One of the most frequent email questions I get concerns the name “Jesus.” More specifically, the question goes something like this: “Isn’t the name ‘Jesus’ a pagan invention? Shouldn’t we say “Yeshua” or Yahshua” instead?” I’m not sure what motivates people who assign importance to this. I’m sure many are NOT trying to sound superior or more in tune with Jesus or God. But having fielded a number of these emails, I’m also sure that IS the motivation for some. The question is frankly silly, since the same person (the man of Nazareth who was crucified, buried, and resurrected per the New Testament) is the referent of any of these name options. But is “Jesus” a pagan name? Isn’t “Yeshua” or “Yahshua” more accurate?
On one level, since Jesus was Jewish his name would have been “Yeshua” or “Yehoshua” in Hebrew or Aramaic. I would hope that the Jesus Tomb fiasco would have taught us this much. But, on another level, so what? Since the New Testament was written in Greek, and Christians take the New Testament as inspired, it was GOD’s choice to have the name of the Son of God rendered in GREEK, which looks like this:
Some thoughts on the Greek name, now.
First, languages are different, and so proper names are not going to be pronounced the same way. Wow. Profound.
Second, languages and language pronunciation (the sounds a speaker makes when air flows through or is stopped in/by the throat, mouth, lips and teeth) has no theology – a language can’t be pagan or orthodox. It just is.
Third, there is no magic in the Hebrew pronunciation of the name of the New Testament messiah. It matters not that we call the name of the man from Nazareth something that contains the syllable “Yah” (an abbreviation of the divine tetragrammation, YHWH). If there was, God should have decided to give us the New Testament in Hebrew or Aramaic. It would also have helped if he’d given us a Hebrew text where the tetragrammaton (YHWH) had vowels so we’d know how it was pronounced.
Fourth, “Yahshua” is actually not correct, if we’re going with Hebrew, given the vowel pointing in the Hebrew text. The forms of this name/word that appear in the Hebrew text as pointed by the Masoretic scribes is “Yeshua” or “Yehoshua” (that is, for those who understand pointing) the vocal shewa is the pointing associated with the yodh in this name. The “a” sound of “Yah” gets a vocal reduction because of the accent on the final syllable. If you’re still awake after that, “Yah”shua is a contrived attempt to place the abbreviated form of the tetragrammation (Yah; which does occur in the Hebrew Bible) in place of the “Yeh” that actually occurs in this name.
Fifth, the problem for Greek is that there is no “H” in the language. Greek makes the “h” sound via what’s called a rough-breathing mark – but that mark only appears on vowels at the beginning of words. For example, the word for “sin” in Greek is “hamartia” but the Greek word begins with an alpha (“a”). A rough-breathing mark above the alpha tells the speaker/reader to pronounce the first syllable as “ha” not “a”. Yehoshua (“Yahshua”) has an “h” in the middle, which Greek CANNOT REPRESENT because of the rules of its language/alphabet. As such, “Iesous” (pronounced yay-soos) is the Greek spelling – and this corresponds precisely to “Yeshua” (which you notice has no “h” in the middle – only an “sh” which was one letter [“shin”] in Hebrew/Aramaic). Greek has so “sh” letter in its alphabet, so its spelling MUST use “s” [sigma].
Iesous is a perfectly acceptable and understandable GREEK rendering of the Hebrew Yeshua/Yehoshua. It isn’t “pagan” — it’s a different language.