The Naming of Jesus January 1

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The Naming of Jesus January 1

“Jesus” represents the Greek (and Latin) form of the Hebrew name Yeshua, a very common name among Jews in antiquity. Until the exile, the longer form Yehoshua was used, which appears in the English Bible as Joshua.

On the eighth day a newborn boy was circumcised. In Judaism this is understood as the sign of the everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:11-13), and the gospel implies no special significance in the case of Jesus. The weight falls on the naming of Jesus, which our Prayer Book celebrates. A child was normally named at birth, but the name may have been linked with this occasion, much as infant baptism is often supposed to include a naming ceremony. Luke makes an explicit connection between naming and circumcision in the cases of both John the Baptist (Luke 1:59) and Jesus (Luke 2:21). Matthew (1:25) seems to imply a naming at birth.

The etymology of the name Jesus is drawn out, not in the story in Luke, but in the account in Matthew of the annunciation to Joseph of Jesus’ birth, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The Hebrew, Yeshua, was thought to mean “The Lord (Yah) saves.” Its significance will have been evident to Jewish Christians, and indeed to those who heard Jesus himself preach salvation. But the angel refers not to political salvation like that gained through the leadership of the first Joshua (cf. Ecclesiasticus 46:1); Jesus will save his people, yes, but he will save them from their sins. It will be in fulfilment of the psalmist’s promise that “the Lord will redeem you from all your many sins” (Psalm 130:8); our relationship with God will be restored. Indeed, at the time of Jesus, it was expected that the Davidic messiah would establish a “holy people”, i.e., the house of Israel set free from its sins. Matthew makes the links of Jesus to the line of David very clear.

In the gospel narratives of his life, the name Jesus of course occurs frequently. In Acts the name is used also of the risen Lord, especially in connection with Stephen and with Paul’s conversion. Often, however, it occurs in combinations like “the Lord Jesus”, “Christ Jesus”, or “Jesus Christ”. In the New Testament letters, the simple name “Jesus” is rather rare, and for Paul it usually refers to the historical Jesus. The healing of the cripple near the Temple, recorded in Acts, is a classic demonstration of salvation “in the name of Jesus the Nazarene” (Acts 3:6).

The feast we know as The Naming of Jesus began as the Feast of the Circumcision, celebrated one week, i.e., on the eighth day, after Christmas Day. It appears to have originated in the sixth century and spread gradually throughout the church. The day that celebrated the circumcision has been retained, but the emphasis is now on the naming of Jesus.

For Liturgical Use

“Jesus” is a version of the Hebrew name Yeshua (Joshua), very common among Jews in antiquity. In the gospel story, the weight falls not on Jesus’ circumcision (the sign of the covenant) but on his naming. The name was thought to mean “The Lord saves”; Jesus is to “save his people from their sins”. The name “Jesus” occurs frequently in the New Testament, often, outside the Gospels, in combinations like “the Lord Jesus”, “Christ Jesus”, or “Jesus Christ”.

Sentence, Prayers and Readings as in A New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, page 642-643

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