by Glen Penton

Israel's Messiah, Whose Name in Hebrew is Yeshua, lived among His Jewish People nearly all His earthly Life. He seldom, so far as we can tell, had much to do with non-Jews. For that reason, He probably never used any personal name except Yeshua, which, transliterated from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to English, comes out Jesus. The name probably means 'Lord, Help!' The longer form of the name, Yehoshua, was more common in pre-exilic times, a thousand years earlier.

The case is different with Jews who live much of their lives among the nations of the world. They typically have a non-Jewish name in addition to their Jewish name. For example, in Colossians 4:11 in the Renewed Covenant Scriptures, we meet a Jewish follower of the Messiah who was also named Yeshua (It was a common name among the Jewish people of the time. It is usually transliterated into English as Joshua.) who also went by the Latin name Justus. A better-known example is Rabbi Saul of Tarsus. Because he was a Roman citizen by birth, he had to have a Roman first, middle and last name. We have no record of his first or middle name, but his last name was Paullus (transliterated Paul). The Bible makes it clear that Paul was not a name given by God after he trusted Yeshua, but the Latin name he had from birth. A more modern example is my second son. According to his birth certificate as an American citizen, his middle name is Lewis. On his naming certificate given to us by the rabbi, his middle name is Levi. Both names are genuinely his, and it is customary for the gentile name to resemble the Jewish one.

It was different in the case of name changes. In the ancient near east, when a person underwent some life-changing event, it was common to take a new name. In Ruth, for example, we find that Naomi (whose name meant 'My Pleasant One') changed her name to Marah ('Bitter') after her troubles. It was also common for people in that culture to have double names, for example, Matthew Levi and Reuel Jethro. When God called Jacob Israel, that name change resulted in a double name. Israel was called by both names afterwards.

In Judaism it is customary to name a child after an honored relative. Western Jews remember a deceased relative in this way. Eastern Jews, both in Bible times and today, usually select a living relative. You may recall the narrative in Luke chapter one, when the neighbors thought Yochanan (John) should have been named for his father Zechariah, and argued that the child had no relatives named Yochanan.

Very often, but not always, a member of the priestly family, a descendant of Aaron, will have a last name of Cohen, Kahn, Kahane, etc. (Cohen is the Hebrew word for priest.) Katz, Kaplan, and Kalet are also family names derived from the name Cohen. Likewise, a Levite will often have a last name like Levitt, Levinsky, Lewin, or Levitas.

On the other hand, last names can fool you. You should not automatically assume a person is Jewish or non-Jewish on the basis of the last name. I know Jewish people named Smith and Jones, and there are likewise gentiles named Goldberg and Levitas. (Who just hollered, "Whopee"?)

And that brings me back to the Name of Yeshua. To most Jewish people, just like to most non-Jews, the name Jesus does not sound Jewish at all. Many Jews have suffered discrimination and been insulted in the Name of Jesus and in the Name of Christ. Those who have not usually are aware of the centuries of persecution Jews have suffered in the Names of Jesus and Christ. The Jewish equivalents to those Names, Yeshua for Jesus and Messiah for Christ, promote accurate communication by sounding Jewish both to your Jewish and non-Jewish listeners. In sharing the truth about Him with Jews, these Jewish Names help to build bridges instead of walls.

an article about the Hebrew word translated 'name'
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the name Israel
God's Name

Colossians 4:10b-11. "My fellow-prisoner Aristarchus sends greetings, and so do Mark and Yeshua, who have been Jewish from birth. (Yeshua's Roman cognomen is Justus.) Of my fellow-workers in serving the King, these three are the only ones with me right now, but they are a great comfort to me."
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Luke 1

{59}On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. They were going to name him after his father Zechariah, {60}but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called Yochanan."

{61}They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name." {62}Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.

{63}He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is Yochanan."

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