At last week's RCIA class, the question
was asked, why do we call Jesus "Jesus" instead of the Hebrew
name "Yehoshua" or "Yeshua" or the English transliteration "Joshua"?
The short answer is we call Him "Jesus" because we speak English.
The English name "Jesus" comes from the Latin "Iesus," which comes from
the Greek "Iesous" that was used when the New Testament was first
written in Greek in the First Century by Jesus' disciples or people who
knew them. When people spoke to Jesus in Greek -- as some almost
certainly did, since Greek was the common language in that part of the
Roman Empire -- they would have called him "Iesous."
What would His fellow Jews have called Him? Hebrew was mostly
reserved for prayer and religious services, although (based on my
reading of a Wikipedia page) the Aramaic spoken at home and in the
streets seems to have still used the Hebrew forms of the name. The older
form is "Yehoshua," the later form is "Yeshua." Ancient Hebrew
Scriptures use both forms, sometimes for the same man. (The Greek
Septuagint, which as we said last week was the Greek translation of the
Hebrew Scriptures we call the Old Testament, used "Iesous" throughout.)
"Yehoshua" was (again, per Wikipedia) more common in Galilee while Jesus
lives there, while "Yeshua" was more common in Jerusalem.
Between His birth and His death, then, Jesus would have been called
a number of things, even by people who were just calling Him by name.
Here's another thought: When Jesus was condemned to death, Pontius
Pilate ordered that the charge against Him be written in Latin, Greek,
and Hebrew and posted over His head on the cross. This was a common
custom, so people would know what sort of crimes were dealt with in the
most brutal manner the Romans had devised. In Jesus' case, Pilate had it
written, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," in part as a message to
the Jewish religious leaders. In classical Latin, this is, "Iesus Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm," which is why so many crucifixes have the sign "INRI" at
the top of the cross. The Greek would have read something like "Iesous o
Nazoraios o Basileus ton Ioudaios" (though, of course, in Greek
letters; see below). The Hebrew was probably [Hebrew letters that would be
So "Iesus"/"Iesous"/"Yeshua" is literally the Name under which we are saved.