By Ian Westmark
Several more or less likely reasons for which the apostles employed a transliteration of the Messiah’s foreign name when preaching to Gentiles
Read Part 1 of this article here.
1. Because God himself named the Messiah.
Before Jesus’ conception the angel Gabriel told Mary, his biological mother to be, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Lk. 1:31, emphasis added). Then at some point after his conception and before his birth an angel of the Lord told Joseph, Mary’s betrothed husband and the Messiah’s adoptive father, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21, emphasis added). Although God also chose the names of other people such as Ishmael, Isaac, Isaiah’s two sons, and John the Baptist, this is the only time in Scripture that God commanded both parents 1 independently to give the child to be born a particular name. This demonstrates that Jesus’ name is especially significant. In fact, the OT even foretold that God himself would personally name the Messiah. In the opening line of the second “Servant Song” the Lord’s servant says, “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name” (Is. 49.1, emphasis added).
It should also be stressed that in the biblical worldview the act of naming a person manifests the authority of the name-giver over the one being named, such as when God named mankind ‘man’ (Gen. 5:2), or as when Adam gave names to all the animals (Gen. 2:19). 2 Any attempt therefore by a creature to dismiss the Messiah’s God-given name and rename him is tantamount to defying the authority of the sovereign Name-Giver, and claiming authority over the Messiah.
2.Because of what Yehoshua/Yeshua 3 means in Hebrew.
God expressly stressed the time-honored meaning of Iēsous, Yesu(s), 4when an angel of the Lord told Joseph in a dream, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1.21, emphasis added). While this angelic message may have originally been given in Aramaic, it is clear from Matthew’s inspired Greek-language record that Iēsous, the standard LXX transliteration of the Hebrew name Yehoshua and its abbreviated form, 5 is considered an adequate and appropriate vehicle for connoting ‘Yah is salvation.’ 6 And because Yahweh alone can save his people from their sins (Is. 43:11, Hosea 13:4, cf. Is. 45:21), this God-given name is likely signaling the Messiah’s divine ontology as well. To replace the name Yeshua/Yesu in Scripture translation would therefore muffle the implicit proclamation of these two essential truths which are best preserved and transmitted through the transliteration of the ancient name.
3. Because the name Yesu(s) now represents Yahweh.
The fact that the apostles did not exhort Gentiles to call upon the name of Yahweh as did the saints of the OT, 7 but rather to call upon the name of Yesu shows that for them the name Yesu had eclipsed the name Yahweh in terms of functional importance, and this from Pentecost forward. 8 On the other hand, given the meaning of the name Yesu (see the preceding point), it appears that they also understood the name of Yahweh to be subsumed under the name Yesu. In this sense Yesu does not replace the name Yahweh but rather embodies it. This would, in any case, explain why the apostolic writers sometimes attribute certain OT texts about Yahweh to Yeshua/Yesu. In his epistle to the Romans, for example, Paul writes, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom. 10:12-13, emphasis added). The italicized portion here indicates Paul’s citation of Joel 2:32 9 according to the LXX version in which the Greek word κύριος /kyrios/ 10 (Lord) stands for Yahweh in the Hebrew text. Yet in the overall context of Romans 10 Paul makes it clear that by “the name of the Lord” he intends ‘Jesus’ (see vv. 9 & 17 in particular). This means that for Paul, calling on the name of Yeshua/Yesu is the same thing as calling on the name of Yahweh and yields the same result, namely salvation. In fact, for Paul, the practice of calling on the name of Yesu is truly a “cultural universal” in the family of faith (1 Cor. 1:2, cf. Acts 7:59-60, and 2 Tim. 2:22).
Likewise, when writing to the Philippian believers, Paul again takes the name of Yesu(s) as standing for Yahweh. Alluding to Isaiah 45:23 (where Yahweh says: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’) Paul writes, “For this reason God highly exalted Him [Christ Jesus] and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—of those who are 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.” (Philippians 2:9-11 HSCB, italics added to indicate the allusion). Moisés Silva, via a Q & A format, explains,
By requiring every knee to bow at the name of ‘Yah is salvation’ and every tongue to confess that the One who bears it is Lord, God ensures that all people everywhere recognize and acknowledge that Yeshua/Yesu is of the very same nature and dignity as Yahweh, whether they do so in humble faith now or out of sheer terror on the last day. This brings glory to God the Father because his only Son, the One who shares his nature and bears his name, has now become our salvation.
4. Because salvation is conditioned upon the name Iēsous (Jesus).
The name of Jesus was incontestably at the heart of apostolic preaching. The following statements, each word of which was breathed out by the Holy Spirit speaking through the apostolic writers, show the centrality of this sacred name, especially in regard to obtaining eternal salvation:
For me, and certainly for many others as well, it would be unconscionable to replace the name of Jesus in the foregoing verses with any other name in Scripture translation, especially one coined by a tardive and hostile religious authority. To set aside the name of Yeshua—or the most reasonable transliteration of it in any given language—and put Issa in its place would be to deviate from the apostolic pattern of transliteration, to accept a seventh century “correction” of a first century text, and to exchange what is sacred and God-given for what is mundane and inverted (see below). Furthermore, it could potentially jeopardize the salvation of the readers (or the listeners in the case of audio versions) since salvation, according to Scripture, is conditioned upon faith in the one and only Son of God (John 3:16, 1 John 5:5) to whom God gave the name Yeshua/Yesu (Matthew 1:21) and no other name (Acts 4:12). It is to this name alone that God has ascribed the work of final and complete cosmic redemption. How then could we ascribe thanks and praise to any other name? It is imperative therefore, that forthcoming translations of the NT give people everywhere (including those whose languages and cultures have been deeply impacted by Islam) access to the Messiah’s authentic God-given name. This name is the linguistic form that most authentically preserves the ancient proclamation ‘Yah is salvation,’ and is the vehicle through which this all-important message can most readily be accessed and explained. It is the name that is to be proclaimed to all ethnic groups on earth for their salvation and the glory of God the Father.
Furthermore, to enthrone the name of Issa in Scripture translation would create a contradiction and pose a stumbling block to Christian witness. It would naturally raise the question: Are there now two names under heaven by which we may be saved, namely Jesus and Issa, rather than one name under heaven by which we must be saved, namely Yeshua/Yesu(s), as the apostles proclaimed?
Read part 1 here. Watch for Part 3 coming soon!
- In this case, Joseph was the legal rather than biological father. ↩
- TWOT (Vol. I, 810) in its treatment of the verb קרא (‘to call’) observes, “The verb may represent the specification of a name. Naming is sometimes the assertion of sovereignty over the thing named. God’s creating entailed naming and numbering the stars (Ps 147:4), the darkness (Gen 1:5), indeed all things (Isa 40:26). God presented the animals to Adam to assert his relative sovereignty over them (Gen 2:19). God sovereignly called Cyrus by name (note that election to a task is involved here, Isa 45:4). Sometimes this idea of sovereignty is entailed even though the concept “naming” is omitted, e.g. God called all generations from the beginning (Isa 41:4; cf. Amos 5:8). In these instances the object must respond.” Commenting on Gen 1:5 Constable writes, “God named things (“called” them such and such), in addition to creating them. Having a name equals having existence, in biblical thought, and the act of giving a name meant the exercise of a sovereign right (cf. 41:45; 2 Kings 24:17; Dan. 1:7).” (Dr. Constable’s Notes on Genesis, 2020 Edition, p. 31 [https://planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/pdf/genesis.pdf]) ↩
- יֵשׁוּעַ /yē-šuwaʿ/ (Jeshua) is an abbreviated form of Yehoshua borne by a priest in the time of David, a Levite in the time of Hezekiah, by a post-exilic high priest (the son of Jozadak, Ezra 3:2, 3.8, 5.2), as well as by a post-exilic Levite and a wall builder. The LXX renders both names (i.e. the longer and shorter form) with the same name, Ἰησοῦς /Iēsous/. ↩
- The final sigma or ‘s’ in the Greek version of the name shown here is simply the marker for the nominative case which disappears and/or is replaced with other markers in other cases. ↩
- J. Barton Payne in TWOT Vol. 1, p. 211, writes, “Yehôshûă’ -yēshûă’ designates ten Hebrew leaders (ISBE, III, pp. 1622, 1743) from Moses’ successor Joshua (KJV, Jehoshua in Num 13:16; I Chr 7:27) to the post-exilic high-priest Jeshua (Ezra 3:2; Neh 12:10). The former’s name was changed from the Hiphil infinitive, Hoshea, “salvation,” to Joshua, with its deeper spiritual connotation of “Yahweh (is) salvation” (Num 13:8, 16). Both men are called Jesus in Greek (Acts 7:45; I Esdr 5:48), i.e., yeshûa’ is our Lord’s Hebrew name, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). This may be a shortened form with the divine element omitted, meaning “he will save.”” As for Payne’s final remark—the notion that the divine element may have been omitted in the shortened form yeshûa’—it should be stressed that ‘Jeshua the son of Jozadak’ (יֵשׁ֨וּעַ בֶּן־יֹֽוצָדָ֜ק), the post-exilic high priest who is mentioned four times in Ezra and once in Nehemiah, is simultaneously called ‘Joshua the son of Jehozadak’ (יְהֹושֻׁ֧עַ בֶּן־יְהֹוצָדָ֛ק), five times in Haggai and once in Zechariah. It appears then that Yeshua was a commonly accepted variant of Yehoshua, just as Jozadak was of Jehozadak. The fact that the son of Nun himself is called ‘Yeshua’ in Nehemiah 8.17 (יֵשׁ֨וּעַ בִּן־נ֥וּן) powerfully confirms this, as does the fact that the LXX transliterates Yehoshua and Yeshua in the very same way. The NT, like the LXX, also employs Iēsous for Joshua the son of Nun in both Acts 7.45 and Hebrews 4.8. This demonstrates that the apostolic writers likewise understood Yeshua/Yesu to render the Hebrew name Yehoshua. Though by the time of David the variant Yeshua had already appeared and happened to have the form of the verb ‘he will save,’ this does not negate the fact that it continued to connote the historic name Yehoshua with its inherent meaning throughout the remainder of the OT period and on into the NT period via the transliteration Iēsous. ↩
- This is the first definition given by BDB, 1979, 221c, and the one given by TWOT, I, 1980, 211 ↩
- Calling on the name of Yahweh is an extremely important act of worship first appearing in Gen. 4:26 and reiterated throughout the OT. In this connection the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, section on Romans 10:1-13, cites: Gen. 4.26, 12.8, 13.4, 21.33, 26.25; 1 Kings 18.24; 1 Chr. 16.8 = Ps. 105.1; Ps. 99.6; Joel 2.32; cf. Is. 64.7 ↩
- Acts 2.21: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved;” and Acts 2.38: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” ↩
- In the Hebrew versification of Joel this verse is 3:5, and the phrase in question reads: והיה כל אשׁר־יקרא בשׁם יהוה ימלט ↩
- In this particular verse Paul employs the genitive form of this noun, which is κυρίου (kyriou). ↩
- Moisés Silva, CNTUOT, in the section on Philippians 2.9-11 [53%], italics added ↩