Jesus is the foundation of Christianity, so it makes sense that everyone on earth who has interacted with Christianity knows his name. So many cultures translate his name into their languages, leading to its dominance in culture. However, looking back at its history raises the question: how common was the name Jesus during Biblical times?
The Hebrew form of the name “Jesus” was a very common name in Biblical times, as it was a version of the common male name Joshua. The name means “Yahweh is my help” or “The LORD saves.”
This article aims to look into the origins of the name in the Bible (when it began to be used), as well as how common it was and how many people shared the name “Jesus” in Biblical times. Additionally, it will also examine what Jesus Christ was referred to in his day by fellow Jews, as they did not refer to him in the same way we do today.
When did they start using the name Jesus in the Bible?
The history of the name “Jesus” goes back hundreds of years, even in light of its use in the Bible. Its origin originates from the Hebrew name “Yehoshua,” which translates to “Joshua.” The meaning remains the same in all its translations – “Yahweh (The LORD) saves.”
In terms of the first time the name “Yehoshua” was used in the Bible, it goes back thousands of years to Exodus 17:9 to refer to Moses’ future successor, Joshua, with later Aramaic transliterations of the name changing it to “Yeshua” or “Yeshu.” The Hebrew and Aramaic languages did not have a “J” sound, so the use of “Y” was the closest sound they could find. During Jesus’ day, the name was very common, particularly around Jerusalem, as many historical accounts from the time state.
Later during the transliteration of the Hebrew Bible into Greek (the Septuagint), as well as writings from the historians Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, the name “Yeshua” was translated to “Iesous,” as Greek did not have the “Y” sound and instead substituted it with the “I” sound. Additionally, Greek does not have an “H” sound, so it was removed from the original name, while the lack of a “Sh” sound was substituted for “S.” This is, therefore, the first instance when “Iesous” appears in Greek.
As Christianity spread outside the Roman Empire and the Bible was translated into Latin, the language wrote the “I” sound as both “I” and “J,” which changed the name “Iesous” to “Iesus.” The letter “J,” which was initially pronounced as “Y,” took on the current “dg” sound around 1769 AD when the Latin Bible was translated to English, leading to the common pronunciation and writing of the name “Jesus” today.
Was Jesus a common name before Jesus was born?
The name was quite common. In the Old Testament alone, the name appears about 30 times – at least in its Hebrew or Aramaic form. These instances include Joshua, the son of Nun, as well as in Ezra 2:1-2 to refer to Jeshua, a man who led freed Jewish captives to Jerusalem from Babylon, and in 2 Chronicles 31:15 to refer to Jeshua, one of Aaron’s descendants who assisted in the distribution of grain during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. All these references can also be translated to “Joshua.”
They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah. Ezra 2:2
Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah were faithfully assisting him in the cities of the priests, to distribute the portions to their brothers, old and young alike, by divisions… 2 Chronicles 31:15
To show the tendency that the Hebrew Bible had in changing the names slightly to refer to the same person, the account in Nehemiah 8:17 refers to Joshua, the son of Nun as “Jeshua ben Nun” (Jeshua son of Nun). In contrast, some translations refer to him as “Yehoshua ben Nun.”
And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day, the people of Israel had not done so… Nehemiah 8:17
How many people were named Jesus in the Bible?
Both historical and biblical accounts show that the name “Jesus” was very common during the first century and before, as it was a version of the name “Joshua.”
Within the Old Testament, the Hebrew variation of the name appears about 30 times, while in the New Testament, the name appears about three times. One was describing Jesus Christ (who the Jewish audience would refer to as Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus son of Joseph), while the other was describing Jesus Barabbas, a criminal who was released during Jesus’ trial in Matthew 27:16.
And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Matt. 27:16
The reason why Barabbas is not referred to as Jesus Barabbas is probably due to the confusion that would have resulted when people were reading the account. Additionally, it is worth considering that because Jesus Christ’s name described where he came from and who his father was, it acted as an identifier to distinguish him from other Jewish males who also had the same name.
The third time this name appears in the New Testament is when the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Colossae, and he sends his and his Jewish companions greetings. The companion in verse 11 was also called “Jesus”:
…and Jesus, who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the Kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Colossians 4:11
When was the name Jesus popularized?
It is challenging to state the exact time the name “Jesus” became popular, as Jesus and his initial followers were Jewish, all spoke Aramaic (although some spoke Greek), and they all had Hebrew names. However, since they all spoke Aramaic, some sounds were absent from the language, and changing the form of the name was inevitable as Christianity spread to other cultures.
The easiest probability to make is that the Hebrew form of the name became popular during the times of the Old Testament, specifically around the time of the Hebrews in Egypt, as this was likely when Joshua (the son of Nun) was born (around 1355 BCE). It is also likely that the name remained popular until the time when Christianity was established after 70 AD.
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