“Saying Jesus’s Name Wrong”: A Fallacy of “Hebrew Roots”

Andrea Mantegna, Ecce Homo (1502)

Andrea Mantegna, Ecce Homo (1502) (WikiArt).

One of the most common and insistent tropes of the “Hebrew Roots” movement is the claim that the majority of Christians in the world are “saying Jesus’s name wrong” — that the name “Jesus” itself is improper, a Westernization and a corruption of the Messiah’s true name. The true name of our Lord, the proper way to address Him, these people argue, is by His original Hebrew name, ישוע (yēšūʿa) — most often rendered in English as Yeshua.

Make no mistake: It’s quite true that the original, Hebrew and Aramaic name of Jesus was probably ישוע, a variant of the name of the Hebrew leader and hero יהושע (yəhôšūʿa), meaning “The Lord is salvation.” And if you’d like to call the Lord that, then more power to you. But before you go around condemning traditional Christians who hail our Lord Jesus, here are a few things you should consider:

  1. There is nothing “traditional” about calling the Lord Yeshua (or Y’shua, or Yah’shua, or any variant).
  2. There is nothing “improper,” no form of syncretism or invention or corruption, in the traditional name Jesus.
  3. To insist that Yeshua is the only proper name by which to address our Lord is, in fact, to reject the entire received Christian tradition, to disown the Apostles and Evangelists, even to deny Scripture itself — and to contradict the very message of the Gospel.

An Invented Tradition

Hebrew Roots

Proponents of “Hebrew Roots” often support their arguments with claims that they are returning to the “authentic traditions” of the first Jewish Christians. But is this really true?

Tradition means what has been handed down. And the truth is that there is no tradition — no writings, no hymns, no inscriptions, no traditional teaching or custom — of our Lord being addressed as Yeshua, passed down by the earliest Christians or by anyone else at all, until the beginnings of the “Messianic” movement in the nineteenth century.

Proponents argue that the name Yeshua is what the Apostles themselves would have called the Lord; and that might very well be true. But they left us no record, no tradition of it. Historians believe that Jesus and the Apostles probably spoke Aramaic as their primary language — not Hebrew. Yeshua is a modern reconstruction, based not on Aramaic but on Hebrew pronunciation.*

* Jews wrote Aramaic with the Hebrew script, but pronounced it differently than the biblical Hebrew language. Our transliteration of Hebrew is based on the rabbinical pronunciation of the biblical texts. The original Hebrew texts had no vowels; the system of vowels and pronunciations we have of ancient Hebrew today was passed down (and in some cases made up, or at least formalized) by rabbis. So a rabbi reading ישוע in a biblical text would pronounce it completely differently than a first-century Jew on the street speaking Aramaic, reading the same characters. Syriac Christians (see below), whose liturgical language is essentially Aramaic as it would have been spoken in the first century, pronounce these same characters, ישוע, not as “Yeshua” but as “Isho.”

On top of this, there is the matter that Hebrew and other Semitic languages can only be transliterated incompletely into English, which lacks both the phonemes and the graphemes to fully express those languages’ sounds and meanings. Even presuming the rabbinic tradition of pronunciation — Yeshua, like any other rendering, is at best an approximation. Rather than adhering to the “true” name of the Lord, proponents of this are just as guilty of “translating” His name into their own language as the early Greek Christians were in calling Him Jesus.

There are in fact Christians who have been speaking Aramaic for the past two thousand years, since the time of the Apostles, who have passed down the Christian faith in what can be called its native language: the Syriac Christians, whose liturgical language is essentially Aramaic as Jesus would have spoken it — but they pronounce the Lord’s name not “Yeshua,” but “Isho.” Yeshua was passed down by nobody at all, but invented from imagined traditions in modern times.

What the Apostles did pass down to us, the earliest written records preserved of the Christian Church, are the New Testament Scriptures — written not in Hebrew, not in Aramaic, but in Greek.

The Name of Jesus

Jesus Christ icon

Contrary to arguments I am hearing increasingly from “Hebrew Roots” proponents, the name Jesus is not a late, syncretistic introduction by “Rome,” nor a “corruption” of the true Hebrew teaching, nor any other attempt to pull true Christians away from the “Hebrew Roots” of Christianity. When the Apostles and their associates wrote the New Testament Scriptures in Greek — under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit — they wrote His name as Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous). Every manuscript of every book of the New Testament attests to this.

And this was not a novelty, even for the first Christians. The name Ἰησοῦς had already been extant in Greek for several centuries, as the standard transliteration of the Hebrew name (commonly transliterated in English) Joshua. In the Septuagint, the classic translation of the Old Testament Scriptures into Greek, which can be dated as early as the second century B.C., Ἰησοῦς was used as the name of Joshua, both the man and the book. In applying that name to the Christ, Greek-speaking Christians were following conventions established long before His coming.

When the Apostle Paul, the first great missionary, carried the Gospel of Christ beyond Judea and Palestine, he carried His name not as Yeshua but as Ἰησοῦς. The name Iesus is a natural transliteration of the Greek name into Latin, and thence, with the translation of the Bible into English, Jesus. Is Scripture itself, then — the divine foundation that even “Messianic” Christians claim — compromised, or corrupt, or flawed? Were the Apostles agents of syncretization or dilution, of leading the people of Christ away from His “Hebrew Roots”? This is in effect what these arguments entail. Clearly, if there were any problem, any heresy or corruption or dilution, in translating the name of the Lord into the native tongues of each of His peoples, then the Apostles themselves would not have done it.

Every Tongue Shall Confess

Nesterov, Resurrection (c. 1892)

Resurrection (c. 1892), by Mikhail Nesterov.

St. Paul himself tells us, in fact:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)

Every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” — declared in Greek, what was then the lingua franca of the civilized world. The word tongue in Greek, γλώσσα or glōssa, could also refer to language, as with the Latin lingua, and as we continue to use tongue in English. Was “every tongue” to confess the Lord, but only as Yeshua? Plainly not: in that very sentence, Paul hails Him as Jesus in Greek.

Arguing that only “Yeshua,” or any other rendition of the name, is the correct and proper address for our Lord, denies the entire received Christian tradition, the handing down of the faith to every people as the Apostles and their spiritual descendants have done. Just as the Greek people received the name of the Lord as Ἰησοῦς, the English people received Him as Jesus, the Spanish as Jesús, and so forth:

Names of the Lord in Various Languages
Language Name Transliteration
Albanian Jezusi
Amharic ኢየሱስ Iyesus
Aramaic ܝܫܘܥ Isho
Arabic يسوع ʿĪsā
Aragonese Chésus
Bengali যিশু Jishu
Chinese 耶稣
Greek (Koine) Ἰησοῦς Iēsous
Greek (Modern) Ιησούς Iēsous
Hebrew (Modern) ישו Yeshu
Hindi ईसा Jesu
Hungarian Jézus
Irish Gaelic Íosa
Italian Gesù
Korean 예수
Latin Iesus Jesus
Romanian Isus
Russian Иису́с Iisús
Church Slavonic Їисъ
Slovak Ježiš
Tagalog Hesus
Tamil இயேசு
Turkish İsa
Vietnamese Giê-su
Yiddish יעזוס Yezus

… I think you get the idea; and I’m having far too much fun with this. This is only a random smattering of just a few languages, pulled from Jesus’s Wikipedia article.

The point is this: Are any of these languages “wrong”? Were the apostles, missionaries, evangelists, and translators who carried the faith of Christ “to the ends of the earth,” to each one of these peoples, “wrong”? To argue that there is only one name by which Jesus can properly be addressed is to deny the universality, the catholicity, of Christ’s message of salvation; to cast aside the very message of the Gospel, of forgiveness and acceptance and inclusion into Christ for all peoples. Is Jesus a Savior for the Jews only? Or did He come for the lost sheep of every nation, tribe, people, and tongue? The greatest danger of the “Hebrew Roots” movement, I fear, is that it in effect recycles the heresy of the Judaizers, in arguing that the only true way to be a Christian is to be a Jew — an argument that Scripture rejects again and again.

17 thoughts on ““Saying Jesus’s Name Wrong”: A Fallacy of “Hebrew Roots”

  1. You didn’t even get to the crazy part this time: that some people believe the word “Jesus” to actually have come from the name “Zeus” (because that’s how we pronounce it in English), and therefore “Jesus” is a pagan attempt to destroying the Christian faith.

  2. Good post Joseph,

    The Hebrew Roots movement has caused me some mental turmoil since coming in contact with them. This is probably due to me being fairly young in my faith and being more vulnerable to be swayed by “every whim of doctrine.”

    I really think they are doing some damage to the Body of Christ due to these scary accusations. I remember I was afraid for a little while that I was sinning by saying “Jesus” because they claimed it was Pagan.

    They are putting stumbling blocks in people’s walks of faith.

    While I think the Sacred Name Movement and “only Yeshua” folks are in error, I still have been confused on the topic of whether God wants all of us to observe the Torah (as much as is possible). Specifically these things would the the Sabbath, food laws, wearing tzit tzit, not wearing clothes of mixed fibers, festivals, etc.

    I see it as, whatever God wants us to do, we should do.

    BUT, I still do not know what our relation to the Law of Moses is because most Christians observe all of its moral precepts.

    Anyways, trying to figure this all out and I look forward to more of your posts.

    In Christ,

    Neil H

    • Neil, thanks. I am glad the post was helpful. I agree that these “Hebrew Roots” arguments are very divisive and harmful. I hope to write on these issues more soon.

      I admit I have a very hard time understanding how anyone can read from the New Testament any sense that God wants Christians to continue observing the ceremonial precepts of the Torah. A good portion of Paul’s writings are written specifically to reject that notion — the whole of the letters to the Galatians and Romans, and comments in nearly every one of his epistles. Given this — and given that nowhere in the New Testament are such ideas as Hebrew festivals, restrictions on diet and dress, or even Sabbath observance, addressed at all — I don’t see that the arguments stand on anything but their own bluster. I would be very glad if you would share some of why you find them persuasive.

      Not only is discussion of any of these things absent from the New Testament, but there is no indication from any historical document that the Christian Church ever observed any of these things. We have direct testimony (see Ignatius of Antioch, “Barnabas,” and others) that the Church abandoned even the Jewish Sabbath by the beginning of the second century.

      Any argument otherwise is not only extrascriptural (if not outright contra-scriptural), but also unhistorical.

      • Hey there Joseph,

        Thanks very much for your reply. You know it’s been an interesting journey for me theologically these past four years of initially believing in Christ (though I have not been baptized so I don’t really know what I am technically).

        And it has led me into such things as Conservative Protestantism, exposure to Catholicism, Liberal Christianity (which I clearly see as wrong now (thank God)), Christian Universalism, and finally this exposure to the Hebrew Roots Movement.

        Currently though, I’ve been seriously considering the Catholic Church again and giving it a deeper look (and taking RCIA inquiry classes). And I agree very much so with your argument from the early Christian writings saying the opposite of the Hebrew Roots Movement.

        And I don’t think Sola Scriptura makes much sense anymore so I am inclined to give those early writers like Ignatius more weight in their theology (especially when they are said to have known some of the Apostles themselves!).

        So the authority of the Catholic Church has been getting clearer to me, but I’m still not all the way there yet.

        Nevertheless, considering the things that have made me take notice at the Law movement, would you like me to tell you through these comment sections or to your email? I can do either, but email might be better.

        Thanks,

        In Christ,

        Neil H

    • Hey jesusandthebible,

      Thanks for putting in a response. Of course, I do think those passages are pretty good considering this topic. But obviously, the Law people have ways of putting their view into those.

      I saw one man say that the burden or yoke spoken of in Acts 15 was circumcision, and not following all of the Law. When I first read this argument I was new to the whole topic so I thought it made sense. However, when I thought about it more, I realized that his interpretation didn’t make much sense:

      You notice how he says in Acts 15 ” a burden that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear”. If we was speaking of circumcision, then it would make no sense to mention himself because he would have been circumcised on the 8th day of his life (according to the Law). I personally was medically circumcised at my birth and I can remember nothing about it – no pain or discomfort. It is as if it never happened. Hardly a burden in my opinion.

      So I’d have to respectfully disagree with that interpretation.

      But those are some of the arguments that the Law folks put out to justify their position. However, I’d like to say that I believe most of these people are trying to sincerely follow God according to their knowledge and aren’t out for ulterior motives.

      Anyways that’s all

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  4. Neil,

    The reason you are experiencing “mental turmoil” in relation to the Hebrew Roots movement is because it is spiritual warfare and you are coming up against the AntiChrist spirit.

    I could say more about it, but I don’t think focusing on the HR movement gives any more clarity on Christ and his completed work at the cross.

    There are eight covenants listed in the Bible. Out of those eight, only the Mosaic covenant was conditional. As Joseph pointed out in his post, Paul makes it very clear in the book of Galatians that no one can be saved through the Mosaic covenant, that it just makes us aware of our sin.

    Regarding your question about what we as Christians are supposed to “do” with the Mosaic covenant. First, it is no longer in effect to begin with. Second, it’s purpose was to point the way to Christ.

    It never had the power to save. Genesis 15:6 states that Abraham was counted as righteous because of his FAITH. Faith in what? Faith in his deliverer, his redeemer, that God would do what he said he would do, in the Lord’s salvation (Yeshua Strongs 3444) Only those who have faith like Abraham are saved .

    There is a lot you can say about the plan of salvation and Jesus in the Old Testament. However, I think that Gen 15:6, along with Lev 17:11 (there is no purification from sin except through the blood of a life given in sacrifice) and Isaiah 43:11 (I am the Lord, there is no other Savior) makes it very clear that there is no way to reconcile even just these three verses without the person of Jesus Christ, son of God coming as Son of Man, giving his life in sacrifice.

    Why would one need tzizit if we have his law written on our hearts and the Holy Spirit inside us? How are some pieces of string even relevant?

    As for the food laws, God doesn’t give stupid instructions. The “unclean” animals listed are scavenger animals, they eat other animals and other gross things. Pigs especially are especially disgusting, they will eat literally anything even cannibalizing the carcass of other pigs. If you read about what science has discovered about food and nutrition, and you keep in mind God’s laws are because he wants the best for us, it should not be surprising that he nixed those animals saying, “Leave these off your menu.”

    The unclean animals were the “junk food” of the time and God wanted, and still wants for us, them to be healthy. If you don’t want to eat pork for health reasons, don’t. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking it will do anything for you spiritually. Paul said all things are clean if we bless it in the Lord’s name and Jesus himself said “What you eat cannot defile you.”

    Personally, I think it’s ridiculous when someone is all hung up on not eating pork when at the same time they guzzle down soda and eat fast food every day.

    Regarding the command about the fibers, I’ve read a couple different opinions about this. One is that it is just common sense, that they will wear differently. Another is that it was related to a Canaanite worship practice that was prevalent in the land they were entering and it was a prohibition against that.

    I’m kind of leaning to the second. The whole modern Jewish practice of not eating dairy and meat together stems entirely from the verses saying not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

    The Ugartic texts discovered at Ras Shemra illuminated those verses. That was a pagan practice in Canaan to ensure a good harvest. It had NOTHING to do with dietary laws. When you read passages it is very clear, it is part of passages that are giving instructions on grain offerings.

    God never said you couldn’t have a cheese burger. That is a rabbinic interpretation of something they didn’t understand. Instead of saying, “We don’t know what this means,” (because obviously the context had been forgotten) they came up with new laws. Man says.

    The command about the fibers feels the same to me. But who knows.

    Regardless, you know the saying “It’s not my circus, not my monkeys?” if you’re not ethnically Jewish, this isn’t your circus. Why spend any time worrying about something that was clearly spelled out almost 2,000 years ago at the Council of Jerusalem? Follow the Noahide laws and don’t worry about it.

    My advice to you is make a habit of reading the Bible daily. The best defense against unsound doctrines is being so familiar with what God’s Word actually says that you can pick out when something goes against it.

    • Hi Carla,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m no theologian or expert in any of this. Just a regular guy who is trying to figure things out.

      I feel like this is where I am at this time in my search:

      1. Jewish believers in Jesus are to remain living a Jewish lifestyle (Sabbath, kosher, etc.). Not relying on the Torah to be reckoned righteous, but living it out as their calling and the guidelines for a holy life.

      2. Gentile believers in Jesus are accountable to the four prohibitions given at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), the moral teachings of Jesus, and the morality evident in the epistles of the apostles. They are not accountable for the whole Torah (like Jews are), but are also not forbidden from practicing things like the Sabbath.

      I know this probably sounds alien. It’s been a long journey for me theologically and I still have much I feel I could learn. But that’s where I find myself.

      Peace in Christ,

      Neil

  5. first off in Romanian just as in Russian is pronounce Iisus not Isus. Second you do pronounce it wrong because you pronounce it with a J instead of I . It is interesting that those become christians from english missionaires pronounce with J but all the rest pronounce with an I. Also the NT is written in Greek and Latin and both use the I so you are wrong. The mistake may have appeared because when english was germanic J could be pronounced both J and I. So it is a transliteration mistake on YOU.

    • Hi, thanks for the comment. I think you are missing the point I was making. Yes, certainly the English pronunciation of “Jesus” is different than the Hebrew pronunciation, the Greek pronunciation, and even the Latin pronunciation — as is that of my own name, “Joseph,” and many others. Pronunciation of names changes at they are transmitted, translated, or transliterated between languages. Does this mean the English pronunciation is “wrong”? A “mistake”? No, it simply means that’s the way the name passed from one linguistic context to another. The bottom line is if the original, “correct” pronunciation of the name “Jesus” were essential to His person or the salvation He brings, then — as with Islam and Arabic — the only valid language for reading the Scriptures or praising the Lord would be Hebrew (which, as I’ve argued above, it’s questionable if Jesus or the Apostles even spoke) or Aramaic. The Apostles would not themselves have translated His name and His words into Greek. From the start, Christianity was multilingual and multicultural. The peace of the Lord be with you!

      • I did understand your point. You missed mine. The only reason why names like your own are pronounced now as they are is because a mistake.And there are many other mistakes in english. For instance no one ever said “Ye” in old english. They just wrote “The” as “Ye”. When later people found old manuscripts after J was no longer used instead of I they read them wrong. So it was a mistake that no one was willing to correct. Also lets take the name James. There is no apostle with that name in the Bible. The name used is Jacob (read Iacob). Please explain how is ok to accept this change. Is like I would call you Dan just because I feel like it. Also from your own list most countries and languages pronounce the name in the same way, i.e.using I. And it is important.Because if I can change a name however I please then I can reach false conclusions like some researchers that claimed that Yahweh was derived from a pagan deity with a similar name when transcribed to english. But YHWH is just an abbreviation for “I am that I am”.This is further explained later in the verse “who was and is and is to come” explaining his unchanging eternal nature without a beginning or an end .Also please note that the differences between most languages regarding the names are minimal and one can easily identify the person. Also usually the apostles left words untranslated were the differences were to big and rather chose to add a commentary explaining what the word was supposed to mean. About the language to read the New Testament that language is Greek because it was first written in Greek and the apostles took great care not to make mistakes. And if you are zealous you can read the OT in Aramaic.

        • So, natural consonantal shift in a language is a “mistake,” but intentionally translating a name not only into a different language, but into an entirely different alphabet — thereby losing the pictographic context of the original characters, losing the precision of the original languages’ phonetics (Greek lacks even the basic phonemes of Hebrew and Aramaic), even completely discarding one or more entire syllables — is fine, because the Apostles didn’t make “mistakes”? How is it not a “mistake” to completely discard the voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant (the sh sound [∫] of the shin [ש]) — since that sound isn’t even present in Greek — but it’s a “mistake” to pronounce the letter j with a voiced palato-alveolar affricate (dʒ)?

          • I is a vowel, J is a consonant. Also not sure what is natural about the shift. The alphabet was not that different. S and SH or Ş are very similar . I and J are not. What they did is just dropping some inflections what is called now accent. For instance english people from different areas have different accents but use the same words. But in this case the word was changed completely. Also you did not answer my James challenge. Also I explained how the mistake occurred and why it was a mistake. The Apostles made the transliteration intentionally. The Iesus to Jesus change was unintentional. That is why it is a mistake. Also my humble opinion is that someone that knows the original language can transliterate a name better than someone that does not. Remember the Peking/Beijing example? For instance every native english speaker seems to fuc my name up. They read Ciprian as Siprian which is wrong. Instead the Ci is like the chi in chill. I hope you get what I am saying. The Apostles were right because they knew the original language and tried to match it. But the english change does not match the original. I does not sound as J.

          • The Hebrew yod (י) is certainly a consonant. In Latin, I before a vowel at the beginning of words is also a consonant, pronounced /j/ sound (“y” as in “Yulius Kaisar” (/juliʊs kae̯sar/) for Julius Caesar) and eventually spelled with a J in later Latin. This is a consonant and not a vowel. So if you are pronouncing the name of the Lord as if it begins with a vowel, then I’m afraid it’s you who are making a mistake. The name of the Lord came to be spelled in later Latin Jesus; and the letter J is pronounced in English with a /dʒ/. Is that a different pronunciation than the Apostles, or the Latin Church, used? Yes. Was it intentional? No, it was a purely accidental product of translating names from one language to another. Is it “wrong” or a “mistake”? Not unless you mean to argue that those who pronounce Julius Caesar in the traditional English pronunciation (/ˈdʒuːlɪəs ˈsi zər/) are also saying his name “wrong.” The classical pronunciation is fine for classicists, but in everyday speech, people give you strange looks. /sĭp′rē-ən/ is also the appropriate English pronunciation of the name Cyprian. Anglicized pronunciations are not “wrong,” they are simply the product of translating words and names between languages. I get what you are saying — but I disagree.

            If you are arguing from a point of linguistic purity, fine, you may continue tilting at windmills. If you are arguing from a point of faith — that those who pronounce “Jesus” in the traditional English pronunciation are “wrong” and their faith in the Lord is somehow deficient or less legitimate — that is what my article is about, and you could not be more wrong. If the Lord cared at all about the precise, original pronunciation of His name, then the Apostles would not have completely changed that pronunciation by translating it into Greek.

            Regarding James: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_(name)

          • well it is pronounved Iulius Cezar. I am not going to argue anymore because you seem not to want to accept you are wrong. Is the typical pride of the english: every other language and people on the earth is wrong, but you are right. Also not sure where you got yod as consonant. You ignored every argument Ii brought and apparently think you know latin better than latin speakers and speakers of romance languages and hebrew better than the jews in the time of Iesus. What can I say?

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