What does “Jesus” mean?

In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus we are given some insight into the man who would become his father. When Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy he decided to put her away because of her immorality. While Joseph was thinking about the situation the angel of the Lord came to him and explained that Mary was not unfaithful. She was pregnant through the power of God. The angel said to Joseph, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”

What does the name Jesus have to do with saving people from sin? Someone without a Biblical background would not read the name of Jesus and think about salvation. The explanation of what seems to us to be a cryptic statement is found in the process of transliteration.

Transliteration is the bringing of a word from one language into another. Often a transliterated word is changed a little bit to be more easily pronounced or read in the second language. Taco Bell commercials do not use transliteration. They insert Spanish into the English text and dialog. News programs frequently utilize transliteration. Most reports about Islamic terrorists require transliteration of names and places. Arabic letters are unreadable to most Americans. The producers of news programs write the Arabic names in English and spell them with a close phonetic approximation to the original name. The end result is what we read is a little bit like how the word sounds in its original language However, with every transliteration there is usually a slight change of pronunciation. The word we city we call Moscow is pronounced Moskva in Russian

All of this applies to Jesus’ name because the familiar English word is a transliteration of a transliteration. In Hebrew the name the angel declared was Yeshua or Yehushua. That Hebrew name was transliterated into the Greek as Iesous. The Greek name was then transliterated into English as Jesus.

The angel announced to Joseph “thou shalt call His name Yeshua” and like most names today names in Biblical times had meanings. Most definitions of names were rarely thought of in day to day life (when was the last time you told someone the meaning of your name?). Jesus’ name carries significant meaning.

Yehushua means “Jehovah saves”. The angel told Joseph they would name the child “God saves” because the baby being carried by Mary was the one who would save His people. The baby in Mary’s womb was the Savior promised by God to bring deliverance to His people. The angels message to Joseph is just one of the many reminders of the great importance of the entrance of Jesus into this world.

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