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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