The Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies
~ The Names and Titles of Jesus ~

In the Gospels, Jesus has many titles: Messiah, Prophet, Lord, son of man, and son of God. Some historians argue that when used in other Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the time, these titles have other meanings, and therefore may have other meanings when used in the Gospels as well.

In Jesus' Name

Jesus is derived from the Latin Iesus, which in turn comes from the Greek Iēsoûs. The Greek form is a transliteration of the Aramaic name Yeshua (ישוע), a short form of Hebrew Yehoshua (יהושע), the name that Moses gave to his successor as leader of the Israelites, who is known in English as Joshua. The Name Yeshua means the Lord is salvation, or literally Yahweh saves.

Direct English transliterations from the Aramaic Yehoshua / Yeshua include Joshua, Jeshua, Yahshua, Yahoshua and Yaohushua. These variations in English spelling can only approximate the sound of the Hebrew or Aramaic original. Jesus was transliterated via Greek and thereby lost the "sh" sound, which is nonexistent in Greek.

Also see: The Real Name of Jesus


Christ is not a name but a title, and comes, via Latin, from the Greek Christos (Χριστός Khristós), which means "anointed". The Greek form is a literal translation of Messiah from Hebrew mashiyakh (משיח) or Aramaic m'shikha (משיחא), a word which occurs often in the Old Testament and typically signifies "high priest" or " king" – a man, chosen by God or descended from a man chosen by God, to serve as a religious, civil, and/or military authority. Other sources suggest the title Christ is linked to Latin crestus, 'good'. To Muslims, Jesus is known as the prophet Isa al Masih (عيسى المسيح ), from the aforementioned Aramaic for Jesus the Messiah.

Other Titles

In the Gospels, Jesus has many titles besides "messiah" i.e. prophet, lord, son of man, and son of God. Together Christians understand these titles as attesting to Jesus' divinity. Some historians argue that when used in other Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the time, these titles have other meanings, and therefore may have other meanings when used in the Gospels as well. The material in the next four subsections, on prophet, lord, son of man, and son of god, is taken from Geza Vermes' review of these arguments in Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels. 


According to such verses as Matthew 21:11 and Luke 7:16, Jews of the time thought of Jesus as a prophet; according to such verses as Mark 6:4, Matthew 13: 57, and Luke 4:24, Jesus considered himself to be a prophet. In the Hebrew Bible, prophets were generally men who spoke with God and proclaimed God's words to the people, often criticizing political and economic elites in the process. The Pharisees seem to have believed that the age of the prophets ended with Malachi (Daniel, for example, was not considered a prophet, and the sages claimed that they had succeeded the prophets as transmitters of God's law); the author of 1 Maccabees, however, believed that prophets would one day reappear in Judea. Ecclesiasticus 48: 10 identifies the reappearance of a prophet with the messenger who will arrive as a harbinger of the end of time – Acts 3: 17–26 suggests that some early Christians may have identified the second coming of Jesus (rather than his original earthly career) with this type of prophet. Nevertheless, neither the Gospels nor other early Christians seemed to have favored this title, perhaps because 1st and 2nd century Roman Judea saw many charlatans who claimed to be prophets announcing the end of days, and who were executed by the Romans. 

Prophets in the Hebrew Bible were also advocates of monotheism, and healers. In Luke 4: 25–27, Jesus specifically refers to two such prophets, Elijah and Elisha. In this and in other contexts, historians conclude that the Gospels seem to use the term "prophet" as synonymous with miracle-worker and healer. 


The Gospels and Acts frequently use "Lord" as a title for Jesus. Jesus himself never seems to have claimed the title – it is only ascribed to him by others, which has led to various interpretations. Different scholars have come up with various explanations: some believe that Jesus' disciples called him lord, but not because he was divine; this was merely a title used when students addressed their teachers. Some believe that the New Testament uses the term lord to mean divine, but that it was only after Jesus' death and resurrection that his followers ascribed to him divinity. Others argue that neither Jesus nor his disciples used the Aramaic term for lord, mara, and that the Greek term kyrios (meaning, "the Lord") was borrowed from pagan Hellenic usage by early Gentile converts to Christianity. The Hebrew Bible distinguishes between "lord" (adon) and "God"; the word "lord" does not necessarily imply divinity, although God is often described as "the Lord". Surviving inter-testamental Aramaic texts frequently use the Aramaic mara to mean "the Lord", that is, God – but they also provide evidence of people using mara and kyrios as personal titles (for example, used to address a husband, father, or king). There is little evidence that either term was used specifically to mean "teacher", but there is much evidence of students using the term "mar" to refer to their teachers respectfully, or to refer to an especially respected and authoritative teacher. A close reading of the Gospels suggests to historians that most people addressed Jesus as lord as a sign of respect for a miracle-worker (especially in Mark and Matthew) or as a teacher (especially in Luke). In most cases one can substitute the words "sir" or "teacher" for "lord", and the meaning of the passage in question will not change. 

The Son of Man 

Jesus is rarely described as "son of man" (bar nasha, in Aramaic) outside of the Gospels, but in the Synoptic Gospels Jesus refers to himself as using this title over sixty times. Some take this as an allusion to Daniel 7:13, which associates "one like a son of man" with a messianic vision. Six Gospel uses of the title directly refer to, and many others allude to, Daniel. However, most of the uses in Mark, the oldest Gospel, and many examples from the other Gospels, are non-Danielic. Indeed, other Aramaic texts reveal that the phrase was used frequently to mean simply "man", or as a way by which a speaker may refer to himself. Thus, many historians conclude that it is possible that this phrase was actually not a title. 

The Son of God 

The New Testament frequently refers to Jesus as the son of God; Jesus seldom does, but often refers to God as his father. Christians universally understand this to mean that Jesus was literally God's son – according to the Nicene Creed, God's only begotten son, one with the father. The phrase itself is thus taken to be synonymous with divinity. The Hebrew Bible, however, uses the phrase "son of God" in other senses: to refer to heavenly or angelic beings; to refer to the Children of Israel, and to refer to kings. There is no New Testament evidence to suggest that early Christians thought of Jesus as an angel, so the first two usages seem not to apply. However, Mark identifies Jesus as the son of King David, and Matthew and Luke provide lineages linking Jesus to King David. II Samuel 7: 14, Psalms 2: 7 and 89: 26–27, refer to David as the son of God, although historians find no evidence that the authors of the Bible believed David to be divine or literally God's son. (Many Christians interpret these and other Psalms as referring prophetically to Jesus, the "seed" referred to in Psalm 89. See Christ in the Psalms by Father Patrick Reardon.) 

In post-Biblical Judaism, the title was often applied to righteous men: Ecclesiasticus 4: 10 and the Wisdom of Solomon 2: 17–18 use the term to refer to just men, and Jubilees 1: 24–25 has God declaring all righteous men to be his sons. Philo too wrote that good people are sons of God, and various rabbis in the Talmud declare that when Israelites are good, they are sons of God. The Talmud provides one example that parallels that of Jesus: Rabbi Hanina, whom God referred to as "my son", was also a miracle worker, and was able to resist Agrat, queen of the demons. Some scholars thus suggest that "son of God" was a title used in the Galilee by miracle-workers. Other scholars have suggested that the identification of "son of God" with divinity is pagan in origin; the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt referred to themselves as sons of Zeus or of Helios; Roman emperors used the title divi filius, or son of God. They suggest that the belief that Jesus was in fact the "son of God", and the association of his divine paternity with his being "messiah", were added after Christianity broke with Judaism.

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The Names and Titles of Jesus