Jewish & Greek Names

In New Testament times, all Jewish men in Judaea spoke Aramaic and were taught Hebrew, but the commonly spoken language of the wider world in which they lived was Greek. To cope with this situation, many people had two names – a Jewish (Hebrew) name, and a Greek version of their name.

The New Testament (written in Greek) usually refers to people by their Greek name, but occasionally the Hebrew version is used. The apostle Simon (Peter) is usually referred to as ‘Simon’ – the Greek version of his name (see Luke 5:3). Occasionally, however, he is spoken of as ‘Simeon’ – the Hebrew or original Jewish version of his name (see Acts 15:14). Paul is referred to initially by his Hebrew name ‘Saul’ when his story is confined to the Jewish regions of Jerusalem and Judaea. But once he moves into the wider world on his missionary journeys to the Gentiles he is called by his Greek name ‘Paul’.


Colonnaded street in Perga

Paul visited Perga on his 1st Missionary Journey  (Acts 13:13) 


To distinguish those with the same Jewish name, people were usually given a surname – an additional name indicating whose son they were, or where they came from, or a nickname – emphasising some notable feature or personal characteristic. Simon was called Simeon Barjonah (in Hebrew) because he was ‘the son of Jonah’ (or ‘Simon, son of John’ in Greek) (see Matthew 16:17 & John 21:15). He was also given the nickname Peter (Greek, ‘Petros’, meaning ‘a rock’).

Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth



‘Jesus’ is the Greek form of the Hebrew name 'Joshua' (meaning ‘God saves’ – see Matthew 1:21). It was a very common name in New Testament times, so Jesus was called ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, or, later, ‘Jesus the Christ’ (i.e. ‘Jesus the Messiah’), to distinguish him from others also called Jesus.



Jesus grew up in Nazareth
(Luke 1:26)



The situation becomes even more complicated for contemporary readers of the New Testament, as both the Greek and Hebrew versions of personal names have been subsequently transliterated or translated into English or another language. In this way, we often have four versions or even six versions of the same name – Hebrew, Hebrew transliterated (Hebrew written in English letters), Hebrew translated into English , Greek, Greek transliterated (Greek written in English letters), and Greek translated. A few examples (omitting the original Hebrew and Greek words) are given here:

Hebrew transliterated:  Yeshua          Shimon            Jonah            Yacov

Hebrew translated:           Joshua          Simeon            Jonas             Jacob

Greek transliterated:       Iesous            Simon              Ioanne            Iacobos

Greek translated:               Jesus              Simon              John                James

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