The Importance of a Name in Hebrew Thought

A few weeks ago I finished reading “Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith”. There was one section a mere two paragraphs long in that book I have been thinking about ever since and think is worth sharing with anyone who is interested.

Before I provide the quote a little back story is in order. Once upon a time I became embroiled in what I like to call the “free grace wars”. It was an internecine battle between Christians with five point Calvinists at one extreme and the followers of Zane Hodges on the other. The experience was unpleasant but in the end it caused me to grow in understanding of the scriptures which is always profitable. The five point Calvinists tended to graft repentance of sin into the Gospel message. Of course repenting of your sins is a work but since, according to them, God does all of the work including giving us faith that is no big deal. For those who believe that each person can freely choose to accept the gift of salvation this adding of works to the Gospel message was anathema.

Of course it is possible to react too far against the five pointer works gospel which is what I believe that Zane Hodges did. I was always taught, and I believe rightly so, is that one must believe on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Hodges and his followers went so far as to deny the need to believe in the work of Christ on the cross for our salvation. These same people also advocated that believing in “Jesus” didn’t really involve knowing who He is.

There is one time in particular that I was debating (arguing) with one of these persons when they said that all a person has to do is believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and they will be saved. I agreed because I knew scriptures such as the following:

23 And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. (1 John 3:23)

And:

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:16-19)

I also pointed out that the word “name” has more meaning than a string of letters spelling out someone’s name to which he replied “no it doesn’t!” How does one argue with that?

With that in mind here is the quote from Marvin R. Wilson’s book:

Another perspective on the nature of salvation concerns the name of Jesus. In Hebrew thought, the name of an individual was considered to be more than a title or label for identification. Rather a name was believed to reveal the essence, character, reputation or destiny of the one to whom it was given. This is why the moral Law of Moses forbids defamation of another’s name by false witness (Exodus 20:16). Indeed, “a good name [i.e. reputation] is more desirable than great riches” (Prov. 22:1). Thus the name of every Hebrew sent out some sort of message with it. This was particularly so in the case of Jesus, as we shall now demonstrate.

The fact that Jesus was a Jew by birth is crucial for understanding the nature and person of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. Jesus was given the Hebrew name Yeshu’a. (“Jesus” is the Latin form of Iēsoús, the Greek transliteration of Yeshu’a). The name Yeshu’a, derived from the Hebrew verb yasha (discussed above), revealed the destiny he was to fulfill in his life and ministry on earth. The angel of the Lord said, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith
pp. 180-181

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2 Comments on “The Importance of a Name in Hebrew Thought”


  1. What an edifying and enlightening unfolding of the issue. This has such dynamic doctrinal and evangelistic value. Thanks so much.

    AG

    • Glenn Says:

      Alex,

      Thank you for stopping by! Those two short paragraphs really resonated with me. It’s great to know you found them edifying as well.

      Glenn


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