New Heart New Spirit

Ezekiel

What is the Hebrew Name of Jesus?

Introduction

There is a lot of talk nowadays about what the true, historical name of Jesus was. While there are many theories out there, I believe only one can be proven from history and ancient sources. This name is Yeshua. I will not be exploring all the possible proofs for this argument, rather I will merely be giving a few pieces of evidence.


It is widely believed among scholars that the Hebrew language underwent a change from the time of Moses (~1500BC) to the time of Jesus (~30AD). Not only do spellings of certain words sometimes vary, but the spelling and pronunciation of names sometimes change as well. This is quite natural and is to be expected in a less-than-static world. One such change is the devolution of the name Yehoshua into Yeshua and Yeshu (the “a” (ayin) is a silent guttural and thus cannot always be heard). Contrary to popular belief, the name “Yeshu” is not an acronym for “yimach shmo” (may his name be blotted out).

Joshua son of Nun

Our first example of the name change actually concerns Joshua son of Nun. In Hebrew, Joshua and Jesus have the same name. In fact, their names are the same in both Hebrew and Greek, as we will see. Consider the following:


  • “Of the tribe of Ephraim, Oshea the son of Nun” (Numbers 13:8, KJV). The NASB says “Hoshea the son of Nun.”
  • Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua” (Numbers 13:16, KJV). The NASB says “Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua.”
  • Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses” (Numbers 11:28, KJV). The NASB says “Joshua the son of Nun.”
  • “And Moses came and spake all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he, and Hoshea the son of Nun” (Deuteronomy 32:44, KJV). The NASB says “Joshua the son of Nun.”


So what we are told is that there is a young man named Hoshea (the son of a guy named Nun). This Hoshea was renamed “Yehoshua” (Num 13:16) by Moses. However, after a few hundred years the name changes in Nehemiah 8:17. It says “all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness” (KJV). Here, we see that the name was known to the exiles as Jeshua, or Yeshua. So around 500 BC, the time of the return of the exiles, the original name Yehoshua had become known as Yeshua.

Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Yeshu

By the second century BC, there came to be a leader (nasi) of the Sanhedrin called Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachiah. Additionally, it is recorded that he had a student named Yeshu. Unfortunately, many confuse this Yeshu for Jesus despite this Yeshu living over a hundred years before Jesus. This confusion is sometimes shared by both Jews, Christians, and Messianics alike. Nevertheless, we know by the existence of these men that the name Yeshu (remember, the “a” (ayin) was sometimes difficult to hear) existed as a way of pronouncing Yeshua. In fact, it was a distinct Galilean blend of Hebrew which used “Yeshu.” However, this form of the name was probably heard during the time of Nehemiah but was universally written as “Yeshua.” It’s the difference between goin’ to the store and going to the store. While we might say to a friend “I’m goin’ to the store later,” if we were to write a note for someone to read, we would certainly write “I’m going to the store.” The difference exists only between speech and text.

Ancient Hebrew Matthew

Our next proof is the original Hebrew text of Matthew. For this we have many ancient Christian sources which verify the claim that Matthew originally wrote his gospel account in Hebrew.


In the early 300s AD, the Catholic historian Eusebius wrote, “Matthew had begun by preaching to the Hebrews, and when he made up his mind to go to others too, he committed his own Gospel to writing in his native tongue, so that for those with whom he was no longer present the gap left by his departure was filled by what he wrote" (Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 3:24 [inter 300-325]).


During the mid-200s AD, Origen said, "Among the four Gospels… I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew… and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism and published in the Hebrew language" (Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 6:25).


Ireneus in around 180 AD said, “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect” (Against Heresies 3:1:1).

Even earlier than this, we find the testimony of Papias around 130 AD: “Matthew compiled the sayings [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and everyone translated them as well as he could" (Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 3:39). This date should provide strong evidence for your reader that this tradition is reliable, especially considering that most biblical scholars date the book of Revelation and the Gospel of John to around 90 AD. The testimony of Papias came just a few decades after the apostle John wrote his books!


Now that I have established the validity of the original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, let’s take a look at what the opening lines of Matthew say: HaBesorah HaMovah al-pe Matisyahu (The Gospel According to the Mouth of Matthew). In verse 1 we find the phrase “HaMashiach Yeshua ben-David” which translates as “the Messiah, Jesus, the son of David.” In the Hebrew Matthew, Jesus is called Yeshua. Below is a screenshot of the text for the convenience of the reader.

The Joshua-Jesus Mix Up in the Book of Hebrews

In what is perhaps one of the KJV’s most famous errors, we find that Joshua son of Nun and Jesus son of David are mistaken for each other. Let’s take a look at various versions of Hebrews 4:8.


  • “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day” (NIV).
  • “Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest…” (NLT).
  • “For if Joshua had given them rest…” (ESV).
  • “For if Joshua had given them rest…” (NASB)
  • “For if Jesus had given them rest…” (KJV)
  • “For if Joshua had given them rest…” (HCSB)
  • “For if Joshua had given them rest…” (ISV)
  • “For if Joshua had given them rest…” (NET)

We find that nearly all versions say “Joshua” and not “Jesus.” This is because in Greek, Joshua and Jesus have the same name: Iesou/ Iesous. This is also attested to by Josephus' writings which include references to many Jesus’es throughout his history books (including Jesus the high priest who killed his brother in the Temple). Here are just a few biblical examples, along with the Greek of Hebrews 4:8.

Now the reader may easily suppose that a translation error does not prove a translation fact. This is true. However, what we can certainly do is look at the Greek translation of Nehemiah 8:17 where Joshua’s name is Yeshua. Here, Yeshua in Hebrew is directly translated as Iesous in Greek.

Hebrew text of Nehemiah 8:17 showing “Yeshua bin Nun” (Above)

Hebrew text of Matthew 1:1 showing “haMashiach Yeshua ben-David” (Above)

Nehemiah 8:17 as found in the Greek LXX (Septuagint) showing “Iesou uiou Naue” for "Yeshua ben Nun” (Above)

Conclusion

As we have demonstrated, we begin with the name Hoshea ben Nun around the year 1500 BC. Moses renamed this man “Yehoshua.” Roughly one thousand years later, around 500 BC, Nehemiah records that this man’s name was called Yeshua during his time. In the Greek Septuagint, the name is translated as Iesou. In the New Testament, the name Iesou/ Iesous is used of Jesus on numerous occasions. In fact, an error occurred when the translators of the King James Version reached Hebrews 4:8 where we find the name Iesous, mistaking this as a reference to Joshua ben Nun rather than Jesus ben David. While it can be demonstrated that Yehoshua was used 3500 years ago (and even up till today), we cannot conclude that Jesus was personal called this during his own time. Additionally, any other variations of these names such as Yahshua or Yahusha are even more unfounded and baseless than the claim that Jesus was called Yehoshua. This is why we believe Jesus' original Hebrew name was Yeshua/ Yeshu.