “y” sound due to German influences.  Old English and German, for example, are extremely close linguistic “cousins.”  If you heard someone speaking in Old English, it sounds like he or she is speaking German.  However, French influences came through the language later after the letter J was formed and began its use in the English language, and as a result, the letter J took on the sound that we are familiar with today.  So was the use of the letter J some conspiracy to hide the “real sound or pronunciation of the Messiah’s name,” as these online conspiracy theorists claim? Absolutely not!  Its development from the Latin and other surrounding languages was just a normal part of the dynamic growth and development of the language that happened at that time.

Some Further Examples

As a college English instructor since 1991, I find the changes that happen to languages to be a fascinating study, particularly the English language. For example, here is John 3:16 in several English versions dating back to Old English, or Anglo-Saxon.

  • Anglo-Saxon Proto-English Manuscripts (995 AD):
    “God lufode middan-eard swa, dat he seade his an-cennedan sunu, dat nan ne forweorde de on hine gely ac habbe dat ece lif.”
  • Wycliff (1380):
    “for god loued so the world; that he gaf his oon bigetun sone, that eche man that bileueth in him perisch not: but haue euerlastynge liif.”
  • Geneva (1560):
    “For God so loueth the world, that he hath geuen his only begotten Sonne: that none that beleue in him, should peryshe, but haue euerlasting lyfe.”
  • 1st Ed. King James (1611):
    “For God so loued the world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life.”
    (“English Bible History”)

As a college instructor, it’s fun to watch people’s expressions when I first show them things written in Anglo-Saxon.  They look at it or hear it, and they have this shocked expression on their face when they ask, “This is English?”  And yet it is, in its original Anglo-Saxon form.  I’ve discovered many English speakers over the years who are thankful for the many changes that the English language has gone through to get it where it is today, particularly when I show them the Anglo-Saxon.

And as we have seen in this article, the name of the Messiah has gone through many changes and alterations as it has gone from one language to another.  And as more translations for various people around the world are developed, then its various forms will continue to grow and to develop.  I find the development and growth of language to be extremely exciting.  It is unfortunate there are those who wish to kill the enthusiasm of people for these changes by placing these changes within a dark fictional cloak of a conspiracy merely to propagate their own agenda.


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