I started this entry several months ago. I work on it for a bit, then get bored. It’s a bit dry. I’ve decided to go ahead and publish what I have now as “Part 1″… I’ll get to part 2 later. I hope this helps someone!
I often receive negative feedback from evangical-run pages on Facebook for saying things which are not “Biblically correct.” To be honest, I give that as much regard as I give someone telling me that I am not being “politically correct”–that is, the only ‘correctness’ about which I worry is actual correctness.
Since being “Biblically correct” is a concern, however, I would like to address some things which I see often posted on Facebook which are not Biblically correct, in the hopes that the authors may correct themselves:
Let’s be clear: to the best of my knowledge, no person by this name has ever walked the Earth.
The name “Jesus” is actually an Anglicization of the Latin form “Iesu/Iesus”–a special-case fourth-declension name. Note that, in being transliterated into English, the “i” becomes a “j”–a consonant which does not exist in the Latin alphabet. “Iesu”, in turn, is derived from the Greek “Ieso/Iesous” (I will use the English alphabet throughout this article, for ease of reading). Finally, “Ieso”, is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew “Yehoshua” (commonly contracted to “Yeshua”). The Aramaic pronunciation–which is important to me, but may not matter to others–is actually “Isho” (and note how much closer that is to the Greek transliteration, than “Yehoshua”).
Does that mean that everyone needs to start learning Hebrew and saying “Yehoshua” all the time? No. But the correct translation of “Yehoshua” into English–used for every other instance of this name throughout the Christian canon–is JOSHUA. So, “Yehoshua bar Yosef” should actually be read “Joshua, son of Joseph” in English.
Before we even get in to the etymology of “Christ”, let’s clear up something else. People read this word like it’s a last name–Jesus Christ, son (presumably) Joseph Christ and Mary Christ. This is where we begin down the road of reading the Bible like it was written in English, for an American audience, last week. Folks, first-century Aramaic Jewish culture did not have last names. They had given names, and they were either “son of (father’s name)”, or “daughter of (father’s name)”. There was no Christ family running around Nazareth. Yeshua was ‘Yeshua bar Yosef’, not ‘Yeshua Christ’. So, where does “Christ” come from?
We begin similarly to investigating ‘Jesus’: ‘Christ’ comes from the Latin ‘Christus’, which is a special-case transliteration of the Greek ‘Xristos’. It is a special case because the actual translation of ‘Xristos’ into Latin is ‘Servator’–that is, ‘Savior’. Unlike the case of ‘Iesous’, however, ‘Xristos’ is not a transliteration from Hebrew, but an actual translation–of the word (Meshiach). That is, ‘Messiah’; the savior.
Therefore, ‘Jesus Christ’ is correctly written ‘Jesus THE Christ’, and more correctly written ‘Joshua the Savior.’
Many of you will be familiar with the Third Commandment of the Decalogue, “You will not take the name of THE LORD, your god, in vain (I don’t do “thou shalt”s. I find no value in the archaic English; it just gives people an extra excuse for misintrepreting the text).” Many of you also would write it incorrectly, with “THE LORD” not in all caps–it is that way for a reason. The Jews have many names for God–Elohim, Adonai, Shaddai el Chai, etc. What is being referenced in this Commandment is a very specific name: the Tetragrammaton, which we would write in English as ‘YHVH’.
So, what the Third Commandment actually says is, “You will not use the name YHVH inappropriately.” Specifically, it could only be spoken by the Jewish High Priest on High Holy Day. Misunderstanding this Commandment has led not only to the common misconception that there is something wrong with saying the word “god”–there certainly isn’t–but also the recent creation of perhaps the most blasphemous song ever written, “At Your Name”, through what I can only assume was the tragically good-intentioned ignorance of one Phil Wickham.
So, where did “Jehovah” come from, if the name in question was “YHVH”? Well, here we come again to the fact that the Scriptures were not written in English. And if you happen to be a Rabbi teaching anything from basic Hebrew to QBLH in classical Judaic society, you’re going to be teaching out of the TaNaKh. Which means that you will run across the name, “YHVH”. And, if you happen not to be paying close enough attention, you will READ it.
Make no mistake, this was the biggest crime back then. Bigger than adultery, bigger than murder. Poeple got stoned for this–accidental or no. So, when someone got a bright idea and introduced the idea of vowel-makers to the Hebrew language, one of the first that was done was to start writing ‘YHVH’ with the WRONG vowel markers, so that mistakes like this wouldn’t happen. I’ll save you the tortuous journey through languages, but suffice it to say that “Jehovah” is derived from the letters of ‘YHVH’ with the vowel-markers from ‘Adonai’. So, while the actual pronunciation of YHVH is no longer known with certainty, we know that ‘Jehovah’ is absolutely not it (especially since there aren’t any ‘j’s in Hebrew).