Hello. My name is Richard. That is the name given to me by my parents upon my birth. Though formally Richard, I can go by some of the abbreviated versions such as Rich, Richie, Rick, and so on. If someone calls out “Richard” or “Rich” in a room, I look. That is my name. If someone calls out Derek or Susan or Fred or Veronica or any other name, I will not respond…because my name is Richard. Why is that important? Well, names are our personal identifier. It is the given intimate name we were first presented to the world as, and it is the personal and intimate name that we subsequently present ourselves to others as we navigate this wide world. You have your personal, intimate, identifying name that you use to introduce yourself to others. Your family, friends, coworkers, and the like address you by that name and it is even utilized as a legal identifier by governments as well. So, essentially, the name you and I have is important!
If you introduce yourself to me and give me your name, that is what I will call you. If I call you by any other name, you would either correct me or ignore me all together. Understandably! Even for people that have long left the living, we don’t call them some other name. For instance, if I was talking about George Washington, but kept calling him Keith, you would not know who I was referring to. A similar situation would be if I was having a conversation about the German reformation leader and yet kept calling his name as Emilia. You would not know that I was talking about Martin Luther. Again, the correct name given is important!
I bring all this up because there is a long-standing situation that most folks, and specially theology scholars, know about and yet continue in error simply because it is “what everyone has been doing for centuries, so why change it”. They justify it by saying that “it really doesn’t matter what you call Him, because He knows who you are talking about”. What I am talking about is the correct Hebrew name of the Biblical messiah, known in the western world as Jesus. You see, He was born in a little town we call Bethlehem (Beit Lechem) and, per the angelic messenger’s instructions, was named Yeshua (Y’hoshua) which means “The Lord’s Salvation”. So why do we continue to call him by another name? Is His name, and many other names for that matter, so important that we need to upset the whole of established Christianity? Does this mean that there was an egregious error made during translation into the English language and it means that those who read the westernized Scriptures are not saved and are going to hell? Of course not!
Most folks will argue that these changes are just part of the translation process. You see, we don’t all speak the same language (thanks tower of Babel!), and many of us do not have the skill-set to speak additional languages other than our own. (Though I’ll argue that there are some who struggle with their own native language…but that’s another topic)! Yet it is important that in order to communicate with other people groups, we need to translate (or transliterate) what they are communicating into an understandable adaption to our own language. Another aspect is that other nations may use different symbology for their letters than, say, English. So that creates another dimension to bringing the words from one culture to another. Take for example the English word “cheese”. In Spanish they say “queso”. Since essentially the same alphabet is used, it is just a simple matter of learning the word in English and Spanish. But what about the languages that have very different lettering? This complicates the translation somewhat because there is an added step called “transliteration” that is used.
The dictionary defines transliteration as to “write or print (a letter or word) using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or script”. Thus, translating from Hebrew (or Aramaic, which is the language that Jesus and all the Jews spoke in the New Testament times) means that the vocalizing of the words need to be transliterated to the closest English lettering. In original Hebrew, His name is יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (which is actually read from right to left) and is transliterated into English as “Yeshua”. Many of the New Testament texts were either written or translated into Greek, so Yeshua had to be Hellenized and transliterated into Greek as ησοῦς which was transliterated into English as “Iesous” or further into Jesous, and then further still into Jesus. So, you see that the spoken transliterations morphed the names from the original languages into various pronunciations. To really bake your noodles…the transliterated name of Yeshua is actually written as Joshua in the Old Testament. Yes! The same Hebrew name is transliterated into the English as Joshua in Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament! Boom!
This is not a unique practice in the world of translations. Bear in mind that each translator will bring the original into the destined language based on what they feel is the closest and best fit to yield the word understandable. There is some “artistic interpretation” that is utilized that will affect what is deemed a good translation. But clearly the entire process is certainly no easy task, and there is always a critic, or three, that will disagree. Plus, something important to point out is that in the history of the Jewish people, they were under various controlling governments for most of their history. From Babylonian and Assyrian to Greek and Roman, Israel was assimilated into these foreign cultures and had to struggle to maintain their ethnic life and language. So it was no wonder that many in Yeshua’s day spoke Hebrew/Aramaic, as well as Greek and Latin. These language and culture influences can show up within the writings of the Scriptures.
But, how important is this information? Again, I will never say that people who refer to Yeshua as Jesus, as it is written in so many English Bibles, will be cast into the lake of fire. But for the many who claim the desire to go deeper into the Word, to know the Messiah more intimately, and to be a closer to the original languages as possible (i.e.: word-for-word translations versus paraphrased) without learning Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, it is still important to understand the basics of the native languages (word studies) and the culture from which the writers were living in and being influenced from. I have said it many times that you cannot fully or succinctly have a proper perspective of reading the Scriptures without reading them in their proper context!
History lesson: keep in mind that most of today’s westernized Christian churches are direct descendants of the decrees and declarations that were put into place by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. A quick study into that event shows, without any bias or denials, that a primary goal was to integrate Roman culture with the growing New Testament church and to segregate out the teachings and practices of Judaism from the emerging Christianity all together. The council was clear that followers of “Jesus” were not allowed to continue on with Synagogue practices or observing the Jewish holidays and feasts, and were to “convert” fully to the new standards and methods established by this new “church”. Because of this, most of today’s theologies stem from the new direction that believers were supposed to adhere to, and any deviation from that, such as returning to the practices of the first church, which included Judaic observances, were, and still are, often met with harassment and claims of heresy.
We can all agree that debates within any aspect of theology is a constant. No doubt that a multitude of factions exists under the umbrella of Christianity. Just look at the countless denominations and sub-denominations that exist just in the Protestant world alone! Even historically, the earlier Catholic Church had a great divide stemming from the disagreements during the Council of Nicaea, and that friction continued on for centuries. Going back even further, we can see that even in Judaism there were many differing practices. Yeshua Jesus confronted the religious leaders of the day, Pharisees, the Sadducees, and even the scribes, on many occasions because they all had deviated from the commands of God as written in the Torah, the laws in the first 5 books of the Bible. In other words, man has always, and still continues, to inject his ideas, thoughts, and desires into the Words of God and create for himself what he thinks is best!
So, is “just a name” that important? Personally, I have to say yes. For the simple reason that when you deviate from something that might be perceived as a minor matter, it does, in fact, create a large slippery slope. First you make some tiny alterations to appease the masses and make it function better and “easier to digest”. Next you modify a little here here and a little there there to help integrate better the ancient things, so as to be more understandable and relevant to today’s cultural thinking. Onward, certain modernistic ideologies are sprinkled into the textual translations to help with understanding the more “complex writings” that don’t fit nicely into our way of thinking these days. Essentially you end up with a completely new religion that contains just a smattering of the original for posterity’s sake. This has been shown clearly and historically to happen and, in time, people have taken the very truths from Elohim (God) and reformed them into an inaccurate and humanized meaning. Essentially, we have been molding the God of the universe to fit our narratives and our ways…instead of His creation conforming and adhering to His decrees and His ways.
In Exodus 3:13-15 we learn Hashem (meaning “the Name”). “Moses said to Elohim, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The Elohim of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” Elohim said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” Elohim also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘YHWH, the Elohim of your fathers—the Elohim of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation”. In many Hebrew Scriptures, Elohim is what westernized Bibles have written as “God”. Adonai is used for “Lord”. El Shaddai means “God Almighty”. But YHWH (יהוה) is His formal name. Though in many circles it is not pronounced out of reverence, still many will attempt to pronounce it by saying the transliteration of “Yahweh”. But, one thing is clear…that the Creator of the Universe is not just God or Lord or LORD per our English translations. The names are important because they reveal to us His attributes and bring us a better, more intimate, understanding of who He is to us. Names in Hebrew have deep meanings and I highly recommend you do your own name study within Scriptures to get a better perspective of why we all should be using the proper names!
Folks, before you shake your head and finger at me, let me say that this isn’t legalism. This isn’t reverting to irrelevant antiquity. This isn’t some religious jargon to sound fancy. This is committing ourselves back to a reverential awe and respect to our Creator, as He presented Himself to the world through His Word! If we think ourselves so arrogant that we can rename Yahweh Elohim to better fit our languages, views and ideas, then we tread dangerously on this walk through life. I wouldn’t call my boss at work by any other name other than his or her very own. Nor would I call a parent or spouse or friend by something other than their proper name as well. Yet, we think it ok to rename Him who spoke the universe into existence, who created humanity by His breath, and who sustains all things by His hand. Our faith can often show its true growth and strength by the depth of our understanding and our willingness to continue the walk being as faithful and obedient to Him as humanly possible! Yeshua said in John 14:14-15 “If you ask Me for anything in My Name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
James 4:8 (Which, by the way, his name was actually Ya’akov or transliterated as Jacob!) says “Draw near to Elohim, and He will draw near to you.” Jeremiah (Yirmeyahu) 29:13 says “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” When we study “to show ourselves approved”, we want to know from where our salvation comes from. We study to know our Father in Heaven. We study to become intimate with Him so that we can then obey Him completely. The old saying “to know Him is to love Him” definitely applies here! And it’s important to know why He is referenced by so many special Hebraic titles, along with His name YHWH, or Yahweh. I’ve touched on a few of them here, but I also want to encourage you to see the Elohim of the Bible in the truest, purest, and proper form and context…as was originally presented to humanity when the Words were written! If He revealed Himself to us through His Word, shouldn’t we know those words…intimately? After all, as it says in Philippians 2:9-11 “Therefore Elohim raised Him to the highest place and gave Him the Name above every name; that at the name of Yeshua, every knee will bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai, to the glory of Elohim the Father.” It’s clear from the Father above that names are important!