Have you ever heard anyone say, “Jesus’ real name is…”? It seems like everyone thinks they know Jesus’ ‘true’ or ‘real’ name these days. I have been hearing pastors, scholars and typical Christians using names like “Yeshua” or “Yahshua” or some other variation. Some will go as far as to say that “Jesus” is not the real name of the messiah, and to be saved we need to call upon the ‘real’ name of Christ. So, what is really going on here? Are they right? Or are they jumping to conclusions? Is “Jesus” really Christ’s name or not? Let’s clear this up.
How did we get ‘Jesus’
If you open up your KJV bible, or almost any English bible, you will find the name ‘Jesus’ in reference to the son of God and Christ who died on the cross for us. The name “Jesus” is all over the New Testament. However, the English bibles were all translated from the Koine Greek New Testament. In the case of the KJV, the original Greek source was the Textus Receptus. In the Koine Greek, Jesus was translated from the Greek name, Ἰησοῦς, which is transliterated as Iesous. If you want to speak it, you can say it like this: “ee-ay-soos”. It is catalogued in Strong’s concordance as G2424, and you can listen to how it sounds if you follow the link in the reference.
The interesting thing about translating to an English bible is that the very first English translation done by John Wycliffe in 1382, the Wycliffe Bible, and other English bibles prior to the KJV in 1611 all used the Latin Vulgate as their source, and not the Greek. This is important, because when the Latin Vulgate was translated by Jerome in 382, Ἰησοῦς, which is transliterated as “Iesous”, was latinized to “Iesus”. So, for one thousand years, there was no “Jesus” in the bible, because there was no English bible until 1382, and the only bible that existed prior to that was the Latin Vulgate, which had the name “Iesus”.
The English language itself didn’t even exist prior to the 5th century AD, and what is most interesting is that this Old English didn’t even have a letter J in its alphabet. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the letter J did not come into existence until the end of the Middle Ages (around the 14th century), and at that time, it was not differentiated from the letter I. It was just a tailed form of i that the scribes adopted as a custom when writing medieval manuscripts. The scribes lengthened the letter I to form a J when the I was in a prominent position, such as the first letter in a word, like a name. This is how we got “Jesus” in Middle English in the time of Wycliffe, from “Iesus” in Latin Vulgate.
Sounds of I and J and Y
As the letter j came from the letter i, the first question we may ask is how is it possible to get a “jer” sound from an “ih” sound. Well, the letter j sounded exactly the same as the letter i, when it was first created and used.
As initial I usually had consonantal force, the lengthened form came definitely to be regarded as representing the consonant and the short form the vowel in whatever position they occurred. – Encyclopedia Britannica
When J, as the lengthened form of I, was more consistently used in the initial position, it became regarded as representing a consonant, and the letter I, as the short form, was regarded as a vowel, and this eventually was applied to their respective forms regardless of their position. What is most interesting is that although the vowel sound of I is “ih”, its consonant sound was “yih” as the y in Yes. So, when J split from I as a consonant, it sounded like a Y, where as I kept its vowel I sound. Although this distinction started in the 14th century, it wasn’t until the 17th century that this differentiation was established. The sound of J also changed from a “yih” sound in Yes to a “Jih” sound in Jam due to the influence of loan words from Romance languages, such as Old French. In 1524, an Italian renaissance grammarian, Gian Giorgio Trissino, was credited as the father of the letter J, by making a clear distinction between these two sounds.
So, now that we know that J came from I, and I and J initially sounded like Y, we can now go back to the initial Koine Greek word for Jesus, Ἰησοῦς, to understand how it sounded, and what it came from.
From Hebrew to Greek
The Bible teaches us that Jesus was a Jew, born to Jewish parents. We also know that Jesus spoke more than one language. We know he spoke Aramaic because he is quoted as speaking some Aramaic words in the gospel accounts. We know he spoke Hebrew, because he read the Hebrew Scriptures in the synagogue, and debated the Hebrew scholars as well. He also spoke Greek because he had conversations with a Roman centurion and with Roman officials such as Pilate. In addition, Greek was the lingua franca of the first century. Being born to Jewish parents, they would not have named him in Greek. They would have either named him in Hebrew or Aramaic.
By comparing the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) of the Old Testament with the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament, we can find out the Hebrew word that Ἰησοῦς was translated from. When I did this, I was surprised to find out that there are two Hebrew names that have been translated to Ἰησοῦς. The first one is Yehoshua, which is the Hebrew name that is translated Joshua in our English Bible. The second one is Yeshua, which is the Hebrew name that is translated Jeshua in our English Bible. According to Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, Yeshua is the contracted form of the proper noun, Yehoshua. And Yeshua is the only prominent form that is written after the 2nd temple period. Both forms start with the Hebrew letter yud, so they both start with a Y sound, and as we previously established there was no J sound until the 15th century.
So, from Yehoshua to Yeshua in the Hebrew, both forms were translated to Ἰησοῦς in the LXX. It is important to note Koine Greek had no Y sound, but only an I sound. This is why we see the shift from a Y to an I, when going from Hebrew to Greek. When the Ἰησοῦς was transliterated, it became Iesous, and when Iesous was translated to Latin, it became Iesus, then Iesus carried over to Old English as is, but was shifted to Jesus in the Middle English Era, when the Wycliffe Bible was written. In the Middle English era, the J still sounded like a Y, but by the Modern English era, when the KJV was written, the sound of J changed to the soft g sound we know today.
So, was Jesus’ Hebrew name Yehoshua or Yeshua? There is one more piece of scriptural evidence we need to consider. In Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8, we see a reference to “Jesus” bringing the children of Israel out of the wilderness in the Old Testament in our KJV bible. However, if we look in more modern bibles, we see the name “Joshua”, in reference to Joshua the son of Nun in the Old Testament. This confusion is caused by the translation of Yehoshua to Ἰησοῦς in the Greek. So, we can infer that “Jesus” and “Joshua” are actually the same name. Yeshua is a contracted form of Yehoshua. We don’t know precisely what Jesus was called in Hebrew, but although either name can work, as Yeshua was used after the second temple era, it is most likely that.
Controversially, there is only one book in the New Testament that has a Hebrew copy. This is Rabbi Shem Tov’s Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, which was published in the 14th century. In it, Jesus is represented by “Yeshua”. Although the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is not used as a source for any English translation of the book of Matthew, considering its differences with the Greek accounts of the book of Matthew, it still sheds light on my particular consideration in regards to Jesus’ Hebrew name.
I went through the process to show how “Jesus” came into being from Ἰησοῦς, and how Yehoshua and Yeshua were translated to Ἰησοῦς. I also showed how we got the sounds changed from a Y sound to an I sound to a Y sound again then to a J sound, as we have it today. Jesus wasn’t made up nor was a mistake. It developed as we moved from one language to another, and as languages change over time. Even my own name, Michael, changes when translated and/or transliterated into and from different languages. Some sounds don’t even exist in some languages, while others only approximate an original sound. For me, I think that we need to consider what God told the priest and prophet Samuel, “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
People often think of God as if he is some kind of case sensitive computer program. God knows and can see our hearts. We have been given the name of Jesus. We know how we got it. It is not a fluke. When we speak the name of Jesus, do you really think God will be like, “Ah, that’s not really my son’s name, so I can’t help you. Get it right the next time.” No. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved! Should I say, the Lord Joshua Christ or the Lord Yeshua Christ? Or the Lord Yehoshua Christ? Or the Lord Iesous Christos? No, say what you know. Jesus sounds better anyway. My name is Michael. If someone calls me Mike or Mikey or Maicol, I still know they are talking to me. If I can figure that out, don’t you think God can figure that out too?!
- Why it’s YEhovah, but HalleluYAh – NehemiasWall.com – Nehemia Gordon – Site: https://youtu.be/0S4knZ5v84M
- Where did the name “Jesus” come from? – Jeff A. Benner – Site: https://youtu.be/rtvtD3cXIyU
- Lexicon :: Strong’s G2424 – iesous – Blueletterbible – Site: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2424&t=KJV
- Letter J – Encyclopedia Britannica – Site: https://www.britannica.com/topic/J-letter
- History of English – English Club – Site: https://www.englishclub.com/history-of-english/
- Meet the man responsible for the letter “J” – Dictionary.com – Site: https://www.dictionary.com/e/j/
- What language did Jesus Speak? – Got Questions? – Site: https://www.gotquestions.org/language-Jesus-speak.html
- Our Lord’s Other Language – Brian Kelly – Site: https://catholicism.org/our-lords-other-language.html