A bit of a different type of writing from me. Spent some time learning the Greek Alphabet and the name Jesus in its original language. Reflecting on it was a very positive and fulfilling spiritual experience for me as was something as simple as drawing it in Hebrew/Greek. So I am leading Bible study next week and this is the route i am going. Writing the name Jesus and God in Hebrew and Greek with a reflection on them. I am no expert in these subjects so if you see errors please point them out.
What is Jesus’s actual name?
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, And for that name which is no part of thee Take all myself
Background: I and J were different forms of the same letter at one time. In Roman numerals the J was a typological flourish and served as a swash variant of I. The number twenty-three could be written as XXIII or more stylistically as XXIIJ. The letter J proper was not invented until around the year 1524. Gian Giorgio Trissino is reputed to be the first to distinguish between I and J representing their different modern sounds. Jesus with a J did not appear in the Bible until 1629 in the Cambridge 1st Revision of the KJV. So, long before the letter J was added, long before his name was transliterated into Latin from Greek, long before his name was transliterated into Greek from Hebrew, what was the name given to Jesus at birth by his parents? That is a question I hope to unpack and address in this article.
I have also been noticing more and more irreverence for the name God and Jesus in society. It is used constantly by people and in movies as an exclamation (“Jesus Christ!” or “oh my God!”). This lackadaisical and irreverent practice stands at odds with our scripture and the teachings of Jesus. Psalm 8:1 and 111:9 tell us how majestic, holy and awesome the name of God is:
Psalm 8:1: O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! NRSV
Psalm 111:11: Holy and awesome is his name.
The very next line of Psalm 111 tells us “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13) he started the Lord’s prayer with recognition and reverence: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Similarly in Luke (11:24) we find the prayer begins with: “Father, may your name be revered as holy.” Rather than using the name shallowly or in vain, prayer starts with the exact opposite. The name of God has gone from hallowed to hollow in some circles and instead of wondering “what is man that God is mindful of him” along with the author of the 8th Psalm, this has been reversed by society into “what is God that man is mindful of him?” Even Christians sometimes use the name conventionally or colloquially as it comes natural in our speech. I do it but I am not proud of it. I often catch myself and say a quick prayer. It is a habit I much desire to break even if God can see into each of our hearts and knows who is purposefully or irreverently profaning his name and who is just habitually doing so. Watching a movie where the Lord’s name is used nonchalantly or as a figure of speech or to express astonishment never used to bother me as much as it does now. I am not sure if it is happening more or I am simply noticing it more often. But it sticks out now like a sore thumb to me and feels like God is being watered down and diluted. So I want to focus this article solely on the birth-name of Jesus and do so sheerly out of reverence for God the Father and God the Son.
One caveat is in order before beginning. In English we are all familiar with the term water and we know what it means. In Spanish it is called agua and to a Chemist it goes by H20. In all three cases we are referring to the same substance and its nature does not change based on our nomenclature or naming conventions. It will boil at 100oC, freeze at 0oC and have the same density, reactivity with alkali metals and a host of other identical chemical and physical properties regardless of what we call it. So the name Jesus refers to the same person regardless of what language we use or what phonetic sounds we specifically make when addressing Him. Yet it should be noted that in the Old Testament names have meanings associated with them. If a name is phonetically translated into another language, that is then transliterated into another language, this rich etymological history can be lost. The Hebrew name for Jesus was not only transliterated into Greek, the Greek name for Jesus was transliterated into Latin which only much later distinguished between I and J. In fact, if Jesus’s name was transliterated straight from Hebrew into English today, He would be known as Joshua. The New Testament was originally written in Greek which does not have an sh sound (as in shoe) so an s sound was substituted in with another at the end to make the word masculine. The original name Jesus/Joshua in Hebrew means “the Lord saves” or “God is salvation”—a very appropriate title. We also all know that a person’s name is important and so is getting it right. As a teacher every year I try to remember my student’s names as soon as possible. This is the first step to building rapport and establishing a work environment conducive to learning. How can my students feel they are in caring hands in a safe space if their instructor doesn’t even know their name?
What Does Scripture Say?
In Acts 4:12, Peter the prisoner was filled with the spirit and said this of Jesus “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” In Matthew 1:20-21, “Joseph has resolved to divorce Mary quietly but an angel of the Lord appears before him and changes his plans. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus , for he will save his people from their sins.” There can be no confusion here because the angel Gabriel also appeared to Mary and old her the same thing. In this case Jesus was named by an Angel (and therefore God) before He is even conceived (Lk 1:30-35, Lk 2:21) by the Holy Spirit to all this Mary gives her consent (Luke 1:38).
For all our factual knowledge, capacity for trivia, interest in Jeopardy style games and being enamored by celebrity gossip, why would most Christians not even recognize the name of Jesus if they saw it written in Hebrew or heard it spoken? Why would they also not recognize it in Greek in either capacity? Sure, we must defer to Juliet’s famous proclamation: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Ultimately, the label we give to “Jesus” doesn’t matter or change the substance of who He is. In fact, He has many titles and labels: emmanuel, Word of God, Only begotten Son, the Christ or Messiah, Lord, Rabbi, Savior, Prophet, Priest, King, Redeemer, Sacrificial Lamb, Good Shepherd, Bread of Life, True Vine and the Alpha and the Omega. All wonderfully accurate and true in regards to Jesus. But still, we are talking about God incarnate. The creator of heaven and earth became flesh and dwelt among us yet many people don’t know his actual name. If you feel inclined to ask, “why should I care about the Hebrew name given to Jesus,”-- his actual birth name–this might not be the article for you. I do so out of piety and reverence for a God who chose to empty or condescend himself and be found in human form. The incarnation is the greatest love story ever told in my opinion.
Hebrews 2: 9, 17-18: “but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. . . . he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
Philippians 2:4-7: “Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross.
The latter passage above goes on to tell us “ God exalted him even more highly and gave him the name that is above every other name, so that at the name given to Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” The geographical region we grew up in and the language we learned largely dictates what name we refer to Jesus by. Yet Jesus is the central character of the Gospel which is not just one door amongst many. It’s the hinge of all doors. His name is not just one name among many names. It is special because He is special. For all the states and capitals we might know, movie quotes we could recognize, sports highlights we could jubilate over, song lyrics we memorized, general world history we can recite or useless facts and knowledge we might possess, I feel strongly we should be aware and recognize the actual God-given name of the incarnate Word of God. Not as a matter of salvation or proper doctrine. Just simply out of respect, reverence, love and awe for what happened 2,000 years ago in Galilee. God became man and dwelt among us, he died for our sins and He needs to be our priority in all things. For many Christians the incarnation is unordered yet perfectly timed climax of human history, the penultimate event of all creation. Why should we not know what Jesus was actually called? A name the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke both indirectly to God. A name that is the only name under heaven by which salvation is achieved. It should give us shivers. Push our eyes to the ground. Bring hope and inspire us to do good. God’s is awesome and majestic and His name should be handled with the respect and adoration due to Him.
What was Jesus’s name?
The closest phonetic transliteration into Greek from Hebrew was Iesous (pronounced yay-soos). As previously noted the us at the end was added to make the name masculine and Greek did not have a sh sound so an s sound was used in place. In English today it is pronounced Jesus (Gee-zus). The J sound was a late development as I and J were eventually split into separate letters. The birth name given to Him by God is pronounced Yeshua (YEH-shoo-ah with the first syllable being emphasized more than the following two.) This is the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament though it is the shortened Aramaic form of the original Hebrew Yehoshua. When Jesus was named before his conception by an angel this is what he would have been called. There might have even been a play on words evident in the Gospel of Matthew if the Greek text has historical Hebrew roots. “You shall call him Yeshua for he will save ( yoshia ) his people from their sins. The angel would not have spoken Greek to Mary or Joseph! Likewise, when his mother Mary called to him this is the name she would use. The apostles knew him as Yeshua as well–Yeshua ben Yosef.
Writing the Name Jesus:
Yeshua and Iesous are written in English letters as phonetic transliterations. But what would Jesus’s name actually look like in Greek and Hebrew/Aramaic? The following two pages have a Greek and Hebrew Alphabet. Following them are a listing of the letters in Jesus’s name in both Greek and Hebrew. Use the information in the bullet points and the alphabet to practice writing Jesus’s name not only as it appeared in the Greek New Testament, but also how it would have been actually written by Jesus or someone contemporaneous with him in Hebrew. I find it to be spiritually powerful to meditate on the name Jesus if it is done out of love and reverence. The name God and the name Jesus are holy and majestic. They should not be used in vain or as an idiom expressing shock. Instead we must always be humble and grateful and ask: “What is man that God is mindful of him?” I encourage you to read Psalm 8 below in full noticing the bookends, and to always be mindful of God and thankful for his Grace. Be mindful of Jesus and thankful for His sacrifice. Learn how to pronounce, write and recognize His actual name!
I cut out Psalm 8 from here though I certainly recommend it be read. Also if any one is interested in writing the name Jesus in Greek and Hebrew the PDF is print friendly and has Greek and Hebrew Alphabets with the instructions below: