From my ministry in Central America, I understand how names change from language to language: the English form of my name “Gary Shogren” is difficult for the Spanish-speaker – the “a” and the “e” don’t have exact counterparts in Spanish; nor does “sh”. I say my name one way if I’m speaking English and another way if Spanish. Not even my mother would recognize my name in the Spanish version! Nevertheless, when my students call me “GAH-ree CHOH-grain” with a foreign accent, I take no offense: I’m still me, the same identity and the same name, with a pronunciation adapted to the relevant language.
A second illustration is from Judges 12:5-6: the judge Jephthah and the men of Gilead defeated the tribe of Ephraim and slaughtered the survivors. In order to distinguish who was who,
the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth” [שׁבלת; note – Shibboleth probably means “running water”], and he said, “Sibboleth” [סבלת], for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan.
So, everyone said the same word, but some pronounced it with the letter שׁ (the Hebrew letter shin) and others ס (samech). Say ‘samech’ and you will die!
And the lethal result?
At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell.
There is a dangerous idea today that won’t result merely in the death of thousands of Ephraimites; no, the consequences are infinitely more grave. They teach that if you do not pronounce the name of the Lord with an “sh” sound but with the “s” sound, you insult the blessed name of our savior. They say: Yeshua or Yahushua or Yahshua are acceptable, but Jesus (or Jesús in Spanish) – this is evil or even the sign of your apostasy. These wolves try to rob millions and millions of believers of their confidence in the gospel, simply because they don’t make an “sh” sound in the name of Jesus. This movement exists around the world; it is particularly plagues Spanish-speaking America. And it is based on faulty data, by people who have little ability or desire to do their own research in the original languages: Preacher A quotes Teacher B, he in turn quotes “Messianic Rabbi” C, and the rabbi quotes some pamphlet he once read. One theory has it that the name Jesus was invented by the Roman Catholic church in a plan to make Jesus less Jewish and more Catholic. Another is that Iēsous really means “Hail, Zeus!” the name of the pagan king of the gods. As with the DaVinci Code, such hypotheses excel in cleverness, but fail to provide any shred of proof.
To give but one example, when Paul/Saul wrote to the Romans, he spoke of “Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:4), using the Greek form of the name, that is, “Iēsous” (pronounced yay-SOOS). For a Greek-speaking person, that is “the word of faith that we proclaim; because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:8b-9). That’s how the name of Jesus appears in 100% of ancient manuscripts in every single verse. He is never referred to as Yeshua or Yahshua in the books of the New Testament; if those versions of his name appear in a modern “messianic” version, it’s a paraphrase, or, as some say, a “correction” of the original Scriptures.
It’s likely that during his days on earth, people called him Yeshua. But once the gospel started going forth, the apostles used the Greek form when that was appropriate – Iēsous and Yeshua are, after all, the same name, with the same meaning of “he shall save.” And so, when Peter spoke on the Day of Pentecost, he spoke in the current dialect of Greek, koiné, and, according to the firm testimony of Acts 2:22, he spoke about “Jesus (Iēsous) of Nazareth.”
Ah, and speaking of Peter: in Aramaic, his name was Kepha. If you saw “The Passion of the Christ”, that’s what Jesus called him in the garden. But out in the Greek world and you would add a final “s” to his name in order to make it recognizable – hence it was Kephas (in 1 Cor 1:12, 3:22, 9:5, 15:5, Gal 1:18, 2:9, 11, 14) and also in John 1:12. So, in Aramaic there was no final “s”, but in Greek yes. Now – did Peter respond to his name in either form? Or did he turn around and berate people for distorting his real name? Of course he accepted it, as did the many thousands of Jews who operated in both languages. And Sha’ul in Hebrew sounded like Saulos in Greek, but Saul/Paul would have responded to either form.
Jaquob, the half-brother of our Lord, used the Greek form Iēsous in his epistle.
The Greek form Iēsous was a very popular name in the first century, but only among the Jews; the pagans never used it, since for them it was a Jewish name! I have personally used the TLG databank and run an exhaustive search in all ancient Greek literature, from the very earliest to the year AD 400. The first appearance of the name is from the 3rd century BC, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), to translate the Hebrew name for Joshua (see Exod 17:9) and a few other people with that name. Later on it’s found in the books by contemporaries of the apostles: Philo (always referring to the same Joshua son of Nun) and Josephus (speaking of Joshua, also of other people from more recent Jewish history). There is a Jewish Christian man in Col 4:11 whose had a Jewish and a Latin name: Jesus Justus. Of the 12,000 plus references to the name Iēsous throughout 12 centuries, there is not one single reference to a Greek, Roman or other pagan person with the name Iēsous!
Yes, many Messianic Jews and some gentile Christians call the Lord, Yeshua; that’s great, so long as they don’t claim that only their pronunciation is legitimate or even that its use brings them closer to God. Others preach about Jesús (hay-SOOS) to Spanish-speakers, and Jesus to English audiences. In Italy, it’s Gesú. In Turkey, İsa. The Chinese confess their faith in ye su. And do you know what? The Lord is not confused; he is powerful and wise enough to recognize his name and hear his people, despite the thousands of accents and alphabets around the world.
As a side note, I notice that in the gospels, the crowds acclaim Jesus with ωσαννά (hoh-sah-NAH), the Greek form of the Aramaic הושׁע נא or possibly the Hebrew הושׁיעה נא (both meaning something like, “Save, please!” and pronounced like hoh-shah-NAH). So, the middle syllable is SAH in the Greek and SHAH in Aramaic or Hebrew. But does that really change the meaning? Is the Aramaic form worship, and the Greek form an insult? Nonsense! The meaning is the same either way.
Is anyone accused of apostasy or spiritual inferiority because they say “s” instead of “sh” when they call upon the name of their Lord? Let them stand tall and denounce this vile accusation!
“Jesus? Yeshua? Yahushua? Which is the ‘real’ pronunciation?” By Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, professor Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica