“Jesus” is not “Yay-Zeus”

Athanasius smacks Arius

St. Athanasius, defender of the Trinity, smacks the heretic Arius upside the head.

I recently had a run-in with a man who was apparently a Oneness Pentecostal or some variant, a non-Trinitarian espousing the idea that God is not a Trinity, but that rather there is only one God, and His name is the LORD*. This was a new one to me: before I had heard that the one God’s name was Jesus. The Trinity, this man informed me, was a pagan, syncretistic doctrine imposed by the Roman emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicaea in 325. He further informed me that the name Jesus was also a pagan corruption, incorporating the name of the Greek god Zeus. I was taken aback by the absurdity of these claims, the ignorance of both history and language.

* He actually said the tetragrammaton, the Holy Name I will not name.

El Greco, Christ blessing (The Saviour of the World)

El Greco. Christ blessing (The Saviour of the World) (c. 1600) (WikiPaintings).

The Name of Jesus

Now, more and more recently I have been hearing opposition to the name Jesus, particularly among “Hebrew Roots” groups. More correctly, they say, the name of our Lord is Yeshua — and, indeed, that is a more accurate transliteration of the Hebrew name ישוע. And if it floats anyone’s boat to call Him that, then they can justify themselves in doing so — though it makes me cringe every time I hear someone say it. Inherent in that is a rejection of the cultural tradition of the entire Christian Church, by which the Lord’s name passed into the Greek New Testament as Ἰησοῦς, into Latin as Iesus, and thence to English.

But the claim that the name Jesus is a veiled attempt by the Catholic Church to introduce pagan worship of the god Zeus into Christianity is patently absurd for several different reasons:

  • The earliest Christians spoke Greek. They wrote their Scriptures — the same Scriptures which, at least traditionally, Protestants embraced as their sole rule of faith — in Greek. The name of Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoūs) is the name by which the Christ is called, in Greek, by the inspired authors of the New Testament. Any injection of the name of a Greek god into Christian worship would not have been “veiled” at all. To reject the name Ἰησοῦς as a pagan corruption is to reject the inspiration of Scripture itself and to impugn the motives and credibility of the Apostles themselves and their associates — and If you’re going to go that far, I don’t know why you’re still calling yourself a “Christian.”

  • The Hebrew name ישוע (yēšūă), “The LORD is salvation,” is the same name as the Old Testament leader whose name is translated in English Joshua. Yes, Joshua and Jesus have the same name. And that name, in the Old Testament, was translated in the Greek Septuagint as Ἰησοῦς — several centuries before the coming of the Christ. That was the standard transliteration of the name, according to standard principles of translation, long before any Christian came along.

  • The names Jesus and Zeus didn’t even sound alike in Koine Greek. Zeus is spelled Ζέυς, the “sus” part of Jesus spelled σοῦς. The zeta and sigma made distinctly different sounds — precisely the difference, in English, between Zeus and Seuss. Moreover, the Greek diphthong ευ made a very different sound than ου. Though in English we pronounce eu as a long /uː/ or /juː/ (as in deuce or eugenics), in Greek ευ was pronounced as a double vowel, each sounded separately but quickly as the same syllable, along the lines of eh-oo. In sum, no Greek speaker would ever have seen any connection between “Jesus” and “Zeus.”

Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity

The development of the doctrine of the Trinity has a complex history that is covered elsewhere much more thoroughly, with better authority and support, than I can do in a brief space here (see the Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholic Answers, Wikipedia, and many more). But I will say that the Trinity was not “invented” at Nicaea, but had been being considered for centuries before, since the very beginning. The first recorded use of the word τριάς (trias) in reference to God comes from St. Theophilus of Antioch (ca. A.D. 180). Scripture itself very clearly teaches the divinity of Christ, and His oneness with, yet distinctiveness from, God the Father (e.g. John 10:25–30, Luke 10:22), and the distinctiveness of the Holy Spirit (e.g. John 14:26, Luke 11:23) yet His oneness with the Godhead (e.g. Romans 8:11, Philippians 1:19, Matthew 3:16). And then there are clear statements naming the three as a Trinity (e.g. Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14). So the Trinity is on firm footing, both scripturally and historically. And yet, in this day and age, more and more believers, shorn of the Tradition of the Church, are rejecting it.

18 thoughts on ““Jesus” is not “Yay-Zeus”

  1. Now Joseph, why would you go using all this fancy book knowledge? Don’t you know you just need to have faith and believe it in your heart?

    But actually, phonetically, how would Jesus and Zeus sound different in Greek? Is it ee-EH-soos vs zEHoos? Or have I misunderstand?

    Great post! 🙂

    • Thanks! You’re close. Ζέυς sounds even more different than Ἰησοῦς, though, in that the upsilon in Ζέυς is short, and the ου diphthong in Ἰησοῦς is long. So the ευ in Ζέυς is almost like the “ao” in “Mao,” except more of an oo as in book. The long ου in Ἰησοῦς is like we say it in Latin — yay-soos.

  2. Wow. This is a new one to me. Thanks for sharing.

    Of course, everyone knows that that “secret council” of Nicea accounts for all of the obscurity and corruption that exists in Christianity today. If fact, Nicea is in fact the reason that nobody can be sure that any one person has true Christian doctrine at all.

    Hah! In one fell swoop I have–in my own estimation–obliterated the whole of your teaching and am now able to substitute whatever I please! Hooray for me!

    Sorry. Just had to go off there…in the stead of St. Athanasius. THWAP!

    • Thank you! And yes, Nicaea was so secret that we have written records from everything that was discussed. 😉 People seem to be not only ignorant of history, but ignorant of the fact that historical facts can be looked up (and not with any great difficulty). God bless you!

  3. thank you, very interesting reading, please keep them coming.
    How is life lately?
    Sorry, I’m just curious, are you a seminarian? or… well… I’m not sure how to say it in english, are you studying to become a priest? I’ll love to know, Saludos!

  4. Oh for crying out loud… how absurd does one’s argument have to be before he or she recognizes the absurdity? “Jesus” is an attempt to reintroduce a pagan name, really?

    On another note, I have attempted in Bible study to explain the LORD / YHWH thing. I’m not sure I was successful, 🙂 .

    • I was surprised when I heard it, but then I heard it again from a caller to Catholic Answers Live — so apparently this is a thing that’s floating around.

      My friend got onto me for this post when I originally spelled out the name of the LORD. Many Catholics have no qualms about it, but I do have qualms, especially about its overuse (especially by Evangelicals) — which is at a complete disjunction with the whole of the Jewish and Christian traditions. My friend is right, and I will duly do my best to avoid saying it or spelling it in the future.

    • This is real. Friends of mine belong to a prophetic cult that believes all Sunday Churches who calls out the name of Jesus during the tribulation will receive the mark of the beast and will be thrown in the lake of fire with Satan.

      But if you call out Yahushua you will be saved.

      Also note that the spelling is in another format. This is crazy and they are very stubborn regarding all prophecies given to them by their anointed leader.

  5. I’ve been re-reading your post for the fourth or fifth time now and I still can’t think of anything suitable to say. The argument is just so… absurd! How can anyone claim something like that in all seriousness? Honestly?

    And for what it’s worth – I actually love the Trinity (and don’t know anyone who doesn’t. It might confuse people, especially in my RCIA class, but even those who are confused by the concept are intrigued and would never scorn it)

  6. Pingback: “Saying Jesus’s Name Wrong”: A Fallacy of “Hebrew Roots” | The Lonely Pilgrim

  7. “and If you’re going to go that far, I don’t know why you’re still calling yourself a “Christian.”

    Actually, some in the Hebrew Roots movement don’t. They say the “first century believers” were called Netzarim.

    I actually had someone say that to me, “I would NEVER call myself a Christian.”

    I felt like saying, “Well YOU might not, but Peter and Paul did.”

    Early Christians were called that, but it was by unbelieving Jews and it was intended as a double insult. They were saying Christians were just following a man and one from the wrong side of the tracks at that.

    Greeks called early believers Christians because they professed their faith in the Son of God coming as Son of Man.

    A couple of centuries later, there was a “law keeping” group of believers that called themselves the Netzarim, but that wasn’t mainstream

  8. I’m not a religious scholar, I can’t quote scripture, and I am questioning from a place of curiosity, but if your name is Joe and I keep calling out to you as Fred, when asking for your help, how responsive are you expected to be. I do agree that the internet allows people to throw around outlandish ideas at times and can raise a bit of hysteria, but if someone is proclaiming to be my savior and can redeem me back to my Heavenly Father, and if he dies and is resurrected before my eye’s as a proof, and says that there is only one way to the Father, I am going to make very sure, when I talk about him to other people, that they know exactly who he is, with the proper name stated in his language/ dialect/ pronunciation.

    • Hi, thanks for the comment. The very Scripture by which the Messiah is proclaimed to us uses the name, in Greek, Ἰησοῦς. The very Apostles of Christ used and proclaimed His name in translation. His name is important, yes! But His name, and His Word, can be translated. People of every tongue can understand His message and proclaim His name. If you find it important to speak His name in Hebrew or Aramaic or whatever language, that’s great. But using His native language is not something the Apostles found important.

      • Also, it would not exactly be calling someone named Joseph, Fred. It would be more like calling someone named Joseph, Jose. It’s the same name, just transliterated into another language.

  9. I used to believe that Jesus was the “Greek” or “Latin” translation, but I recently heard about the Zeus explanation & that actually makes sense to me…because Satan can use that very unfamiliar name to keep Jews from learning the Gospel, and keep them from the saving knowledge of/surrender to the Messiah.

    I recently heard an explanation from a Jewish believer about “Jesus Christ”, and how that term is a big stumbling block for Jews (this wasn’t the first time I had heard this same sort of feeling about that name). This brought to mind the scripture I believe Paul wrote about…”First to the Jew, then the Greek” (Gentile)…Spreading the Gospel to the Jew first. However, it’s very difficult to do that when trying to use the name Jesus/Jesus Christ.
    For me, I like when Jewish believers call Him “Yeshua” or “Yeshua Jesus”…this is what I want to do now, too.

    • Hi, no, “Jesus” does not originate from “Zeus.” Full stop. Linguistically, it is only the translation of the Hebrew name into Greek and then Latin. Is there any part of my article that you disagree with?

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