What should we call our Lord Jesus?
The name of the Lord Jesus is precious to each believer. But some teach that the Lord Jesus should only be referred to by using a transliterated Hebrew name, such as Yeshua. In dealing with these questions, there is an unfortunate tendency to treat them as an academic argument among biblical scholars. However, it is vital to approach this matter in the wisdom given from above to each simple believer.
The purpose of the scriptures is to reveal “God’s thoughts, of all His ways with regard to man, and of His determinate purpose as to the Christ, and as to man in Him” (Introduction to JND Translation, 1881). This can only be accomplished by means of translation from the most accurate manuscripts maintained by the Holy Spirit for the use of those skilled in spiritual understanding and translation. Men such as J.N. Darby and William Kelly combine the necessary qualifications to undertake such a task. Their translations provide the meaning of the words in English from the original languages.
Transliteration, by contrast, transfers the pronunciation of a word from one language to another, and this neither Mr. Darby nor Mr. Kelly did.
It is helpful also to distinguish between names and titles. A name describes who the person is in character or excellence. Some examples are: “Call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people” (Matthew 1:21); “Call His name Jesus. He shall be great” (Luke 1:31–32); “And his name is called The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13).
A title, however, describes the role or position that a person is appointed to or carries out. For example, “God has made him, this Jesus [name] whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ [titles]” (Acts 2: 56). “And gave him to be head [title] over all things to the assembly” (Ephesians 1:32).
It is clear that we should understand from John’s gospel that the writer’s purpose in recording his gospel is “that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life in his name” (John 20:31).
Of course, it is true that Jesus has the same meaning as Joshua (Jehovah is Salvation). Both are rendered in English and convey the same meaning. But the character of the persons is quite different. Jesus is the name given to our Lord at his birth (Greek Iesous); the New Testament scriptures were written in Greek by the men God used under the direction of the Holy Spirit. That name describes the God who became a man, born of a woman, made in the likeness of men and partaking of flesh and blood (sin apart)—a Man of Sorrows, who accomplished at the cross the work of salvation for man. But the JESUS of the New Testament has an entirely different character from Joshua of the Old Testament, and thus requires a unique name to distinguish and mark Him out. He is highly exalted in resurrection at the right hand of God and crowned with glory and honor. For Joshua’s name means Jehovah is the savior, but Jesus is Jehovah, the Savior in name and in character.
Similarly, the title of Christ (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew) has the same meaning in both languages: “God’s anointed.” The title Messiah is found only four times in the scriptures, twice in the Old Testament and twice in John’s Gospel. The Messiah was presented for Jewish acceptance but rejected. Christ after suffering death for every man has been raised from the dead and glorified at God’s right hand (Acts 2: 56)—certainly not an earthly Messiah, but the Christ of God. He is the second man from heaven, who having entered into death and defeated every foe, was raised from among the dead and has returned to heaven. He is still the same Person, but with an additional aspect to the title, for he is God’s anointed “to head up all things in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth” (Ephesians 1:11).
As believers, we are “in Christ,” whether alive on the earth or asleep in the grave, “thus also in the Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). As the Church, which is His body, we are united to Him and He is head of the body, which is “of Christ” and we are nourished and “increase with the increase of God” (Col. 2:17,19). The critical aspect of this matter is the essential description of who HE is—we are in a new relationship with God, not earthly but heavenly, and the second man from heaven has been called JESUS. To argue about translation and transliteration is to use man’s wisdom, but we are given wisdom from above to know Him. As a simple Christian, “I love the name of Jesus, the sweetest name on earth,” the most glorious name in Heaven, and the one who in a soon coming day will take me to His Father house (and mine!) and who will be for eternity “this same Jesus.”
All references are quoted from “A New Translation” by J.N. Darby (1889 edition).