The Meaning of the Name of Jesus

By | December 2, 2023

Standing at the beginning of another liturgical season, it is good for us as musicians to consider the name of whom, to whom, and for whom we sing, namely the name of “Jesus.” This name was chosen not by Mary or Joseph, but rather by God Himself. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he revealed the name to her:

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”

Luke 1:31

“Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua” which means, “YAHWEH SAVES.” In the very next verse the angel reveals to Mary who chose the name and why Jesus is called “the name above all names” (Philippians 2:9):

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Luke 1:32

In this verse there are two ancient Hebrew names for God: “Most High” and “Lord God.” The name “Lord God,” or “YAHWEH ELOHIM” in the Hebrew, first appears in Genesis 2:4 where He is identified as the One who “made the earth and the heavens.” This is the 36th appearance of the word “ELOHIM” in Scripture, but the first appearance of “YAHWEH.” All of the rest of the references to God in the creation story refer to God as “YAHWEH ELOHIM.”

“ELOHIM” is the plural intensive-singular form of the word “EL” which is the Hebrew word for “god.” The God of the creation story is later revealed to us as the Trinity, God the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19). Interestingly, “ELOHIM” occurs around 10,000 times in the Old Testament and any name that ends with “…el” is derived from this word.

The name “YAHWEH” was so revered by the ancient Hebrews that they did not feel they were worthy to say it. Therefore, whenever the name appeared in Scripture it was unpronounced or substituted with the word “ADONAI” which is the Hebrew word for “Lord.” Note that it is a tradition in English Bibles to fully capitalize “LORD” when it is used to translate the Hebrew word “YAHWEH” in order to differentiate it from other uses of the word. The meaning of the Hebrew word “YAHWEH” is what concerns us here because the name “Jesus” means “YAHWEH SAVES.” The meaning is truly fascinating and carries a great deal of theological significance.

The proper noun “YAHWEH” is derived from the Hebrew verb “to be” and has no English equivalent. In English we must use many words to describe this one Hebrew word. It could be translated as “the Existing One” or “the One who is.” But the word also carries implications of past and future. The closest we get to the meaning of Hebrew is when we say “the One who is and was and is to come.” Jesus identifies Himself as such to the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Revelation 1:8

With these words, Jesus help us understand the Hebrew word “YAHWEH.” The Apostle John reveals more when he says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-4

Later He writes again referring to Jesus:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1 John 1:1-4

This Jesus is the One of whom, to whom, and for whom we sing. The “LORD GOD” or “YAHWEH ELOHIM” who saves.

Blessed Advent!

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Author: Martin Dicke

Martin Dicke is a lifelong music educator and church musician having served in many capacities. For more information, visit