Just Give Them The Truth

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Hebrew Names for Jewish Apostles

Mark 3:16-18 

These were the names of the Apostles: There was Simon, whom he surnamed, Peter. There were James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; he surnamed them, Boanerges, which is, the “sons of thunder.” There were also Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite.

Names are important. When someone introduces us to another, and we soon thereafter forget that person’s name, we feel somewhat embarrassed to ask, “I am sorry, but what did you say your name was?” Names are important now, and they were just as important 2000 years ago. Hence, it is appropriate to examine the names of the Apostles. Interestingly enough, the Synoptic Gospels are similar, but not identical. John’s Gospel is significantly different. Nevertheless, what I simply wish to stress here are the Hebrew names of the Apostles. Hebrew names? But of course! Jesus was a Jew and so were his Apostles.

Just as nobody called Jesus, “Jesus,”  Jesus did not call the Apostles, “Simon” or “John.” Rather, he referred to them by their Hebrew or Aramaic names, as follows:

Simon was Shimon. James was Yakov (that is, Jacob). John was Yochanan. Bartholomew was Bar-Talmai (son of Ptolemy). Matthew was Mattityahu, meaning, “gift from God.” Thomas was Tau’ma, an Aramaic name. Thaddaeus was a variant of Theudas, which was a Grecian version of Judas or Yehuda.

Andrew and Philip are interesting because those are clearly Greek names—Andreas and Filippos; there are no Hebrew equivalents. Thus, we may surmise that Andrew and Philip were either Grecian-Jews or Grecian-Gentiles. In all probability, we may discount the theory that they were Gentiles: Jesus was a Jew who saw his mission as teaching and healing his fellow Jews. “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 15:24. It would be hard to imagine preaching to Jews while having Gentile Apostles.

Judas Iscariot was Yehuda. I will discuss Judas in the next post, along with the “sons of thunder” appellation for John and James.

Now what about Jesus?

Jesus or Yehoshua: What’s in a Name?

The Gospel of Mark because was the first written Gospel. Mark begins by referring to, “Jesus Christ the Son of God.” Mark 1:1. Nevertheless, would Mary, Joseph, or early followers of Jesus have called him that?

One clue that the answer is no, is the fact that the letter “J” did not come into the English language until the sixteenth century. Further, as a Jew, Jesus had a Hebraic name, and that was Yehoshua (“Joshua”) or, perhaps, Yeshua, a shortened Aramaic version, or even, Yeshu.

The first fifteen bishops of the early Church were Jews. By the time Greek-speaking Gentiles gained full control of the Church in the third-century, they significantly minimized Jesus’ Jewish heritage. This would make it easier to break with the “old covenant” of Judaism (which required compliance with the 613 commandments, something I will discuss in a subsequent post) and institute the “new covenant” of Christianity, which required only belief in Jesus. When a Greek name (Iesous, pronounced “ee-ay-soos”) replaces his Hebraic name, Jesus is more easily withdrawn from his undeniably Jewish roots, which sets the stage for breaking him from his Jewish persona and Jewish teachings. As a result, many end up perceiving Jesus as being the “first” Christian.

As to the term “Christ,” it is the Anglicized version of the Greek word, Christos, meaning, “anointed one.” Yet again, we see a break from the Hebraic term for anointed one, Moshiach, rendered Messiah in English. Jesus’ Jewish name and title in Hebrew would be Yehoshua ha Moshiach, that is, Jesus the Messiah.

The Jewish view of the Messiah is that he will be a mere mortal, born of his parents’ sexual union; he will have no divine attributes whatsoever. This is fundamental Jewish teaching. The Ebionites, one of the earliest groups of followers of Jesus, took this view. They believed that Jesus was mortal, but because of his righteousness, God adopted him. See Mark 1:9-11. Of course, that Jesus is the literal Son of God is a fundamental teaching within most branches of Christianity today. As we shall see, while there are clear convergences between Judaism and Christianity, there are distinct differences, too. This is certainly one of them.

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