In Hebrews 4:8 in the King James Version, why is Joshua called 'Jesus'?The King James Version (KJV) of Hebrews 4:8 reads, "For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day." The New King James Version (NKJV), however, reads, "For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day" (Hebrews 4:8). The change can be explained by the difficulty in translating texts from one language to another.
The Old Testament was originally written mainly in Hebrew and the New Testament was originally written mainly in Greek. The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible completed in the second century BC. The King James Version is an English translation of the Greek Septuagint and the Greek New Testament completed in 1611. Thus, the King James Version is a translation of a translation, written many centuries after the original texts, as one of the earliest attempts at conveying the Bible in the English language.
Names tend to change form from one language to another. The English name Matthew becomes Mateo in Spanish, Mattieu in French, Matthaeus in German, Matvei in Russian, and Mattathias in Greek. Similarly, Joshua is the English form of the Hebrew name Yehoshua (or Jehosuah). The Hebrew Yehoshua, when translated into Greek, becomes Iesous. So the Septuagint translated Joshua as Iesous throughout the Old Testament because it is the Greek form of that name. When Mary was instructed in Luke 1:31 to name her son Jesus and Joseph was instructed the same in Matthew 1:21, it is the Greek word Iesous which is the Greek form of the name Joshua.
If English translations were consistent, Jesus would be called Joshua in the New Testament. Just like there is Joseph the favored son of Jacob in the Old Testament and Joseph the earthly father of Jesus in the New Testament, there would be Joshua the successor to Moses in the Old Testament and Joshua Son of God and Savior of the world in the New Testament. However, English translators decided to distinguish between the Hebrew Yehoshua and Greek Iesous by using the name Joshua in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament. Thus, when translators came across the name Iesous in Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8, they used the name Jesus because it was the agreed upon English translation of the Greek name in the New Testament despite the fact that in both passages those Greek speakers were clearly referencing the Old Testament person of Joshua. Later translations, including the NKJV, have made adjustments to better relay the true meaning of those passages.
What often gets lost in translating names from one language to another is the meaning attached to those names. In the Old Testament, Joshua's name was originally Hoshea, which means "Saves" or "Salvation." Moses, however, changed his name by adding the prefix Ya (or Je) to mean "Yahweh (or Jehovah) Saves" or "Yahweh (or the LORD) is Salvation" (Numbers 13:16). Thus, every time Joshua's name was used, people would be reminded that salvation comes from God and not from human leaders. In later generations, the name was used as a way for parents to express their hope or prayer that God would rescue His people from their oppressors. Thus, during Jesus' time, when Jews were suffering under Roman rule, His name was a popular one borne by many Jewish boys of His day.
Jesus truly fulfilled the meaning of His name because, being God incarnate, He died for the sins of the world and provided ultimate salvation through faith in Him. Paul explained to Titus, "But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:4–6). True salvation comes only from God through His Son Jesus Christ whose very name reminds us of the words of David: "For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation" (Psalm 62:1).
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