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Yahweh or Jesus:
What is God's Name?

Jason Dulle

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Also See   Is the Name of the Messiah "Yeshua?"   (Below)

In the OT God declared that His name was YHWH (Exodus 6:3; 20:7; see also  3:14). Scholars believe that "YHWH," or "Yahweh" is the third person singular  form of the ancient Hebrew verb, "haya," meaning "to be." The basic thrust of this verb describes the state of existence. As the third person form of haya, Yahweh literally means "He is," or "He exists." It is a description of who God is. He is the self-existing one.

 To understand the import of this we must understand the nature of Hebrew  names. Hebrew names are not simply nominal devices used to identify one person  from another as they are in the English language; they are actually sentences in  themselves. It is similar to how the Indians named their children "rising sun"  or "running bear." These were not quite complete sentences, but they were descriptions (partial sentences). God's name, YHWH, is a full sentence. It just  so happens to be the shortest sentence in any language--"I am." [1]

Has YHWH always been God's name? While it is possible, it is unlikely. God existed long before the Hebrew language, so it would seem unlikely that God has always had a Hebrew name. It must be remembered that God did not reveal a name to the Hebrew people that they were unfamiliar with; God revealed Himself to the Hebrew people using existing Hebrew vocabulary (haya) to express to His  chosen people who "He is" (the pun is intended). It was a word/sentence they were familiar with because it already existed in their language before God declared it to be His name.

I am persuaded that God said His name was YHWH only because He was speaking  to Hebrew people. If God would have revealed Himself to English speaking people  He would not have said His name was "YHWH," but rather "I am," [2]  because the Hebrew "YHWH" and the English "I am" are the same verb. The difference is not in the meaning, but in the language through which the meaning  ("I am") is conveyed. The name YHWH does not "tag" God for identity  purposes (for God does not need a name), but rather describes to us who God is. God was not eternally called "YHWH." He was simply Himself, the self-existing  one.

I am further persuaded that the name God revealed to the Hebrews was for the sake of revealing something about Himself and His nature to man. He is the "I  am," the "existing one." It is for this reason that it is in vain when people make a big ordeal over the manner in which we should pronounce God's name. Some  go so far as to say that if you do not pronounce God's name correctly you cannot  be saved. While this is not to say that God's name is unimportant, it is to say that His name describes who He is, and discovering who God is takes precedent  over the exact pronunciation of the words used to describe Him. When God communicated His name to the Hebrews it was not so they could know what to call  Him, or how to pronounce His name properly, but to reveal something about Himself to them.


Jesus vs. Yahweh?
Many Oneness believers will contend that God's name is not YHWH, but Jesus.  While I do not disagree that Jesus is God's name, the problem with such a  statement is rooted in the fact that it sets up a false dichotomy between "YHWH"  and "Jesus," forcing us to decide between the two. No choice needs to be made  because in actuality they are both the same name, but with one of the names being an expanded form of the other, describing what God does. It could be said  that God's name is Jesus only because His name is YHWH. While that may sound  contradictory at first, let me explain.

In Hebrew Jesus' name is spelled as "Yeshua." The "Ye" in Yeshua is the  abbreviated form of YHWH. "Shua" is from the Hebrew word for salvation, yasha. Jesus' name literally means "YHWH is salvation." The name "Jesus," then, actually contains the name "YHWH" in abbreviated form. While YHWH simply  describes who God is, when it is combined with a verb it describes what God does. The name "Jesus" describes the fact that YHWH has become salvation. Who is  Christ? He is YHWH, saving His people from their sins. If YHWH is not God's name, then Jesus' name becomes meaningless. To deny that God's name is YHWH is to ultimately deny the name of Jesus.

We should pick up on the fact that God is never referred to as "Yeshua" (Jesus) in the OT. He is always referred to as YHWH. If God's name has always been Jesus (as some claim) it would seem  strange that He never referred to Himself as such, nor was He ever called that  until the NT. It might be counter-argued that while God was called YHWH in the OT, He is never called by such in the NT. But is God called YHWH in the NT? Yes,  in its expanded form as "Jesus," meaning "YHWH is salvation." The name "Jesus," found exclusively in the NT, is a continuation of the revealed name of God found throughout the OT. "Jesus" is not a new name. The name of Jesus encompasses the  fullness of God's revelation of Himself to man--as Savior. The name "Jesus" is  so important to us because it is an expanded form of the same divine name revealed in the OT. It is not a different name. It is only greater in that it  more fully expresses who God is to us--Savior. Truly God's name is Jesus, because God's name is YHWH. We confess that God's name is YHWH every time we confess Him as Jesus.


Footnotes

1. When God told Moses "I am that I am," that is the first person singular form of haya, "ehyeh." It may be said that from God's perspective He is "I am," but from our perspective "He is."

2. Technically it would be "He is" because that is the English equivalent to "YHWH," but as noted in the previous foot "I am" is the first person form of the same Hebrew word. Since I am specifically discussing what God would say His name is, I used the first person form "I am" rather than the third person form "He is."

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Is the Name of the Messiah "Yeshua?"
By Jason Dulle

Question:

I think that all can agree that there is only one name that causes salvation, which causes us to be free. Acts 4:12 says, "Neither is their salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Peter did not say that the English word "Jesus" was the name.

In the front of most bibles it says something to the effect of: "Translated Out of the Original tongues and with Previous Translations Diligently compared and Revised." This means that the sounds have changes but the meaning have stayed the same. The Messiah’s name is a perfect sound and if you change the sound, you have changed the name (Acts 3:16). You cannot separate a man from his language. Exodus 3:18 tells us that God is the God of the Hebrews. The Messiah even confessed his own name in Hebrew according to Acts:26:14-15. In Zephaniah.3:9 he told us that he will return us to a pure language that all may worship him in one consent. (Hebrew language-for this is the language he named himself in.)

The English name for the Messiah has even changed over the years. The Oxford Dictionary states that:

    In the 1400's (Old English)=His name was Healand*

    In the 1500's (Middle English)=His name was Iefus*

    In the 1600's (Modern English)=His name was Jesus*

Furthermore the letter J did not come into existence until late in the 1500's and did not become popular until the 1600's. Therefore, any name beginning with the letter J including the name of Jesus is only about 400 years old.

The name "Jesus" is an ENGLISH, not an APOSTOLIC name! I can also assure you that the Hebrew name "Yeshua" is not the name of the Messiah. Although this name for the Messiah is Hebrew, it is modern Hebrew .This is not the Paleo-Hebraic form (ancient Hebrew). "Yeshua" is an extraction form his primitive name.


Answer:
It goes without saying that Acts 4:11 (the antecedent to the pronouns in v. 12) does not read the English name "Jesus" in the original Greek manuscripts. The English language did not yet exist. It is true that Peter did not say "Jesus" was the Messiah’s name, but neither did He say that His name was the Paleo-Hebraic spelling/pronunciation of the modern Yeshua. Peter said His name was Iesous, the Greek name for Jesus.

It was also noted that all English Bibles are translations from the original tongues. This is most assuredly true, but it needs to be made clear that there are two primary languages in which the Bible was inspired, not one (with the exception of some sections in the OT that were written in Aramaic, thus making three). Not only was the Bible written in Hebrew (OT), but also Greek (NT). The Messiah, and thus the name of the Messiah, appears in the NT, not in the OT. Every time it appears it is written in Greek, not Hebrew. This is a very significant point. Why insist on calling the Messiah by His Hebrew name when the Messiah is never called by His Hebrew name in the inspired Scripture? The only way to get around this is to deny that the NT was written in Greek, but in Hebrew. Many have suggested such a thing, but unfortunately there is no convincing evidence to substantiate the claim.

It was then said concerning the English translations that the sounds of the original languages were changed, but the meaning did not. If sounds do not change the meaning of words, then what is the fuss over how to pronounce the Messiah’s name in Hebrew? As long as the meaning is conveyed, the message is received, and is valuable. The only reason one would need to stress a certain pronunciation of a name is if by failing to do so, the meaning and identity of the one behind the name, was altered or lost. This is not true, however, with the English name for the Messiah, Jesus. Whether I say "Jesus," "Yeshua," or "Iesous," it is clear that one person is being referred to, i.e. Jesus Christ. There is no loss in meaning.

It was noted that the English language has pronounced the Messiah’s name differently since the 1400’s. It was also pointed out "the letter J did not come into existence until late in the 1500's and did not become popular until the 1600's. Therefore, any name beginning with the letter J including the name of Jesus is only about 400 years old. The name "Jesus" is an ENGLISH, not an APOSTOLIC name!" To this I agree. "Jesus" is the result of the evolving English language. The fact that the English language has developed and changed over the years is not surprising, nor is it bad. The fact that the English way of saying the Messiah’s name has changed is to be expected. All languages change. It is to this fact that I want to center our attention.

Without exception, all languages evolve over time. The previous layout of the way in which the English language has changed the spelling of the English name for the Messiah since the 1400’s demonstrates this very fact. James Barr, a leading philologist, claims that most languages lose/change 25% of their content/form every 400 years (The Philology of the Old Testament). Greek and Hebrew are no exception.. The way in which Hebrew words were written and pronounced changed over the centuries. The early Hebrew alphabet (Paleo-Hebrew) looked more like the other Semitic languages which evolved around the same time (Phoenecian and Ugaritic). Over time it added new letters, dropped other letters, and changed the appearance of most others. This means that there is no universal, non-changing spelling of Hebrew that we can be sure of. How are we to spell the Messiah’s name if it changed over the centuries when the language changed?

Concerning vocalization, it is also known that there were several different dialects of Hebrew. There is even an older grammar of the Hebrew language which existed in Moses’ day, which was revised around 1350 B.C. We know that the Pentateuch had to have had its grammar revised to fit the new form because the grammar of OT is more or less uniform. The Pentateuch, if it had not been edited to match the newer grammar, would be different than that of the rest of the OT, but it is not. Later scribes updated the text to reflect the newer grammar of their day.

The Greek language is no different. There are two major forms of Greek: Classical Greek, and Koine (common Greek). The Classical Greek way of spelling and speaking eventually began to be replaced by a less sophisticated form. It evolved into a more common form of Greek. Some of the letters dropped out, certain cases and tenses changed function or dropped out of use altogether. This was primarily due to the rapid spread of the Greek language with the conquest of Alexander the Great. In his quest to spread the Greek culture throughout the world, he taught Greek to those he conquered. Seeing that it was not their native tongue, and considering the vast amount of people from diverse areas that were speaking the language, many regional differences began to develop in the language. Certain regions spelled and spoke Greek in certain nuanced ways that other regions did not. As a result Classical Greek changed dramatically. This same phenomenon can be seen in the United States today. The different regions of the U.S. speak differently. Each region, isolated from the others, developed its own unique "brand" of English.

The point of all of that was to say this: Even if we are to call Jesus by His Hebrew name, how are we to know that we are pronouncing it properly? Who even says that it has to be the Paleo-Hebraic pronunciation? Why can’t it be a later form? Regardless of whether we knew which period of Hebrew was the standard period to know the "true" way of saying the name of the Messiah, we can never know if we are saying it right. If we cannot say "Jesus" because that is not the Messiah’s name, then neither should we pronounce the Paleo-Hebraic form of Yeshua, or any other form because we have no way of knowing whether we are saying it properly.

It was said that "if you change the sound, you have changed the name." If this is true, then every Hebrew person after 2000 B.C. changed the name of the Messiah. If one’s name is Jose, and someone pronounces it as "Josie" instead of "Hosay" as it should be, one would not consider that person to be saying their name. It may sound similar, but it’s not your name. Nobody today knows how exactly how we are to pronounce the Hebrew name for Jesus, YHS'. The oldest form we have of the Messiah's Hebrew name appears in Exodus 17:9 and Numbers 13:16. It was pronounced as Yehoshua. During the exilic period, however, it was shorted to Yeshua. The last letter of the Messiah’s Hebrew name is ayin. This letter is virtually unpronounceable by English speakers, and even to many modern Hebrews. If most of the world cannot make their throat utter this deep gutteral, including the native speakers themselves, then what are we to do? Even if one knew the correct way to say the name of the Messiah, they may not be physically able to utter it (Daniel Segraves, The Messiah's Name: Jesus, not Yahshua, Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 1996).

No one knows exactly how ancient Hebrew was pronounced. Hebrew is a consonantal language, having no vowels. It was not until the Masoretes in the 9th through 10th centuries that we find vowel points added to the Hebrew language. The Masoretes inserted small dots and dashes in order to preserve the oral tradition of the vowels used to pronounce the words, and the accents of the words. The closest idea, then, of how to pronounce Hebrew comes from those who lived some 2300 after the earliest Hebrew Scriptures, and some 1300 years after the latest Hebrew writings. Although they might have been fairly accurate, there can be no doubt that their vocalization was not that of the Paleo-Hebraic, or even the later Hebrew dialects up to the time of Christ.

Concerning Acts 4:12, it was said that "there is only one name that causes salvation, which causes us to be free." This statement was in reference to Acts 4:12 which states that there is no salvation in any other name than that of Jesus (name supplied from context). This comment demonstrates a misunderstanding of this verse. What makes salvation effective, or prayer effective, is not the pronunciation of the Messiah’s name, but faith in the Messiah. His name is not mystical. There is nothing about His name that Has the ability to save in and of itself. This is a misunderstanding of the ancients’ concept of a name, particularly the Hebrew concept. To a Jew, one’s name signifies their person, worth, character, reputation, or authority. When the Scripture says that the "name of the Lord is a strong tower" it does not mean that there is a tower shaped in the letters of Lord that the righteous run into, but that the person of YHWH is like a strong tower wherein lies safety. The focus is on the person, not the name. Another example is found in Revelation where John said that there were "a few names in Sardis who have not defiled their clothes" (Revelation 3:4). John clearly had people in mind, not names. Because a person’s name does represent them, however, when one uses that name, they carry the person’s authority, character, and reputation along with it. The focus must always be seen on the person, and not the actual pronunciation of the name. The meaning of Acts 4:12 is that there is no other person in whom men can find salvation other than Jesus Christ.

There is a fundamental assumption here that we must place a great emphasis on the way the Messiah’s name is spoken. I question this assumption. Why must we place such an emphasis on the pronunciation of the Messiah’s name in a certain language? Upon what basis is this founded? Why should we stress something that even God Himself did not stress. There is no place in the Bible where God stressed that His name, or the name of the Messiah must be pronounced in a certain way. He only declared that His name was YHWH (Yahweh). Even this is no surprise. YHWH is the third person singular form, most likely coming from the old Hebrew word hayah, which has the meaning of "to be." YHWH is merely the third personal singular form of this word meaning "He is." The name for God was not a special name that was not part of the Hebrew vocabulary, but was actually one of the words they were already familiar with. In other words, God declared who He was through the use of the Hebrew language. He was trying to portray who He was, i.e. the "self-existing one." God only said "YHWH" because He was speaking to the Hebrews. There is nothing in the OT that would lead us to believe that if God would have spoken to any other non-Hebrew, that He still would have said YHWH was His name. God’s name is not language-specific, nor is it dependent on the right pronunciation

If pronunciation of the Messiah’s name is so important, then must we all learn Hebrew or Greek in order to be able to know God? Surely this is not the case. If we do not have to know the original languages in order to relate to, and have a saving relationship with God, then why is it necessary to know and pronounce the Hebrew name of the Messiah? If the receptor language of the translation of the Scriptures is adequate to bring salvation to those who hear it, how can it be that the way the receptor language transliterates and pronounces the name of the Messiah is not adequate? If we must know one Hebrew name for our references to God to be valid, then why stop there. Why not demand that everyone learn Hebrew, since this is being purported as the inspired language?

When we look at the historical evidence, we see that demanding pronunciation of the Messiah’s name in one specific language is a non-issue, for we know that the Messiah’s name, even in His own day, was pronounced different ways, none of which included the Paleo-Hebraic form. (What follows is largely taken from Segraves, The Messiah's Name) We know from historical evidence that Palestinian Jews in the time of Jesus commonly spoke Aramaic. The Gospels give evidence to the fact that Jesus also spoke in Aramaic by leaving certain of His words untranslated from Aramaic (Mark 5:41; 7:34). In Aramaic, Jesus’ name would have been pronounced Yesu by the Galileans (including Jesus’ Himself), and as Yeshu in soutern Israel, because they were typically able to pronounce the "sh" sound of the Hebrew letter shin, whereas northern Israelites could not (See Judges 12:5-6).

In addition to Aramaic, however, most Jews spoke, or were at least familiar with Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. All of these languages were spoken in the region of Judea because it was a popular trading route. When interacting with various individuals, the Messiah would have heard His name pronounced three or four different ways.

That Jesus’ name was pronounced by the Greeks as Iesous almost goes without saying. The Greek language was very common in Israel. It was, after all, the official language of the Empire. All of the coins in Israel had Greek writing on them, and even a synagogue has been found with Greek writing inscribed on it. Of 168 inscriptions found in Palestine, archeologists found that 114 of them were written exclusively in Greek. Even Jewish stone coffins (ossuaries) had Greek inscriptions on them. Surely Jesus knew Greek, and spoke it when interacting with Greeks. When Jesus spoke to Pilate (which most definitely spoke Greek) at His trial, there is no evidence that a translator was needed.

Most of the quotations in the NT from the OT are not direct translations from the Hebrew Scriptures, but quotes from the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the OT. Even Jesus quoted from the LXX. Just one example to prove this is Jesus’ quotation of the OT in Matthew 15:8-9. Had He been quoting the Hebrew Scriptures the force of His argument would not stand (In the Hebrew it says that the fear of God was taught by the commands of men, whereas the LXX says that men are teaching the commands and doctrines of men). He was basing His argument from the LXX translation, which was commonly used by the Jews in the first century. The NT writers not only had a knowledge of Greek, but wrote all of the NT books exclusively in Greek.

The reason Greeks (among many others in the Empire whose primary language was Greek) would call Jesus Iesous was because this was the way that the Hebrew Yeshua or the Aramaic Yesu would have sounded to the Greek. The Greeks did not have a "y" sound in their alphabet for the Hebrew letter yod, so began Jesus’ name with a long "e" sound. Neither did they have a letter for the "sh" sound of the Hebrew letter shin, so made the last syllable begin with a "s" sound. For the ending of this syllable the Greeks simply added another "s" (sigma), which was a common addition to the end of masculine names in the nominative case. Iesous was a direct transliteration from Hebrew to Greek.

This is important for two reasons. First, it demonstrates that Jesus would have been called by other names besides Yeshua in His lifetime. Even those who would have said His Hebrew name would not have pronounced it in its Paleo-Hebraic form. In the NT we do not find Jesus demanding that anyone call Him by His name in Hebrew language. Secondly, even Hebrew people who wrote inspired Scripture in Greek used the Greek transliteration of Jesus’ Hebrew name. The NT uses the Greek name Iesous for the Messiah over 1000 times. They did not seem to be concerned about writing it in its Hebrew form. Of the 5300+ Greek manuscripts of the NT that are extant today, not one of them contains the Hebrew name of the Messiah. Some of these manuscripts even date as far back as the early second, and possibly late first century. Every manuscript reads Iesous.

The fact that Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Matthew 28:19-20) would necessitate that the gospel be translated into the language of the nations. We have no reason to believe that this included every part of the gospel except the name of the Messiah which was to remain in its Hebrew form. The Apostles obviously did not understand that to be the case because all of their writings use the Greek form of the Messiah’s name.

Concerning the Scriptures referenced, these do not prove the point they are said to prove. Zephaniah 3:9 only indicates that other nations will pray to YHWH. There is a vast difference in saying that they will pray to YHWH (referring to His person), and saying that they will pronounce His name in Hebrew. A person is not the same as his language. I would be no different if I spoke French as my native tongue, than if I spoke English. My person is the same. The metaphysical reality of "myself" remains unchanged. To define a person in terms of his language is illogical. In order to substantiate this claim it would have to be demonstrated how the pronunciation of someone’s name, or the use of a certain language, can radically change or alter one’s existence.

Exodus 3:18 does not say that God is the God of the Hebrews. It merely states that He is against anybody who is against Israel. God favored Israel, and was their God, but this does not mean that He is only the God of the Hebrews. He was the God of Melchisedec who was not a Hebrew. He was the God of Job who was not a Hebrew. He was the God of many people before the Hebrew people ever came into existence. Many Gentiles proselytized to Judaism and YHWH became their God, yet they were not Hebrew. The church today consists primarily of non-Hebrew people. God is not just the God of the Hebrews. He may be their God, but this does not make YHWH exclusively their God. He is the God of all who will put their faith in Him, and keep His law, Gentiles included (II Corinthians 6:16).

Concerning Acts 26:14-15, the meaning of this text has been misunderstood, and the implications have been exaggerated. Paul did say that God spoke to him in the "Hebrew tongue," but this does not mean the Hebrew language. The Greek phrase is "hebraidi dialekto," meaning the Hebrew dialect, referring to the particular form of Hebrew spoken by Hebrew people in Palestine. Most modern translators understand this to be referring to the Aramaic language. Even if it does mean the Hebrew language, and not Aramaic, all this demonstrates is that God was speaking to Paul in his native tongue. It was said, "And he [Messiah] even confessed his own name in Hebrew…." Even if it was Hebrew which the Messiah spoke to Paul in, and identified Himself by His Hebrew name, it still stands that Luke used the Greek equivalent Iesous when relating the story. He was not concerned with inserting the Hebrew form into his text.

Finally, it was stated: "I can also assure you that the Hebrew name 'Yeshua' is not the name of the Messiah. Although this name for the Messiah is Hebrew, it is modern Hebrew .This is not the Paleo-Hebraic form (ancient Hebrew). 'Yeshua' is an extraction form his primitive name." I agree that "Yeshua" is not the Paleo-Hebraic word for the Messiah, but this does not make it wrong. Again, why must the older form of the name be the name we pronounce? In the end, however, we are left with no name for the Messiah. If it has to be the Hebrew name, and the Paleo-Hebraic form of that name at that, and we cannot be certain on how we are to pronounce that form, we are left with no certainty as to the Messiah’s name.

Yeshua is the Messiah's name in Hebrew, and as such, we do not reject calling Him by this name. We should refuse the doctrine, however, that says "Jesus" is a corruption of the Messiah's name, and is not valid for believers. When we are told that we cannot legitimately pronounce, be baptized in, or pray in the name "Jesus," the advocacy of calling the Messiah "Yeshua" becomes a dangerous doctrine indeed.

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