Last week, we started a little mini-series on the names of several New Testament figures. It’s based on a novel I wrote called Identity Theft, How Jesus was Robbed of His Jewishness. And again, it’s not that we are obsessing over minor details, but that we want to see the Gospel presented to Jewish people as it was in the first century—a Jewish message about a Jewish Messiah.
That brings us to James the brother of Yeshua. Truth be told, no one ever called him James. In fact, there was no native born Israelite named James in the first century. His name was Jacob or Yaakov. And simply put, James is not a Jewish name and Jacob is—in fact it is the name of the father of the 12 tribes of Israel.
In just about every other translation of the Bible—Hungarian, German, French—his name is correctly translated as the equivalent of Ya’akov. But in the English Bible he is called James. Some have assumed that it was because of King James, who authorized the English translation of the Bible that now bears his name. He definitely had a healthy ego.
It's a good theory, but actually the truth is that James and Jacob in Latin sound very much alike—iakOmos and iakObos. It was just a linguistic corruption or confusion. Nevertheless, it has been a costly one.
The problem, once again, with this mistranslation of Jacob is that it lessens the perception of the New Covenant as a Jewish document. If a Jewish person opened up the New Testament to the book of James, he would wrongly conclude that this James had no connection with Judaism or Israel. However, if the book, which was addressed “to the twelve tribes of Israel scattered abroad,” was properly entitled Jacob, his reaction would be just the opposite—he would instantly recognize that he is Jewish. It would convey and reinforce to you the Jewish context of the New Covenant.
And then there is his other brother known as Jude—Again, even in English this is not the proper pronunciation. When I think of Jude I think of the Beatles—seriously. And when I think of Judas, the other popular pronunciation in English, I think of a traitor. In fact, the name Judas has become so synonymous to the act of betrayal, that the dictionary actually defines it as “a person who betrays a friend or comrade.” As in “he’s a Judas.”
The English should be Judah, where we get the words Jew, Jewish and Judaism. It is the same name as the son of Jacob, the father of the tribe of Judah. It is also the name of the southern Kingdom of Judah. So again, we have a situation where the Hebrew scriptures correctly translate the name as Judah, a very Jewish sounding name and the translators of the New Covenant insist on washing his name with Greek detergent and coming up with the non-Jewish sounding names of Jude and Judas. It’s no wonder that most Jews have no idea that the disciples were Jews living in Israel.
There has been an insidious case of identity theft and the victim is Yeshua the Messiah!
It would be one thing if Jewish people stumbled over the message of the gospel, but how sad it is that we have added additional stumbling blocks by stripping the New Testament of its Jewish flavor to the point that most Jews see the New Testament as something utterly and completely foreign.
This is why we are dealing with this subject—not to be overly obsessive with words and dates, but to convey the gospel message in its original Jewish flavor. Let’s ask God to open the eyes of Jewish people here in Israel and around the world.