Jesus meaning | Jesus etymology

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Jesus in Biblical Greek
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The name Jesus in the Bible

There are five separate individuals named Jesus in the Bible, which is not such a wonder since Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua.

The most famous Jesus, of course, is Jesus the Nazarene, also known as Jesus Christ or the Messiah; the semi-biological son of Mary, son-by-law of Joseph and monogenes Son of God. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, lived as an infant in Egypt, and in Nazareth until He was thirty years old. In the early days of His ministry he moved to Capernaum, and at the end of it He was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, tried by Pontius Pilate and executed at Golgotha. Three days later He resurrected and forty days after that He ascended to heaven.

Other men named Jesus in the New Testament are:

  • An ancestor of Jesus in the Lucan genealogy (Luke 3:29), and only according to some translations. In Greek this name is spelled Ιωση (Jose), which only the King James and Young translations properly transliterate. The Darby translation speaks of Joses. The New International Version and New American Standard translations have Joshua. And the American Standard Version has Jesus.
  • Joshua (Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8).
  • A fellow worker of Paul named Jesus Justus (Colossians 4:11).
  • A Jewish magician who Paul and Barnabas meet on Cyprus, named Bar-Jesus (a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic for Son Of Joshua).

The name Jesus was obviously quite common in New Testament times. The Roman-Jewish historian Josephus mentions at least twenty different people named Jesus in his works, one of these being Jesus son of Damneus, who became high priest when the previous high priest was deposed for executing James the Just, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth (Ant.20.9). Another Jesus Josephus wrote about was Jesus son of Ananias, who in 62 AD began walking about Jerusalem, loudly foretelling its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD.

Why the name Jesus?

It's a bit of a mystery why Jesus was called Jesus and not Immanuel, as stipulated by the prophets (Isaiah 7:14) and confirmed by the unnamed angel who spoke with Joseph according to the gospel of Matthew (Matthew 1:23). The gospel of Luke, on the other hand, has the archangel Gabriel instruct Mary to call her Son Jesus (Luke 1:31). Either heavenly management isn't as flawless as we thought it was, or else humanity has been missing the point for two millennia. Here at Abarim Publications we opt for the latter.

Names in Biblical times actually meant something, and in the Yahwist tradition, they usually indicated some kind of theological thought. Whatever particular theological idea, for instance, the name Zechariah represented isn't wholly clear (the name means Pondering Yahweh) but together with its Greek equivalent Zacharias, it's the most popular name in the Bible (with up to three dozen known bearers). In other words, the name Zechariah may very well have represented the academic element of Yahwism and, obviously, a lot of folks were in on that. That makes it highly significant that other famous names occur just once. Despite people's modern habit of naming children after famous people, in the Bible the following names belong to only one person (and this is just a sample): Adam, the male Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Elisha, Zerubbabel...

In the Bible, the rarity of a name seems to go somewhat hand-in-hand with the unicity of the theological thought or achievement it represents, and that makes it highly significant that the name Jesus (or Joshua, Jesuha or even Hosea) was among the most common ones available. The first Joshua, significantly, received his name personally from Moses the Law Giver (Numbers 13:16). This Joshua led the people into the Promised Land as successor of Moses, and the popularity of that name seems to suggest that even though there could be only one Law of God, which could be given only once, namely via Moses, there could be many who led the people across the Jordan (see Daniel 12:3).

Not to discourage new believers, but it takes decades of intense study of Scriptures to get any good at it (which isn't required for salvation, we should hastily add; Scripture Theory is only for some). And that's why in Judaism, boys from a very early age were strenuously instructed in matters of the Torah. When any of these boys became exceptionally good at this craft, they could become rabbis, and then it was fiercely important to indicate who one's father (one's primary teacher) was and in which great center of learning they had spent their formative years.

A rabbi who was the son of a rabbi and who had spent the first thirty years of his life at the great academies of Jerusalem, would be duly headed. Someone from Tarshish (Paul, for instance) was evenly so reckoned as high quality material. But what about Jesus? Well, Jesus' father was a common laborer, and Jesus spent the first thirty years of His life in Nazareth, a hamlet so insignificant that no classical author mentions it until the third century AD, and then probably only because Nazareth had of course acquired some nostalgic value. In Jesus' days, Nazareth was as good as nowhere. Someone from Nazareth was no one, and could not possibly have any insight in Scriptures worth of note.

The Jewish Problem

If a modern writer would want to depict the relationship of Jesus of Nazareth with the rabbinical tradition of His day in a fictional and metaphorical story, he would probably start by telling us about some Jake Jr., whose academic credentials consisted of a mail-ordered certificate from the university of Dripville. In other words, to the academic world of the day, the name Jesus of Nazareth meant John Doe, the proverbial ordinary guy of no particular academic merit. It instilled very little confidence in anyone with learning, and constituted quite an insult when people began to appreciate whatever Jesus was saying over whatever they were. The very name and hometown of Jesus presented an assault on the rabbinic monopoly of wisdom, and on tyranny in general.

Jesus was called the king of the Jews, which was taken very serious by king Herod first and later the Romans. The Jews were notoriously difficult to subdue because they valued their freedom to go wherever God would lead them too much. The Roman empire had to draft scores of special rules and exceptions to somehow make the presence of Jews in the empire workable.

And those who, after all the trouble the government had gone through to facilitate them, still kept going some contrary way, where subsequently crucified. The Roman cross was specifically designed to execute people who threatened the stability of Rome; it's the symbol of contrariness to the Romans and the symbol of freedom for everybody else. This stubborn refusal of Jews to dance to the tunes of some ruler began to seriously irritate people and became known in Britain of the eighteenth century as the Jewish Problem (hence Hitler's Final Solution).

A people that per definition will refuse subdual to the point of death, and then comes up with a king is not paradoxical. It says something about this king, which is great news to anyone who feels subdued, but very bad news to anyone who feels good doing the subduing. The kinghood of Jesus is manifested in the freedom of and respect for the individual human person. It's perpendicularly opposed to the full sweep of classic governmental theory; it dictates that a ruler is not the boss but the servant of the people. In the Kingdom of King Jesus, every person is king (Matthew 23:8-12), and the Kingdom will be held together by the Holy Spirit the way a person's soul holds together a person's body. Leadership in the modern sense is a fungus that grows in loose joints.

The present world is riddled with folks who think they reject Jesus because they reject the formal church, but it's really fabulous to see that especially today, King Jesus has more support than any other form of government in the world. Most people don't understand who Jesus is simply because for the last two millennia, the church has been largely a continuation of Roman dictatorship, and the church benefitted mostly from not telling anyone what the real deal was.

King Jesus on the other hand, has been alive and well, working in the fringes of society, creating a vast underground movement that we now see surfacing, staging huge protests against corrupt governments, against cruelty and against suppression of humanity and life in general. However this works in practice, the government of King Jesus results in the greatest possible freedom of all people.

One crucial key quality of the Jesus movement (or however you want to call it) is that it is non-violent, and based on the simple withdrawal of support of unrighteous governments and corporations, to the extent that the law allows. Followers of Jesus realize their personal responsibility for every buck they spend, that is: for every dollar with which they uphold companies and policies. The Jesus movement also doesn't need a total victory over the forces of evil and pollution because in our competitive world, a mere conscious minority can tip the balance in favor of a greener product, and bring about the bankruptcy of an unrighteous system. Violent revolutions merely replace one leader for the next and change nothing essentially. A Jesus based revolution is slow, private and much more effective.

Read our article on the name Neapolis for a closer look at the Jesus movement versus the Roman Empire, and an example of how violent resistance is doomed to fail.

Read our article on the name Lydia for a closer look at what might lie at the very root of corruption and pollution in the world.

Etymology of the name Jesus

The name Jesus is the Greek transliteration of either the name יהושע (Joshua) or its shortened form (ישוע) Jeshua, and consists of two elements. The first part is the appellative יה (Yah) = יהו (Yahu) = יו (Yu), which in turn are abbreviated forms of the Tetragrammaton; the name of the Lord: YHWH, or Yahweh.

The second element of the name Joshua/Jesus comes from the root-verb ישע (yasha'), meaning to save or deliver:

Abarim Publications Theological Dictionary

Jesus meaning

The name Jesus means Yah Will Save. The name Joshua is the Hebrew form of the Greek name Jesus, and most probably the name by which Jesus was known by His contemporaries. Jesus was fascinated by the Book of Isaiah, possibly because this Book appears to be entirely about Him, but perhaps also because the name Isaiah (ישעיה) is almost identical to the name Joshua with the two segments reversed.

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