Monday, November 28, 2011

Jesus in Hebrew: Yeshua

How Yeshua became Jesus

The Gospel of Matthew says that the Messiah was to be named Jesus, "for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). This is odd. What does the name "Jesus" have to do with saving people from sins? The name "Jesus" does not mean anything in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, or English.
But we can explain this with some history. It is only modern English that pronounces the name "Jesus" with a hard "J" sound. The letter J originally represented a consonantal I, and was pronounced as a Y. Our spelling of "Jesus" comes from the Latin "Iesus," pronounced "yay-soos."
The Latin Iesus was not original either, however. This was a transliteration of the name found in the Greek text: Ιησους (Iesous).
Even Iesous has no meaning, however. But if we look in the Septuagint, which is the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, we can see that the name Iesous is actually the Greek spelling of a Hebrew name: יהושע (Yehoshua), which people usually write in English as Joshua. The name Yehoshua was commonly contracted as Yeshua (ישוע), which you will find in the Old Testament spelled as Jeshua. The names Yehoshua and Yeshua mean "the LORD saves."
This helps understand the Angel Gabriel's message: "You shall call his name Yeshua (the LORD saves), for he will save his people from their sins."
Yeshua was written in Greek as Ιησους (Iesous) because:
  • The Greek Iota can make a consonantal Y sound, like the Hebrew י (yod).
  • There is no way to spell "sh" in Greek letters, so a sigma (Σ) had to be substituted.
  • A sigma was added to the end because this is a normal ending for masculine nouns in Greek.
The name Yeshua (yeh-SHOO-ah) is what his family and companions would have called him. It is a beautiful and prophetic name.


All the way back to ancient times, nearly all scholars have agreed that Jesus' true Hebrew/Aramaic name was Yeshua. In more modern times, some individuals has proposed that his actual name was "Yahshua." However, this is based on a nonsensical understanding of the Hebrew language and a hyper-literal interpretation of the verse that says that the Messiah comes "in the Father's name." But from a linguistic and historical perspective, "Yahshua" is not even a remote possibility. Other variations on this error include Yahushua and Yahoshua.

Does Iesous come from Hey-Zeus?

Some authors present the sensationalist claim that the Greek name Iesous comes from the name of the Greek god Zeus. This is patently false. The two names bear no historical or etymological connection. In Greek, they do not even resemble each other:
  • Iesous: Ιησους (pronounced yay-SOOS).
  • Zeus: Ζευς (pronounced ZEFS*).
* While scholars often pronounce ευ (epsilon-upsilon) as oo, in New Testament times it was most likely pronounced as ef or ev just as it is today in Modern Greek.

Other Hebrew New Testament names

Just as Jesus was originally called Yeshua, other people mentioned in the New Testament had Hebrew names as well. Here are just a few examples:
  • Jesus' mother Mary would have been called Miriam, the same name as the Old Testament prophetess, the sister of Moses and Aaron.
  • James in Greek is Ιακοβος (Iakobos), which comes from the Hebrew name Ya'akov. In the Old Testament, the name Ya'akov is usually spelled as Jacob. The true name of James was the same as the ancient patriarch, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham.
Matthew, John, Simon, Lazarus, and many others are also Hebrew names. Seeing the Hebrew names of the disciples helps to show the continuity between the Old and New Testaments.

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