The English name “Jesus” is an English transliteration of the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name of our savior, YeshuaYeshua is an updated form of the old Hebrew name, Yehoshua, transliterated into English as “Joshua.”  That’s right, Jesus’ and Joshua had the same name, and thus Jesus’ name could rightly be pronounced “Joshua” in English!  This is made clear in the Greek New Testament in which the name of Joshua the son of Nun and the name of Jesus of Nazareth are both “Iesous.” 

Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. 45 Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David (Acts 7:44-45, KJV) 

For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. (Heb 4:8, KJV)

Most translations other than the KJV translate Iesous as “Joshua” in these verses since they are clearly referring to Joshua the son of Nun who succeeded Moses and led the children of Israel into the Promised Land.  I used to use these verses as examples of poor translation on the part of the KJV translators since it was clearly Joshua and not Jesus who led the children of Israel into the Promised Land, but truth be told the KJV translators were not only accurately translating the Greek, they were doing so in a more consistent manner than most modern translators since they translated every occurrence of Iesous as “Jesus” even when it referred to someone other than our savior. 

Why are modern translations inconsistent in their translation of Iesous in Acts 7 and Hebrews 8 (actually, it’s not just modern translations that are inconsistent in their translation of Iesous in Acts 7 and Hebrews 8—Tyndale and Coverdale also translated the references differently[1])?  If both the son of Nun and the son of God bore the same name, and both of their Hebrew names transliterate into a single Greek name, why not translate all instances of Iesous as “Jesus”?  To translate Iesous in reference to the son of Nun differently than Iesous in reference to our savior gives the impression that our savior’s name is unique — when in fact it was a very common name. 

Having argued in favor of translating Iesous in Acts 7 and Hebrews 8 as “Jesus,” I understand that there is a practical reason modern translators translate the same Greek name in different ways.  There is a long tradition in English translations of translating the son of Nun’s name as “Joshua” in the Hebrew Bible (going back at least to the Geneva Bible in 1587).  That is the way we are used to hearing his name pronounced, and thus it may be confusing to translate the Greek form of his name as “Jesus.”  Another good reason for this practice is that it makes sense to use a single English spelling to refer to a single individual.  Why call the same individual “Joshua” in the OT and “Jesus” in the NT?  It shouldn’t matter whether Joshua’s name is written in Hebrew or Greek—just choose one of the transliterations as the standard way of referring to that person in both the OT and NT.

So which is better: consistency (using one English transliteration for individuals appearing in both testaments and translating Iesous as “Jesus” for both our lord and the son of Nun), accuracy (using two transliterations for individuals appearing in both testaments and translating Iesous as “Jesus” for both our lord and the son of Nun), or clarity (using one English transliteration for individuals appearing in both testaments and translating Iesous differently depending on the referent)?  I don’t know that there is a right answer to these questions, but they are important translation questions to consider.


[1]Wycliffe translated the Hebrew form of Joshua’s name differently from the way he translated the Greek form of his name (Josue/Jhesu), but translated Iesous as “Jhesu/Jhesus” whether it was referring to the Son of God or the son of Nun.  Tyndale and Coverdale, 130 years later, seem to have wanted to keep names consistent between the testaments, so Joshua’s name is spelled as “Iosue” in both the OT and NT (preferring the Hebrew transliteration).  But when Iesous refers to our lord and savior, they translated it as “Iesus.”  TheGeneva, Bishops, and King James bibles, however, reverted back to the practice of Wycliffe by translating Joshua’s name differently in the OT and NT, and translating the references to Joshua in the NT the same way they translated the references to Jesus: “Iesus.”

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