There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved! (Acts 4 vs 12). This declaration by Peter before the Sanhedrin has become a central truth and doctrine of the Christian Faith. It has also become part of a controversial debate as to what we should actually call the Messiah. Can we call him Jesus or must we use His Hebrew name Yeshua?
There are many conspiracy theories in the world. Usually, they involve secret societies, foreign government plots, alien abductions and large insidious banking corporations manipulating our lives clandestinely in the shadows. Apparently, another plot existed, the one by the early Christian Church to make the new religion more palatable to the pagan world by corrupting the name of Zeus into Jesus. This is simply not true. While Zeus and Jesus might look similar to each other in English, the similarities stop there. Any honest Greek Scholar knows that Zeus (Ζεύς) does not resemble Jesus (Ἰησοῦς) in New Testament Greek.
Named at Birth
The angel Gabriel almost certainly told Mary (Miriam), in the Gospel of Luke, to name the boy child Yeshua ישוע. Yeshua is derived from the Hebrew verb; to Save, in the masculine singular form. This corresponds with the angel's proclamation in Joseph’s dream in Matthew 1 that ‘He would save His people from their sins’. Greek does not have a ‘sh’ sound for the ש and so an ’s’ was used in translation, and there is no adequate Greek letter to substitute for a silent ע. So it was dropped from the spelling. Greek names also have a tendency to end in ’s’, such as Achilles and Odysseus, known as Nominative Case Endings. Yeshua, when translated into New Testament Greek, became Iesous. ישוע to Ἰησοῦς. Note that the Hebrew Bible has already been translated into Greek (called the Septuagint). The Bible the early believers had outside the land of Israel, the Bible that was in the hands of the Churches Paul wrote to, that New Testament was in Greek.
Let’s remember that it was God who confused us at Babel and gave us a varied mix of tongues. Until the Tower, we all truly did speak one language. Now we speak multiple languages, we are not all meant to speak Hebrew. Ultimately it has been in the Lord’s wisdom for the New Testament to arrive to us predominately in Koine Greek, although it is also well preserved in Latin, Syriac and Old Church Slavonic. When the King James translators brought out the first English Bible, the name of Jesus was actually written as Iesous, following the Greek. The ‘J’ was added later. There are no J's in Hebrew, Latin or Greek. Yeshua does not turn into a Gentile through translating His name into Jesus. Many of the disciples had Greek names and yet they remained very Jewish.
Importance of the Messiah's Name
This is not to say that the name of the Messiah in unimportant. The Name of the Messiah is actually very important in the Church and beyond, it has even become a festival in the Anglican and Catholic Church. Known as the Feast of the Holy Name, this Feast is celebrated today on the 1st of January, but in the 17th Century, it's recorded as being held on the 7th of August.
The Name is, however, not magical. Invocation of the Holy Name is not a form of Christian magic. Things don’t happen just because you tack on the name of Jesus at the end of a prayer request. Recall in Acts 19 that several Jewish non-believers, the seven sons of Sceva, tried to use Yeshua’s name to drive out demons to no effect. Making the declaration ‘in the Name of (someone)’ is in Jewish tradition, an oath of loyalty to that someone. Thus when we declare ‘in the name of Jesus/Yeshua’ we are acknowledging our loyalty to Him. Nothing magical, rather an expression of our desired obedience to the one being named. In Jewish tradition, there were seven things created before God started Creation. The Torah, Repentance, The Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple and the Name of the Messiah (Talmud, Nedarim 39b). The Name of the Messiah is so important that in Jewish tradition it existed prior to Creation. Pre-existent Messiahs are a Jewish tradition, not a Christian invention.
The Hebrew name of Jesus, Yeshua, is very important. Calling Him Yeshua reminds the Church of its Jewish Roots and gets back to the meaning of the name and His mission in the world. He saves! Yeshua is a descriptive name and reflects His character. Iesous has no meaning in Greek. The word for Salvation in Greek is Soter σωτήρ. Soteriology is the study of salvation. Likewise, calling Him Jesus does not get you into trouble either, so there is no need to get on your knees and repent for having done so. Subsequently calling Him Yeshua doesn’t save you any more or less than before. While I was a sinner Christ died for me. Before I even knew His name, He knew mine!
Equally important is knowing the feelings and emotions the name of Jesus brings to non-believing Jewish people. Obviously, Jesus does not sound like a Jewish name. His name is attached in Jewish history to pogroms, crusades, inquisitions, dispersion, and betrayal of the Jewish people. Understandably the name Jesus presents a foreign, Gentile god devoid of Jewishness and context. Sensitivity, honesty and patience should be practiced in any dialogue with Jewish people. I would most definitely advocate using the Hebrew name Yeshua when engaged with Jewish people.
Finally for the believers, to quote Shakespeare: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. In this, William Shakespeare is quite right. For believers it cannot matter what name is used to represent the Saviour, He will always be the Saviour.