Is the name Jesus a pagan name?

The name Jesus actually means, "Yahweh delivers" or "Yahweh saves."  Jesus is the English translation of the Greek Iesous (Ἰησοῦς) or the Hebrew Yeshua (or Joshua).  Jesus probably was originally called Yeshua (or Joshua) in the Aramaic speaking culture in which he was born.  Interestingly, Yeshua was a common name in first-century Palestine where Jesus lived.

Therefore, Jesus is not a pagan name in the sense of originating from a pagan context.  Rather, the original writers of the New Testament used Iesous (Greek for Jesus) about 917 times to describe who Jesus truly was.  However, there is not a single reference in the New Testament where Jesus is explicitly called by his Hebrew name Yeshua.  But, in Matt. 1:21 we are told what Jesus' name is.  "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins."

Should we pray to Jesus using His Hebrew name?

The New Testament never says that we have to use the Hebrew name of Jesus in order to properly pray to him.  In the entire New Testament, it is only the Greek name for Jesus that is used.  For example, when Paul says in Romans 10:13, "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED," he is actually referring to Jesus by the context (cf. Romans 10:9).  Earlier, in Romans 10:9, Paul states, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus [Greek Iesous or Ἰησοῦς] as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."  Again, Paul uses the Greek Iesous to refer to Jesus.  If the New Testament writers had thought that Jesus' name in Hebrew (Yeshua or Joshua) was necessary for one to pronounce, then they could have simply transliterated his name into Greek.  However, they did not do so.

If one insists that we must call Jesus by his Hebrew name, then would Jesus have refused to help someone who called to him in Greek?  Could you imagine Jesus refusing to heal the blind man named Bartimaeus who cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” if he did not use his exact Hebrew name, but instead called him "Iesous"?1  I could not even imagine Jesus turning around and saying, "Excuse me! I only answer requests in the Hebrew language!"  Since Jesus may have been bilingual or trilingual, it is highly unlikely that he would have ignored someone asking him for help or healing just because of the language in which the person requested help.

Since Jesus is God in flesh (John 1:1,14; Col. 2:9), he is not limited by someone's language.  He knows all things (1 John 3:20).  Therefore, one can call upon Jesus using whatever translation for Jesus that one knows...Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, or even Swahili.

Should we only use Yahweh in reference to God?

If someone is still not convinced that calling upon Jesus is sufficient, he could further press the issue to absurdity.  Must he use Yahweh, which is the proper name for the LORD in the Old Testament every time he calls upon God in prayer?  Do prayers like, "God, please help me to love you," not work?  Does God then want us all to speak the Hebrew language for the entire prayer for a special line up to the heavens?  Of course not.  God is not limited by language.  He is not limited by some formula.  Rather, he knows all things and he can answer any prayer from anyone in any language at any time.

  • 1. I realize that Bartimeus may have originally called Jesus Yeshua in the original Aramaic speaking context of the first century.  However, the point is that Luke portrays this conversation as happening in Greek.  Therefore, he saw no problem with one calling upon Jesus in the Greek language.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.