A reader writes in: What really was Jesus’ name? Wasn’t it Yeshua? Is it an insult to him if we do not use his “real name” with the ancient pronunciation? Do we lose out on salvation if we call upon the wrong name?
First, it is highly probably that his given name was Yeshua, a Hebrew and also a Aramaic version of the Hebrew name Yehoshua o Hoshua (Joshua) in the Old Testament. We know that Jesus in general spoke and taught in Aramaic, so Yeshua (like Barnabas, Thomas) was probably meant to be an Aramaic name. Many people had names from different languages: Peter had a Greek name Petros, and an Aramaic one, Cephas bar-Jonas. Many had “rhyming” names in the second language: Paul was Sha’ul in Hebrew and also had a Latin name Paulus, similarly Silas/Silvanus; one Jewish co-worker of Paul had an Aramaic or Hebrew name Jesus, plus a Latin name Justus (Col 4:11); Joseph Barsabbas’ Aramaic name rhymed with his Latin one, Justus (Acts 1:23). Nowhere does the Bible indicate that the Greek or Latin names were “unclean” or wordly.
Jesus probably grew up with a knowledge of written Hebrew (the Bible). What’s more, it is very likely that he would have spoken in Greek from time to time, in order to speak with Gentiles (e.g., Matt 8:5-13, 15:21-28) or with Pontius Pilate. Two of his disciples had Greek names, Philip and Andrew. During his ministry, some may have addressed him using Greek form of his name, Iesous. After his resurrection and exaltation, the apostles went forth to proclaim his name, consistently using the Greek form Iesous. There is no reference to any other form of his personal name in the Greek New Testament. The Greek Testament was the original version, from which the Syriac, Latin and other versions were made. This means that when Luke wrote Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” he did not write the name Yeshua, but the Greek form Iesous. We are not saved by pronouncing his name with an “sh” rather than an “s”, but because it is the Savior himself who is being named.
For that reason, that is no special benefit to be gained in saying “Yeshua” in place of “Jesus”. The church used this form from the very beginning, from the Day of Pentecost when Peter preached in Greek to Hellenistic Jews (Acts 2:22). “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).
It is by calling upon his name, no matter in what language, that one is saved. There is no special “magic” in removing the final “s” from his name. According to the apostles’ example, it is perfectly acceptable to say Yeshua, Iesous, Jesu, Jesús, Yasu (Cantonese), Иисус (Russian) or – in English – Jesus.
By Gary Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica