There’s a lot of nonsense going around today regarding the name of Jesus. Some even say that the name Jesus is pagan, in an odd reference to the Greek god, Zeus, of all things. Others say that you must pronounce His name correctly or He won’t even hear your prayers. I say HOOEY on all counts!
The confusion comes in because a lot of Christians, including pastors or teachers, are like parrots – and lazy parrots at that - they hear something or read something and go off half-cocked, repeating it as if it’s Gospel, without ever consulting scripture or doing any research of their own to prove or disprove what they end up propagating as truth.
Begin at the Beguine (or in this case, the earliest writings in Hebrew and Greek)
Let’s start with the basics. Jesus’ given name was actually Joshua. The Hebrew pronunciation of the name Joshua is ‘Yeh-HO-shu-wah’. It’s not a far leap from ‘Yeh-HO-shu-wah’ to Yeshua or Jesus…but how we got there is a very interesting study - and a very simple matter of linguistics. A perfect example of what I’m speaking of is my ex-wife, who was born and raised in Peru and spoke only Spanish throughout our entire 13-year marriage - which is also why I’m fluent in Spanish 😉 Hearing her trying to pronounce my last name, Williams, was something else. You see, there is no real use of ‘W’ in Spanish or its root, Latin. Because of this, she had an impossible time pronouncing her own last name once we were married. I literally spent hours trying to teach her to form the ‘wuh’ sound, for ‘W’ and no matter how hard she tried, it was so foreign to her, she never did get it right. The same is true in many languages. Arabic, for example, has no ‘P’, or even a ‘P’ sound in the language. If you order a Pepsi in an Arabic-speaking country, you’re going to get a ‘Bebsi’ instead. The same was true when converting the root words from other languages to form the English language. Most English words are bastardizations or abbreviated versions of the original root language they came from. We even invented the contraction to save time and effort, so instead of saying “I have”, we omitted the H and A and shortened it to “I’ve”. To someone who’s never seen a contraction, this just doesn’t make any sense at all, which is why the contraction is something that foreign language speakers have a difficult time with in learning English. These exact same issues came about when transliterating original Hebrew texts to Greek and then to English.
Transliterating Hebrew to Greek
The first step in arriving at the English was converting scriptural Hebrew, first to Greek, which was common all over the Middle East, and then to English so that King James (and the rest of us) could have a Bible. In Greek, there is no ‘H’, or an equivalent sound-like letter found in the middle of a word in Greek. This automatically eliminated the ‘HO’ in ‘Yeh-HO-shu-wah’, in pronouncing the name Joshua. The second issue is that there is no ‘sh’ sound in Greek at all. The closest that Greek can come is the letter Sigma, which is equivalent to the English ‘s’. The final obstacle that early transliterates had was the guttural ‘uh’ sound, as in the ending of ‘Yeh-HO-shu-wah’. This also doesn’t exist in Greek. By process of elimination, quite literally, the only choice they had was to reduce or shorten ‘Yeh-HO-shu-wah’ to ‘Ye-sus’, pronounced ‘Yay-sus’, with the ‘sus’ sounding the same as the Seuss in Dr. Seuss. Now stop for a minute to remember that we are simply transliterating the actual given name of Jesus, Joshua (Yeh-HO-shu-wah), to Greek.
This transliteration goes much further back than translating the NT to Greek. In fact, it goes back as far as the Septuagint, some 280 years before the birth of Christ! These are transliterations, not translations. Transliteration is the ‘literal’ writing of the name Joshua using the Greek alphabet. Now think about how many times the name Joshua appears in scripture in the OT! It may come as a great shock for you to learn that every single instance of the 644 times the name Joshua (again pronounced Yeh-HO-shu-wah) appears in the Hebrew text, it is transliterated to Greek as ‘Yesus’. This isn’t something that just started with transliterating the New Testament, but had been going on for hundreds of years before.
Adding Aramaic to the Mix
Aramaic was the common, everyday language among many Jews, especially those in the Galilee area, including Jesus and His disciples. In Aramaic, Joshua is ‘Eashoa’ (translated to English) and pronounced ‘E-sho’, with the vowel sounds being long. This name appears in the original text of Zechariah 3:3, and many others, for the name ‘Joshua’, and this is also how the close friends of Jesus would have addressed Him, ‘E-sho’. Yeshua is actually a blend of the Aramaic and an abbreviated Hebrew form of ‘Yeh-HO-shu-wah’, again dropping the ‘Ho’ syllable, ‘Yeh-shu-wah’ and didn't enter the scene until after the second temple period.
Reference to this Aramaic dialect/accent is noted twice in scripture. First in Matthew 26:73, the denial of Jesus by Peter, when bystanders noted that Peter’s accent was the same as Jesus. In the Mark and Luke versions, this accent was clearly noted as being Galilean (see Mark 14:70). The second mention comes in Acts 2:7, when, at Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were identified as Galileans only by their Aramaic accent.
The Name of Jesus
So, how did we get from the Greek pronunciation of ‘Yay-sus’ to Jesus, you ask? Centuries ago it was very common to pronounce Y’s as J’s. In fact, the two were interchangeable. Sometimes the ‘J’ sound would actually be written with a ‘Y’ and visa-versa. Even today, Latinos, for example, will pronounce ‘Yes’ as ‘Jes’. By the time the 47 King James’ scholars got to translating the Greek text of ‘Yay-sus’, it became what we know today as ‘Jesus’. This is ALL there is to it. The name “Jesus” is the result of linguistics and time – and nothing more.
Please do not let these supposedly learned people lead you astray with all this hoopla over the name of Jesus. It is exactly as it was translated to Greek (and consequently English) for well over 2,300 years. And if that’s not enough, simply remember that God’s word tells us explicitly that He hears all prayers of the righteous (even if they don’t know His name), but is far, far from these wicked pinheads (Proverbs 15:29).
Joshua, or Ye-HO-shu-wah, literally means ‘Yehovah saves'.