Q: Okay, I’m confused. From my understanding, using the name of “Jesus” and “God” are like worshiping a false god, Baal and so on. What I am asking is: do we call God Yahweh (yhvh), or Adonai (and how do you pronounce it?); and what’s the difference between Yeshua and Yahshua? When I am worshiping, I want to talk to Him and know for certain that I am not calling Him someone else’s name or a title. Plus, I have little ones at home, I want to teach them the correct thing. I don’t want to miss Heaven on the account of a technicality. Remember, He’s going to turn people away because He didn’t know them. Well, how can you know someone without knowing their name? You would only know of them.
A: Thank you for your important question. I understand why you feel confused. Let me address each issue in turn, and then I will conclude with some comments and observations.
First, though some have suggested that the English “Jesus” comes from the Greek Zeus, there is actually no link whatsoever. This is a ridiculous fabrication perpetrated by conspiracists who know little to nothing about the language. The etymology of “Jesus” is simple. In the Greek Scriptures, Ὶησους, Iesous is a transliteration of the Hebrew יֵשׁוּעַ, Yeshua. Exchanging the “y” for an “i” at the beginning, and adding an “s” on the end is common in Greek, i.e. יְהוּדָה, Y’hudah (Judah) becomes Ὶούδας, Ioudas (Judas). From the Greek, Ὶησους, Iesous was transliterated into the latin Iesus, and finally came into English as Jesus. Yeshua (Hebrew) to Iesous (Greek) to Iesus (Latin) to Jesus (English). Nothing nefarious here.
As for use of the word God, the only issue I see here would be lack of qualification, since there are many “gods” of this world. Though some have suggested alternative etymologies, the English word “God” simply means “a god.” The content of our communication can then easily indicate that by “God” we mean the God of Israel, the one true God. The word itself is neutral without context, and does not inherently refer to a specific deity, either true or false, i.e. Baal, or Buddha, or what have you.
Next, regarding the sacred name יהוה or yhvh, there is a long-standing Jewish tradition in which speaking yhvh is prohibited. During the middle ages, Jewish scribes (the Masoretes) devised a Hebrew vowel-pointing system (those dots and dashes beneath and around Hebrew letters) to indicate how words should be properly pronounced. This system included the practice of superimposing the vowel points from אֲדֹנָי, ’Adonai (which means Lord or Master, and is pronounced Ah-doe-nigh) onto yhvh. Thus, when a reader encountered יְהֹוָה, he would be reminded to say Adonai instead. Though remnants of yhvh have apparently been preserved for us in names such as יָהּ, Yah and אֵלִיָהוּ, Eliyahu (Elijah), this practice of substituting Adonai for yhvh has unfortunately resulted in the loss of its definite pronunciation. (The accepted scholarly rendering is Yahweh; however, this cannot be absolutely ascertained, and remains in dispute. For a detailed discussion, please download the PDF, “The Name”.)
The issue concerning the name Yeshua and the manufactured “Yahshua” (and its variants) is somewhat convoluted and, again, conspiratorial. It begins like this: in addition to defacing the name yhvh, the Masoretes further perpetrated a plot to obscure its pronunciation by purposely mispointing other names that begin with the first three letters of yhvh (יהו), such as יֵהוּא, Yehu (Jehu), יְהוּדָה, Y’hudah (Judah), and, most notoriously, יְהוֹשׁוּעַ, Y’hoshua (Joshua). Accordingly, Y’hoshua, should actually be “Yahushua” (or some other variant)—and since יֵשׁוּעַ, Yeshua is related to Y’hoshua/Joshua (it actually is), and Yeshua came “in the Father’s name” (a distorted use of John 5:43—He’s talking about the Father’s power and authority; for more on this, see endnotes in “The Name” PDF), it should really be “Yahshua” (or some other variant). Of course, in order for all this to be true, then the credibility of the entire vowel-pointing system is called into question, and we have no reason to trust the pronunciation of other forms of yhvh as in names like יְשַעְיָהוּ, Y’sha’yahu (Isaiah) and יִרְמְיָהוּ, Yir’m’yahu (Jeremiah). The conspiracists can’t have it both ways.
As for the name יֵשׁוּעַ, Yeshua, it appears in multiple places in the Hebrew Scriptures, as clearly seen in the Hebrew/Aramaic underlying “Jeshua” in 1&2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, i.e. Ezra 5:2. “Yeshua” is also the masculine form of the Hebrew word for “salvation”—יְשׁוּעָה, y’shuah—as used in Exodus 15:2, Psalm 9:14, Isaiah 60:18 and many other verses. It is true that Y’hoshua/Joshua and Yeshua are related names, but they are nevertheless distinct. While Joshua means “יָהּ, Yah saves,” or similar, Yeshua means simply, “he saves” or “salvation,” as signified by Matthew 1:21, “…and you will call His name Yeshua, for He will save his people from their sins.”
How can you know someone without knowing their name? I’ll give you an example: I have a friend who immigrated to the United States from Poland. Everyone, including his wife, calls him “ZeeZee,” but his name is Zbigniew. Now, in this case, I know in my head that his name is Zbigniew, but I haven’t the slightest clue how to pronounce it. Even if ZeeZee stood right in my face and pronounced his name for me, I probably still couldn’t do it! The point is, I know ZeeZee, and he knows me. The fact that I don’t know how to pronounce his name—and don’t even try—doesn’t affect our relationship one bit. When I call him “ZeeZee,” he knows I’m speaking to him, and when I say “ZeeZee” to someone else who knows him, they know exactly who I’m talking about.
Here’s another example: My children know that my name is Kevin, but never in their lives have they called me that. Indeed, I would find it rather disrespectful and distant if they did. Instead, they know me and love me as “Abba” (“Daddy,” in Hebrew). When they address me formally, when they want to show me affection, or when they need my help, this is what they call me… and I never fail to respond.
No doubt, it is important to know the Name of the One we worship and serve—the One by whose Name we will be saved (Joel 2:32). But if there is anything nefarious going on, it is in the diversion, distraction and division being caused among Yeshua’s disciples over such ultimately nonessential and unsustainable matters. While “Jesus” is not the Master’s name, it is the etymological equivalent, and there is nothing evil about it. The same is true for the word “God.” And even if the pronunciation of the Sacred Name were unequivocally restored (which it hasn’t been), there is nothing in Scripture that requires its utterance—especially in light of passages such as Exodus 34:5-9 (where, in the presence of yhvh, Moses calls Him אֲדֹנָי, ’Adonai—Master!) not to mention the way Yeshua taught us to pray to “our Father who is in the heavens” (Matthew 6:9). As for the dispute between Yeshua and “Yahshua” (or similar), there is simply no valid linguistic or historical support for such a rendering. The Hebrew is clear: ישוע is pronounced Yeshua.
If we are going to miss Heaven on account of a technicality, it’s not going to be because we failed to pronounce the Name of God—it will be because we are self-centeredly preoccupied with the technicalities, when we should be devoting ourselves to the life of service and self-denial that living for Yeshua demands (Isaiah 1:11-17, Matthew 23:23-24 and 25:31-46).
This “Messy Messianics” article was originally published in an abridged format in Messianic Jewish Issues. Messy Messianics, a recurring feature in Messianic Jewish Issues, is provided as a resource for helping troubled friends back from the fringe.