What Does It Mean to “Believe in the Name of Jesus”?

What Does It Mean to “Believe in the Name of Jesus”? April 7, 2020

The author of the Bible’s Gospel of John says of Jesus of Nazareth, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1.12 NRSV). And the author of the letter known as 1 John in the same New Testament of the Bible says of God, “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 3.23). We also read therein, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5.13). So, what does it mean to believe in the name of Jesus?

One of my favorite New Testament scholars is Roman Catholic Raymond E Brown, now deceased. In his Anchor Bible commentary of the Gospel of John, he says of John 1.12, “to believe in Jesus one must believe that he bears the divine name, given to him by God (xvii 11-12).” Indeed, that reference is about Jesus’ so-called High Priestly Prayer to God his Father right before his capture and death. Jesus said concerning his eleven apostles there with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me” (John 17.11-12).

One of the commentaries on 1 John (in the Word Biblical Commentary set) in my library is authored by Stephen S. Smalley. He says of 1 John 3.23, “Belief in the ‘name’ of Jesus implies a confession of his character and authority . . . as truly Son of God and Messiah.” Another of my 1 John commentaries (in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries set), authored by the preeminent UK evangelical John Stott, says likewise of John 3.23, “to believe on . . . the name, the revealed Person, of his Son Jesus Christ. That is, Jesus of Nazareth, the historic Person, is to be identified with the Christ, the Son of God.”

During Jesus’ ministry, his name was only Jesus, actually Yeshua. But after that, his disciples soon dropped the article in the expression “Jesus the Christ” to result in Jesus Christ. It actually never was a name; rather, Christ, which is Messiah, is a title like “King.” In fact, some messianic texts in the Old Testament indicate that the Messiah will be the king of Israel. In Jesus’ encounter with one of his first disciples, Nathaniel, he said to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1.49). And Pilate had written on the headboard on Jesus’ cross, “The King of the Jews.”

So, we moderns have a first name and a last name, and most of us even have a middle name. Not so with ancients. A man was identified by his only name and then added to it was “son of” so-and-so, that is, his father’s name. For example, we read that Jesus once asked his disciples, “‘who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah'” (Matthew 16.15-17).

So, the name “Jesus” was not Jesus’ first name and Christ his last name. Rather, Jesus Christ means Jesus Messiah. The Apostle Paul authored 1/4 of the New Testament with his letters. He pens “Christ Jesus” more times than he does “Jesus Christ.” Thus, Christ Jesus means Messiah Jesus, which can also be understood as King Jesus of Israel.

At least in John 1.12, I think the author referred to the meaning of Jesus’ name. And John 17.11 is similar. During antiquity, names had meaning. It is really no different with the first names of most people today. Do you know the meaning of your name? We don’t talk about that much. However, during antiquity, the meaning of names was more emphasized than they are today. You see this when reading through both testaments of the Bible, but perhaps more so in the Old Testament.

For example, all those Old Testament people who had “el” on the end of their names referred to the shortened form of the Hebrew word elohim, which means “god.” Some of them are the prophets Samuel, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Joel. Even some of God’s angels have “el” on the end of their names. The only two angels of God named in the Bible are Gabriel and Michael. The rest of their names signified some meaning with respect to God. For instance, Samuel means “God has heard;” Ezekiel means “God will strengthen;” Daniel means “God is my judge;” Gabriel means “God is my strength;” Michael means “who is like God?”

The same is true of God’s name, which is yhwh/YHWH. Most scholars render this Tetragrammaton as “Yahweh.” Some people’s names in the Old Testament had the shortened form of God’s name, “Yah,” as part of their names. But this gets a little more tricky. Latin didn’t have the letter Y, so the Hebrew letter hey was rendered with a J. Thus, Yahweh was changed to Jehovah (though even that requires further explanation which I won’t get into here). Likewise, the name Joel, which is really Yoel, means, “Yahweh is God.” The name Isaiah means “Yahweh is salvation,” in which the ending of the name Isaiah, the “ah,” corresponds to Yah.

The name Jesus is the same as Joshua. He was the Old Testament figure who Moses designated as his successor to lead the Israelites into the promised land of Canaan. The book of Joshua tells about his leadership. Again, Joshua is really Yehoshua, since the H was changed to a J. But how did the name Joshua become Jesus?

Yehoshua is the same as Yeshua. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek. So, the Hebrew word Yeshua was translated Iesous in Greek. (There is more to explain how this happened, but, again, we won’t get into that.) In fact, the original 1611 King James Version of the Bible rendered Jesus’ name Iesous, not Jesus. Soon afterwards, in the English language the letter “J” was used as a substitute for the letter “I” when it was a consonant. That is how Iesous became Jesus.

So, what does Jesus’ name mean? Well, it’s best to think of Yeshua when considering what Jesus’ name means. The Ye in Yeshua is another shortened form of the name Yahweh. This actually needs further explanation. I said above that most scholars treat God’s name, yhwh/YHWH, which is a Hebrew word, as Yahweh. But ancient Hebrew didn’t have vowels. Vowels tell us moderns how to pronounce our words. Without vowels, ancients merely knew the pronunciation of their words, which were all written only in consonants. But that didn’t matter much to them because most people were illiterate.

When Jews were scattered due to the two Jewish revolts, in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., the pronunciation of the name of God–yhwh/YHWH–became somewhat unknown, thus lost. Furthermore, the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the waw, was later designated by some Jews as a vav. They therefore treated God’s name as yhvh/YHVH. So, Gentile scholars go with waw and render God’s name Yahweh, whereas Jewish scholars generally render it Yehvah or Yahveh. However, most religious Jews and their scholars refuse to pronounce or write God’s name. Again, we don’t have time to get into that big nut to crack!

So, “Ye” in Yeshua means “Yahweh” unless you’re a Jew who says it must be Yehvah or Yahveh. And the “shua” in Yeshua means “salvation” or deliverance,” but it also can be rendered simply “save.” Thus, Yeshua, or Jesus, means “Yahweh saves,” or “Yahweh is salvation,” or “Yahweh delivers.” Thus, when Jesus said in his High Priestly Prayer to God his Father, “your name that you have given me,” he meant the “Ye, referring to Yahweh/Yehvah, in his name Yeshua.

In conclusion, to believe in the name of Jesus is to believe that Yahweh, who is the one and only God, saves through the man we call Jesus.


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