700 Names of Jesus?

700 Names of Jesus? May 26, 2018

Someone in my Sunday school class told me that they heard recently that there were 700 titles/names/ways of referring to Jesus in the Bible. I was pretty sure that my skepticism about the figure was not due to my lack of knowledge of the Bible, and so I decided it would be worth looking into what lay behind this claim.
This view is articulated in a book by Elmer Towns, one of the founders of Liberty University (which in itself probably says a great deal).

It turns out that the number is a result of taking a very large number of texts from throughout the Bible and simply assuming that they are about Jesus. Some are straightforward, to be sure, while some aren’t that much of a stretch. But others lie at the other extreme of the spectrum and are completely implausible. So, for instance, treating the reference to the “arm of the Lord” in Isaiah 53 as referring to the servant, who has long been identified with Jesus by Christians, is at least understandable. But suggesting that “ark of the covenant” and “owl of the desert” are “names of Jesus” is simply ridiculous, isn’t it? It is telling that, in his book, as far as I can tell, there is no effort to explain the rationale for the treatment of an idiom in a Psalm (to use just one example we have already mentioned) as applying to Jesus. It is assumed that the reader will simply accept the word of Towns as though it were the Word of God and take this on his authority.

It strikes me that there is a similarity between this case, and what many conservative Christians do with the Bible. In both instances, there is a desire to heap up as many superlatives about either Jesus or the Bible as possible, rather than to take the few things that are actually directly said about Jesus or scripture and really understand and do justice to them.

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  • Erp

    Isn’t “ark of the [new] covenant’ a title given to Mary not Jesus by the Catholic Church?

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Yeah, you don’t get too many “owl of the desert” focused praise choruses.

  • David Evans

    We don’t have to worry until they get close to nine billion.

  • John MacDonald

    The name Jesus (Joshua) seems to have some interesting typological connections to the Joshua of the Hebrew Scriptures. For instance:

    (A) “Joshua, the son of Nun, was a type of [Jesus] in many ways. When he commenced his rule of the people, he started at the Jordan, where Christ also, after his baptism, inaugurated the Gospel. The son of Nun appointed the Twelve [tribal leaders] who were to divide the inheritance; Jesus sends the Twelve Apostles to the ends of the earth as heralds of the truth” (Saint Cyril of Jerusalem in the late fourth century, Catechesis 10).

    (B) “It was appropriate that Moses should bring the People out of Egypt, but that Joshua should conduct them into the inheritance. Likewise, that Moses, as was the case with the Law, should come to an end, but that Joshua, as the word-and no untrue type of the Word made flesh-should be a preacher to the People. It was also appropriate that Moses should give manna as food to the fathers, whereas Joshua gave wheat, as the first-fruits of life, as a type of the Body of Christ, for Scripture declares that the Lord’s manna came to an end when the People ate of the wheat of the Land” (Irenaeus of Lyons, In the 2nd century, Fragments 198).

  • Markus R

    The method of understanding the Bible as that has occupied the majority of historical and orthodoxy Christianity finds that the entire Bible is about God’s plans to glorify himself through redemption of fallen mankind. This it is about Jesus, which he himself asserted. There is no greater glory than that which is given to Jesus Christ—thus the rightful attribution of superlative titles. Perhaps they are best captured in the titles King of Kings and Lord of Lords, or the Alpha and Omega. These titles are not made up but taken from the Bible.

    • Nick G

      the entire Bible is about God’s plans to glorify himself

      So he’s a kind of cosmic Donald Trump.

      • Markus R

        Ha. Not exactly Trump. God is perfect in his goodness, Justice, and love, and infinitely powerful, not to mention omniscient. I think Trump falls short of a few of those. 🙂

        • Nick G

          If his main aim is to glorify himself, he’s very much like Trump. Why would a perfect being want or need to do that?

          • Markus R

            That’s. Good question, Nick. It bothers humans to think that God would desire glory. In a human, we would call such a trait narcissism—an undesirable and sometimes pathological trait. You have partiallly answered the question by mentioning a “perfect” being. God has no need for admiration. He is fully content in himself and is lacking nothing. He does not need our respect or love. But as our creator—the one who gave us life and sustains our life, he is owed it.

            What do we as humans give glory to? At our best and because we are made in God’s image we glorify goodness, mercy, justice, virtue and beauty, do we not? And that is as it should be. God is all those things at the level of perfection. It is only right that he receive glory, honor, and worship.

            When we object to these thoughts we are merely proving that we are indeed Adam’s race. We are fallen and desire to be as God. We are envious of him. In our minds we reduce him to the level of a creature as we are, and project human traits upon his m. Thus we think it arrogant that God would demand to be treated as God.

            Have you ever experienced a moment of glory? Maybe it came when you witnessed an a moment in which the beauty of a sunset or a magnificent landscape took your breath away. Such things evoke awe because they reflect God in all his magnificence.

            God is a being whose very attributes and character are worthy of glorification. Indeed for a creature to not respond in that way is rebellion against the very things he represents.

          • You are running together two distinct matters. It is one question whether an individual deserves praise. It is another question what it says about an individual if they demand that their greatness be acknowledged by others.