The Wonderful Works of God

“We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” – Acts 2:11[1]

Names of Jesus“Jesus” is a modern English translation of the nominative Latin Iēsūs or Iēsous, which is a transliteration of Ἰησοῦς in Koine Greek (Strong’s).[2] This name is itself a transliteration of Yēshūăʿ in Late Hebrew, the Classical Hebrew name being Y’hōshūăʿ or “Joshua” in English (Strong’s).[3] [In the Talmud and in Modern Hebrew, Jesus Christ is called Yeshu.[4]]

Etymologically, “Jesus” and “Yeshua” are identical. One is English. The other is Late Hebrew. “Yeshua” is appropriate for Hebrew-speaking Christians who read a Hebrew-language Bible. It’s not appropriate for English-speaking Christians who read an English-language Bible. Whether they’re Jewish or Gentile is irrelevant. In English, the name of the Son of God is Jesus.

Why do English-speaking Messianic Jews use the Hebrew words “Yeshua” (Jesus), “Messiah” (Christ), “Sha’ul” (Paul), and tsalav (cross) but avoid their English-language counterparts, derived from Greek?[5] Why do these people cling to Hebrew, separating themselves linguistically from English-speaking Gentile believers? Gentile members of the Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name movements are also guilty of this practice. It’s vile and perverse! Any English-language believer who uses “Yeshua” instead of “Jesus” is implying that God prefers Jews to Gentiles and that his “chosen” people are Jews only, not all believers. This is false. “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision avails anything nor uncircumcision but a new creature” (Galatians 6:15). In other words, faith is the key to heaven, not ethnicity or language. Uncircumcised believers are children of Abraham. Circumcised unbelievers are not. Gentiles aren’t second-class citizens in God’s kingdom.

Why do Messianic Jews refuse to call themselves “Christians”? In the 1940s and ‘50s, Southern Baptist missionaries in Israel “adopted the term meshichyim” (Hebrew, Messianics) in order “to counter negative connotations of the word notsrim” (Hebrew, Christians), which is from Nazarenes.[6] The latter “term was used to designate all Jews who had converted to Protestant evangelical Christianity.”[7] Yaakov Ariel says that “for Israeli Jews, the term notzrim” implied “an alien hostile religion. Because such a term made it nearly impossible to convince Jews that Christianity was their religion, missionaries sought a more neutral term” – Meshychim – “to overcome the suspicion and antagonism of the term notzrim. … It conveyed the sense of a new, innovative religion rather that [sic] an old, unfavorable one.”[8]

Jewish believers don’t want to be called “Nazarenes,” like Jesus the Nazarene (Matthew 2:23)? They don’t want to be called “Christians” either, like the Jewish and Gentile disciples in Antioch two thousand years ago (Acts 11:26)? The English word “Christian” is derived from “Christ,” which is Greek for “anointed.” “Messiah” is the Hebrew counterpart. From it we get “Messianic.” The problem is identical to “Jesus” and “Yeshua.” These people don’t want to endure “the offense of the cross” by uniting with Gentiles (Galatians 5:11). So they’ve shamed the Jesus they claim as Lord. Through the cross, Jesus has “broken down the middle wall of partition between” Jews and Gentiles, “having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:14-15). Messianic Jews don’t want peace!

John 3:16 in many languagesOn the first Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension, 120 Jews “were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). They weren’t proclaiming “the wonderful works of God” in Hebrew (2:11). Both Jews and Gentile proselytes “out of every nation under heaven … heard them speak in his own language” (2:5-6). “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome … Cretes and Arabians” (Acts 2:9-11) – what a diversity of tongues! The Holy Spirit made it clear on this day that God no longer speaks Hebrew only. Every language can carry the gospel of Jesus Christ. One day, “a great multitude … of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” will stand “before the throne and before the Lamb” as they cry, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10). Gentile believers want this. Do Messianic Jews want it too? Not as long as they cling to Hebrew!

God chose common, “vulgar” languages for his Word: Greek for the New Testament, Latin for the Vulgate, and English for the King James Bible. God’s word to ordinary people in their own language has been his plan from the beginning. That those who left Egypt spoke Hebrew is an accident of history. God still chose the language of ordinary people. Hebrew isn’t spoken in heaven. It isn’t a “pure language,” just a vessel (Zephaniah 3:9). After Pentecost, God chose new vessels – Greek, Latin, English, Spanish, Arabic, etc. We can study Hebrew and Greek. Do we need to know them to understand the Bible? Should we use them in worship and prayer? No. Our own languages will do! Believers everywhere pray to Jesus and read his Word in their own languages. They don’t need to learn Hebrew. I pray they never do.

IMAGES: Jesus is Lord Mission, John the Baptist Artworks, Wallpaper Safari

[1] All Bible verses are from the King James Version (KJV). Punctuation and spellings have been altered for clarity.
[2] Jesus, n. – Oxford English Dictionary; Jesus (name) – Wikipedia
[3] Jesus (name) – Wikipedia; Yeshua – Wikipedia
[4] Jesus (name) – Wikipedia
[5] Messianic Judaism – Wikipedia
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] “Judaism and Christianity Unite! The Unique Culture of Messianic Judaism.” Jewish and Christian Traditions. Eds. Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcroft. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. 194–95.


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