A Courteous Contrararian

The Name of Jesus

Written By: Jon - Jun• 30•12

Do you know how often the name Jesus is used in the New Testament?

Of course you don’t, because there doesn’t seem to be a set number. It varies from translation to translation. The King James records 983 mentions. The New King James loses a couple. Other translations have fewer yet. The ESV has 966, and the RSV has 932. The ASV lists only 922, a veritable dearth of Jesuses.

It’s easy to understand the discrepancies. Translators might decide to add or subtract a few mentions to enhance readability. Let’s say a Greek verse reads, in the English, Jesus stopped at one of the shops at the base of the Temple Mount with Peter and he bought a hot dog with everything on it. (Admittedly, this is an impossibility because I’m sure Jesus kept kosher.)

One group of translators, based on the mentions of Jesus in the verses just before this one, might change Jesus to he. Another group of translators, striving for additional clarity, might go another way. They might insert a Jesus where none was before. Not wishing to leave the impression that it was Peter who bought the hot dog, they might change he to Jesus. The NASB seems to employ this tactic. It has extra Jesuses. 987 total.

The New Living Testament, a paraphrase, sees Jesus everywhere. It gives us almost 600 extra Jesuses! It wins the Mentions of Jesus Championship with 1522.

The most surprising result in this little survey is from the NIV. I’ve always thought of it as a translation rather than a paraphrase, but it uses the name 1275 times! That’s almost 300 more than the King James. That’s a lot more Jesus for your devotional dollar.

My go-to Bible when I want a literal answer is, perhaps not surprisingly, Young’s Literal Translation. It is hard to read but as accurate as can be based on the manuscripts available at the time he translated it, or so I’ve always thought. Young’s lists 967 usages…

When my curiosity got the better of me, I hefted Strong’s concordance off the shelf. I usually use the one within, but it won’t easily give me the total number of uses in the Greek. The book is so big and heavy, I’ve thought they should change its name to the Strong, as a warning. It was easier to count in the book version. Strong’s lists 978 uses, and ten more in the possessive; Jesus’.

My faith in Young’s was shaken. He missed a dozen. And then I figured out a way to let him off the hook: Young’s relied on whatever manuscripts that were available in the middle of the nineteenth century, whereas my Strong’s was from 1984.

Originally, Young and Strong were contemporaries, back in the day when Christianity was young and strong.

I’m not sure these musings have a point, though if I were looking for one, it would probably be this: none of the versions we’ve explored have exactly the same number of Jesuses as the original Greek. They’ve all seen fit to depart from the actual text to enhance readability. These aren’t instances of interpretation, where a alternate reading or word can be justified by context. This is Jesus’ proper name. there’s only one proper way to translate it. The translators are adding or subtracting a word deliberately, because of their opinion of their intended readership.

Oddly enough, our best defense against the opinions of translators is to use a lot of Bibles. Short of attaining fluency in the original Greek, we can become most certain of the meaning of a passage by checking it out in various versions, and then comparing the key words in any available concordances and lexicons.

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