Expressing Jesus Christ in Greek

I have been asked the proper way of expressing the name and title Jesus Christ in Greek.  The following are some of my notes on this point.  The extended etymology is quite complex, and I do not pretend to have command of all the ancient languages to properly present it myself, so I have quoted an explanation which I think offers a good starting point for those who wish to delve into that more deeply.  At the end of this post I have also included a number of online references which may prove useful for those who wish to explore this subject more thoroughly.

In Greek, Jesus Christ = Iesous Khristos (Eeay-sohoos Khrees-tos):

Iesous (in two syllables: Ee-ay / soh-oos.  Running the sound-pairs of each individual vowel together quickly, so as to produce one combined sound, for a total of two syllables:  Eeay-sohoos.  Or something like, Ee-ay-soos, but getting that H sound in the second syllable seems to be closer to the original, although it is subtle and only infrequently used, as far as I can tell.  And I’m pretty sure Jesus will be OK with any of the above [grin])

Khristos (also in two syllables: khrees / tohs.  Using the K, or hard Ch, and long E and long O: Khrees-tos)

“Jesus” is a transliteration, occurring in a number of languages and based on the Latin Iesus, of the Greek Ιησους (Iēsoûs), itself a Hellenisation of the Hebrew יהושע (Yehoshua) or Hebrew-Aramaic ישוע (Yeshua), (Joshua), meaning something along the lines of “the YHVH saves” (YHVH is the full caps LORD found in many versions of the bible, so we can also read this as some variation of “the LORD saves” – see below).  Thought to be Yeshua (Ye-shu-a) in Aramaic, derived from the Hebrew Yehoshua (something like, Yeh-oo-shoo-ah).

“Christ” is His title derived from the Greek Χριστος (Khristós; alt. Christós), which in Latin is Christus, meaning the “Anointed One”, a translation of the Hebrew-derived Mashiach (Messiah).  Priests (Exodus 29:29; Leviticus 4:3), kings (I Kings 10:1; 24:7), and prophets (Isaias 61:1) were to be anointed by the Spirit of the LORD prior to assuming their respective duties.  Jesus is now understood by Christians to embody all of these Offices in one person.

Not all the ancient Hebrew people anticipated a Messiah, but of those who did, scholars believe he was commonly referred to as the Anointed (Messiah).  How this Messiah was to liberate the people was a matter of opinion.  Some believed the Messiah would come as a conquering king, some as a priest, and some as a cosmic manifestation sent from heaven.  But in all cases, it was assumed he would come forth with great power.

Traditionally the king of Israel combined the Offices of King and High Priest.  This is a probable reason the Gospel of Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy back to King David.  It is also to my thinking the most likely reason Jesus denied his role as Messiah in the Gospel of Mark, out of concern for others who were likely to mistake his true role as the Messiah who must die.  This would *not* have been in anyone’s expectation!  It was in fact antithesis to all popular expectation.

Thus, Christ is a title, and not a name.  Common modern variations include:

  • Jesus Christ
    Jesus the Christ
    Christ Jesus
    The Christ

Key Points

The original translation from Hebrew-Aramaic into Greek required a number of changes to the name given to Jesus, because these languages did not share all the required vocal sounds.

Transliteration from Greek to Latin was a smoother transition.

The letter J did not come into use in the English language until about 500 years ago (to distinguish the I-consonant sound from the I-vowel sound).

Some sources point out the letter J was not used in the original King James version (KJV) of the bible.  As a result, an early Hebrew leader (Joshua, son of Nun; leader after Moses’ death) was mistaken for Jesus of Nazareth in the two following verses in the New Testament:

Acts 7:44 (KJV) Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. 45 Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;

Hebrews 4:7 (KJV) Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.

(Emphasis mine in both cases.)

Extended Etymology  [quoting:

There have been a number of proposals as to the origin and etymological origin of the name Jesus (cf. Matthew 1:21). The name is related to the Hebrew form [Yehoshua`] יְהוֹשֻׁעַ Joshua, which is a theophoric name first mentioned within the Biblical tradition in Exodus 17:9 referring to one of Moses’ companions (and his successor as leader of the Israelites). This name is usually considered to be a compound of two parts: יהו Yeho, a theophoric reference to YHWH, the distinctive personal name of the God of Israel, plus a form derived from the Hebrew triconsonantal root y-š-ʕ or י-ש-ע “to liberate, save”. There have been various proposals as to how the literal etymological meaning of the name should be translated, including:

  • YHWH saves
    YHWH (is) salvation
    YHWH (is) a saving-cry
    YHWH (is) a cry-for-saving
    YHWH (is) a cry-for-help
    YHWH (is) my help

This early Biblical Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ [Yehoshua`] underwent a shortening into later Biblical יֵשׁוּעַ [Yeshua`], as found in the Hebrew text of verses Ezra 2:2, 2:6, 2:36, 2:40, 3:2, 3:8, 3:9, 3:10, 3:18, 4:3, 8:33; Nehemiah 3:19, 7:7, 7:11, 7:39, 7:43, 8:7, 8:17, 9:4, 9:5, 11:26, 12:1, 12:7, 12:8, 12:10, 12:24, 12:26; 1 Chronicles 24:11; and 2 Chronicles 31:15 — as well as in Biblical Aramaic at verse Ezra 5:2. These Bible verses refer to ten individuals (in Nehemiah 8:17, the name refers to Joshua son of Nun). This historical change may have been due to a phonological shift whereby guttural phonemes weakened, including [h]. Usually, the traditional theophoric element [Yahu] יהו was shortened at the beginning of a name to יו [Yo-], and at the end to יה [-yah]. In the contraction of [Yehoshua`] to [Yeshua`], the vowel is instead fronted (perhaps due to the influence of the y in triliteral root y-š-ʕ). During the post-Biblical period, the name was also adopted by Aramaic and Greek-speaking Jews.

By the time the New Testament was written, the Septuagint had already transliterated ישוע [Yeshua`] into Koine Greek as closely as possible in the 3rd-century BCE, the result being Ἰησοῦς [Iēsous]. Since Greek had no equivalent to the semitic letter ש shin [sh], it was replaced with a σ sigma [s], and a masculine singular ending [-s] was added in the nominative case, in order to allow the name to be inflected for case (nominative, accusative, etc.) in the grammar of the Greek language. The diphthongal [a] vowel of Masoretic [Yehoshua`] or [Yeshua`] would not have been present in Hebrew/Aramaic pronunciation during this period, and some scholars believe some dialects dropped the pharyngeal sound of the final letter ע `ayin [`], which in any case had no counterpart in ancient Greek. The Greek writings of Philo of Alexandria and Josephus frequently mention this name. It also occurs in the Greek New Testament at Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8, referring to Joshua son of Nun.

From Greek, Ἰησοῦς [Iēsous] moved into Latin at least by the time of the Vetus Latina. The morphological jump this time was not as large as previous changes between language families. Ἰησοῦς [Iēsous] was transliterated to Latin IESVS, where it stood for many centuries. The Latin name has an irregular declension, with a genitive, dative, ablative, and vocative of Jesu, accusative of Jesum, and nominative of Jesus. Minuscule (lower case) letters were developed around 800 and some time later the U was invented to distinguish the vowel sound from the consonantal sound and the J to distinguish the consonant from I. Similarly, Greek minuscules were invented about the same time, prior to that the name was written in Capital letters: ΙΗCΟΥC or abbreviated as: ΙΗC with a line over the top, see also Christogram.

Modern English “Jesus” /ˈdʒiːzəs/ derives from Early Middle English Iesu (attested from the 12th century). The name participated in the Great Vowel Shift in late Middle English (15th century). The letter J was first distinguished from ‘I’ by the Frenchman Pierre Ramus in the 16th century, but did not become common in Modern English until the 17th century, so that early 17th century works such as the first edition of the King James Version of the Bible (1611) continued to print the name with an I.




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