By Ian Westmark
Read parts 1 and 2 of this article here.
Several less obvious scriptural reasons for which the apostles may have employed a transliteration of the Messiah’s Hebrew name when preaching to Gentiles
1. Because Yahweh alone is our salvation.
As has been already mentioned several times, the Hebrew name יְהֹושׁוּעַ / yə•hōw•šuwaʿ/ (Yehoshua) means Yahweh is salvation. 1 The importance of this ancient name and what it affirms about the God of Israel, is again reiterated and affirmed when God through the prophet Isaiah declares, “I, I am Yahweh, and there is no other Savior but Me” (Isaiah 43:11 HCSB, emphasis added; cf. Isaiah 45:21). In Hosea we likewise read, “But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.” (Hos. 13:4) The conception of Yahweh as savior appears early in the history of God’s people when, after their miraculous passage through the Red Sea, they with Moses sang, “The LORD [Yahweh] is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation [ישׁוּעָ֑ה / y•šuw•ʿāh / = salvation (for me)]” (Exodus 15:2, emphasis added). Centuries later, Isaiah (whose name in Hebrew is: יְשַׁעְיָהוּ /yə•šaʿ•yā•huw/ = Yahweh has saved) repeats verbatim the phrase ascribed to Yahweh in the Song of Moses (i.e. he has become my salvation) when describing the kind of praise that will break forth from the mouths of God’s people when they see the salvation that the messianic son will bring (chapters 7-11). Each one will exclaim, “Behold, God is my salvation [יְשׁוּעָתִ֛י / yə•šuw•ʿā•ṯi y / = my salvation]; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD [ יָ֣הּ יְהוָ֔ה/ yah yahweh ] is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation [ישׁוּעָֽה / y•šuw•ʿāh / = salvation (to me)]” (Isaiah 12:2, emphasis added). Similarly, in Psalm 68:20 we read, “Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD [Yahweh], the Lord, belong deliverances from death” (emphasis added). In fact, throughout the Psalms we find multiple pleas to Yahweh for salvation, as well as numerous expressions of thanksgiving for the salvation he granted (e.g. ‘save me!’ 13x, ‘God of my salvation’ 5x, ‘grant us your salvation’ 1x, ‘your salvation’ 17x, etc.). One of the most prominent and essential messages of the OT therefore is that no one but Yahweh can save his people, especially in the ultimate sense (i.e. rescue them from sin and its consequences and restore them to joyful and obedient communion with himself). 2 The message that Yahweh is salvation is thus reiterated over 960 times in the NT by way of the Messiah’s God-given name. Thus, it is also possible that the apostles rendered Yeshua in the most transparent and natural manner possible—by way of transliteration—so that the good news that Yah is salvation, would be faithfully proclaimed to every tribe and tongue.
While it is true that the full meaning of the transliterated name Yesu may remain hidden from the eyes of readers (or from the ears of auditors) of vernacular translations for a season, 3 it nevertheless prepares the way for the eventual unfolding of its meaning according to its Hebrew roots. 4 Thus, the Messiah’s transliterated name in any given language is pregnant with meaning—as a form of latent speech awaiting an opportunity for greater self-disclosure—which any informed and Spirit-filled believer can bring forth and explain at the right moment.
The name ‘Yah is salvation,’ furthermore, not only foretells the central role that the Messiah will play in the history of redemption 5 but also suggests, if not requires, that he be Yahweh himself by reason of the fact that the God who proclaims that he alone is the Savior of humanity would never raise up a rival savior outside of himself. Rather than send an exalted creature to rescue mankind, he determined to save us himself, going to the greatest lengths to do so, intervening directly on our behalf. This accords with the OT picture of the true and living God who comes down to judge sinners (whether among people in general or his chosen ones) 6 and/or to rescue his people, 7, and who even atones for their sins. 8 It also accords with the other OT Messianic names that connote divine ontology, namely: Lord, 9 Immanuel (Is. 7:14), Mighty God (Is. 9:6), and Yahweh our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6). That Jesus saw himself as the promised divine Messiah bearing the full name of Yahweh is clear when he responded to the Jews who challenged him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58, emphasis added). In this way Jesus identifies himself with the living God who revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14), and discloses himself as Yahweh. By granting the name Yeshua/Yesu to the promised seed of David before his birth, Yahweh, the one true and living God, was signaling that he was about to become mankind’s salvation, just as he had promised.
2. Because it is only right and fitting that the Messiah bear the name Yahweh.
Seeing how frequently God’s ancient people commemorated his personal name in the naming of their children (in abbreviated form), it should not have been surprising that it would also figure in the Messiah’s name, whether as the prefix ‘Yeho-/Jeho-’ or its abbreviated form ‘Yo-/Jo-/Ye-/Je-,’ or as the suffix ‘-iah/-jah.’ Among the priests, for example, we find names like Uriah, Jehoiada, Hilkiah, and Jeshua; and among the prophets, names like Elijah, Isaiah, Joel and Zechariah; and among the kings of Judah names like Jehoshaphat, Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah. In fact, since 15 out of 20 rulers of Judah have names which incorporate Yahweh, 10 it is almost to be expected that the name of David’s ultimate son would do the same. Moreover, on one occasion the OT Scriptures even attribute the name of Yahweh in its entirety to the Messiah. The Holy Spirit through the prophet Jeremiah said, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely… And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness’” /Yah•weh ṣiḏ•qē•nuw/ (Jer. 23:5a and 6b, emphasis added). This is probably the only time in Scripture that a human subject is so named, and it meshes well with Isaiah’s prophecies of a divine Messiah, 11 and with the regal glory of the ultimate messianic son whom David calls his ‘Lord’ (Ps. 110:1; cf. Ps. 45:7). Thus, it is almost to be expected that the promised Messiah would bear Yahweh’s name in one way or another, and certainly, Iēsous, the name that God announced to Mary and Joseph, does just that. Not only does it recall and echo the personal name ‘Yah,’ it also announces his global mission, namely to provide salvation in the ultimate sense for all people. By transliterating ‘Yah is salvation’ (Yeshua/Yesu) in translations of the NT in Muslim majority languages, as in all other languages, the organic link between Yeshua/Yesu and the Messianic name ‘Yahweh is our Righteousness’ is maintained.
Furthermore, it could be added, it is only right and fitting that God’s obedient Servant bear the personal and covenantal name of God (which is Yahweh) since God promised to give him “as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations” (in the first ‘servant song,’ Is. 42:6) and “as a covenant to the people” (in the second ‘servant song,’ Is. 49:8).
3. Because it is the God-given vehicle by which we are to proclaim the name of Yahweh to all nations.
Yahweh, the name of the God of Israel, was not to remain ‘insider language’ for the exclusive use of God’s own people, but was ultimately to be proclaimed and exalted among all people everywhere. The name Yahweh, informed by the totality of special revelation, is the name that must be proclaimed among all nations so that people everywhere will turn to him (and in so doing turn away from all other gods), call on his name, and exalt him for his powerful and gracious intervention on behalf of his estranged image bearers. Evidently, the generic term for God in the various languages of the world (e.g. Elohim in Hebrew) simply will not do. The OT makes this quite clear in a number of places. Remembering that the ESV renders Yahweh as ‘LORD’ (all caps), observe how the worldwide acclaim of Yahweh is foretold in the following sampling of prophecies: 12
Moreover, the fourfold hallelujahs 13 proclaimed by all of God’s servants 14 at the culmination of history show that the name of Yahweh (in its abbreviated form Yah/Jah) will not disappear from the lips of God’s people in the future but will continue to be acknowledged and exalted by all (Revelation 19:1-6). If Yahweh’s great name which was exalted by his people in the past will also be proclaimed by all in the future, should it not also be exalted in the present? How is it being exalted today? It appears that the way in which the ancient prophecies about the glory and spread of Yahweh’s name are being fulfilled today is through the proclamation of the Messiah’s God-given name Yeshua/Yesu (‘Yah is salvation’) which is at the heart of the apostolic gospel. It is difficult to see how the foregoing prophecies are being fulfilled in any other way at present. And if this be so, it is imperative that the name Yeshua/Yesu be transliterated with the greatest care and transparency possible in the new translations and revisions, so that the name of Yahweh embedded within it finds reasonable echo, thus setting the stage for the proper explanation of its meaning, whether in the paratext or by way of flesh and blood expositors, or by both.
Additional reasons for employing a transliteration of the Messiah’s Hebrew name when preaching to Gentiles
1. To guard the unity of Christian worship, fellowship and witness.
Throughout most of Christian history, Scripture translation has followed the lead of the apostles in rendering the Savior’s name. For this reason, believers around the world typically employ an indigenous generic term for God on the one hand, and a transliteration of Jesus’ name on the other, which is generally a recognizable version of Yesu. This sacred name has been passed on more or less intact to each succeeding generation of believers in multiple ethno-linguistic groups around the world. Though there is naturally some variation in the pronunciation of the transliterated name in the various languages, in nearly every case the linguistic connections back to the Greek transliteration Yēsou(s)—if not back to the original Hebrew name Yeshou’a—are fairly obvious and can be satisfactorily explained within the context of each particular language. It is doubtful whether Scripture translations before, say, the 1960s employed anything but reasonable transliterations of the name Yesu or Yeshua. The virtual unanimity of historic translation practice on this score carries great weight. If there is one thing that Christians have held in common across cultures and throughout time it is the name of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
2. Because the risen Messiah refers to himself by this name.
When the Lord in blinding light stopped Saul the persecutor while on his way to ravage the church in Damascus, he asked Saul why he was persecuting him. Saul quickly fell to the ground and asked, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…” was the reply (Acts 9:5, emphasis added; the same incident is also recounted in Acts 22:8 and Acts 26:15). Notably, the Lord did not answer by way of a title (“I am the Messiah,” “I am the Savior,” or “I am the Lord”) but by way of his personal name, “I am Jesus.” The risen Lord also refers to himself in the same way in the last chapter of the Bible, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches” (Rev. 22:16). We observe then that the risen Lord continues to accept and own the name that God gave him before his birth. Yeshua/Yesu is a fitting name because it discloses both his nature and the nature of the one who sent him, all of which meshes well with what Jesus said about himself before his suffering, namely, that He and the Father are one entity. It is only right and fitting then that the Son would share and bear the Father’s name since they are of the very same nature.
At this juncture, it is worth noting that in the minds of the apostles the Messiah and his God-given name will be exalted from now until the end of the age and beyond: “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10), “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21). In fact, Jude sees the One who bears this name as filling the entire expanse of eternity, “to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 25).
3. To preserve the link to Joshua the son of Nun.
Jehoshua (יְהֹושֻֽׁעַ /yə•hōw•šuaʿ/), Yahweh is salvation, is the name that Moses gave his faithful young assistant (Numbers 13:16), who would later succeeded him and become one of the foremost models of faith and courage in the OT (Numbers 14:30). He is an individual about whom, it should be added, relatively little negative is said. 15 After the forty-day reconnaissance mission in the promised land, Yahweh himself employs the name Joshua when commending Moses’ assistant, thereby affirming and endorsing the name Moses had given him. Lockyer states, “Joshua has been rightly called, “The first soldier consecrated by sacred history,” 16 and adds, “Moses, representing the Law, brought the people to the border of the land, but it took a Joshua (God’s salvation) to take them into the land.” 17 From this perspective, Joshua served as a type of Christ, prefiguring how the latter would ultimately deliver Yahweh’s people and bring them into their eternal inheritance where they would enjoy lasting rest. Jesus, then, is the second and greater Joshua. The natural link between these two historic figures 18 by way of the name they share and the role they played is best preserved through transliteration, and the resulting concordance 19 is a bonus from which all readers and auditors can benefit.
Conclusion to Parts 1-3
The consistent apostolic practice of transliterating the Messiah’s Hebrew name in Gentile contexts was needful both because it came by way of special revelation (and thus was authoritatively God-given) and because of its deep inherent meaning in the original language. 20 ‘Yah is salvation’ is indeed the promised divine Messiah, and his name naturally encompasses, reveals, and represents Yahweh. Because all who would be saved must call upon this name and no other name, the apostles faithfully transmitted it in its transliterated form. The many Old Testament prophecies about the spread and exaltation of Yahweh’s name among all nations are therefore being fulfilled today through the worldwide proclamation of the gospel, in which the name Yeshua/Yesu is front and center.
Read parts 1 and 2 and here. Watch for part 4 coming soon!
- This is the first of two definitions given in BDB, Oxford, 1979, p. 221(c-d), the second being ‘Yahweh is opulence,’ adding that “in any case it came to be associated with ישׁע.” ↩
- “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. ” (Psalm 130.7-8); “But Israel is saved by the LORD with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity” (Is. 45.17); “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53.6);“Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day” (Zech. 3.8-9). ↩
- This season, however, can be significantly shortened by a proper explanation of the origin and meaning of the name in the paratext. ↩
- This can be done in English, for example, by showing that the first syllable of the name Jesus, ‘Je-’, stands for ‘Yah,’ an abbreviated form of the Hebrew name Yahweh, while the second syllable, ‘-sus’, stands for the Hebrew noun ‘-shua’, which signifies ‘salvation.’ ↩
- Aalders notes, “Some have insisted that the naming of the created phenomena indicated no more than that God was supreme Ruler over all things He had created. We find this difficult to accept in the light of other instances in Scripture where God gave “names.” God gave Abram the name of Abraham. This was done, we are told in Genesis 17, because God made Abraham what his new name implied, a “Father of many nations” (Gen. 17:5). The same was true of Sarah in Genesis 17:15. When the prophet Jeremiah, in the name of the Lord, had to give the name Magor-missabib, meaning “terror on every side,” to Pashhur, this implied that God had made Pashhur just that, a terror both to himself and to everyone else (Jer. 20:3, 4).” (G. Ch. Aalders, Genesis, Vol. I, Bible Students Commentary, Regency Reference Library, 1981, pp. 57-58). ↩
- Gen. 11:5, Num. 12:5, 2 Sam. 22:10 = Ps. 18:9; Is. 31:4; Is. 64:1-2 is a prayer for this to happen ↩
- Ex. 3:8; 19:11, 20; Num. 11:17, 25 ↩
- Ps. 65:3; 78:38; 79:9; Ezekiel 36:33; cf. Lev. 17:11, Is. 6:7 ↩
- Since David’s ultimate seed is also his Lord (see Ps. 110:1), the Messiah is rightly considered to be David’s ‘root’ i.e. his Creator (Rev. 5:5, 22:16), as well as his descendant (Rev. 22:16). ↩
- Abijah, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Ahaziah, [Queen: Athaliah], Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah, Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoichin, Zedekiah; The kings of Judah who did not have ‘Yah’ in their names are: Rehoboam, Asa, Ahaz, Manasseh, and Amon. ↩
- The prophet Isaiah informed King Ahaz, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7.14, emphasis added). Later the Holy Spirit through the same prophet declared that the one who would ultimately sit on David’s throne would be called, among other things, ‘Mighty God’ /El Gibbor/ (Is. 9.6, emphasis added). The latter is clearly employed as a divine title in Is. 10.21. ↩
- In this particular list of citations, words and phrases pertaining to the nations/all peoples have been italicized, while phrases pertaining to the name of Yahweh have been put in bold characters for emphasis. Keep in mind that the ESV, like many other versions, usually renders Yahweh as ‘LORD’ (all caps). One exception to this rule is when Yahweh combines with Adonai (‘Lord’). In this case the ESV renders Yahweh ‘GOD’ (all caps) rather than LORD, certainly to avoid the redundancy that would otherwise result in English. ↩
- The Baker NT Commentary states, “This transliterated Hebrew word made up of hallelu (praise) and yah (an abbreviated form of Yahweh) has become a universally accepted term. In the same way, words like amen, abba, and maranatha appear in numerous languages around the globe. From Hellenistic Jews in their synagogues, early Christians adopted the expression hallelujah as a liturgical exclamation of joy” (Section on Rev. 19:1-5). ↩
- First, a vast multitude made up of the redeemed proclaim it twice (Rev. 19:1, Rev. 19:3), then the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures in heaven proclaim it (Rev. 19.4), and finally all of God’s servants (Rev. 19:6). ↩
- At one point, Joshua seems to have been mildly rebuked for being jealous, not for his own sake, but for Moses’: “But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”” (Numbers 11.29). At a much later date, he and the men of Israel fell prey to the shrewd deception of the Gibeonites, “So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. ” (Joshua 9.14-15). ↩
- Herbert Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible, Zondervan 1958, p. 205. ↩
- Ibid. 206 ↩
- The LXX does not distinguish between Yehoshua (e.g Josh. 1:1) and Jeshua (e.g. Ezra 3:2), and thus this historic figure, a post-exilic high priest, also carries the Messiah’s future name and perhaps prefigures his high priestly ministry, though the latter, the Lord’s servant, the Branch, will remover sin in a much greater, lasting, and speedy way (Zech. 3:8-9). ↩
- The degree of concordance, of course, depends on how the two names are transliterated. In the NAV (Arabic Bible), for example, the two names are quite similar: yešūɁ/yesūɁ. ↩
- When the first syllable of the Savior’s proper name is transliterated in a clear and reasonable way (as in the LXX and the NT), it will echo the Hebrew morpheme ‘Yah,’ and when the second syllable is transliterated in like fashion, it will echo the Hebrew word for salvation ‘shu’a.’ ↩