The name, “Jesus”, means very little. What I mean to say is that the actual handle  J-E-S-U-S does not carry too much value in my opinion. When someone says that they love “Jesus”, I don’t bite. It takes a lot more than that, before I will acknowledge anyone’s claims to hope in Jesus’ name.

I was listening to a debate between a Christian and an atheist the other day. One of the hang-ups the atheist had was that God, if He existed at all, had not done a very good job of making sure that the Jesus story remained pure. After all, this atheist argued, there are dozens of religious groups out there, all claiming “Jesus” in some significant way, but they could not even agree on who He was.

This is frustrating, indeed! I would prefer not to second-guess or doubt anyone’s confession of Christ. I would rather to let it be, when they say they know and worship Jesus. However, such is not the case. It is apparent that the atheist is correct: There are a lot of Jesus’ out there. If we fail to realize this, Jesus will soon become a postmodern hodgepodge of whatever people claim.

Nevertheless, I do object to this reality becoming a smudge on God’s character, much less it being asserted as an argument for His non-existence due to impotence. You see, the multiple Jesus culture in which we live is not the product of years of religious evolution. It is not the product of God’s inability to keep Jesus’ name pure. It is, in fact, nothing new. From the very beginning there have been multiple Jesus’ proffered to the world. And from the very beginning, God has been more than aware of this fact.

Notice this question that Jesus asked while He was still on the earth:

Matthew 16:13
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

I don’t know about you, but I think that this is an amazing question. Could you ever imagine asking that question about yourself? “Who do people say that Michael Patton is?” “Uhhh . . . what do you mean. People say that Michael Patton is Michael Patton.” Of course, there is nothing extraordinary about who I am. You might probably define me by my family, job, or what I do. “Michael is husband of Kristie, father of four kids. He is the president of Credo House and blogs (less and less frequently!!) at Parchment and Pen (but I hear it is going to pick up again!!).”

However, this is not the question what Jesus was asking. And the disciples knew it. Christ was not wondering what people thought Christ did, but who they thought He was! It was an ontological question about Christ’s nature. And the amazing aspect of this is that Christ already knew that the world would be divided over His nature.

Notice the answers:

Matthew 16:14
14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

What a crazy set of responses! John the Baptist? Elijah? In any case, there they were. People were already dividing over Him. Right here we have four or more answers, all of which get the name “Jesus” terribly wrong.

Jesus turns the question to Peter and the others:

Matthew 15:15-17
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Here, we have the one right answer. Yet, once again, we have an answer of ontology, rather than functionality. To claim Christ was the Son of the living God was proclaiming something extraordinary about Christ’s nature. Christ is the Son of God in the sense of the ontological relationship He has with the Father. He shares in His essence, and is in a unique essential fellowship with the Father.

17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

So extraordinary, so correct is Peter’s answer, that Christ specifically addresses the supernatural miracle that had to occur in order for him to make such a proclamation. God, the Father, had to reveal this to him!

In any case, what does this say of the other answers? What about the ones who say that Christ is John the Baptist? We should not come down to hard on them, right? After all, I would wager that they still called Him by the handle “Jesus.”

However, this is not what this passage is teaching at all. There are a lot of “Jesus'” today. There have been, and always will be, many people who claim the name, Jesus. But there is only one answer that is from the Father. All the others are not only wrong, but terribly, dreadfully, and hopelessly wrong. The last thing we should do for people who have the wrong Jesus is to pat them on the head and say that, at least, they said “Jesus”. Rather, we must correct their understanding. There is no more important question in the history of mankind than this question “Who do you say that I am?” And we dare not ignore the reality that there are many, many wrong answers.

The handle, “Jesus”, in itself, means very little. It is what you mean, when you say “Jesus”, that matters!


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    5 replies to "Why the Name “Jesus” Means Very Little"

    • Dan Olinger


      You’re right, of course, that “Jesus” is simply the Greek form of the English “Joshua.” But a lot of Christians apparently haven’t noticed the theological significance that the Bible puts on the choice of that specific name.

      The Hebrew “Yehoshua`” means “Yahweh saves”; and the angel told Joseph that Mary’s child would be given this name “because he shall save his people from their sins.” No Jew hearing this statement could miss the significance: this child *is* Yahweh, the One who saves.

      So there’s significance in this particular human name that would not have been conveyed if He had been named, say, David, or Abraham, or Mordecai. It’s one more testimony, among hundreds in the Scripture, to the deity of the infant.

    • Hugh

      I have been intrigued by the term ‘son of man’ for a long time as it relates to Daniel chapter seven. According to the interpretation of Daniel’s vision the ‘son of man’ is plural, it is a group of ‘holy ones’ (Dan.7:18). If there is a literal ‘son of man’ there should be a literal beast with ten horns. The vision is one thing the interpretation is another. Perhaps Jesus (or the gospel writers) misapplied the appellation ‘son of man’.

      There are as many Jesus’ as there are believers, for each one has their own personal savior (Jesus) each with their own concept, understanding and felt experience.

    • Brother Stumblefoot

      Probably we might say that “our popular use” of the name Jesus has little meaning. It is true I fear, that many people perhaps talk about a “Jesus” of their own liking and design, yet know nothing of the Jesus of the cross,
      and the message of the gospel.

      Yet the name does have great significance and meaning.
      There is no other name given among men, whereby we may be saved, and at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.

      I tried a post yesterday on an old blog and thought it posted, but I guess it didn’t. If I was too blunt, I apologize, in fact, I think I endorsed another comment,
      and realized later that I probably didn’t agree in every point he made. Guess I am only 99.9% perfect.

    • Ruben

      I don’t know I think most people, even Muslims and atheists, have a strong sense of who Jesus was and what he taught and what He did. I think his impact on people is still as powerful today as it was when He walked the Earth. It’s funny because I sometimes feel as if the church is guilty of forgetting Him instead and relegate His teaching to the next life etc.

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