A Facebook friend writes:
some people in our church have recently been insisting on pronouncing Jesus’ name in the Hebrew tongue, something like Yesu. They believe this is important …
He doesn’t agree, but he asks for my thoughts on the matter. What follows is an edited and expanded version of my Facebook reply to him. I have widened the issue to cover also pronunciation of God’s name, the Tetragrammaton.
I don’t see any biblical warrant for Christians worrying about exactly how to pronounce Jesus’ name or God’s name. When we are told to pray etc in God’s name or in Jesus’ name, that doesn’t mean that we have to pronounce the actual sounds of either name as a kind of magic spell. So while the pronunciations of the name vary from language to language (the Greek form of “Jesus” is very different from the Hebrew form), and the precise Hebrew pronunciation of the divine name (the tetragrammaton) is unknown, that really doesn’t matter.
What praying etc in God’s name or in Jesus’ name does mean is that we are claiming the authority that we have from God through Jesus. It is like when an ambassador or a government official does something in the name of the Queen or of their President. That is nothing to do with pronouncing the Queen’s or the President’s name. What it means is that the ambassador or official is acting under the authority vested in them by the Queen or President. Similarly we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) and so we can act and make pronouncements “in his name”, meaning by the authority vested in us by him.
Note that this authority is held by all Christians, not only by pastors, teachers or even apostles. It is not authority over other people. But it is authority to declare the word of God and to make the appeal to others “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Similarly when we pray in Jesus’ name we have this authority, and so when we ask for anything in his name and for his glory he will do it for us (John 14:13-14).
God will understand the intentions of our heart whatever name we call him. But what does matter is that what we say is understood by the humans we are speaking to. So while it is not a big deal to use “Yeshua” or something else instead of “Jesus”, it is likely to confuse the people we talk to, who even in the secularised western world have some idea of who Jesus is. So in our language, especially to outsiders and all the more when appealing to them “be reconciled to God”, we need to speak so that we will be understood. That probably means that, when speaking English, we would do best to stick with “Jesus”.