Fr. Thomas Hopko
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Jesus: Name Above Every Name
We have now come to the end of our reflections on the names and titles of Jesus in Holy Scripture, referring to how they are used sometimes in the Holy Liturgy of the Church. And today we want to reflect on the subject of the Name itself, the importance of name, and then we want to reflect very particularly on how, according to the Apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, that the Name of Jesus, which is bestowed upon him by God, is the Name above every other name, the Name at which every knee, ultimately, will bow.
When we read the Bible, if you take a biblical concordance and just look up the term “name” or “name of the Lord,” you would see how many times that word “name” is used in the Holy Scripture, in so many different ways. And it’s very, very important, because the name, in biblical tradition and in Christian tradition, is a very sacred and holy thing. Every name, not just the name of the Lord God, but of course, first of all the name of the Lord God, and the name of Jesus Christ, but the name in general.
And we could say, I think, if we summed it up before we even begin, to say that the name is a presence and a power of the reality of that which is named, and that the name somehow reveals the very being and substance and presence and action of the reality. So right in the beginning of the Bible, one of the things that we see just from the first pages of Genesis is that God Almighty, when he is creating the world… And we notice, of course, that there are two creation narratives in Scripture, both of which we believe are inspired by God Almighty, both of which are revealing to us divinely revealed theological truths about reality beginning with God himself, but we see that in the beginning of Genesis, from the very beginning when God is creating all things, in the second story, the second narration, when God creates all things, we see that in that particular revelation…
Sometimes it’s considered to be the revelation of the so-called J-source or, we would say in English, the Y-source, because God in that particular narration is called the Lord God: Yahweh Elohim, whereas in the first one he is the Most High God, the Elohim, and then you have the Yahweh Elohim. There’s different uses of the name of God in Scripture; that’s very important to see, and we will see more about that in a minute. But in this particular passage, it’s the Lord God; [he’s] called every time “Yahweh Elohim,” and in that particular narrative, in that particular revelation of God, so precious for us Christians, it says that when, in that one, Adam is made first, the earthling, the earth-creature is made first. In the first narrative, he is made last, male and female, Adam and Eve, although he is not called “Adam and Eve” at all in the first narrative. There is no name given to the earth-creature in the first narrative. It’s simply that he is called “man, anthropos, ‘iysh and ‘ishshah, male and female.”
But in the second chapter of Genesis, you have the Lord God putting man in the Garden of Eden, giving him the commandments, saying, “It is not good for man to be alone.” God creates the ‘ezer kenegdo, the helper fit for him, the fulfillment of his very reality as a human being in the image of God, male and female. And then it says, in the 19th verse, it says (Genesis 2:19-25):
So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle and to the birds of the air and to every beast of the field, but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him, so God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man. He takes from his rib and fashions the woman.
From the ‘iysh the ‘ishshah.
She will be called ‘ishshah because she’s taken out of ‘iysh, and then the two become one flesh, and they are naked and not ashamed.
Then you have the continuation of this revelation about how Adam and Eve fall, through listening to the word of the serpent. And then, in the conclusion of that particular narrative, sometimes it’s called a pericope, that particular part of the text, you have at the end there of the Genesis 3:20, it says, “The man called his wife’s name Eve,” which is the equivalent of the Hebrew word for “living,” “because she was the mother of the living, and the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and he clothed them.” And then they are driven out of paradise into this present world, into the world as it is outside Eden.
So the name is extremely important. Adam, man—he’s not Adam until Eve appears, but the earth-creature—he is commanded by God to give names to everything, to show what they are. That’s a very interesting sentence: “And brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle and the birds and the beasts of the field.” So the naming is done by man, which means, it’s a way of saying, that man has control over all things. Man is to govern. Man is to know what everything is.
For example, in St. John’s Gospel, it’ll say about the Good Shepherd, that he knows his sheep by name, and that point is made because it means he really knows them. He knows what they are. He knows who they are. He knows how they are. He knows why they are. He knows what form they are. He knows what to do with them. He can see into their very reality, and that is revealed in this symbolical way of speaking when it says, “They know the name; they give the name; they name the name.”
And here in Genesis also, it’s very important that the man names his wife. God doesn’t name the woman. Man names the woman, and he names her, as it says in the RSV, “Eve,” because she was the mother of all living. In the Septuagint translation of the Holy Scripture, that is, the Greek translation done by Jews, the name there of Adam’s wife is “Zoe,” which simply means “life.” So [in] Hebrew, it’s more “the mother of the living,” and in Greek it’s simply “life.” Her name is “life.”
So this naming is very important, right from the very, very beginning. And then if you go through Genesis—we’ll do this very quickly—we see how important these names are, because some key figures get their names changed. Abram, for example, comes with Sarai, and they end up to be Abraham and Sarah. The name is changed: that he will be the father of many nations, not just the exalted father, Abram, but the father of many nations, of all nations: Abraham.
And then Jacob, Jacob who is the son of Isaac; he’s the father of the twelve patriarchs of Israel. The twelve tribes come from his sons. His sons are, you know: Judah is one of his sons, and, of course, Joseph, and the twelve names of the patriarchs of Israel. They’re called “of Israel” because Jacob, in Genesis, struggles and fights with the angels, with the angel of God, with God himself in some sense, and then God changes his name from “Jacob” to “Israel,” and that’s where you get the name “Israel.”
And there are kind of debates about what “Israel” means: “blessed by God, chosen by God,” but I think that the most plausible is when it seems to mean the one who fights with God, the one who has striven with God, who has struggled with God, because everyone who’s a creature of God, human creature, has to end up struggling with God. You know, there’s a saying of the Desert Fathers that I like to put in English in the following way. The Holy Fathers say about our relation to God: “Sometime we delight in him, sometime we fight with him, but we never lose sight of him.”
So God is with us and we are with God. We delight in him; we rejoice with him; we praise his holy name, and so on, as we’ll see, but there’s a struggle there, too. But Abram gets his name changed to Abraham; Jacob gets his name changed to Israel. And here in the New Testament, we all know how Simon, the son of Jonah, gets his name changed by Jesus to “Rock,” to “Stone,” to “Peter, Kephas” or “Cephas.” And even the Lord calls James and John, “the sons of thunder”: he names them. So there’s a kind of a naming going on through the Holy Scripture that should really be noticed very carefully, and contemplated.
Now, when it comes to God, when it comes to God Almighty, then perhaps one of the most important texts in the entire Holy Scripture is that encounter of Moses with the angel of the Lord who appears to him in the flame of fire out of the midst of the burning bush, and Moses looks at that bush, and it was burning but it was not consumed. When he was out there keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and the mountain is Horeb. And by the way, “Horeb” is the Hebrew name for that mountain which is connected to Sinai where he gets the Law, and in the other source, it’s called “Sinai.” So “Horeb” and “Sinai” seem to be the very same mountain: two names for the very same mountain.
But in any case, let’s get to Moses’ encounter with the Lord God Almighty and the messenger of the Lord, the angel of the Lord, in this burning bush that wasn’t consumed.
Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight: why the bush is not burnt (why it’s not burned up).” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush: “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.” And he said, “Do not come near. Put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then God continues speaking to Moses. He says, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt; I have seen their sufferings,” and so on. So God makes a kind of long discourse to Moses, that God is calling Moses to lead the people out of Egypt, to lead them out of the slavery to the Egyptians, out of the hands of Pharaoh. And he says, “I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” And then Moses says to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” It’s very interesting that here they’re called the sons of Israel, but above, it says “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Now he’s called the God of Israel. You see, the names switch there.
And then he says, “Who am I?” And then God says to him, “I will be with you. And this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this very mountain.” Horeb, Sinai, the holy mountain, the Ten-Commandment mountain, the Law mountain. Right? Then Moses says to God: “If I come to the people of Israel, and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” And here we go! Here we go: God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”
“I am who I am,” and there’s even a debate about how to translate that. “I am who I am.” Now, in Hebrew, that’s the Tetragrammaton, that’s the YHWH, which is even debated about how to say it in English or when we try to say it. Some say it should be, with the vowel points, it should be called “Jehovah” or “Yehovah,” and some place, some say, “No, we should say, ‘Yahweh.’ ”
And in the Old Testament, especially closer to the time of Christ, that name became so holy, it was never even said. It came to be said only once a year by the great high priest in the Holy of Holies. It was the holiest of all names, for God’s name was holy. And he only whispered it, and they sang really loudly when he whispered it, so hoping that no one would even hear his whispering it. And when it was written in the texts of Scriptures, it was always pronounced “the Lord, Adonai.” They said, “the Lord,” which in [Greek] is “Kyrios.” So the name “Kyrios” is “Lord,” which is this name is God.
And some would say in English we should say it’s not only “I am who I am,” but it could be “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be” or “I will cause to be what I will cause to be” or “I will do what I will do.” It’s various ways that it can be translated.
Then God says to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am—Ego eimi—I am has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord…’ ”
“The Lord, Adonai.” However, in Hebrew, it is the Tetragrammaton that is there: Yahweh.
“ ‘the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ ”
So he says, “Say to the people of Israel: ‘The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’ ”—he calls him “Jacob” in that context, not Israel—” ‘has sent me to you.’ ” And then listen to this. He says:
“This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them: ‘The Lord (Yahweh), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up, out of the affliction of Egypt.” ’ ”
And then put them into their new land.
So it says: “This is my name forever. Thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” Now, if we put that name in the New Testamental context, it would be “the Lord”: “I will be known as Kyrios, the Lord.” That’s why Jesus Christ is going to be called the Lord, and that’s the basic Christian creed: Iesous Christos—Jesus Christ, Jesus ho Christos (Jesus is the Christ), ho Kyrios—the Lord. And, of course, we reflected on the names of Jesus, first “Jesus” itself, which means “God saves” or “the savior, the victor, the conqueror, the healer” that “yo” does. You see? “Yah, yoh.” This is the name for God. So you have, I don’t know: “John” would be “Yo-an.” It means “the grace of God.” Well, “Ye-shua” means the God-saving, the victor-God. That’s “Joshua,” in fact. It has that very same name as “Joshua” is “Jesus” in the New Testament.
Then we have Christos, the Anointed One, the Meshiach. And then you have the Kyrios, the Adonai, which, for Jews, would always be the name of God himself. “The Lord is God—Adonai Elohim. Yahweh is God. The Lord is God. And hear, O Israel, the Lord God, he is only one God.” We’ll hear that in Deuteronomy 7. “And you shall love this God with all your heart, soul, and strength,” it says in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy. When it’s quoted in the New Testament, it says, “With the heart, mind, soul, and strength.” “Mind” is added in the New Testament. I always joke: because it’s written for Greeks and for Gentiles. In the Old Testament there wasn’t a separate word for “heart” and “mind.” That was the center of the person that did all of the human activities: thinking, knowing, seeing, deciding, willing. That was that one, it was the leb that was the kardia in Greek, the heart.
So this is what happens there, and then, in Exodus, in the couple of chapters later, in the sixth chapter of Exodus, you have a very specific text which definitely says that this name is going to be “Yahweh” forever now. And I’ll read it to you. In the sixth chapter, this is what it says (Exodus 6), “God said to Moses, ‘I am the Lord (Yahweh). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as (and here it says) God Almighty.’ ” and that in Hebrew would be “El-Shaddai, the Most-High God, God Almighty.”
In the New Testament, that will become “Theos Pantokrator.” “The Almighty” in the Greek New Testament is “Pantokrator,” and we reflected on that as the final regular reflection on the names and titles of Jesus, because that’s the ultimate title for Jesus in the Apocalypse. He who sits upon the throne and the Lamb are both related to as Pantokrator, as Lord God Almighty, the ones over all creation. And we mentioned how, in Orthodox church buildings, when they’re built in the classical manner of the Byzantine period and into Russia, you have Jesus as the one who’s made the Head over all things, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the Almighty God, the Power of God over all of reality.
So here you have, way back in Exodus, God saying to Moses, “I am the Lord (Yahweh). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty”—El-Shaddai, the Most-High God, the Theos Pantokrator—“but by my name”—the Lord, that is, Kyrios or Yahweh—“I did not make myself known to them. I did not. I had made not made that name known, not until now. To the patriarchs, they didn’t know this name, this special name, the name that I’m to be named by forever. They didn’t know it. They just called me the El-Shaddai or the Elohim, the God or the God Almighty.”
So then here, God continues to Moses, “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord’ (or ‘I am Yahweh’).” And in Hebrew that would be like a play on words: “I am I am, I am who I am, I am what I am.” “I am” is the “I am.” You know? You can’t catch it in translation.
“I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment, and I will take you for my people.”
“I will take you for my people.” It will say in the Pentateuch, “A holy nation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, offering sacrifices, the chosen, the beloved.” All these which will be applied, ultimately, to one Person: Jesus of Nazareth. He will be them all. He will be the people, embodied in one Person. But here it continues:
“I will take you for my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord (Yahweh), your God (Elohim), who has brought you out from the burdens of Egypt…”
In Greek it would be: “You shall know that I am ho Kyrios, ho Theos, the Lord God, who brought you out from the burdens of Egypt.” In Slavonic, that would be, “Gospod Boch, the Lord God.” And then it says:
“…who will give you the land that I swore and promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, for your possession, and I am the Lord.”
It is so interesting. It says that, “Until now, you did not know me as the Lord, as Yahweh. You only know me as God, the Almighty God. Now I have a new name. And this new name is the name I’m going to be known for forever.” Then the Holy Scripture continues, saying lots of things about this name. In the law of Moses, in the Pentateuch, it’s going to say that this name is holy, that his name is the jealous God, he’s the fear of Israel, he’s the Almighty one. And then there’s the commandments never to profane or blaspheme his name.
And even one of the Ten Commandments, called in Hebrew the “Ten Words,” is “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God, you shall not take the name of Yahweh Elohim, of ho Kyrios Theos, you will not take the name of the Lord God in vain.” In other words, you just don’t throw that name around. You don’t use it in any empty way. “In vain” means “empty, without purpose.” And you keep it holy, because that name is “fearful and glorious,” it says in the law of Moses.
And then, going very quickly through the Old Testament, in the law of Moses and the Psalms and the Prophets, you have all kinds of teachings about that name: You’ll know the name. You will praise his holy name. You will call upon the name. You will proclaim the name. You should not dare to pronounce his name. You should trust the name. You should love the name. Glorify, honor, and sanctify, bless and hallow the name. The people are called by his name; they exalt his name together. His name endures forever. They trust in his holy name. They call his name, the one born from God in Isaiah 7, the one that the Virgin conceives and bears, his name is Emmanuel: “God with us,” and that name will be given to Jesus in the New Testament, taken also from the Prophets. And it’s even the teaching of the Prophets that, because of how faithless and blasphemous and idolatrous God’s people are, that they do not keep his name holy, and that God’s name is blasphemed among all the nations of the earth because of how bad the people are.
And the Apostle Paul will quote that very text in Romans 2. He will say, “If you have the Law and the oracles of God and everything, why don’t you follow them?” And then he quoted Isaiah who quoted the Lord, said, “My name is blasphemed among the nations because of you.” And lots of folks to this day blaspheme the name of God. They blaspheme the name of Jesus. They blaspheme the name of Christ. They blaspheme the name of Christ’s mother, Mary. And it can be that we, the Christians, are the guilty parties, because we’re not only doing it, but the way we do do things and the way we do act leads other people just to blaspheme the name of God and to make fun of the name of God and to ridicule the name of God and to desecrate the name of God, but the name is holy.
And in the Scripture, sometimes it even says, “Holy is his name,” as if “ho hagios” was the very name. Like Isaiah in the Temple: he sees the Lord God upon his throne and he says, “Hagios, hagios, hagios; kadosh, kadosh, kadosh; holy, holy, holy!” In the Magnificat, the Virgin Mary will say, “For holy is his name.” And you don’t know whether that means his name is holy or that “Holy” is a proper name for God. It can be translated both ways.
So you have this holiness of the name of God. And, of course, in the New Covenant, Jesus, when he gives the prayer to his people, one of the petitions will be that the name of God will now be “Father,” and nowhere in the Old Testament is God named as Father. Nowhere. He’s called Father sometimes, like he calls Israel his only-begotten son. He says, “I will be to you a father; you will be to me a son.” And then images are you used: he acts like a father. He acts like a mother, even, in Holy Scripture. But in the New Testament, Jesus Christ never names God or calls God anything other than “Father,” “the Father,” and “my Father.”
And we Christians call God “Father,” not because of some ideal of the fatherhood of God; we call God “Father” because Jesus Christ has commanded us to call God “Father,” which was an outrageous thing to do, according to the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets. What human mortals would dare to call God “ho Pater” or “Abba,” even. “Abba” which means “dear father, intimate father, papa-father, daddy-father.” Well, that’s how Jesus relates to God. He is literally God’s Son. God is literally his Father, and so he calls [God only] “my Father,” “the Father,” or “Father.” And when he speaks about it, he even says, “My Father and your Father, my God and your God.” And then Jesus gives the command and the privilege and the daring possibility to human beings to actually name God as Father. So God becomes the Father for Christians.
And, by the way, in the early Church—and this is not “by the way” at all—nowhere was this calling God “Father” known outside the Church. It was a secret. Even the Lord’s Prayer was given to the people who were baptized, just before they were going to be baptized. And they learned the prayer just before they entered into the holy Church through baptism and the sealing of the Holy Spirit. And it’s interesting that the act of baptism, in the New Testament is also an act done in the name, and there are two formulas in the New Testament Scripture. There’s the formula in the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
“Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, and lo, behold, I am with you forever, always, even until the end of the ages.”
But then in the Book of Acts and in some of the letters of Paul, you have the expression “baptism in the name of Jesus,” or you baptized “in Jesus’ name.”
Now, we Orthodox Christians would say both formulas are okay, and they both amount to the same thing, because if you have died and risen with Christ in baptism in the name of Christ, then you have died in the name of the Father, because Christ glorifies the name of the Father, reveals the name of the Father, and gives the name of the Father to his disciples. And then, of course, everything is done by the Holy Spirit.
But what’s interesting is that in the ancient Christianity, from the earliest time, I would say practically right up to the radical Reformation in Europe, the ecclesial baptisms, by Christians, were always done in the Matthew formula: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” They were not done in the name of Jesus. And so there’s a big debate today: if you were baptized simply in the name of Jesus, is that a legitimate baptism? Is it a real, true, valid baptism? Well, I guess it might be; I don’t know. But, basically, baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the Christian view.
And not in any other names! Nowadays, in some Protestant churches, they’re baptizing in the name of the Parent, the Child, and the Force or something. Or, I heard one: the loving Parent, the obedient Child, and the inspired Emotion. Or: Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, which is terrible, because God is the creator through his Son and Spirit, God is the Redeemer through his Son and Spirit, and God is the Sanctifier through his Son and Spirit. And everything that God does as the one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he does by, in, through, in, for, with, and toward his Son, Jesus Christ, his Logos, Word and Wisdom, by the power of his own Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father and dwells in the Son from before the foundation of creation. So we would not accept baptisms in the name of any other trinitarian formulas except “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
And when we address God Almighty, the one God and Father of Jesus, it’s got to be “Father.” It can’t be “Mother”; it can’t be anything else. It’s got to be “Father” because of Jesus. And it’s only exclusively because of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the Apostle Paul would say, “God pours his Spirit into our heart, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ ” He says it in Romans 8 and Galatians 4. This is all extremely important when it comes to naming.
We want to see here that in the New Testament, you have God, then, called “Father” because of Jesus, and then you have the Son of God, in his humanity, the Word of God, the Wisdom of God, the Power of God, the Truth, the Life, the Glory of God, his human name is “Yeshua.” He is named Jesus, and God commands that that would be his name. If you read the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, you see that they are told—Joseph in Matthew, and Mary in Luke—are told that “You will call his name Jesus.” “She will bear a son and call his name Jesus.” And then, when he is born in Matthew, Joseph calls his name Jesus. And by naming him, by the way, Joseph becomes his legal father according to Mosaic law. That’s how some men got a son: by taking the mother into his house and naming the child.
In Luke, it’s to Mary that this annunciation is made, this proclamation of the birth of Christ, and that his name should be called Jesus. So you have in Luke, it’s put this way: “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God. Behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” So in Matthew, the angel says to Joseph: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. For he will save his people from their sins.” And then in Luke, it says, “Do not be afraid, Mary.” Again, there’s this call not to be afraid:
“You have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High. 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 shall be no end.”
So the name is given by God. It’s given by Gabriel, from God to Joseph and to Mary. Sometime, people ask, “What’s the theological significance of the distinction there?” My guess is—it’s just a guess—is that it’s Joseph in Matthew because Matthew is the Gospel fulfilling the Old Testament written in Aramaic primarily for the Jews, and it’s the new, Christian Torah. It’s the new instruction, whereas Luke is the Gospel for the nations. It’s the Gentile one, so to speak, and it’s given to Mary, and it’s in Galilee, because that’s where the Gentiles live. In Matthew it’s in Judea, because that’s where the Jews live.
But in any case, whatever reason, what we want to see today is that this name is given by God. And then Matthew even refers to Isaiah, as we already mentioned, that he can also be called Emmanuel, ho Theos meth’ hemon, meth’ hemon ho Theos, God is with us. In Matthew, it’ll also quote Zachariah, the man whose name is “the branch, nezer,” and that’s why in Matthew it says, according to the Prophets, he will be called a Nazarene. And sometimes people connect that with the fact that he was raised in Nazareth, that they went and lived in Nazareth. But I think that’s not what the point is. The point is that his name is “the Branch” in Zachariah, which is “nezer,” and therefore he will be called the one who is “of the Branch,” the rod of the stem of Jesse, David.
And by the way, there’s a theory that the royal family, the connections of the Davidic family went and lived in Nazareth at some point and there was a community of them there, so that Nazareth is kind of connected with the place where you had the flight of the Branch family, so to speak. But in any case, he’s called “Yeshua, Joshua, God-saves,” because he will save the people.
Now, in St. John’s Gospel, the term “name” is used fifteen times. I counted it. In St. John’s Gospel, in the very first chapter of St. John’s Gospel, it mentions the name of Jesus, and that we find salvation in his name. We believe in his name. We call upon his name. We pray in his name. We act in his name. We baptize in his name. But the name is Jesus’ name. So, in John 1:12, it says, “But to all who received him,” that is, the true Light that was shining in the world, the one who came into his own home, to his own people, who didn’t receive him, who rejected him.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father.
So it speaks about believing in his name. And it’s interesting that that particular way of speaking will run through the Gospel of St. John, but there will be two very specific places where you have what they call in literary terms an enclusio poetica, where you state something in the beginning and then it’s recaptured at the end. And there’s two places where that “belief in his name” in St. John’s Gospel is consciously picked up. It’s in the 17th chapter, in the last prayer of Jesus before his Passion, when he makes that long prayer in the 17th chapter of John, after giving that long discourse from the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th chapter (very long discourse at the Supper), but then he mentions the name, so this is what you find in that 17th-chapter prayer, that this is eternal life to know Jesus Christ “whom you have sent, who was glorified on the earth.” And then Jesus says, sixth verse:
“I have manifested your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”
So the expression is: “I have manifested your name to them.” Then, further on down, a couple more verses, Jesus says:
“And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world. I am coming to you, holy Father. Keep them in your name which you have given me that they may be one even as we are one.”
And then it says:
“While I was with them, I kept them in your name which you have given me. I have guarded them and none of them is lost but the son of perdition (that means Judas), that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.”
So you have the term “name” here twice. And there’s a debate about how this ought to be translated. Should it be translated, “Keep them, whom you have given me in your name” or “Keep them whom you have given to me, keep them in your name” (in other words, “Keep them in your name, which you have given me”)? So is it the them that God has given to him, or the name that God has given to him? And it could be both: “Keep them in the name which you have given to me” or “Keep them, which you have given to me, in your name.”
But in any case, you have “name” here twice, and it picks up in the beginning. And then this whole prayer ends with these words:
“O righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you. And these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will make it known again, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. I made known to them your name, and I will make it known that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
So it’s this name that’s made known, it’s this name that we’re called to believe in. Then the whole Gospel of St. John ends with what you may call a second inclusion, a second ending. So you have the ending of the ministry and then you have the ending of the Gospel as a whole in the final meeting of the risen Christ, after the Resurrection of the dead, with his disciples. And so then Jesus says this; this is how it ends:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may have life in his name.
Isn’t that wonderful? It’s the last verse of John 20: “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may have life”—how?—“in his name.” Throughout St. John’s Gospel, and especially in that last discourse, you have Jesus saying things like, “You have asked nothing in my name; now ask in my name. Keep things in my name.” You find that expression used all the time: “Whatever you ask in my name. Before you didn’t ask in my name; now you will ask in my name.” And probably, if you want to look those up, I’m sure most of you are familiar with them, but I would just ask you to read: 14, 15, 16… John 14, for example: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”
Then you have in that same chapter 14:
“These things I have spoken to you while I’m still with you, but the Parakletos (the Counselor, the Comforter, the Advocate), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
So the Holy Spirit is coming and being sent in Jesus’ name. And then, in the 15th [chapter], you have these words:
“You did not choose me. I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain (or abide), so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command to you: to love one another.”
So whatever we ask in the name. Then in the 16th chapter, you have the very same thing repeated. It says this:
“You will have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day (in other words, when the apostles know that Christ is risen from the dead), you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you: if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. I have said this to you in figures. The hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures, but I will tell you plainly of the Father. In that day, you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you, for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I have come from the Father.”
So it says, “You will ask in my name.” It keeps repeating “in my name.”
It’s very important to know that we can ask as a prayer formula “in nomine Jesu, in the name of Jesus” or “We ask this, Father, in Christ’s name.” Protestants like to pray that way. Every time they pray something, they usually tack on the end, “In Christ’s name, we ask it.” But it’s interesting that in the ancient Church and in the early and certainly the Eastern Church, that formula never developed. You can’t find one prayer, liturgical prayer, anyway, where it says, “We pray in the name of Jesus,” and use it as a prayer formula: “In Jesus’ name we ask.” We don’t have it, and I think there’s a reason for it.
Because “in the name” doesn’t simply mean tacking on the expression, “We ask in Jesus’ name,” “in the name” means “according to him, according to his presence, according to his power, according to his person.” In the name, you have the Person of Christ; you have the presence of Christ; you have the power of Christ, and that’s what it means to ask in his name. It means to ask according to Christ himself, according to who he is, what he has, and what he does. And that’s what it means to ask in Jesus’ name.
And here it would be certainly, forgive me for saying this, but it would be kind of crazy if anybody could ask anything they wanted to ask that would not be according to Jesus, and think they’re going to get it, just by tacking on the words “we ask in Jesus’ name.” I mean, how could I say, for example, “I want a Lexus… and I don’t know what.” Forgive me for the example. I don’t know what: “Win the baseball game and have a great sex life. I ask this in the name of Jesus.” Well, there’s certain things you just can’t ask in Jesus’ name, but if you ask something according to Jesus, you don’t have to say, “I’m asking this in Jesus’ name,” because it is in Jesus’ name if it’s according to his person, according to his presence, according to his power, and according to his teachings, according to his word, according to him: that’s what it means to ask in the name of Christ.
When you see the preaching of the apostles, you know that the apostles went around doing all kinds of things in the name of Jesus. They baptized in his name. They preached in his name. They did miracles in his name. They claimed that everything that they were doing was according to the name of Christ. So I’ll just give a couple of examples here, coming from the Book of Acts. Let’s say the very beginning of the Book of Acts, when Peter is preaching, John is preaching, you have the connection to the issue of the name, according to the issue of the name. So, for example—this is just an example; there are many places—but for example, this is what you find Peter saying, here in the very first parts of the Book of Acts. He says:
“The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus (his pais; that’s the suffering servant, Jesus, ebed Yahweh) whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him, but you denied the holy and the righteous one. You asked for a murderer to be granted to you. You killed the Author of Life whom God raised from the dead, and to this we are witnesses. And his name, by faith in his name has made this man strong whom you see and know. The faith which is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in this presence of you all.”
And the name there is repeated twice: and his name makes this man strong, faith in his name makes this man strong, and his name, by faith in his name, has made this man strong. Then in the next chapter, four, it says this:
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you, well. This is the stone which the builders rejected, but which has become the head of the corner.”
And then you have this sentence, which actually gives the title to our reflection today:
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we may be saved. There is no other name.”
Now, in his letters, the Apostle Paul is going to repeat this. He’s going to repeat it again and again by showing that, by saying that Christ’s name has to be proclaimed over all the earth. The Christians are even named Christians in Antioch because of the name of Christ.
But what we want to see now are two texts in St. Paul which are extremely, extremely important. We read this text when we were speaking about Jesus as the Head over everything, the Head over all, and I mentioned in that reflection that I believe that this is the longest sentence found in the Holy Scripture, in the entire Bible. There’s a sentence that is one paragraph long, and it’s only one sentence! Now, I’ve already read this whole paragraph in the reflection on Jesus as the Head, so I won’t do it again now, but I’ll just read the end of it. It says:
…for this reason, I heard your faith in the Lord Jesus, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, Father of glory, raised him from the dead and called you to him…
And then it gets down to the end where he says:
…and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…
And then it says:
…and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the age which is to come, and has put all things under his feet, has made him head over all things for the Church which is his Body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
So what we want to look at today is that that part of this huge, long sentence that says that God has raised him up and put him at his own right hand, far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but in the coming age, in the kingdom-of-God age.
And then the final, for today, anyway, the final sentence, which also gives us our title today is in the Philippian letter, the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, and it’s that beautiful early Christian hymn, Philippians 2, one of the original Christian hymns that we find written in Holy Scripture. And I’m going to read the entire hymn. It says this (Philippians 2:5):
Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God (en morphe tou Theou), did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (or to be hung onto), but he emptied himself (ekenosen, he emptied himself), taking on the form of a servant (of a slave). He was found en morphe tou doulou (in the form of a bonded slave), being born in the likeness of human beings (en homoiousis tou anthropou or ton anthropon, the likeness of men), and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross.
Now we’ve got our sentence:
Therefore, God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow: on heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
I’ll read that last part again:
Therefore, God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow: in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Kyrios—Yahweh, I am, the Lord God—to the glory of God the Father.
That’s the Christian faith.
And so we sing about Jesus, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. All those who are in Christ, come in the name of the Lord.” We sing the psalms remembering Jesus: “Save me, O Lord, by your name; by your power, see justice done to me. Our help is in the name of the Lord who created heaven and earth.” But that name now, in the final covenant, you’ve got these two very important names. God now becomes “Abba, Father,” and Jesus is the name above every name: Yeshua, God saves.
For ancient Christianity and for Eastern Orthodoxy through the ages, the very name “Jesus, Yeshua, Joshua” is the presence and the power of the Person of Christ himself. When you say that name, he is there. When you invoke that name, Jesus is present. His power is present. His might is present. His saving power is present. He is present! It’s a parousia. It’s a parousia before the presence of the Lord at the end of the ages, and at the end of the ages is when every knee in heaven and on earth will bow down before him to the glory of God the Father.
Some people think that means that there’s universal salvation, because everybody will bow down their knees to Jesus at his coming at the end of the age at the pantokrator, the one who was, who is, and who is coming, but my Professor Verhovskoy used to say, “Yeah, everybody will bow their knee to him, but not everybody will like it.” And if people don’t like it and fight against it, then their destiny is hell; it’s Gehenna. They’re cast out from that presence and that power and that Person, but it’s that very presence, power, and Person that causes them their torment and their agony.
And here, that’s an ancient Christian teaching and certainly an Orthodox teaching, teaching of the Orthodox Church: there is no material hellfire. The fire of those who resist the lordship of Christ and do not sanctify his holy name and bless his holy name and glorify his holy name, that very presence of that very name destroys them. That’s why people can’t stand to hear the name. That’s why, when you say the name, devils flee. And that’s why St. John Climacus will say in the sixth century, “Whip the demons with the name of Jesus! There is no more powerful weapon in heaven and on earth.” You just say that name, and the demons fly.
And then, of course, there developed in Eastern Orthodoxy, through the centuries, the Jesus Prayer, where you pray to God as Abba, Father: “Our Father who art in the heavens; may your name be holy, hallowed be thy name, agiastheto to onoma sou, may your name be holy,” which amounts to the same thing as “let your kingdom come” and “let your will be done,” because if God’s name is sanctified and kept holy and not blasphemed, then it means his kingdom is there, his kingship, and his will is being done. And when his will is being done, then his name is being sanctified and his kingdom is there. When his kingdom is there, then his will is being done and his name is sanctified.
And those three things are amounting to the same thing: may your name be holy, may your kingdom come, may your will be done, as in the heavens, in Christ himself, so also in us, his members on earth, who bear his name. And each of us have our own name that has to be sanctified. But we can also pray with saying his name. We can say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or we can simply say, “Lord Jesus, have mercy.” Or we can simply say, “Jesus.” Or we can say, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on us.”
And we have many books in our time, following the Holy Fathers like John Climacus and the Philokalia Fathers, people of, you know, the great teachers of Orthodoxy, but in our own time, in the 19th century, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov wrote a book on the Jesus Prayer. St. Theophan the Recluse taught about the Jesus Prayer. In our own time, the Elder Sophrony, following Fr. Silouan, St. Silouan, also taught about the Jesus Prayer. Fr. Lev Gillet, Bishop Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh—I mean, many marvellous people of our time have taught us about how to invoke the name of Jesus and how to keep it holy.
And there were some people who were against it, just like they were against the holy icons. They said, “Oh, that’s just a name. You write it in ink. You put it on a piece of paper.” But the Holy Fathers defended the holiness of that name. The same way that St. Stephen the New refused to step on an icon because it was the image of the Lord, so those who were defending the holy name of Jesus refused to step on a piece of paper on which was written, “Iesous,” the name of Christ, because that would be desecrating the name. And there’s a definite analogy between the name and the icon: they are both presences of the Person and the power of Christ himself.
So the name is kept holy, and we even use the name [in] a holy way. We even write the name sometimes on our church vestments. We have “Iesous Christos” as a symbol on our bread at the Holy Eucharist, on our altar table, on our [vestments]. We write, “Hagios,” on the deacon’s orarion. I had a vestment once I wore in the seminary. It said, “Boch,” on it: “God.” And then it said, “Iesous Christos nika”: “Jesus Christ, the conqueror, the victor.”
This name is very important, but we can say that in all the 55 names that we commented on in [this] series, all of them, we could say two things about [them]: All of them are simply contained in the one Name: Jesus. And these are names. Many are titles like Power, Truth, Life, all those things that we listed, but only “Jesus,” technically, is the Name. Even “the Lord” is… God’s name is the Lord and Jesus is the “I am,” but all of the names of all of the names over every name are summed up in that name of “Jesus.”
And we believe that there is no other name that is saving. Whether people know it or not, if they are saved in God’s kingdom, it’ll be because of Jesus Christ: his Person, his presence, and his power. So we glorify that name. But we also have to know, as our Holy Fathers teach us, that even the name of Jesus has to be somehow qualified and transcended, because the God who is holy is not like anything else. And if God’s name is holy, and if Christ is the holy one of God, then even the name of Jesus takes us beyond itself, into the realm of perfect silence beyond every name, beyond every name that is named [in] heaven and on earth: it’s beyond it.
In some sense, the reality of Christ himself is beyond even the name of Jesus. The name guarantees his presence, but the presence itself is above the name. It’s the name that’s revealing the presence, but the presence is prior and beyond and ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, nameless. You could say all possible names. St. Dionysios the Areopagite wrote a book about all the kinds of names you find, in the Bible, of Jesus. Well, most of those names weren’t really names; they were properties or qualifications or attributes of God.
But God himself is beyond every single name. He dwells in ineffable silence, but he breaks that silence by revealing his name: “I am, Yahweh, the Lord; Jesus, Yeshua; ho Pater, Abba, Father.” These are these holy names: Father, Son, Holy Spirit: Abba, Father, the Most-high God; Jesus Christ, the Lord; and the holy, good, and life-creating Spirit.
So we have finished our reflections here, went on a little too long today, but when you speak about the nameless and the ineffable that comes in a multitude of names… Even Islam has mystics who speak about the 99 names of Allah. But he is above all names. But when it comes to a name that you can speak, the only name by which we can be saved is Jesus. And that name of Jesus, given to him by God the Father, because of his suffering, that is the Name above every name, and at that Name, every creature will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, at that holy name “Jesus,” to the glory of God, his Abba, Father.
Republished with thanks to Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. Click here to go to the original page.