The Holy Name of Jesus


When the angel of the Lord appeared to St. Joseph in a dream he told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife and to name her child, “Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).

The name "Jesus" was a common one among the Israelites at the time our Savior was born and it means literally "Yahweh saves."

Among the ancient peoples a name did not just designate an individual person. It was not just a label to distinguish one person from another. Rather, in one way or another it expressed the person's place in the universe by relating him to other beings. It could also express a man's activity or destiny. It is in this sense that our Lord was given the name "Jesus" because he is the Savior of the world, the Redeemer of the human race from sin, guilt and death. So the personal name of Jesus indicates his function in God's plan for mankind. Also, it gives a hint of the divine reality of Jesus as God himself, but in itself the name "Jesus" does not say that expressly. Other titles of Jesus, such as Lord, Son of Man, Son of God, Word, are needed to give a more complete communication of the divinity in Jesus that remains hidden behind the veil of the flesh visible to human eyes and accessible to human touch.

By the introduction of the holy name of "Jesus" in the Creed, we move into the realm of recorded history, of time and place. For, we profess that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate (a Roman official about the year 30 A.D.), suffered, died and was buried. Thus, our Savior has a place in human history. He is not some distant god who appeared in the guise of a man for a short time and then disappeared. The pagan religions of the time tell stories of such "savior gods". This Jesus is truly one of us. He was born of Mary, belonged to the house of David, and lived in the town of Nazareth — a place that one can now travel to and walk around in. I know, for I was there just a few years ago, and I was very much moved by the place.

The name of Jesus has supreme importance among the first Christians. This stands out especially in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter cured a lame man "in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene" (Acts 3:6). Later, when the rulers of Jerusalem asked Peter about this incident, he replied, "Of all the names given to man, this is the only one by which we can be saved" (Acts 4:12). By appealing to the name of Jesus, his disciples cast out devils and worked all kinds of miracles. Jesus thus appears as his name indicates him to be: he who saves, and, especially, obtains eternal salvation for those who believe in him. (Acts 4:7-12; 5:31; 13:23).

God has given Jesus "the name which is above all other names" (Phil 2:9), a new mane which is not distinct from that of God himself. Thus, we can call Jesus of Nazareth both Lord and God.

To be a Christian means to believe that God has raised up Jesus from the dead, to confess that Jesus is Lord and to call upon the name of the Lord. Since Jesus is very God, and God is the source of all holiness, then the name of Jesus is most holy. That sacred name should always be pronounced with reverence and respect.

See the index of chapters from Fundamentals of Catholicism which have been reprinted to CERC here.




Kenneth Baker, S.J. "The Holy Name of Jesus." In Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1 Chapter 9 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 38-39.

This article reprinted with permission from Father Kenneth Baker, S.J.


Rev. Kenneth Baker, S.J., has served for the past thirty years as editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1947. In 1970 he served as president of Seattle University and in 1971 became editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. In 1973 he published his translation of the Philosophical Dictionary and adapted it to American usage. In 1975 he became president of Catholic Views Broadcasts, Inc., which produces a weekly 15-minute radio program that airs on 50 stations across the United States. He has built and run three community television stations. In 1983 he published a three-volume explation of the faith called Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1, Creed and Commandments; Vol. 2, God, Trinity, Creation, Christ, Mary; and Vol. 3, Grace, the Church, the Sacraments, Eschatology.

Copyright © 1995 Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.

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