It may sound like a silly question to ask “what was Jesus’ real name” unless you’ve spent some time on Christian message boards or reading certain Christian blogs. If you have, you’ll probably notice certain people adamantly insist on referring to Jesus as Yeshua. These people will often argue with you why you are wrong for calling Jesus, well, Jesus.
What this all comes down to is languages and the translations of those languages. Some people don’t really that the Bible was not written in English. Instead it was translated into English from the original languages. More knowledgeable people know that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. But technically part of the Old Testament was written in Aramaic as well and that does have a bearing on this whole thing.
The Jews spoke and wrote Hebrew up until King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and carried the people away into exile. In Babylon they were surrounded by a new culture and a new language – Aramaic. Part of the book of Daniel and the book of Esther were written in the language of the Babylonians – Aramaic. When the exiles returned in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day, they were unable to understand their own scriptures because they were written in Hebrew. Only the educated scribes and scholars were still able to read the scriptures which is why the people reacted as though they had never heard them read before – they hadn’t.
Things get even more complicated by Jesus’ day. In Jerusalem there would have been three languages spoken. The common language of the Jewish people would have been Aramaic still. The scribes and scholars would have been able to read Hebrew but it wouldn’t have been used commonly. Then there was the Greek language. This was known as the “trade language” because it was the common language of the rest of the Roman world. If you had to deal with anyone who was a Gentile, you probably had to deal with them in Greek.
Now, why is all of this relevant? Because Mary and Joseph would have spoken Aramaic like the rest of the Jews. The name given to Jesus would not have been Jesus, nor would it have been the Hebrew Yeshua either, but the Aramaic form of this name. And guess what, that Aramaic doesn’t look anything like any kind of English –
And that’s really my point. No matter how you insist on pronouncing it or what you insist is the “real” name of Jesus, unless you speak and write ancient Aramaic, you’re using a translation of the name. Several of those Aramaic letters have no equivalent sound in the English language. One close approximation is Eashoa. Others have insisted it is still Yeshua. The fact is that nothing can be 100% correct because we just don’t have letters for those sounds in English.
Having sort of answered the question “what is Jesus’ real name” there is still another question out there. And that would be, why is Jesus called Jesus? And that’s a fairly easy one. That Aramaic name, no matter how you want to pronounce it, is translated in Greek as Jesus. Technically in Greek it looks like Iesus because there is no letter J in Greek. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, that’s what the early church would have referred to Jesus as, not His Aramaic name and not His Hebrew name.
In the end, it’s not a matter of what the name is or how we pronounce it. What is truly important is what the name means. The Aramaic approximation means “life-giver” which is actually my least favorite meaning. Both the Greek and Hebrew forms of the name mean Yahweh (the Lord) saves. There could hardly be a more appropriate meaning for the name of Jesus.
And now, just in case you were wondering, Jesus was hardly a unique name. We equate it with the one and only Jesus but there were several by that name in the Old Testament, they just happened to be transliterated from the Hebrew rather than translated into Greek. You know the Hebrew form of Jesus better, not as Yeshua, but as Joshua. In the end, call it what you want, it all means the same. And if you speak a language other than English, you’re going to find another translation or transliteration and it’s going to sound even different.
After all of this, you might still be wondering about how “Christ” fits into all of this. Well, that’s going to be another post, so be sure to click the link above for that information.