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The Controversy Over the Name of Yeshua

Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee where Yeshua performed many miracles.

“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name.”  (Philippians 2:9)

Recently, some of our readers have asked us why we use the name Yeshua in the place of Jesus.

Other readers challenge us to use Yahshua instead of Yeshua, believing that Yah more accurately reflects the divine nature of Yeshua and is the correct way to pronounce the name of the Jewish Messiah.

Still others think the real name of Yeshua is the derogatory Yeshu.

Which is correct?

Yeshua Teaches People by the Sea, by James Tissot

Yeshua Teaches People by the Sea, by James Tissot

Joshua and Jesus in Greek

Since the name “Jesus” occurs in our English Bibles over 900 times, some people feel quite certain that the Jewish Messiah had the name Jesus.

Actually, the name Jesus is an English equivalent (transliteration) of the Greek name—Iησοῦς, pronounced as “eeaysoos,” which is a transliteration of the Hebrew name יֵשׁוּעַ, pronounced Yeshua.

So, the argument that we must only use the name Jesus because that is the name used in the Brit Chadashah is not quite accurate.

Some Believers object entirely to saying “Jesus” because they believe the Greek name “Iesous” sounds too much like the Greek god Zeus and is, therefore, pagan in origin.  They say that those who speak the English name of Jesus or the Greek Iesous are calling on a pagan god.

The reality is that the pronunciation of Yeshua has no exact equivalent in Greek.

The Greek alphabet has no “y” or “sh” sound, so in Greek writing, the “Ye” in Yeshua became an “eeay” sound, and the “sh” became an “s” sound.

Also, Greek did not allow a male name to end in an “ah” sound, so the solution was to add an “s” to the end as many Greek male names have today.  Thus, Yeshua in Hebrew became Iesous in Greek.

This Greek spelling is the standard substitute for both Yehoshua and Yeshua in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and in the writings of first-century Romano-Jewish scholar Josephus and the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria.

Hebrew variations of the name Yeshua.

Hebrew variations of the name Yeshua.

Joshua and Yeshua in Hebrew

The proper Hebrew name for Jesus is Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ), which means salvation.  This is a shortened form of the Hebrew name Yehoshua (יהושוע), which is Joshua in English and means the Lord saves, the Lord is salvation or the Lord will save.

Around the time of Yeshua, this shortened form of Yehoshua, was common and popular around Jerusalem, as seen on many ossuaries from that time period.

In the Tanakh (Jewish Bible), the names Yeshua and Yehoshua are mentioned almost 30 times and are given to five different men.  They are frequently translated interchangeably as Joshua; for example, in Ezra 3:2, there is a reference to Joshua / Yeshua (יֵשׁ֨וּעַ) son of (בֶּן־) Jozadak (יֽוֹצָדָ֜ק), one of the priests in the time of Zerubbabel after the return from the exile in Babylon.

Many English translations of Ezra 3:2 use the name Jeshua (Yeshua) instead of Joshua.

Ossuaries with the name Yeshua

Several ossuaries, chests serving as the final resting place of human skeletal remains, with the name Yeshua have been found in Israel.

In Zechariah 3 and 6, this same man is called Yehoshua (Joshua).

The first instance of Yehoshua is in Exodus: Yehoshua (יְהֹושֻׁ֣עַ) Ben (בִּן) Nun (ןנ֑וּ), most often translated as Joshua son of Nun, who was Moses’ assistant and led the Israelites into the Promised Land.

In Numbers 13:8, however, Joshua is called Hoshea (הוֹשֵׁעַ) ben Nun, one of the spies sent out by Moses to scout out the land of Canaan.

The name Hoshea means he saves.  But that was not accurate enough for Joshua’s mission in life.  Moses changes his name to Yehoshua by taking Hoshea and adding the letter yud, which comes from the yud in YHWH, the divine name.

In doing this, Moses changed Joshua’s name to mean YHWH is salvation or YHWH saves, delivers.

“These are the names of the men Moses sent to explore the land.  (Moses gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Yehoshua.)”  (Numbers 13:16)

As an example of the interchangeability of Yehoshua and Yeshua in later books of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and among the Jews of the Second Temple period, in Nehemiah 8:17, Joshua son of Nun, usually called Yehoshua Ben Nun, is called Yeshua Ben Nun.

“From the days of Joshua [יֵשׁוּעַ–Yeshua] son of Nun until that day….”

Moses Blesses Joshua Before the High Priest, by James Tissot

Moses Blesses Joshua Before the High Priest, by James Tissot

Why Jewish People Call Him Yeshu

The Talmud (Rabbinic teachings) mentions the name Yeshua only once in reference to Yeshua ben Jozadek (whom we mentioned above).

All other instances of the name Joshua are Yehoshua, although the name for one man—Yeshua of Nazareth—is rendered Yeshu (ישו).

It has been said that this name is actually an acronym for the Hebrew phrase Y’mach Sh’mo V’Zichrono (May his name and the memory of him be blotted out), although some have suggested that it is a Galilean form of Yeshua.

Most Jews are unaware of the potentially derogatory origin and, for this reason, they commonly refer to Yeshua as Yeshu, as if that were His true name.

For the most part, even the Israeli media use Yeshu to refer to Yeshua, although in rare cases He will be called by His proper name.

His full name in secular Hebrew is Yeshu Ha-Notzri (Jesus the Nazarene).

This name also appears in the Ben Yehuda Hebrew dictionary and in most secular Hebrew texts; however, the Hebrew spelling Yeshua (ישוע) is used in translations of the New Testament into Hebrew.

Yeshua Teaches in the Synagogue, James Tissot

Yeshua Teaches in the Synagogue, James Tissot

Is His Correct Name Yahshua?

Some of our readers have asked Bibles For Israel to use the name Yahshua instead of Yeshua.  Many of them believe that because “Yah” is the first part of God’s personal name “Yahweh,” it is supposed to be the first part of His Son’s name as well.

However, because there are no vowels in Hebrew, no one can be 100% sure that His name is pronounced “Yahweh.”

We do know for sure, though, that the use of “Yah” in the Messiah’s Hebrew name cannot be supported by any evidence available from archaeological findings, such as the Dead Sea scrolls, in inscriptions, nor in any rabbinical texts.

In these Hebrew texts, the personal and unutterable name for God is the Tetragrammaton or Four Letters: Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei (יהוה or YHVH, in English).

This name, which is thought to be pronounced as Yahweh, although some say Jehovah, is so holy that it was not spoken outside the Temple, and then only once a year on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) by the Kohen HaGadol (High Priest).

Yom Kippur raise hnads

A Jewish man who is dressed in white prays on Yom Kippur with upraised hands.

A name of God that is related to יהוה (YHVH) is the name יה (Yah), perhaps a shortened form of the unutterable name.  This name of God appears about 50 times in the Tanakh.  It is part of the construction of the Hebrew word Halleluyah (Praise Yah), as well as many Hebrew names, including Elijah (Eliyahu), Isaiah (Yeshayah), and Jeremiah (Yirmyahu or Yirmyah).

The name “Yahshua”, however, exists nowhere in the Bible or the Hebrew historic record.

In this new pronunciation for Yeshua, a fifth letter is added right in the middle of God’s holy name—ש—sh, thereby creating a new name Yahshua—יהשוה

The five-letter spelling of Yahshuah (יהשוה‎) rather than the four-letter spelling of Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) can be first traced to Christian Renaissance occultists in the second half of the 16th century.

A similar form of this new spelling was later picked up by the Sacred Name Movement (SNM), which uses its own unique Hebrew spelling of Yahshua (יהשע) not found anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures.

This new spelling of Yeshua can be traced back to the early days of the SNM movement in the 1930s.

The organization Yahweh’s Assembly in Yahshua, a group associated with the Sacred Name Movement, makes the following doctrinal statement regarding this name:

“‘Yahshua’ is the correct name of the Savior, a contraction of the combination of ‘YAHweh’ and ‘HoSHUA,’ the same as given to Joshua the son of Nun by Moses.”  (YAIY Beacon, April-June 2013, p. 8)

To create this new combination, one has to change the pronunciation of Hoshea to Hoshua, which is not found in any lexicon or dictionary because the “oo” letter is not included in the Hebrew spelling of Hoshea.  To arrive at this version of Yeshua’s name, one has to start with a made-up Hebrew name.

The Tetragrammaton (YHVH) in a stain-glass window in Winchester Cathedral

The Tetragrammaton (YHVH) in a stain-glass window in Winchester Cathedral

Calling on His Name

As Scriptural support, those who insist on this pronunciation of Yahshua point to Yeshua who says, “I have come in My Father’s Name.”  (John 5:43)

From this verse, they conclude that His name must have Yah in it.  But as discussed, this variant of Yeshua does not occur in any Hebrew or Aramaic texts.

There is no historical support for Yeshua ever using the name of Yah.

Even while on the execution stake, Yeshua did not call His Father by His personal name—Yahweh, but instead “about three in the afternoon Yeshua cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’).”  (Matthew 27:46)

Referring to Scripture, those who follow the teachings of the SNM contend that using this pronunciation of Yeshua’s name will assist in one’s salvation: “Everyone who calls on the name [onoma] of the Lord will be saved.”  (Romans 10:13)

They also refer to this passage:

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him [Yeshua], and bestowed on Him the name [onoma] which is above every name, so that at the name [onoma] of Yeshua EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Yeshua HaMashiach is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (Philippians 2:9–11; see also Isaiah 45:23)

He Heals the Lame, by James Tissot

He Heals the Lame, by James Tissot

The Greek word onoma does mean name, but not only in a literal sense; it also refers to the very being of a person.

Throughout the Jewish culture in scripture, one’s name is synonymous to one’s character, nature, and essence.

The name of Yeshua means salvation, and that is the exact essence of who Yeshua is. To call on the name/person of Yeshua—the Messiah is to call on salvation.

Furthermore, it simply does not make sense that everyone who has sincerely loved and followed the Jewish Messiah throughout the ages did not and will not receive their salvation because they did not speak this new form of Yeshua’s name, as “revealed” to a select few in the early Sacred Name Movement.

Scripture clearly states that our salvation comes through grace.  We do not receive it because of our works, and it is certainly not connected to how we pronounce the Messiah’s name.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8)

Our salvation is connected to believing in the character, reputation, and essence of the person behind the Hebrew name—who He is and what He did.

Yeshua Himself said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die.”  (John 11:25)

The Resurrection of Lazarus, by James Tissot

The Resurrection of Lazarus, by James Tissot

Writing the Sacred Names in Early Manuscripts

If saying Yeshua’s name correctly was essential to our salvation or even our faith, it seems the early scribes would have kept the Hebrew names intact when making copies of the Gospels and Paul’s letters of instruction to the early Believers.  But this is not the case.

The oldest manuscripts for the Gospel of John (known as P52 and P66), for example, were written only 50 years after the original authoring.  In these copies, Hebrew pronunciations are not attempted.  Instead, Greek abbreviations of Greek equivalent words are used:

  • Yeshua is abbreviated as Ιη-, (transliterated into English as Je- or Ye- for the name Jesus);
  • Messiah is abbreviated as Χρ- (spoken as Chr- for the Greek name Christos or English name Christ);
  • Elohim is written simply as Θ, which is short for Theos or God
  • Abba is shown as Πρ-, which is short for Pater or Father; and
  • Adonai is reduced to Κ-, which is short for Kyrios or Lord.
A Jewish scribe handwrites a Torah scroll.

A Jewish scribe handwrites a Torah scroll.

Rather than trying to accurately portray the sacred names of God and the Messiah, the early scribes intentionally avoided it.  This is in keeping with the Jewish practice of using euphemisms, letters or syllables to protect all names of God from being defaced, obliterated or destroyed accidentally.

Two thousand years later, though, the spiritual sensitivity behind protecting God’s names is being labeled a conspiracy.

Dr. Daniel Botkin, pastor of the Gates of Eden Messianic Congregation writing on the Yeshanet website states:

“The opponents of the Yeshua form claim that this pronunciation is the result of a Jewish conspiracy to hide the Savior’s true name.  Those who call the Messiah Yeshua are accused of perpetuating a Jewish conspiracy and ‘denying His name’ or ‘degrading Him’ by their use of the Yeshua form.”

Botkin said that he has received letters with these charges against himself personally.

To support the use of the name Yeshua, he goes on to quote Dr. Danny Ben-Gigi, an Israeli and former head of Hebrew studies at Arizona University as saying, “There is no such name in Hebrew (as Yahshua),” a name that “people invented it to fit their theology.”

A Jewish scribe completes a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll).

A Jewish scribe completes a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll).

Perhaps it seems like a lovely notion to think that Yeshua and Yahweh share the same pronunciation—Yah.

It is more important, however, to understand the spiritual elitism behind believing that this revelation was given to a select few in the 16th century and then 20th century.

Moreover, it is dangerous heresy to believe that only this unique pronunciation must be used to receive salvation, as many in the Sacred Name Movement claim.

Both Hebrew and Bible scholars who study ancient Semitic languages, historical literature, and archaeological findings regarding this issue agree that the name Yahshua cannot be supported and, therefore, Bibles For Israel does not endorse it.

Bibles For Israel does believe in calling on the name of Yeshua, which in Jewish thinking is calling out for salvation, since the name reflects the person and His character.

A Jewish man prepares to recite morning prayer.

A Jewish man prepares to recite morning prayer.

We also believe in praying in Yeshua’s name.  What does that mean?  It means when we pray, our prayers should reflect His agenda, values and purposes, not our own selfish ambitions and vain conceits.

Praying in Yeshua’s name means we come before Him expressing Yeshua’s desires and stand in Yeshua’s authority.

It means we have the confidence to stand before our Heavenly Father because of what Yeshua has accomplished through His holy life, His death on the Roman execution stake, His burial, and resurrection.

Because of His sinless life, He had absolute victory over death and was raised on the third day.

We come knowing that because of His resurrection He not only holds the power to forgive our sins, but has absolute victory over death, and has defeated the enemy once and for all!

We come in faith knowing that there is no other name, no other person, who is above Him.

“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”  (Philippians 2:9–10)

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