15 March 2007

The name of Jesus: worth e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-i-n-g

by Dan Phillips

[I'm starting to suspect that my teammates want you all to get so nauseatingly sick of me that you'll beg them to replace me with Rob Bell or someone. Sorry. So anyway, here you go, one more oh-so-bumpable post.]

I think we Anglos—and I do speak anecdotally here, not by scientific survey—tend to be surprised at Hispanics' willingness to name their children "Jesus." I'm not making a judgment here, truly I'm not; I'm just saying that it's a bit jarring. We don't do it, don't tend to conceive of doing it.

Of course, in our Lord's day it was a common name. We're really giving essentially the same name when we dub our kids "Joshua," of which Ἰησοῦς, Iēsous, is the Greek equivalent whence eventually we get "Jesus." As you know by now, the name Ἰησοῦς refers to more than one character in the NT.

But since His life, the name has taken on a special significance, as He certainly is and will remain the most conspicuous to bear it.

I won't make any comment about the pretentious insistence of some Americans (!) on ostentatiously saying Yeshua instead of Jesus, except to say that we do not have even one inspired instance of our Lord being addressed thus. If it is replied, "Same for 'Jesus,'" my surrejoinder would be, "Then why mess with it, except to call attention to oneself?"

Having said that....

Of course, "Jesus" is not a magical name, as some religious superstition has made it.

That point couldn't be made more tartly than in the kind-of-funny, kind-of-scary narrative of Acts 19:13-17—
Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims." 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?" 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.
However, it is a powerful name, because of who owns it.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
And now, having said all that:

Given whose it is, and who we denote by it, shouldn't we at least not rush it, when we say it?

I suppose I'm not the only parent to try to correct his children non-legalistically, when they come to use "in Jesus' name" as if it's just another way of saying "I'm done praying and want to start eating." When I've heard "injeecenameamen," I've said, "You know, 'Jesus' is the most important name you and I know. It's worth saying, and not rushing." And so I've tried to teach them to say J-e-s-u-s. Not "Jeece."

I was thinking of this recently as I listened through a series of lectures by an author, who has published on a subject that interests me. (I will not identify him any further.) I came on some lectures on his subject, online. Since it's a subject of Biblical theology that is huge, and that I feel the need to grasp better (—which really doesn't narrow it down, much!), I burned some CD's and commenced drive-time listening.

A number of things bugged me about the lectures, and I didn't profit fractionally as much as I had hoped. He was very interested in his ideas and theme, and less so in exposition of actual Biblical texts.

But the little thing that just niggled at and irritated me was how he said "Jesus."

Now look, plesae do not misunderstand me. I honestly make no judgment about the man's spiritual health from this one thing. I attach no significance—beyond that it irritated me.

He said "Jeece." Again and again and again. All the other words were pronounced passably clearly. But "Jesus" was regularly slurred. "In Jeece' teaching..." — "where Jeece says..." — "and what Jeece did was..." — "the dithyrhambic, apothegmatic Weltanschauung enumerated in the parabolic discourses Jeece delivered...."

Okay, I made that last one up.

But I thought, "Dude, duuuude — it's 'Jesus.' You can say it, I know you can. Your audience will wait the extra fourteen nanoseconds it takes you to say 'Jesus.' Try them, I know they will!"

And now you know that.

As you were.

< /rant >

Dan Phillips's signature


Modern Day Magi said...

well worth the ponder.

I wonder if 'Jeece' counts as using His name in vain?


philness said...

Funny. I was just talking to someone about this very subject. There is power in His name. When someone mentions the name of Jesus it gets quiet as a church mouse. Another thing. I hear people ending their prayer in "Thy name". Whats up with "Thy name"? His name is JESUS- CHRIST JESUS THE LORD.

DJP said...

That's right, Phil. I didn't even go there, but the name Jesus has a needed specificity that "God" lacks. We've seen the stories of clergy, etc., being told that they can say their prayers, but knock off that stuff about "Jesus' name." Different savor to different crowds.

candyinsierras said...

I've always been bugged by TV preachers. It's like they haven't really become a bonafide TV preacher until they can say JAY-zuz. In the name of JAYzuz!

jsb said...

Good thoughts, Dan. I read a book by Bryan Chapell about praying in Jesus' name. He advocates BEGINNING prayers this way. Too often we throw it in at the end, as our "wrap up" and lose all the significance, don't think about it. But if we BEGIN "In Jesus' name," Chapell contends, we think about it, we are reminded of our position in relation to Christ and so on.

But we're so used to the "other way." Once I led a public prayer beginning with Jesus and ending with a simple "Amen." Someone came up in mild rebuke, saying, "You forgot to say 'In Jesus' name' at the end." As if that rendered the whole prayer pointless. Ack.

donsands said...

I have met hispanic construction workers named Jesus.
They pronounce it Hesus. It would be difficult to say, "Hey Jesus, would you mind moving that 2 by 4 out of the way".
I have said "Hey Hesus" though.

Weird ain't it.

I agree that the holy name of Jesus Christ causes awkwardness and even resentment.

I remember when I was a new convert and started to talk out Jesus, my wife would say at the time, "Why don't you just say God."

I gave my daughter some Amy Grant records,(That's vinyl LP,s), and she said, "Dad, she pretty cool, but why does she have to sing about Jesus?"

The Lord was so gracious to save my wife and daughter within the next year or so.
Is this digressing?

Phil Johnson said...

Amen. Let me add one little footnote about something similar: The possessive of Jesus' name is spelled and pronounced the way I just wrote it. It's not spelled Jesus's (and therefore it's not pronounced "Jesuses").

That's perhaps even more trivial than the point Dan was making, but as long as we're ranting about little things some preachers and pray-ers do that really bug us. . .

Incidentally, the LA Times has a headline today that officially confirms what we here at TeamPyro have known for some time.

A huge thanks to Dan for filling the blog this week. I injured my back Monday carrying a massive crate of books up some stairs. It's only a muscle problem; nothing permanently crippling. But all week I haven't been able to find a position comfortable enough to allow me to write a blogpost. The back is getting better. I'll get back to posting soon.

Yankeerev said...


Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems you need an Hispanic Decoder in your ear so that you can catch the nuances of the word...either that or the guy giving the lecture was drunk...

Just my thoughts


C.T. Lillies said...

Dan it must be a California thing because here in the midwest most preachers don't have any trouble enunciating Jesus. In fact, they often add a syllable or two and--if they're really wound up--some spit.

"...the word of God is not bound."
--2 Timothy 2:9

Steve said...

I injured my back Monday carrying a massive crate of books up some stairs.

Hope the books weren't hurt...and hope your back gets better quickly.

phillycheese said...

Good stuff guys. I feel like i'm reading Paul Tillich with his religious symbols. let me guess, you read dynamics of faith before posting this right? j/k.

I enjoy your comments and discussions. While i would wonder if this post isn't a bit pedantic i do see your point. i'm just worried that the socio/religious and symbolic factors haven't gotten in the way of realizing that taken from a modern standpoint, from which you approach the topic, consonants and syllables put phonetically are just that. They only are representations of meanings and ideas that have been attatched to them. It's the meaning and person of Jesus that every knee will bow, and tongue will confess as Lord. Not the representative name.

However, if this would have been approached from the referance point of Christ's time and the meaning placed upon names back then, your point would have been bolstered. Many studies have been done on the names given to God and how powerful and meaningful each of them are. There used to be meaning and power in a name, however, thanks to the deconstruction efforts of Derrida and Levinas, this has been lost on the modern mindset.

I appreciate the forum for good discussion and thought that you guys have created here. i'm new to the blogging world and I'd be interested in hearing what you guys think about a 7 part series i'm writing on about the problem of evil on my site. your imput would be welcome.

Thanks again and God bless.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that Southern Baptist's have a way of adding extra syllables, well parodied in the character of Rev. Lovejoy- "Jeesus-uh".

Question: Is the name above every other name the actual name Jesus? Or is it the title of Lord or perhaps the postion of unbegotten Sonship? I guess what I am asking is if Paul is using the familiar name of Jesus only as a point of reference in relaying the transcendent concept of Jesus' Lordship and innate Godness? I understand that Joseph was directed by the angel name him Jesus, but in the same Matthew text it refers to the Isaiah passage that he will be called "God with us" etc.

I ask this question in sincerity, because it seems to me that the word we render as Jesus has had so many variations over the centuries (Jesu, Isa, Yeshua, Joshua to name a few) what difference does it make how it is pronounced? Linguistically speaking, what one may think is a degeneration in pronunciation, may actually be the next step in linguistic evolution. Which is actually how we got "Jesus" in the first place- a mongrel form of the greek.

Have I over sharpened my hair splitting device?

Garet Pahl said...

It should be said I'm not suggesting some type of Derridesque deconstructionof language here- "the center is not the center" (import your own pretentious French accent). But rather the opposite, more like "the periphery is not the center", which is what I think Phillycheese was pointing out.

DJP said...

Well, my shallow response to Philycheese and Garet is that I specifically had in mind folks who know the name as "Jesus," and whose mispronunciation is due neither to regional accent nor speech defect nor anything other than hasty slurring. That's why I made the point about the academic author's just-fine pronunciation of everything else, except "Jeece" (or sometimes "Je'uss").

Slightly deeper: what's in a name? In the Bible, it's neither everything nor nothing. It's not magic, but it's not just a convention. A man was literally put to death for abusing the literal semantic unit "Yahweh." So (thinking aloud) I myself wouldn't be too quick to attach no significance to the literal unit "Jesus," because as you noted it was selected by the angel, and it denotes that specific person, God incarnate.

And whether "the name above every name" is itself "Jesus" or "Lord," Paul does explicitly say that it is at the name of Jesus that every knee shall bow. I don't see any reason for taking it as less than literally true.

candyinsierras said...

I wish that JAYjus was just a regional pronunciation, but it seems to be a Hillary Clintonesque mode of accent peculiar to television preachers, "when in Rome talk like the Romans" philosphy. Unless one is Benny Hinn, then it is a geeSAWS pronunciation. Also, kudos to you Dan for stating e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-i-o-n instead of being like Diana Ross on American Idol telling the contestants to work on pronounciation.

candyinsierras said...

typo. philosophy.

Mark B. Hanson said...

Of course, there are those southern folk that make the Name a four-syllable word: Jay-ee-sus-uh.

Garet Pahl said...

Shallow Response:
Fair enough. The sloppy pronunciation of a name may in fact denote an overall slothfulness regarding the subject being named.

Deeper Response:
But the name "Jesus" you and I use is phonologically and morphologically different to that which Paul used and wrote, so which name is the one to which every knee shall bow? Shouldn't we then know and use the literal given name?

Also, in the same theme of taking things literally, why does it become permissible to substitute communion wine with Welches purple corn syrup?

(I know this seems a bit antagonistic, I swear I mean no ill)

I feel you on that Dianna Ross AI misspeak.

Anonymous said...

Jeez, Dan. Lighten up on the poor dude.

Stephen Newell said...

How odd. Being from the South, I always thought the "proper" Southern pronunciation was GEE-zuss. And you may stretch out the first syllable however long necessary to make your sermonic point. In which case, the pronunciation sometimes becomes GEE-uh-zuss.

Jeremy Weaver said...

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus...There's just something about that name.-Gloria Gaither

Can I rant a little now?
All of you people who sing that song I just quoted above...
Tell us what it is about that name!!!

SolaMeanie said...


Amen on that pet peeve, and it's not just Southern Baptists. Certain charismatic/Pentecostal preachers are adept at spitting into the third row also. I never have quite understood why these guys assume a completely different manner of speaking in the pulpit than they have across the kitchen table. If anything, it distracts from the message rather than help it. I also get irritated with people who yell "Amen!" "Preach it, brother!" every 30 seconds during a sermon. I'd love to ask them afterward if they actually remember anything said since they were so busy being a peanut gallery.

All that aside, I think it would behoove all of us to remember that our God is a consuming fire. Of course, the Jews were ultra-legalistic about the name of God, refusing to even spell it supposedly out of reverence for the Divine Name, hence the YHWH. God certainly never commanded this. If He told the prophets etc. to go tell recalcitrant rulers, "Thus says the LORD YHWH," (they would have pronounced the name in delivering the message, wouldn't they?) why would it be a sin to put the whole name on paper? However, they were right in being very careful not to use the name of God in an irreverent, careless manner. We ought to be careful in how we use the name of God, including Jesus, God the Son.

I suppose I've been increasingly bugged by our church culture's attitude in treating Jesus like someone to be backslapped. "Jesus is my home-boy." That sort of thing. You're talking about the God who struck people dead for misbehavior in the Holy of Holies. Yes, Jesus is our Savior and, as He put it, our Friend if we do what He commands us. Yet He is also still God Incarnate.

Peculiar Pete said...

cGreat point made!
Back in the day, before Guttenburg, if you wanted a copy of the Bible you had to have someone write it by hand. The people who did this task (you had to be secret about it, being that the Roman Catholic church didn't want anyone to have God's Words... I guess just Papal Bulls. Go figure!) had a great realization of the holiness of the name of God. Before they would pen any one of His names, they would first bathe themselves, and get all cleaned up, before they would write that name that had saved them from their sin. We're far from that today! Blasphemy is coming from left, right, and upside down just by talking to most people for a few minutes! It truly is sad how we rub His Name through the dirt.


Scott said...

I won't make any comment about the pretentious insistence of some Americans (!) on ostentatiously saying Yeshua instead of Jesus, except to say that we do not have even one inspired instance of our Lord being addressed thus.

We also do not have even one inspired instance of anyone calling him "Jesus" - with a hard "J" sound. Also the vowel sound in the last syllable of Ἰησοῦς is different than normal English pronunciation.

Not a single person on the whole planet called him Jesus when he walked on the earth as a man. So should we really be using Ἰησοῦς instead of Jesus if we want to be faithful to instances from inspired material? If we pray to Jesus is Ἰησοῦς/Yeshua in heaven wondering who this Jesus guy is taking all of his press?

Marcia said...

At least you didn't say pronounciate it, ala Diana Ross on American Idol.

Mrs Pilgrim said...

Umph, I suspect it's less a disregard for Christ and more simple sloppiness in speech these days.

There are things that simply get my goat:

- Saying "Ima" for "I am going to"
- Verbal tics, from "like" and "y'know" to "no'm'sayn?"
- Pronouncing it "CarNEGie"
- The second-person plural being rendered "yous" (c'mon, it's "y'all" and you know it!)
- "I seen" and "we done" and the like
- I swear I once heard someone say that she was "conversating" with her friend! I wish I could remember what that's called...

If we can't even get normal speech right, why do you think people will take the time with Jesus?

Libbie said...

I blogged about using the name of Jesus sometime ago, and I was planning on reposting it this week, and this swung it for me. I am so lazy.

étrangère said...

Could some of this just be regional snobbery in accents? I can think of various parts of the UK where the pronunciation of 'Jesus' would seem to me to be sloppy, but so would their pronunciation of every other word. It's a regional accent / dialect. I may feel like edyukaitin' 'em proper-like (ses me, the Nor'n Irish - English girl with a penchant for French), but I don't see why they should insert Queen's English "Jesus" into their vocab like a foreign word. Linguistically it'd assert his transcendance at the sake of his incarnation, which wouldn't be a great communication of the gospel. Of course, if you're considering a speaker and for some bizarre reason he enunciates all his words except "Jesus", as if he's got bored of saying it, then that's different. Now I'll go off to Belgium and carefully say, "Jésus" (soft J-aizu) for the weekend.

DJP said...

Strangegirl--pls see my comment of 12:36 PM, March 15, 2007.

Mrs Pilgrim said...

Etrangere, for a moment I thought you were mimicking the American Southern hick-dialect...

I can say it in Texan and it sounds dead-on.

Anonymous said...

All this brings to mind an entry I recently saw (seen?) in the Jeff Foxworthy Redneck dictionary, defining the term ministry:

Usage: "Hey, revrend, look up here, 'ministry!"

Jay-zuss sayuvs!!

Jacob Douvier said...

It struck me the other day that maybe, just maybe, we don't even realize what praying or asking "in Jesus' name" means.

It stopped my slurring of syllables rather quickly.

Dale Thackrah said...


Think about...Bell joining the team might make for some interesting reading. Imagine the blogalicious fun we would have with Bell and Mclaren in the mix! And I thought the A-Mil vs Pre-Mil debate at the Shepherd's Conference was intense! Bell vs Philips, and Mclaren vs Johnson... yes, that would be some interesting reading!

RC said...

interesting post...

i especially like when you say: "it is a powerful name, because of who owns it."




--RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

jmark said...

The name of Jesus: worth punctuating

I'm with Phil J - a pet peeve of mine is when people say Jesusiz disciples instead of Jesus' disciples (or anything else in the possessive)

Glad to see someone else taking it up.

Another pet peeve is sloppy praying that mangles the Trinity eg. "Father in heaven, we thank you for comging and dying for us on the cross..."


DJP said...

Dale—or maybe Art Bell.

jmark—afraid you have a point. Some have observed that prayers are sometimes a bit more Biblical than the prayer's formal theology (i.e. Arminians praying more Calvinistically). The reverse sometimes bubbles up, too.

Phil Johnson said...

I logged on just to delete an illegal comment, and the word verification I got was "jeezy." That's wierd, huh?

DJP said...


And besides, I think I beat you to the delete. Or we had two.

John W. Lostus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John W. Lostus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Phil Johnson said...

Has anyone else noticed that those who like to accuse others of lacking courage invariably level that taunt from behind the veil of anonymity?

Why is that?

SolaMeanie said...

I can't speak for the others, but what I am largely talking about is the contrived, learned manner of certain preachers to speak/yell/scream/enunciateorfailtoenunciate in the pulpit. When talking with you over a cup of Gevalia Dark Roast, they will speak quite normally and even say the name "Jesus" as most of us are used to hearing it. However, get them in front of a camera or microphone, and the histrionics start, including the loud gasp of "AHHH" after every sentence i.e. JeeeezuuusAAHH. To me, bamboo shoots under the fingernails would be preferable to listening to a sermon like this. I wish they'd stop it.

As to the anonymous posters who post something base (drive-by posters, I call them) - yes, I've noticed that also. Cowards and human mosquitoes they are, and I'm being nice for once.

John W. Lostus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mrs Pilgrim said...

I always enjoy when people accuse one of "being petty." It's half of the paradox.

On the one hand, if this were nothing but a "heavy topics" blog, people would complain that "you need to lighten up and have some fun." On the other hand, when you introduce the "little things" and fun topics, they start in immediately with "How petty, can't you spend more time on important stuff?"

It's a bit like reading a recent critique of a Tony Campolo speech at Christian Worldview Network. People carp all the time about "if you'd only spend more time listening to what these guys say instead of criticizing soundbites, blah blah blah." But the comments to Mr. Wills' careful analysis of the speech itself and its theological implications were mostly, "Nitpick nitpick, that's all you're doing; you're so full of vitriol and don't have any Christian love!"

This is why they're called trolls: they hide under bridges, waiting for you to come trip-trapping along, and then use any means they can to grab you. The only solution is to shove them out of the way and keep going.

Oh, word verification. "Hwdyramb": the proper means to greet Sylvester Stallone when he visits the South. "Howdy, Ramb!"

donsands said...

"human mosquitoes they are"

Now that's a thought to ponder.

John W. Lostus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mrs Pilgrim said...

Phil, clean-up on comment #46...

Do people not listen? Or does this guy think you were only kidding?

Susan said...

I may be late to the party on this post, but if anyone's still reading, I have a genuine question about His name.
I say the name of Jesusm but I've lived in Israel and studied Hebrew. There, it would legitimately be pronounced Yeshua. Many messianic Jews I know say His name - with utmost respect and reverence - as Yeshua.
In His day, didn't Jesus speak Aramaic, very closely linked to Hebrew? Would not His name then have been pronounced at that time as Yeshua? Aramaic and Hebrew-speaking Jews would have called Him Yeshua, wouldn't they?
I guess what I'm asking - rather ineloquently - is why would saying His name as Yeshua be improper - if that's what He Himself used when He walked on earth?
If Paul and other NT authors wrote in Greek and rendered His name as the Greek "Jesus," I don't see why this would make null and voice the Yeshua pronounciation, especially among messianic Jews.
I ask this question sincerely and not to be provocative. I just have yet to find an argument against saying Yeshua (in place of Jesus) that convinces me it would be innappropriate or blasphemy.

Susan said...

Ach, typo.
I don't say the name of Jesusm
I say Jesus.
full stop.

DJP said...

I certainly wouldn't say blasphemy. I was careful to stipulate that I'm talking about America, where He isn't known as Yeshua. Yep, in Israel, Yeshua would be the way; in Arab lands, Issa; in Spanish-speaking, Jesus (pronounced Hay-zooce).

My point is, that isn't how we pronounce His name in English.

My further point was, as I said, "we do not have even one inspired instance of our Lord being addressed [as Yeshua]." Maybe His contemporaries did call Him Yeshua. Maybe they called Him Bob. All we know for absolute certain is that He was called Iēsous. So to call Him Yeshua, in America, simply says, "Look at me, I'm so different from all those other Christians." They certainly aren't being more Biblical, or they'd be saying Iēsous, and on and on.

Hope that clarifies that point.

Susan said...

Thanks, Dan. Yes, it does clarify, and I appreciate your time.
I do know that some people take umbrage with folks saying "Yeshua," but it's never bothered me, because everyone I've ever heard using that Name is a messianic Jew - in the USA. (They also call Paul Sha'ul, etc., and the Complete Jewish Bible reflects all sorts of Hebraic rendering of names and terms.)
I've never looked at them as being snobby, perhaps because they don't do it "just to be different" - at least not that I can tell. They simply feel very close to their Jewish heritage and don't want to deny it. Most messianic Jews I know also have a heart for witnessing to Jewish people as well, so anything that connects them culturally, linguistically, etc is only a bridge to reaching them.
Regarding your point that: "we do not have even one inspired instance of our Lord being addressed [as Yeshua]," perhaps it's not the same as being addressed as such, but I presume when His name was written on the cross in three languages, the Aramaic rendering was "Yeshua" (or very close to that).
Thanks again!

lee n. field said...

"I won't make any comment about the pretentious insistence of some Americans (!) on ostentatiously saying Yeshua instead of Jesus, except to say that we do not have even one inspired instance of our Lord being addressed thus."

If you won't comment I will. The whole "let's use Hebrew names" thing bothers me. That's not what we have in the Greek NT, so using Shaul and Yeshua is just as much a translation (unless you're a Hebrew speaker using a Hebrew translation of the NT) as Paul and Jesus. What's the point? The God inspired original is the Koine text.

DJP said...

Yep. It's just ostentatious. Without direct Scriptural authority, the only one it calls greater attention to is the speaker.

Rob said...

Garet said:
I've noticed that Southern Baptist's have a way of adding extra syllables, well parodied in the character of Rev. Lovejoy- "Jeesus-uh".

I'uh izuh Southern Baptist-uh, and I never-uh talk like that-uh.

Seriously though. I am Southern Baptist, and I preach, and I don't pronouce my words like that.