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Eusebius on the Meaning of Jesus’ Name

Noted fourth century church historian Eusebius has a section explaining the meaning and significance of Jesus’ Hebrew name, which I cite at length.


That the Name of Jesus was also honoured among the Ancient Friends of God.

MOSES was also the first to use the Name Jesus, when he changed the name of his successor and altered it to Jesus. For it is written: “These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, and Moses called Nauses, the son of Nave, Jesus, and sent them.” And notice how the prophet, who was deeply versed in the significance of |217 names, and had gone to the roots of the philosophy of the changed names of the inspired men in his record, and the reasons why their names were changed, introduces Abraham as receiving as a reward of virtue from God a complete change of name from that of his father, the meaning of which it is now the time to explain at length. And so, also, in naming Sara Sarra, and Isaac called before his birth “the laugh,” and Jacob given as a reward of his struggle the name of Israel, and in exhibiting in many other cases connected with the power and significance of names superhuman insight in his inspired wisdom and knowledge, when no one of those before him had ever used the name Jesus, he first of all, impelled by the Holy Spirit, gives the name of Jesus to him whom he is about to constitute the successor of his rule over the people, changing the other name he had used before. He did not consider the name of his forefather given him when he was born sufficient (for his parents called him Nauses). But being the prophet of God he changed the name received by birth, and called the man Jesus at the bidding of the Holy Spirit; that he might lead the whole people after his own death, (with the knowledge that) when the law laid down by Moses some day should be changed and have an end, and should pass away like Moses himself, that no one else but Jesus the Christ of God would lead that other polity, which would be better than the former. And so Moses, the most wonderful of all the prophets, understanding by the Holy Spirit both the names of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, honoured the choicest of all his rulers by bestowing them as kingly crowns, naming worthily the two leaders and rulers of the people the high priest and his own successor, Christ and Jesus, calling Aaron Christ, and Nauses Jesus, as his successor after his death. In this manner, then, the writings of Moses himself are adorned with the names of our Saviour Jesus Christ. |218

From Exodus.

How Jesus, the Successor of Moses, called the Angel, and about to be the Leader of the People, is said to bear the Name of Christ.

“20. And behold, I send my angel before thy face, that he may keep thee in the way, that he may bring thee into the land which I have prepared for thee. Take heed to thyself and hearken unto him and disobey him not; for he will not give way to thee, for my name is upon him.”

“With my Name, who teach you these things,” says the Lord Himself, is he inscribed, who is to lead the people into the land of promise. And if He was Jesus and none other, it is plain how He says that His name is set on Him. Nor is it strange that he calls him Angel, since it is said of John also, who was but a man: “Behold, I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.”

From Zechariah.

That Jesus, the Son of Josedek the High Priest, was a Figure and Type of Our Saviour. Who turned to God the Slavery that of Old ruled the Souls of Men

[Passages quoted, Zech. iii. i—6, 9; vi. 9-13.]

In this passage too the prophet-high-priest called Jesus presents, I think, a very clear picture and plain symbol of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, being honoured by bearing His Name, and made the leader of the return of the people from the Babylonian captivity. Since, also, our Saviour Jesus Christ is said by the Prophet Isaiah to have been sent to preach liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to comfort all that mourn, and to give to all that mourn in Zion glory for dust, the ointment of gladness. You have, therefore, her two great High Priests, first the Christ in Moses, and second the Jesus of whom I am speaking, both bearing in themselves the signs of the truth concerning our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

But Aaron, the “Christ” in Moses’ writings, having freed the people from slavery in Egypt, and led them in |219 freedom and with all carefulness in their journey from Egypt, seems to present a picture of the real Lord, Who has redeemed us, who are of all nations, from Egyptian idolatry; while the Jesus in the prophet, the High Priest who was at the head of the return from Babylon to Jerusalem, also presents a figure of Jesus our Saviour, Whom we have as a great High Priest, that has passed through the heavens, through Whom also we ourselves, redeemed as it were in this present life from Babylon, that is from confusion and slavery, are taught to hasten to the heavenly city, the true Jerusalem.

Jesus too, since he bore in himself the image of the true, was naturally clad in filthy garments, and the devil is said to stand at his right hand and to oppose him, since also Jesus, truly our Saviour and Lord, descending into our state of slavery took away our sins, and washed away the stains of humanity, and underwent the shame of the Passion, through His love for us. Wherefore, Isaiah says:

“He bears our sins, and is pained for us, and we thought him to be in labour, and smitten, and afflicted: He was wounded for our sins, and weakened for our iniquities.”

And John the Baptist also, seeing the Lord, said: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins, of the world.” Paul also, writing in the same way about Him, says: “Him that knew no sin made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” and “Christ has ransomed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” All these things the inspired prophet referred to when he said, “And Jesus was clad in filthy garments.” But He put them from Him by His Ascension into the heavens, and the return from our condition of slavery to His own glory, and He is crowned with the diadem of His Father’s Divinity, and is girt with the bright robe of His Father’s light, and is glorified with the divine Mitre, and the other high priestly adornments. Nor is it difficult to explain the part about the devil, who even now is opposed to the teaching of Christ, and to His Church established throughout the whole world, and has ever been opposed to our Saviour, and marched |220 against Him before, when He came to save us from our slavery to himself. He tempted Him also the first time, and the second time again, when by the Passion he arranged a plot against Him. But in all battles He triumphed over the devil, and all the unseen enemies and foes led by him, and made us who were slaves His own people, and built of us, as of living stones, the house of God, and the state of holiness, so that He exactly agrees with the oracle, which says:

“Behold a man, whose name is the Branch. And he shall spring up from below, and shall build the house of the Lord. And he shall receive virtue, and shall sit and rule upon his throne.”

Note, therefore, with care, in what manner in speaking mystically of the Jesus of days of old, who bears the image of the true, he says: “Behold a man, whose name is the Branch.” And a little later, it is said to Jesus himself then present, as if concerning some one else who was the Branch: “Hear, Jesus, the High Priest, thou and thy neighbour, for the men are diviners. Behold, I bring my servant the Branch.”

If, then, the speech related to some one yet to come, who was more truly called the Branch than he that bore the name then, he must have been only an image of him that was yet to come, as he is not only called Jesus in figure, but the Branch as well, if this was said to him when present: “Behold a man, whose name is the Branch.” He was, therefore, naturally because he was the image thought worthy of the name of the Saviour, as well as of the Branch: for the name of Jesus translated into Creek means “Salvation of God.” For in Hebrew “Isoua” is “salvation,” and the son of Nave is called by the Hebrews Joshua, Joshua being “Salvation of Jah,” that is, Salvation of God.

It follows that wherever the Salvation of God is named in the Greek versions, you are to understand that nothing but Jesus is meant. Having now brought to this point what I had to say concerning the Name of our Saviour, I will take up the argument from another starting-point, and pass on to the more important prophetic proofs about Him. Eusebius of Caesarea, Demonstratio Evangelica, Book 4

Here’s another rendering of the Greek of Eusebius’ section on the meaning of the name Joshua:

“… For, indeed, Isoua among the Hebrews means, salvation, but they pronounce Iesous as Iosoue. But Iosoue means, ‘IAO [is] salvation’; this means, God [is] salvation.”

And here are a few references from some of the early church fathers in respect to the use and meaning of the divine name:

  1. If, however, any object that, in the Hebrew language, diverse expressions [to represent God] occur in the Scriptures, such as Sabaoth, Eloë, Adonai, and all other such terms, striving to prove from these that there are different powers and gods, let them learn that all expressions of this kind are but announcements and appellations of one and the same Being. For the term Eloëin the Jewish language denotes God, while Elōeimand Eleōuth in the Hebrew language signify that which contains all. As to the appellation Adonai, sometimes it denotes what is nameable and admirable; but at other times, when the letter Daleth in it is doubled, and the word receives an initial guttural sound — thus Addonai — [it signifies], One who bounds and separates the land from the water, so that the water should not subsequently submerge the land. In like manner also, Sabaoth, when it is spelled by a Greek Omega in the last syllable [Sabaōth], denotes  voluntary agent; but when it is spelled with a Greek Omicron — as, for instance, Sabaŏth — it expresses  the first heaven. In the same way, too, the word Jaōth, when the last syllable is made long and aspirated, denotes  a predetermined measure; but when it is written shortly by the Greek letter Omicron, namely Jaŏth, it signifies  one who puts evils to flight. All the other expressions likewise bring out the title of one and the same Being; as, for example, The Lord of Powers, The Father of all, God Almighty, The Most High, The Creator, The Maker, and such like. These are not the names and titles of a succession of different beings, but of one and the same, by means of which the one God and Father is revealed, He who contains all things, and grants to all the boon of existence. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter 35; bold and underline emphasis mine)

Again, there is the veil of the entrance into the holy of holies. Four pillars there are, the sign of the sacred tetrad of the ancient covenants. Further, the mystic name of four letters which was affixed to those alone to whom the adytum was accessible, is called Jave (Iaou), which is interpreted, Who is and shall be. The name of God, too, among the Greeks contains four letters. (Clement of Alexandria, The StromataBook V, Chapter 6. The Mystic Meaning of the Tabernacle and Its Furniture; bold and underline emphasis mine)

The supposed great learning of Celsus, which is composed, however, rather of curious trifles and silly talk than anything else, has made us touch upon these topics, from a wish to show to every one who peruses his treatise and our reply, that we have no lack of information on those subjects, from which he takes occasion to calumniate the Christians, who neither are acquainted with, nor concern themselves about, such matters. For we, too, desired both to learn and set forth these things, in order that sorcerers might not, under pretext of knowing more than we, delude those who are easily carried away by the glitter of names. And I could have given many more illustrations to show that we are acquainted with the opinions of these deluders, and that we disown them, as being alien to ours, and impious, and not in harmony with the doctrines of true Christians, of which we are ready to make confession even to the death. It must be noticed, too, that those who have drawn up this array of fictions, have, from neither understanding magic, nor discriminating the meaning of holy Scripture, thrown everything into confusion; seeing that they have borrowed from magic the names of Ialdabaoth, and Astaphæus, and Horæus, and from the Hebrew Scriptures him who is termed in Hebrew Iao or Jah, and Sabaoth, and Adonæus, and Eloæus. Now the names taken from the Scriptures are names of one and the same God; which, not being understood by the enemies of God, as even themselves acknowledge, led to their imagining that Iao was a different God, and Sabaoth another, and Adonæus, whom the Scriptures term Adonai, a third besides, and that Eloæus, whom the prophets name in Hebrew Eloi, was also different  (Origen, Against CelsusBOOK VI, Chapter 32; bold and underline emphasis mine)

“The name of the Lord in Hebrew language contains four letters, Yod He Waw He; it is the proper name of God and can be pronounced as Yaho (legi potest IAHO).” (Jerome’s commentary on Psalm 8, as found in G.J. Thierry, “The Pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton,” Oudtestamentische Studiën, [E. J. Brill, Leiden 1948), d. 5, p. 34; bold emphasis mine)

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