This article and series was first published on John C. Richards, the author’s personal blog. You can click here for the original and more great content.
This is part 2 of the African-Americans and the Religious Okie-Doke series. Click here for part 1.
Myth #1: “Stop calling that man Jesus. That ain’t his name in the original language. You should use his “original” name instead.”
First, let’s start with the background. The Bible consists of 66 books, written by 40 different authors, written in two different languages (well, three if you count the Aramaic phrases used). In Hebrew, Jesus’ original name is transliterated to Yahshua (it’s where we get Joshua in the Old Testament English translation).
Now, depending on who you talk to, there are a few ways Black, anti-Christian groups approach this issue. Some say the Hebrew name was replaced with the transliterated G-Zeus (yes, the God Zeus). Their argument: “Saying the name Jesus is actually paying homage to the Greek god Zeus without even knowing it. The proper way to speak of Jesus is using his Hebrew Messianic title—Yahshua.”
Here are two problems with that approach. By insisting that you call Jesus by his Hebrew name, you’re literally just saying Joshua. The name means Joshua (though the literally meaning is “God is salvation” or “Jehovah Saves”). In fact, the name is used of a man you might know who has a book of the Bible named after him. Yes, that Joshua. The same Joshua, ironically, delivered the Israelites into the promised land. Side note: Most theologians and scholars would call Joshua a type of Christ (someone who points to the ultimate Messiah).
Now, if these groups were really on their game and serious about using Jesus’ Hebrew title, it would be more appropriate to demand that others call Jesus, “Mashiach” — a Hebrew title that literally means Messiah or Anointed One. It’s used in many messianic texts in the Old Testament and only in reference to one person–God’s coming Messiah. So the next time someone tells you to call him Yahshua, blow their mind and tell them you’d rather use his Messianic title, Mashiach.
“There’s no J in the Greek language, so there’s no way you should be calling this man by the name Jesus.”
Yes, it’s true that the J sound was foreign to Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. But Jesus’ proper name in the Greek actually begins with an iota and makes the Ye sound (like Kan-YE West…by the way, the only time you’ll see Kanye West in anything I write). So the Greek sounds like this, YE-sus.
But…and this might surprise some people…we speak English! And the English translation of the Greek word is Jesus. Just like the English translation of the Greek word Theos (pronounced the-OS) is God. But I don’t see folks walking around substituting that name in place of God. Matter of fact, I hardly see any of them speaking Hebrew or Koine Greek.
Here’s a quick history lesson thrown in for free: The New Testament was written in Koine Greek. It was the common language of the people of that day. There were other languages that God could have used for the New Testament writers, but he chose the common language. Why? Because God chose to speak to folks in the language they understand.
So while I’m blessed to be able to read and translate Koine Greek myself, I’m glad to have great word-for-word English translations based on tons of manuscript evidence. I’ll address the translation myth in another post, but just meditate on that: Time and time again throughout history, God speaks to his people in the language they understand.
If someone argues with you and insists you use the proper Hebrew name for Jesus, ask them which version of the Bible they read. Odds are that not many of them are fluent in Hebrew and Koine Greek, and not many of them read them regularly in their devotional time. So to insist that you call someone by a name in the original language without the requirement of reading the entire text in the original language is hypocritical, if not laughable.
Here’s the crazy part. These folks are getting too caught up in Jesus’ common Greek name that they miss the significance of the title that means the most. Did you know there were tons of dudes named Jesus in that day? In fact, the name Jesus was as common in First Century Israel as my name (John) is today.
So I aint even trippin’ off them trippin’ off his first name (which I already explained as fallacious above). It’s his role as Messiah that means most to the Christian faith. The Greek word for Messiah is Christos. Yes, you guessed it. That’s where we get Christ. It’s the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word for Messiah I mentioned earlier. Christ wasn’t Jesus’ last name. They didn’t have last names back then. It was his title, his role, and his purpose. He came as Messiah. And that’s the title the entire Christian faith hinges on.
So don’t get caught up in arguing the “J” in Jesus. But you can engage and explain the linguistic difference. Prayerfully, it will help you answer questions that you might not otherwise be equipped to answer.
Next up: The King James Version aka The White Man’s, Error-Filled Bible