In our culture names serve primarily to distinguish one person from another. In Bible times names had other significant functions. In the New Testament, names that were applied to Jesus often had special meanings that went back into Old Testament and intertestamental times.
"Name" in the Ancient Near East . Outside Israel knowledge of the name of a god or goddess was important in the performance of magical rites, by which a person could get control of the deity. Benevolent deities would reveal their names and protect or aid their human contacts; unwilling or malevolent deities would be reluctant to reveal their names and thereby come under the control of the magician.
Though it is anachronistic to speak of "secular" Greek, non-Christian Greek literature used "name" in a number of different ways. For example, if a stranger expected hospitality, he first had to indicate to his host what his name was. Philosophers such as Plato attacked the widespread idea that the root meaning of the names of gods or humans revealed their character. Though Stoicism argued that there was really only one god, it also held that the deity was known by many different names. At the other extreme, the seventeen tractates of the Greco-Egyptian god Hermes Trismegistos argue that he is so lofty that no name is appropriate for him and that, as in rabbinic Judaism, human beings should not attempt to utter his name at all.
The Old Testament uses the word, shem [ Genesis 32:28
Of special importance is shem Yahweh, "the name of the Lord" (or similar expressions such as "in the name of
God"). Though some scholars suggest that the "name" is somehow a being separate from the Lord who is present in the angel of the Lord (Exodus 23:20-21
) or in the temple (1 Kings 8:14-30
), such a conclusion was contradicted by the monotheistic history of Israel.
The name of God was significant to the ancient Hebrews because it comprehended in itself all that God is. In fact, "the name" was a synonym for God; hence believers are not to take the name of the Lord in vain (Exodus 20:7
). The name of God is holy and awesome (Psalm 99:3
) and signifies his personal presence (Isaiah 45:20-23
9 ; Psalm 75:1
). God's people are to reverence (Psalm 86:11
), love (Psalm 5:11
), praise (Psalm 97:12
), trust (Isaiah 50:10
), call upon (Isaiah 12:4
), and hope in the divine name (Psalm 52:9
). In God's divine name is the ultimate salvation of his people.
In the pseudepigraphical and rabbinic writings of later Judaism, two significant developments centering on the "name" of God occur, though in general the tendency is to repeat the practices of the Old Testament. The apocalyptic literature of the period tends to focus on the meaning of the names of saints and angels, not God. Seven divine names are mentioned in 4Esdras 7:132-39
. The rabbinic writings mention the healing of a rabbi "in the name of" another person. The most important development was the substitution of "Adonai" (Lord) for "Yahweh" in synagogue usage and the use of hashem, "the name, " for both "Yahweh, " "Elohim" (God), and even "Adonai" in the rabbinic schools, at least when quoting the Tanach, so the rabbis forgot how YHWH was orginally pronounced.
The "Name" of Jesus . The expression the "Name" of Jesus is frequent and highly significant in New Testament usage in that it parallels the use of the name of God in the Old Testament. The early Christians had no difficulty substituting the name of Jesus for the name of God. Indeed, for them the divine name, YHWH, was given to Jesus, that every knee should bow to him and every tongue confess that he is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11
; cf. 1 John 4:9
9 ). New Testament believers are to live their lives in Jesus' name just as the Old Testament believers were to live in the name of God the Lord.
People who hear the gospel and respond positively, call upon Jesus' name for salvation (Acts 2:21
), put their faith in Jesus' name (John 1:12
; 1 John 5:13
), are then justified (1 Corinthians 6:11
) and forgiven in Jesus' name (Acts 10:43
; 1 John 2:12
), and are then baptized into Jesus' name (Acts 2:38
; 10:48 ; 19:5 ). Having then, life in his name (John 20:31
), believers are to glorify the name of Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1:12
) and give thanks for and do everything in the name of Jesus (Ephesians 5:20
; Colossians 3:17
). Just as in the Old Testament where the name of God represents the person of God and all that he is, so in the New Testament "the Name" represents all who Jesus is as Lord and Savior.Leslie R. Keylock
The Titles of Jesus . In addition to the comprehensive idea that is found in the idea of Jesus' name there are also a number of significant titles that are ascribed to Jesus in the New Testament. Each one has something special to say about who Jesus is and together they constitute a definition of his person and work, and become as it were his "name."
Author-Prince . Jesus is called "Author" in Acts 3:15
and Hebrews 2:10
; 12:2 and "Prince" in Acts 5:31
( NIV ). In each case the Greek word is the same: archegos
. Uses of the term in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) and nonbiblical Greek suggest it carries a threefold connotation: (1) path-breaker (pioneer) who opens the way for others, hence, "guide" or "hero"; (2) the source or founder, hence "author, " "initiator, " "beginning"; and (3) the leader-ruler, hence, "captain, " "prince, " "king." The ideas may well overlap or be combined. In its fullest sense the Greek word denotes someone who explores new territory, opens a trail, and leads others to it. The archegos
builds a city or fortress for those who follow and leads them in defense against attackers. When the peace has been won he remains as their ruler and the city or community bears his name. He is thereafter honored as the founding hero.
In Acts 3:15
Peter accuses the Jews of killing the "author ( archegos
) of life, " suggesting that Jesus is not only the orgin of biological life, but also of "new life" and the provider-proctor of those identified with him. Later Peter speaks of Jesus as the "Prince (archegos
) and Savior" who gives repentance to Israel (5:31). The word "Savior" was associated with the Judges of old. Jesus is the one who meets the emergency situation caused by the sin of God's people and he comes to bring not only deliverence but also the continuing service of Author (archegos
). The writer to the Hebrews speaks of the suffering "Author (archegos
) … of salvation" (2:10) and the "author (archegos
) and perfecter of our faith" (12:2). In each case Jesus not only initiates and provides the new life for his people but remains with them through it; they bear his name, he is their king.
J. Julius Scott, Jr.
The Chosen One . Jesus is referred to as God's chosen in Luke's account of the transfiguration (9:35) and by Matthew (12:18) as he applies Isaiah 42:1
to Jesus. In 1Peter he is designated as the one "chosen before the creation of the world … revealed in these last times" (1:20) and as the "living stone—rejected by men but chosen by God" (2:4).
In the Old Testament Israel's leaders—Abraham (Genesis 18:19
), Moses and Aaron (Psalm 105:26
), priests and Levites (Deuteronomy 2:5
), Saul (1 Samuel 10:24
), David (1 Kings 8:16
; 2 Chronicles 6:6
; Psalm 89:3
), and the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42:1
; 43:10)— ;are said to be chosen by God. Israel as a whole is frequently designated as God's chosen (Deuteronomy 7:6
; Isaiah 41:8
; 44:1 ; Amos 3:2
). All of these were earthly persons or groups through whom God carried on his work of revelation and redemption.
Jesus is "The Chosen One" par excellence and been appointed by God to accomplish his task on earth. He embodies all that Old Testament chosen ones were to have been. He is the special object of God's love and the perfect divine messenger-redeemer.
Jesus refers to his apostles as those whom he has chosen (John 6:70
; 13:18 ; 15:19 ), and church is also called God's "chosen" (Ephesians 1:11
; Colossians 3:12
; James 2:5
; 1 Peter 1:2
; 2:9 ), by virtue of being Christ's body. As the church abides "in Christ" she shares that special designation of being "chosen." The church is the object of Christ's love and redemption, called to have fellowship with him and to continue his work on work.
J. Julius Scott, Jr.
Christ, Messiah, Anointed One . The title "Christ" or "Anointed One" (Heb. masiah [ Exodus 29:1-9
), kings (2 Peter 1:1-2,16
; 2 Samuel 2:4
; 1 Kings 1:34
), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16
b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. The prophet Isaiah recognizes his own anointing (to preach good news to poor, Isaiah 61:1
) and that of Cyrus, king of Persia (to "subdue nations, 45:1), apparently as coming directly from the Lord without the usual ceremony of initiation. As a noun, the Lord's "Anointed" usually refers to a king (1 Samuel 12:3,5
), while designation of a priest (Leviticus 4:5
) or the partriarchs (Psalm 105:15
) is less common.
The word "anointed, " however, is not used directly in the Hebrew Bible as a title for a future messianic person, who would save Israel. The word "Messiah, " therefore, does not appear in major English translations of the Hebrew Bible such as the Revised Standard Version or the New International Version. "Messiah" appears only twice in the New Testament (John 1:41
; 4:25 ) as an explanation of the Greek word "Christ."
By the time Jesus was born, however, a number of passages in the Hebrew Bible were understood to refer to a specific anointed person who would bring about the redemption of Israel, and that person was called "the Christ" (Acts 2:27,31
). The Samaritans were looking for him (Romans 1:6-8
3 ). The Jews looked for him and expected him to perform great miracles (John 7:31
). He was to be the son of David (Matthew 22:42
) and, like David, come from Bethlehem (John 7:41-42
). Even criminals condemned to death on a cross knew about a Christ and asked Jesus if he was that person (1Col 1:6-10
The word "Christ" is used to identify Jesus of Nazareth as that person whom God anointed to be the redeemer of humanity. It thus often appears as a title in the phrase "Jesus the Christ" (Acts 5:42
; 9:22 ; 17:3 ) or "the Christ was Jesus" (Acts 18:28
). Peter referred to him as "both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36
). Very frequently the word is coupled with the name of Jesus and appears to be virtually a second name "Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38
; 3:6 ; 9:34 ; 10:36 ; 1619169676_11 ; 1619169676_25), through not a surname, because "Christ Jesus" is also commonly used (1Col 1:1-30
; Galatians 2:4
). In close proximity in the same chapter, Jesus can be called "Jesus Christ" (Galatians 3:22
), "Christ" (3:24), and "Christ Jesus" (3:26).
In Paul's writings "Christ" is used both with and without the definite article (1Col 6:15
; Galatians 2:17
), in combination with the title Lord (kyrios [ Romans 10:9
), as well as combined with such ideas as gospel (Romans 1:16
) or faith (Galatians 2:16
Elsewhere in the New Testament, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews picks up on the Old Testament anoiting of priests and applies the same in relation to Jesus (1:9; 5:8-10; 7:1-28). The name occurs also in the Petrine Epistles (1 Peter 1:13
; 3:15 ; 1 Samuel 10:1
; 3:18 ), as well as those of James (1:1; 2:1) and Jude (1,17, 21,25). The Apocalypse of John describes Jesus as the Anointed One when looking forward to the end when the kingdom and salvation of the Lord and his Messiah will enjoy an eternal and full dominion (11:15; 12:10; 20:4,6).
The significance of the name "Christ" lies in the fact that it was a title granted to Jesus by virtue of his fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and by his resurrection from the dead. The name "Jesus" was a common Hebrew name (the Greek form of Joshua, cf. Luke 3:29
; Hebrews 4:8
, ; where Jesus in the Greek text is translated Joshua ) and is borne by other people in the New Testament including Barabbas (Matthew 27:17
) and Justus (Colossians 4:11
). But no one else bears the name Christ. It is significant that early disciples of Jesus were not called "Jesusites" but "Christians, " followers of Christ (Acts 11:26
; 26:28 ; 1 Peter 4:16
).James A. Kelhoffer and John McRay
Firstborn . Jesus is referred to by the singular form of the word "firstborn" (prototokos [ Matthew 13:55
). In a spiritual sense, he is called firstborn to differentiate him from the angels (Hebrews 1:6
). He is the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15
), and to those who believe in him he is the "firstborn among many brothers" (Romans 8:29
). He is unique among human beings, among other reasons, because of his resurrection from the dead. He was the first one resurrected to die no more, and thus he has the preeminence (Colossians 1:18
; Revelation 1:5
God . The New Testament rarely calls Jesus "God" as such (Gk. theos). "Lord, " stressing his co-regency with the Father as Son, or "Christ, " hallowing the kingly function he fulfilled, is preferred. Still, references to Jesus as God are not absent. John 1:1
clearly equates "the word" with God; in 1:14
it becomes clear that "the word" is Jesus. Arguments by Jehovah's Witnesses and others proposing different renderings of John 1:1
are untenable. In John 1:18
some translations call Jesus "God the One and Only" ( NIV ). The King James and other translations, however, follow a manuscript tradition that calls him "Son" here, not God.
Other passages, too, explicitly name Jesus as God. Romans 9:5
speaks of "Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!" Grammatical rules permit rending 2 Thessalonians 1:12
as " the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ." The same holds true of Titus 2:13
("our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ") and 2 Peter 1:1
("our God and Savior Jesus Christ"). Hebrews 1:8
calls the Son God; 1 John 5:20
says of Jesus, "He is the true God and eternal life." Such texts confirm the impression given indirectly in other places that Jesus merits the name "God" by virtue of his mastery over wind and sea ( Mark 4:41
), personification of God's kingdom (Luke 11:20
), ability to forgive sins (Mark 2:7
), and intimacy with the invisible Father by which, enemies charged, he presumed to be "equal with God" (John 5:18
). They could not accept that this was not effrontery but his due and possession (Philippians 2:6
) from all eternity (John 17:24
). It can be concluded that belief in Jesus' essential divinity (along with his obvious full humanity) extends to all levels of early Christian confession.
At the same time New Testament writers are not indiscriminate in speaking of Jesus as "God." They realized that despite the Father's virtual presence through his Son, "no one has ever seen God" in terms of mortals on earth beholding the unmediated fullness of God in heaven (John 1:18
). They intuited, if they did not spell out and reflect on, the subtle offsetting truths of later Trinitarian affirmations. Their restraint in predicating full deity of Jesus is due, among other thing, to his humanity (which the good news of the incarnation
; was bound to emphasize ) and to their theological sophistication: Jews imbued with the sacred truth of God's oneness—Deuteronomy 6:4
, "the Lord is one, " rang out daily in worship—were not so callow as to label fellow humans "God."
Their own Scriptures, in fact, forbade this (Deuteronomy 4:15-16
), violation of which was blasphemy. Those same Scriptures sternly denounced any man "hung on a tree" (Deuteronomy 21:23
). Yet the crucified Jesus must be hailed as redeemer, not censured as a crimal (Galatians 3:13-14
). By the same logic he must be granted his apparent divine parity. Thus was the man Jesus hailed rightly as God.Robert W. Yarbrough
Holy One of God . In the Old Testament, "the Holy One of God" is a divine epithet common in the prophets and poetic literature used to communicate the separateness of the Lord. The New Testament applies this name to Jesus on two occasions in the Gospels (Mark 1:24
; = Luke 4:34
; John 6:69
), once in Acts (3:14) and possibly on two other occasions (1 John 2:20
; Revelation 3:7
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begins his public ministry teaching in a Capernaum synagogue (1:21-22). Someone possed with an evil spirit then cries out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" (1:23-24). The event is probably best understood in light of the secrecy motif of Mark's Gospel, whereby human beings rarely comprehend the true identity of Jesus. Instead, it is usually God (1:11; 9:7) or, as in this passage, demons (5:7) who know who Christ is before the crucifixion. In addition, knowing someone's "name" can communicate that an individual possesses power over that person. In spite of the demon's knowledge of his potential exorcist as "the Holy One of God, " Jesus casts him out with a short command and amazes the crowd by his teaching and authority (Mark 1:25
John contrasts the turning away of "many" disciples with the faith of the Twelve (John 6:66-69
). Peter responds to Jesus, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." First John 2:20
can refer to either God or Jesus when writing, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One. "The above reference to the Gospel of John makes it possible that Jesus is the giver of this anointing, but the author may intentionally leave this designation unclear.
In the Book of Acts Peter addresses the curious crowd on the role they played in the crucifixion of Jesus. Nothing could be worse than denying "the Holy and Righteous One" and asking for the release of a murderer instead (3:14). Finally, in the letter to the angel presiding over the church at Philadelphia, Jesus is him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David" (Revelation 3:7
). This verse, like Acts 3:14
, illustrates how the full epithet ("the Holy One of God") could be abbreviated and combined with other descriptions of Jesus to enhance the main thrust of the passage. In Acts Peter aims to convict his audience, while the apocalyptic writer offers multiple images of Jesus to encourage the congregation in a time of intense persecution.
James A. Kelhoffer
Lord . Scripture ascribes glory to Jesus Christ in numerous ways, but in naming him "Lord" (Gk. kyrios [ Exodus 3:14
), a name held in such high esteem that by New Testament times it was rarely spoken out loud.
The truth of God's holy oneness, a nonnegotiable Old Testament affirmation (Exodus 20:3
, ; Deuteronomy 6:4
; Isaiah 43:10-11
), would seem to rule out, at least among Jews, any application of kyrios [ Philippians 2:9-11
). "Lord" thus serves as the name par excellence for Jesus Christ.
But Paul was by no means the first to apply this sacred title to Jesus. The Old Testament had predicted that a deliverer would come in the name of Lord. He would somehow be the Lord himself. Jesus invites reflection on this logically difficult truth in asking what David meant by affirming, "The Lord
says to my Lord (LXX kyrios
5 [ John 20:28
Writing in the middle of the a.d. 50s Paul could already draw on an older tradition hailing Jesus as Lord: "Come, O Lord!" (1 Corinthians 16:22
) is not Greek (the language of Paul's Corinthian readers) but the Aramaic maranatha (one of the languages of Jesus' Palestinian surroundings). The confession is therefore rooted in the earliest days of church life where the prevailing linguistic milieu was Semitic. This rules out an older but still popular theory that the name "Lord" was projected back onto Jesus only long after his death by Gentile Christians whose pagan religious background caused them to have no scruples about applying the title kyrios
to a mere human being.
was common as a polite, even honorific title for "sir" or "master, " calling Jesus "Lord" to imply divine associations or idenity was by no means a convention readily adopted from the Roman world. In Jesus' more Eastern but militantly monotheistic Jewish milieu, where the title's application to humans to connote divinity was not only absent but anathema, the title is an eloquent tribute to the astoning impression he made. It also points to the prerogatives he holds.
Since Jesus is Lord, he shares with the Father qualities like deity (Romans 9:5
), preexistence (John 8:58
), holiness (Hebrews 4:15
), and compassion (1619169676_4 ), to name just a few. He is co-creator (Colossians 1:16
) and co-regent, presiding in power at the Father's right hand (Acts 2:33
; Ephesians 1:20
; Hebrews 1:3
), where he intercedes for God's people (Romans 8:34
) and from whence, as the Creed states, he will return to judge the living and dead (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
). Just as it is impossible to overstate the power, grandeur, and goodness of the kyrios [ Isaiah 8:13
; LXX ), which Peter tellingly restates as "sanctify Christ as Lord" (1 Peter 3:15
; NASB ).Robert W. Yarbrough
One and Only, Only Begotten . Jesus is called monogenes [ Joh