The Associations of the Name

And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21
1. The name “Jesus” was no new name, coined in the courts of heaven, and carried to earth for the first time by the lips of the angel messenger. A new name is cold and meaningless, and stirs no memories of the past. There is a warmth about an old familiar name which no new combination of letters can ever hope to rival, and so it was an old name, a name with a history behind it, that the angel gave to the unborn Son of Mary. There was more than one little Jewish boy who bore that name at that very time. In the high priest's family alone there were no less than three, each of whom would one day be high priest in his turn. There was Jesus, son of Sapphia, who would one day become a famous brigand chief, and, still more famous, Jesus surnamed Barabbas, whom the people would prefer one day to Jesus surnamed Christ. There was Jesus Justus, who would one day become the trusted helper of St. Paul, and Jesus the father of Elymas, the sorcerer, St. Paul's opponent in Cyprus. There was Jesus the friend of Josephus, and Jesus Thebuti the priest, and Jesus the peasant, who would one day terrify Jerusalem with his cries. Over many a little living Jesus a mother's head was bending on the day when Mary clasped her new-born baby to her bosom. How came it that so many boys were called by the same name? We know what makes a name popular at the present day; it is because that name is borne by the popular hero of the hour. How many girls were christened Florence, after the lady with the lamp! The Boer war produced a never-ending crop of little Roberts. And so it has always been. Those Jewish boys were all called Jesus after two great national heroes who had borne that name in the past.

2. Who were those heroes? Where do we find the name “Jesus” in the Old Testament? We do not find it anywhere, nor do we expect to find it; for we are all familiar with the way a name changes as it passes from one language to another—how, for example, the Hebrew Johanan becomes in English John, and in German Hans, and in Russian Ivan, and in Spanish Juan, and in Italian Giovanni; the name is the same, but the form varies according to the language. Now the Old Testament and the New Testament were written in different languages. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek; and thus the same names appear under different forms. Elijah, for example, in the New Testament is always called Elias. And so when we search the Hebrew Old Testament for the Greek name Jesus we shall expect to find some change in the spelling.
(1) As a matter of fact we meet the name for the first time in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers and the sixteenth verse, where we read that “Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua” (which means “Jehovah is salvation”). Jesus and Joshua are exactly the same name, only one is the Greek form and the other is the Hebrew. Joshua the son of Nun the commander-in-chief of the Lord's people, under whom they conquered their inheritance, the leader who brought them out of the desert to the land of milk and honey, the captain who ever led them to victory, though foes were strong and crafty, the ruler who settled every family in the precise position which God appointed for it, and there gave it rest—he is the first who bears the name “Jesus” in the pages of history.

(2) But this Jesus died, and the centuries passed on, and a time came when the people lost the land that had been given them, when for their sins they were carried away captive to Babylon, and then, after forty miserable years, the second Jesus came—Jeshua the high priest, who led the people back to the land that had been lost by sin; Jeshua, who rebuilt the Temple and restored the worship of God; Jeshua, who was crowned with gold by the prophet Zechariah, as the type and forerunner of a greater High Priest who was to come; Jeshua, the son of Jehozadak, was the second Jesus in history.

3. And now we can appreciate something of the associations of the name; we can realize a little of what the message, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus,” would mean to a pious Jew like Joseph. Thou shalt name Him after the great captain who drove the Canaanites from the land. Thou shalt name Him after the great high priest who brought back the people out of bondage. Thou shalt call Him Jesus; for He, too, shall be a Saviour. “He shall save his people from their sins.”

Man is the principle of the religion of the Neo-Hegelians, and intellect is the climax of man. Their religion, then, is the religion of intellect. There you have the two worlds: Christianity brings and preaches salvation by the conversion of the will,—humanism by the emancipation of the mind. One attacks the heart, the other the brain. Both wish to enable man to reach his ideal. But the ideal suffers, if not by its content, at least by the disposition of its content, by the predominance and sovereignty given to this or that inner power. For one, the mind is the organ of the soul; for the other, the soul is an inferior state of the mind; the one wishes to enlighten by making better, the other to make better by enlightening. It is the difference between Socrates and Jesus. The cardinal question is that of sin. The question of immanence or of dualism is secondary. The Trinity, the life to come, paradise and hell, may cease to be dogmas and spiritual realities, the form and the letter may vanish away,—the question of humanity remains: What is it which saves?1 [Note: Amiel's Journal (trans. by Mrs. Humphry Ward), 11.]