What’s in a Name?

Not a word in the New Testament is wasted. Every word has a meaning that was designed by God to be a message to us, if we have ears and eyes to see it. This was especially so for the Hebrew and Aramaic speakers who first read the gospels and letters that circulated in the First Century. Consider the following:

Jesus

The Hebrew is Yeshua, which means “Yahweh is salvation, restoration and deliverance”. This is why Mary was told his name would be Jesus (Luke 1:31).

Emmanuel

God with us, very fitting since God became a man (Isaiah 7:14)

Bethlehem

In Hebrew, “Byt-lehem” means house of bread. Jesus was the bread of the world (John 6:35)

Nazareth

The village where Jesus grew up means “the branch” or “sprout”. The tree of life, the seven branched lampstand, the vine and branches and the cross itself are variants of this picture of spiritual life, and Jesus’ authority to give it to us.

John

John the Baptist’s name means “Yehweh has graced him”. A fitting name for the ministry he fulfilled.

Pharisee

“Separated ones”. They didn’t mix with ordinary society, cutting off the grace of God from those who needed it most. Jesus fixed this problem, that why they were so jealous.

Devil

In the Aramaic this word means “accuser” or “slanderer”. The Devil’s job is to accuse us and make is feel guilty when our God-given robe of righteousness and spiritual purity is the only thing God chooses to see in us, all the time!

Peter

“Peter” is simply the Greek version of the real name, Keefa, which is what all Hebrew and Aramaic speakers would have called him. It means pebble. The rock that Jesus was going to build his church on was not a pebble, but the huge mountainous boulder of Peter’s revelation that Jesus was God himself (Matthew 16:17)

Zebidee

His name means “my gift”. He gave the gift of his two sons, James and John, as apostles.

Judas Iscariot

The name Judas is actually Judah. Iscariot is not his surname, it is the village he came from, which was Kerioth. Kerioth can also mean lock. So, his name could simply mean “Judah the locksmith” which would make sense since he was the accountant and money keeper for the apostles.

Parable

This word should have been translated into English as metaphor, allegory, simile, illustration, comparison, figure of speech and riddle. They were enigmatic sayings meant to stimulate thought.

Carpenter

This is traditionally given as the trade Jesus plied before starting his ministry. However, the early Hebrew translation of Matthew says “blacksmith”. The Greek for carpenter, “Tekton”, can be translated as carpenter, builder, stone worker, or artisan. Because early English translations were made in Europe, they naturally assumed he was a carpenter. He was a builder.

Magdela

In Matthew 15 we read about Jesus crossing Lake Galilee to the region of Magdela. It is highly likely that this is where Mary (of) Magdalene first heard and responded to the gospel.

You get the idea now? It pays to study scripture, not just read it. We are so far removed from the culture and language of the original readership of the New Testament that we have to work hard at getting to the point where we understand what would have been immediately apparent to early readers. It would be the equivalent of us expecting them to understand all the nuances and imagery of the term “rock star”!

Kevin Davis