The Naming of Jesus (Selection and Advantegoues of His Name)

Reading about the name of Jesus mentioned in the gospels, made me contemplate how integral his name was to his life.

What role did his name have in forming who he was?

His ambitions and, ultimately, his life’s work?

Was he guided by one of the first acts of parenting that Joseph and Mary did?

How true does Shakespeare’s question ring true with Jesus?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”

William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet)

Is this true?

If Jesus was named something else, would we still be contemplating his life 2000 years after he lived?

I would like to think so. That it was not the name, but the person and life of the carpenter turned preacher that was the splash in the pond of history.

But Frank McAndrew, professor at Knox College, speaks of how important it is for parents to choose the rights name for their child, impacting their entire lives.

“Naming a child is the first and most far-reaching act of parenting.”

Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.

But the more skeptical of the power of names, suggest minimal effects of someone’s name.

“the name initial is at best a very limited unconscious prime, if any.”

Hui Bai and Kathleen Briggs

In Jesus’ case, his name had an undeniable effect on his life and how he is remembered today.

His name had significant religious meaning to the Jews of his day, but it also served as a reminder of God’s plan for him and his life on earth.

But let’s get back into the history of the naming go Jesus.

The why and how his name was chosen.

After we can look at the value of his name.

The Choosing of Jesus’ Name

Unlike many parents, where there are long conversations and debates about the best name for their child. With Jesus, this was all decided for them.

First Mom, Mary.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”

Luke 1:31

Also Dad, Joseph.

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:21

By the time Jesus was born, his name was firmly decided.

A name with deep meaning.

“Yahweh saves.”

Often simply God or the Lord saves.

But even with his name being given to his parents by an angel, I do find his naming interesting.

Considerations When Naming Jesus

We can learn much about him and his time by going through common considerations often used by modern and possibly ancient parents when choosing the name of their child.

  1. Honouring family members
  2. Cultural Relevant
  3. What Does the Name Mean
  4. Nicknames
  5. Is the name Popular
  6. Do you and your partner agree on a baby name?

These considerations often used by parents when choosing a name.

But let’s switch it over to the naming of Jesus.

1. Did Jesus’s Name Honour Family?

No, Jesus breaks from the common tradition of naming your firstborn after their parents. Even relatives don’t seem to be involved.

“first-born males are the children who are most likely to be namesaked. Curiously, adopted children are more likely to be namesaked than non-adopted kids.”

Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.

Unless it was uncle or brother, we don’t find Jesus in either one of Jesus’s genealogies.

Similar to the situation of his cousin John who later became known as the Baptist (Lk.1:57-63). Where Zechariah and Elizebath break with tradition and name their long-awaited firstborn son something other than his father’s name.

2. Was Jesus’ Name Cultural Relevant?

Yes and no.

Jesus’ was born to Jewish parents in Hellenistic culture.

So in some ways having a Greek name makes sense. With a culture that was so highly influenced by Greek culture. It makes sense to have a Greek-sounding name.

Making introduction easier.

When I visited India, I often went by my middle name because the “R” of my name was hard to pronounce for Hindi speakers. It’s just not natural.

Kind of like many Chinese people will often have an “English” name. It saves them from trying to teach someone to speak Mandarin just to say their name.

The name Jesus allowed non-Aramaic speakers to easily say his name.

But at the same time, the name Jesus honours a Jewish hero. Joshua or Yeshua identifies him with his Jewish heritage.

“Jewish naming tradition of linking a secular name either phonetically or meaningfully with a Hebrew name, can be thought of as efforts to maintain a link, no matter how tenuous, to one’s ethnic heritage.”

Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.

Joshua, one of the founders and heroes of the nation of Israel in the Jewish community through the conquest of the “promised land.” The land in which many Jews lived.

WhereJesus, in fact, would also live his life.

Yes, the name Jesus was a good blended culture-relevant name.

Bridge between significant cultures in Jesus’ life, Jewish and Greek. Referring to a hero of his community but spoken in the language of the highly influential Hellenistic culture of his time

3. Nicknames

The advantage of Jesus’ name was the ability to switch between cultures.

He could go by either Jesus or Yeshua, the Aramaic version of his name. That he could use around his relatives and fellow Jews.

Making it ideal for a “good nickname.”

He could as easily integrate himself with his fellow Jews but at the same time with his “greek, gentile” neighbours.

4. What Does the Name Jesus Mean?

Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua which means “the Lord saves.”

A good reminder to any Jew longing for salvation from the challenges of life. In particular, many of Jesus’ peers longing for salvation from their Roman conquers.

But as the angel tells Joseph, “he will save his people from their sins.”

Salvation is right in his name.

“One’s name can be linked to one’s fate in life in other peculiar ways.”

Frank T. McAndrew Ph.D.

Did the meaning of his name guide Jesus as he grew into his identity?

I don’t know, but it can be easily seen.

As he questioned and struggled to figure out who he was. That his very name would come back to him. Reminding him of a distinct worldview that he later seems to hold.

That it is God who saves.

It is not the actions of individuals as much as it is God.

Then questions as many of us do.

What is my role in the “plan of God.”

Chicken or egg? Its hard to know but looking back we can see the contention.

5. Was the Name Jesus Popular in His Time?

In modern English-speaking cultures, Jesus seems like a very unique name, one of a kind.

Often only referring to the one and only man from Nazareth.

Even in the Bible, we come across few with his name. Bar-Jesus in Acts 13 may be an exception.

But if you read outside of the Bible text from his time, the name becomes more common.

Josephus, the Talmud and the Epistle of Aristeas all name multiple individuals named Jesus.

Josephus records a story about a fight in the temple in which “Jesus” murders the high priest in a fight of anger.

Which is shocking when your only reference to Jesus, is Christ.

Plus, there are many tombs inscription in Palestine from the time of Jesus with the name Jesus on them.

No, let’s not go there where these are the actually physical burial place of Jesus of Nazareth.

Let’s just leave it at.

Jesus was a popular name in his time.

6. Do Jesus’ Parents Agree on His Name?

As already mentioned, his parents had both been told to name him Jesus before he was born. Joseph had been told in a dream (Matt. 1:21), and Mary had been told by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:31).

Which must have made naming him easy.

They would have both been in complete agreement As both would have felt it was God’s chosen name.

How Did We Get the English Pronunciation of Jesus’ Name?

Yes, for you astute students of middle eastern history. You know that Jesus, as we pronounce it, is neither Hellenistic or Jewish in sound.

But it is the name we use in our modern English culture.

For an interesting history of how the name Jesus came to be pronounced “Jesus” in English, check out, How Jesus got his name. Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman beautifully explain how pronunciation changed over time.

Who knows, maybe after you will never refer to the carpenter turned preacher, as Jesus but use his more accurate cultural pronunciation.

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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