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The Meaning of Jesus’ Name

The Scholars Have Spoken

Sam Shamoun

As mentioned in our rebuttal to Ali Ataie, here is a list of quotations taken from various commentators and theologians, which demonstrate that there is a general consensus among Biblical scholars that Yeshua does not mean “he shall be saved”, but rather “Yahweh saves”, since it is the abbreviated form of the Hebrew name Yehoshua (“Yahweh is salvation”):

“… Jesus Christ: The central figure of the book is introduced: Jesus, the Gk form of Joshua, in popular etymology means ‘savior’ or ‘God saves’ (originally and more correctly it means ‘Yahweh, help!’)… The evangelist exploits the popular etymology of Jesus’ name (see comments on v. 1). Salvation from ‘sins’ is used, since oppression, exile, and foreign domination often were regarded as punishment for sins; oppression also involved separation from God, the essence of sin, since it hindered obedience to the commandments. Jesus will achieve this ‘salvation’ through his death (26:28). But also through his proclamation of the kingdom of God (4:17)…” (Benedict T. Viviano, O. P., “The Gospel According to Matthew,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, S. S., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S. J., & Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm. [Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1990], pp. 634-635; bold emphasis ours)

“… The child is to be called Yeshua or, in its more familiar Greek form, Jesus. The name means lit. ‘he shall save.’ In the OT the name refers, of course, to God’s deliverance of his people from their enemies and his vindication of them by the establishment of his kingdom (cf. Pss. 7; 9). By adding the words save his people from their sins Matt. pictures Jesus as the one through whom the forgiveness of sins is announced. There had been no tradition in Israel for a messiah who would save from sin.” (Howard Clark Kee, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible: Introduction and Commentary for Each Book of the Bible including the Apocrypha with General Articles, edited by Charles M. Laymon  [Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN 1971], p. 611; italicized and underline emphasis ours)

"… Third, the name 'Jesus' reveals the nature of his messianic mission. Matthew is the only New Testament writer to dwell on the significance of the name 'Jesus' and he will use Jesus' name more explicitly than the other evangelists (some eighty times). A common first-century Jewish name, it is a derivative of Joshua (in Hebrew, Yeshua or Yeshu), which literally means 'God's help' but was also translated to mean 'God's salvation.' Jesus bears this name because he will 'save his people from their sins' (v. 21). This is a way of characterizing the entire messianic mission of Jesus. At the Last Supper the Matthean Jesus will interpret his death as forgiving sins (26:28) and Matthew understands Jesus' healings as lifting away the burden imposed by sin (see 9:2-8; also 8:17)." (Donald Senior, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Matthew [Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN 1998], p. 41; bold emphasis ours)

“In common practice a person had a single personal name, which often carried some religious significance. This book is about 'Jesus' (Iesous), which is his historical, everyday name, the name normally used in the narrative of the Gospels. This name Yeshua in Hebrew (meaning 'Yahweh saves,' cf. Neh. 7:7), which is a shortened form of Joshua (yehoshua'), 'Yahweh is salvation' (Ex. 24:13); this name will come to have profound notions of salvation associated with it in Jesus' life and ministry (cf. 1:21)…

“The angel instructs Joseph to name the child 'Jesus,' which is what he is called throughout his earthly life and in the early church. We have no record of Jesus ever being called 'Immanuel' by his family or followers. Instead, as Matthew translates it for us, we see that the name is intended as a title to indicate Jesus' messianic identity: 'God with us.' Both his common name and his titular name indicate profound truths: Jesus specifies what he does ('God saves'), and Immanuel specifies who he is ('God with us'). These are highly charged names that speak of a profound Christological orientation by Matthew. Note how he concludes his Gospel with the same theme, where Jesus promised his disciples, 'I will be with you always' (28:20). In Jesus Messiah, God is with us indeed

“Matthew's presentation supports with equal firmness the fact of the virgin birth as announced to Joseph by the angel of the Lord. Matthew also attests to both human and divine natures in the remarkable conception of Jesus. The child has a human lineage through King David and the patriarch Abraham (1:1-17), a human name, 'Jesus,' by which he identifies with 'his people' (1:21), and a human birth (1:25). But the child also has a divine relationship through the Holy Spirit (1:23), a divine description, 'Immanuel–which means, "God with us"' (1:22), and a divine origin through the Holy Spirit in his conception by his virgin mother (1:18, 20).

“Without giving details, the angelic announcement makes clear that the mode of conception is not by any ordinary human means but by a totally unparalleled action of the Holy Spirit. Matthew does not theorize how such a conception could take place but merely presents it as historically authentic. Matthew understands that there is something natural and supernatural about Jesus in his conception, birth, and development. He presents the virgin conception and birth of Jesus as an accepted fact, thus accounting for the astounding truth that God has taken on human nature and is now with his people. It is only this God-man who, as Matthew's story unfolds, can save his people from their sins, which should cause them to pause in unending gratitude and to worship him as Jesus, 'God saves,' and Immanuel, 'God with us.' (Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew: The NIV Application Commentary [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 2004], pp. 56, 81, 83; bold emphasis ours)

“Such a child will also obviously be very special. Part of this special role is now specified. He is to be named Jesus (Heb. Yeshua), which means Yahweh is salvation or ‘the Lord saves’ (NIV marg.). His ministry will not first of all involve the physical liberation of Israel from its enemies but spiritual salvation of God’s people by removing the alienation from God which their sins have created. An echo of Ps 138:7 [sic] appears here.” (Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (New American Commentary) [Broadman Press, Nashville, TN 1992], p. 59; bold emphasis ours)

“… Jesus had indeed come to save his people –the very meaning of his name in Hebrew, Yeshua, a shortened form of ‘Joshua’ (Heb.… Yehoshua‘), is ‘Yahweh is salvation.’ The reader’s knowledge of the meaning of ‘Iesous via its Hebrew meaning is assumed by the gar without further explanation, indicating that this early Hebrew etymology had already become a part of the common tradition of the Greek-speaking church. (Cf. also the same etymology applied to ‘Joshua’ [i.e., ‘Iesous] in the Greek Sir 46:1). The surprise is in the content of salvation that the Son of David will bring, namely, that he will save his people, apo ton hamartion auton, ‘from their sins.’… The deliverance from sins is in a much more profound, moral sense and depends finally upon the pouring out of Jesus’ blood (26:28). Matthew and his readers knew well the kerygmatic significance of this verse. Ps 130:8, which probably is in Matthew’s mind (indeed, he may be giving a targumic rendering of it), provides similar language and finds its fulfillment here…” (Donald A. Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary, Bruce M. Metzger (general editor) [Word Book Publishers, Dallas, Texas 1993], Volume 33a Matthew 1-13, p. 19; bold emphasis ours)

“The Hebrew word for ‘he will save’ is ‘yoshia’,’ which has the same Hebrew root (yud-shin-‘ayin) as the name Yeshua (yud-shin-vav-‘ayin). Thus the Messiah’s name is explained on the basis of what he will do. Etymologically the name Yeshua is a contraction of the Hebrew name Y’hoshua’ (English ‘Joshua’), which means ‘YHVH saves.’ It is also the masculine form of the Hebrew word ‘yeshu’ah,’ which means ‘salvation.’” (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary [Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., Fifth edition 1996], p. 4; underline emphasis ours)

“The subject of this Gospel is Jesus Christ. The name Jesus presents Him as Jehovah-Savior; the title Christ (‘Anointed’), as the long awaited Messiah of Israel. The title Son of David is associated with the roles of both Messiah and King in the OT. The title Son of Abraham presents our Lord as the One who is the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made to the progenitor of the Hebrew people.” (Williams MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, edited by Art Farstad [Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN 1995], p. 1204; italicized and underline emphasis ours)

1:21 The angel then revealed the unborn Child’s sex, name, and mission. Mary would bear a Son. He was to be named JESUS, (which means “Jehovah is salvation” or “Jehovah, the Savior”).

True to His Name, He would save His people from their sins. This Child of destiny was Jehovah Himself, visiting earth to save people from the penalty of sin, from the power of sin, and eventually from the very presence of sin. (Ibid., pp. 1205-1206; italicized and underline emphasis ours)

21. The language reminds us of similar revelations in the Old Testament (Gn. 16:11; 17:19; etc.), as well as of Isaiah 7:14, soon to be quoted. Names, especially divinely revealed names, are full of meaning, and this is often revealed by a word-play which need not always correspond to the actual etymology of the name. In the case of Jesus (the Greek form of Joshua or Jeshua, a common name: see on 27:16) both the sound (cf. Heb. yoshi'a, 'he will save') and the probable etymology ('Yahweh is salvation', or 'O save, Yahweh') contribute to the explanation for he will save his people from their sins. His people will be in the first instance the Jews (Matthew uses this term laos particularly for the chosen race), but the man who wrote 28:19 must have expected a wider application ultimately. Salvation from sins is an element in the Old Testament hope (e.g. Is. 53; Je. 31:31-34; Ezk. 36:24-31) and in later Messianic expectation (Psalms of Solomon 17:28-29, 41; etc.), but not the dominant one. Its isolation here warns the reader not to expect this Messiah to conform to the more popular hope of a national liberator, and sets the scene for the unfolding understanding of Jesus' mission in the Gospel. (R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI: Reprinted, 2002], p. 78; underline emphasis ours)

“We as readers were introduced to the name of this child earlier in Matthew's Gospel (1:1, 16, 17, 18). The astonishing part of the angel's announcement at this point, however, is that he goes on to say to Joseph that he is to name the child, Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. This is remarkable, first, because of who will bring salvation, and, second, because of the kind of salvation he will bring. First, the Old Testament name Joshua, from which Jesus is derived, means 'Yahweh is salvation.' But the angel says that Jesus himself is the one will bring salvation. Matthew is subtly associating Jesus with Yahweh. Second, many first-century Jews were expecting God to save them from political oppression. But the angel announces that this savior is coming to save his people from sin. Right at the very beginning of Matthew's Gospel we learn that, despite the popular, political-militaristic messianic hopes of Jews in Jesus' day, the long-awaited Messiah-king is coming to bring salvation from sin-an enemy much more dangerous than Rome or Herod…

“In Isaiah, the title Emmanuel ('God is with us') expressed God's presence with his people, his concern for them and protection over them-a theme commonly noted in the Old Testament (e.g., Isa 8:10). It also alluded to God's promise to be with the Davidic dynasty (2 Sam 7:9; 1 Kings 1:37; 11:38). For Matthew, however, God has fulfilled his promise to be with us in a way that far surpasses what Isaiah's original readers could have foreseen: God himself is directly present in Jesus Christ conceived by the Holy Spirit (cf. Catechism 744). So important is this theme for Matthew that he uses it to bracket the entire Gospel. It is found here in the opening scene, and will be echoed in the very last verse of the Gospel, where Jesus says, 'Behold, I am with you always, until the close of the age' (28:20).” (Curtis Smith and Edward Sri, The Gospel of Matthew (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture)[Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI 2010]; underline emphasis ours)

Jesus is the Savior (1:20-21). But while Matthew emphasizes the authority of Scripture through his citation of Isaiah and fidelity, commitment, and obedience through the example of Joseph, he also provides teaching about salvation through Christ. Even while Jesus is in Mary's womb, the angel declares that his name will be Yeshua (here in its Greek form Iesous, generally translated 'Joseph' in the English Old Testament and 'Jesus' in the New), which means 'God is salvation' (e.g., Fenton 1977: 43; cf. Bultmann 1968: 291). Like 'Joseph' and 'John,' 'Yeshua' is among the common Jewish names attested on inscriptions from this period (cf. Ilan 1987). But the symbolic use of names was common in the biblical tradition (e.g., Gen 41:51-52; Hos 1:4, 6, 9; Greeks also played on names, e.g., Hom. Od. 1.62; 5.340), and Jesus would bear this name because he would save his people from their sins (1:21). Jesus' other acts of 'salvation' point to his ultimate redemption of 'his people,' which for Matthew still means Israel (e.g., 2:4, 6; 4:16, 23; 21:23; 27:64; cf. 10:6; 19:28; Lk 1:10; 2:10), echoing earlier biblical usage (e.g., 13:15; 15:8; also in early Jewish usage, e.g., Lives of the Prophets 2:1 [25 in Schermann, on Jeremiah]). Many of the quotations in Matthew's infancy narratives derive from passages stressing God's deliverance of his people from slavery (cf. Willis 1993). Matthew speaks of more than personal repentance; he evokes the Old Testament hope of the salvation of God's people, including the justice and peace of God's kingdom.

“More than anything Matthew's narrative of the virgin birth, like every other event in Matthew, explains and exalts the character of the Lord he regularly worships. If Matthew finds implicit truth about Jesus throughout Israel's Bible, he expects his audience even more fully to hear what his own narratives declare about Jesus explicitly. In view of Matthew 18:20 and 28:20, Matthew clearly understands 'God with us' in Isaiah 7:14 to mean that Jesus is truly God (Mt 1:23; Ridderbos 1974: 102). But as God 'with us,' Jesus is also the fully human one who 'saves his people' by the cross. Matthew thus invites his audience to consider and worship the God who accepted the ultimate vulnerability, born as an infant to humiliated and probably relatively poor parents into a world hostile to his presence (cf. 2:1-16).” (Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI 1999], pp. 96-97; underline emphasis ours)

“‘Jesus’ (Iesous) is the Greek form of ‘Joshua’ (cf. Gr. of Acts 7:45; Heb 4:8), which, whether in the long form yehoshua (‘Yahweh is salvation,’ Exod 24:13), or in one of the short forms, e.g., yeshua (‘Yahweh saves,’ Neh 7:7), identifies Mary’s Son as the one who brings Yahweh’s promised eschatological salvation. There are several Joshuas in the OT, at least two of them not very significant (1 Sam 6:14; 2 Kings 23:8). Two others, however, are used in the NT as types of Christ: Joshua, successor to Moses and the one who led the people into the Promised Land (and a type of Christ in Heb 3-4), and Joshua the high priest, contemporary of Zerubabel (Ezra 2:2; 3:2-9; Neh 7:7), ‘the Branch’ who builds the temple of the Lord (Zech 6:11-13). But instead of referring to either of these, the angel explains the significance of the name by referring to Psalm 130:8: ‘He [Yahweh] himself will redeem Israel from their sins’ (cf. Gundry, Use of the OT, pp. 127-128).” (Donald A. Carson, The Expositor's Bible commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, with the New international version of the Holy Bible (Expositor's Bible commentary, Vol. 8), Frank E. Gaebelein (general editor) [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 1984], p. 76)

Speaking of the name Immanuel, Carson states:

“… Most scholars (e.g., Bonnard) supposes that this name in Isaiah reflects a hope that God would make himself present with his people (‘Immanuel’ derives from ‘immanu’el, ‘God with us’); and they apply the name to Jesus in a similar way, to mean that God is with us, and for us, because of Jesus. But if Immanuel in Isaiah is a messianic figure whose titles include ‘Mighty God,’ there is reason to think that ‘Immanuel’ refers to Jesus himself, that he is, ‘God with us.’ Matthew’s use of the preposition ‘with’ at the end of 1:23 favors this (cf. Fenton, ‘Matthew 1:20-23,’ p. 81). Though ‘Immanuel’ is not a name in the sense that ‘Jesus’ is Messiah’s name (1:21), in the OT Solomon was named ‘Jedidiah’ (‘Beloved of Yahweh,’ 2 Sam 12:25), even though he apparently was not called that. Similarly, Immanuel is a ‘name’ in the sense of title or description.

“No greater blessing can be conceived than for God to dwell with his people (Isa 60:18-20); Ezek 48:35; Rev 21:23). Jesus is the one called ‘God with us’: the designation evokes John 1:14, 18. As if it were not enough, Jesus promises just before his ascension to be with us to the end of the age (28:20; cf. also 18:20), when he will return to share his messianic banquet with his people (25:10).    

“Does ‘Jesus’ (‘Yahweh saves’) mean Mary’s Son merely brings Yahweh’s salvation, or is he himself in some sense the Yahweh who saves? If ‘Immanuel’ entails the higher Christology, it is not implausible that Matthew sees the same in ‘Jesus.’ The least we can say is that Matthew does not hesitate to apply OT passages descriptive of Yahweh directly to Jesus (cf. on 3:3).

“Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 7:14 is very close to the LXX; but he changes ‘you will call’ to ‘they will call.’ This may reflect a rendering of the original Hebrew, if 1QIsaa is pointed appropriately (cf. Gundry, Use of OT, p. 90). But there is more here: The people whose sins Jesus forgives (1:21) are the ones who will gladly call him ‘God with us’ (cf. Frankemölle, pp. 17-19).” (Ibid., pp. 80-81; bold emphasis ours)