The name “Jesus” appears in Hebrews 4:8 in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, which has led to some confusion among Bible readers. In most modern English translations, this verse refers to Joshua rather than Jesus. So why does the name “Jesus” appear in this verse in the KJV?
Hebrews 4:8 states in the KJV: “For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.”
To understand what’s going on here, we need to look at the underlying Greek text. The Greek name that appears in Hebrews 4:8 is Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous). This is the typical Greek form of the Hebrew name Yeshua, which is translated into English as Joshua or Jesus.
So why did the KJV translators use “Jesus” here when the context seems to indicate Joshua? There are a few factors that contributed to this translation choice:
- The KJV was translated in 1611, when the English language was still developing standardized spelling rules. At the time, the names Jesus and Joshua were spelled interchangeably in English. The translators chose the spelling that was more familiar to them.
- The KJV translators were influenced by the Latin Vulgate translation, which uses the name “Jesus” in this verse. The Vulgate was the predominant Bible translation for over 1,000 years before the Reformation.
- The KJV translators probably assumed readers would recognize from the context that Joshua was meant. The surrounding verses mention Moses, Aaron, the Promised Land, and rest – all clear references to the Exodus story under Joshua’s leadership after the death of Moses.
Modern translators have the benefit of centuries of developed English style conventions and greater understanding of the Hebrew language. This allows them to distinguish the names Joshua and Jesus more accurately in translation. But in 1611, the context and spelling conventions lent themselves more easily to the use of “Jesus” in Hebrews 4:8.
While this translation choice may seem confusing to modern readers, it made sense given the linguistic and cultural context in which the KJV translators were working. The key is recognizing that the original Greek text unambiguously refers to Joshua – the leader who brought Israel into Canaan after the time of Moses. This figure is distinguished from Jesus Christ, who is never referred to simply as “Jesus” in the Greek New Testament but always with additional titles like “Christ” or “Lord.”
Some key points help explain this KJV translation issue:
- The Greek name Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous) was used for both Joshua and Jesus.
- The context of Hebrews 4 points to Joshua, but the KJV used the English form more familiar to them (“Jesus”).
- Modern translations distinguish the names based on current language convention.
- No doctrinal issue is at stake. The original Greek text clearly refers to Joshua.
While odd to modern readers, the use of “Jesus” in Hebrews 4:8 in the KJV highlights some of the challenges Bible translators have faced over the centuries as language and culture shifts. But the intended meaning is still clear from the context, and all reputable English Bibles have updated the name to Joshua for clarity. So this KJV peculiarity need not cause any confusion about who is being referred to in this verse.
The Role of Joshua in Israel’s History
To better understand the significance of Joshua being mentioned in Hebrews 4, it is helpful to explore his key role in the history of Israel after their exodus from Egypt under Moses:
- Joshua was one of 12 spies sent by Moses to scout out the Promised Land (Numbers 13).
- Joshua and Caleb believed God would deliver Canaan to Israel. The other 10 spies did not, resulting in Israel’s wilderness wandering (Numbers 14).
- Joshua served as Moses’ aide and leader of Israel’s army during the wilderness years (Exodus 17:9).
- After Moses died, God chose Joshua to lead Israel into Canaan and allocated the land to the tribes (Joshua 1).
- Joshua led the conquest of Canaan, including the miraculous fall of Jericho (Joshua 2-6).
- He assigned portions of land to each tribe and served as a leader of Israel for many years after initial conquest (Joshua 13-24).
Joshua played a pivotal role during the transition from Israel’s wandering in the wilderness to taking possession of the Promised Land. He oversaw the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to give his descendants the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:18-21). The writer of Hebrews highlights Joshua’s period as the beginning of “rest” for Israel after years of slavery and exile.
The Meaning of “Rest” in Hebrews 3-4
The theme of “rest” is central to the author’s argument in Hebrews 3-4. The writer makes an extended comparison between the rest Israel obtained through Joshua and the ultimate spiritual rest available through Christ. He presents the history of Israel as a warning example for readers not to harden their hearts and miss out on God’s promised rest as many Israelites did.
Some key points about rest in Hebrews 3-4:
- God’s promised rest to Israel started with their entrance into Canaan under Joshua after 40 years in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:16-19).
- However, Joshua did not provide the full, ultimate rest, as Israel’s later history of exile showed. True rest comes through Christ (Hebrews 4:8-9).
- Entering God’s rest requires faith and obedience, not hardened hearts. The rebellious generation with Moses missed out on rest in Canaan (Hebrews 3:7-19).
- There is still a promise of rest for God’s people today, which points to eternal life in Christ’s kingdom (Hebrews 4:1, 9).
- We must make every effort to enter that rest and not fall short through unbelief like those in the wilderness (Hebrews 4:11).
Joshua led Israel to find rest in Canaan, but the ultimate spiritual rest is found in salvation through Christ. The mention of Joshua in Hebrews 4:8 reinforces the author’s argument by reminding readers of when Israel’s period of rest began. But Joshua is contrasted with Jesus, the only one who provides eternal rest for God’s people.
Joshua as a Type of Christ
Beyond the theme of rest, some additional parallels can be drawn between Joshua and Jesus:
- Their names are identical in Greek – In the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), Joshua’s name is translated as Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous), the exact same name used for Jesus in the Greek New Testament.
- They both led God’s people to salvation – Joshua led Israel into their earthly rest in Canaan, while Jesus provides ultimate spiritual rest through forgiveness of sins.
- They engaged in spiritual warfare – Joshua fought physical battles against Canaanites, while Jesus waged spiritual warfare against demons, sin and death.
- Their names mean “Yahweh saves” – “Joshua” is derived from the Hebrew Yehoshua, meaning “Yahweh is salvation.” “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew Yeshua, with the same meaning.
These parallels lend support to the idea that Joshua can be viewed as a “type” or foreshadowing of Christ’s later, greater work of salvation. The writer of Hebrews draws on these similarities to contrast the good beginnings through Joshua with the eternal spiritual completion through Christ.
The Significance of Hebrews 4:8
Looking closely at Hebrews 4:8 provides some insights into the author’s flow of thought and use of the Old Testament:
- It continues the comparison between Joshua and Jesus as sources of “rest” for God’s people.
- It contrasts the initial physical rest under Joshua with the full spiritual rest in Christ.
- It highlights Joshua leading Israel into Canaan as the starting point of their rest after the wilderness wandering.
- It reminds readers of Israel’s history as an example and warning not to rebel and miss out on God’s promised rest.
In this context, the reference to Joshua in Hebrews 4:8 reinforces the typological connections between Israel’s conquest and Christian salvation. Joshua is a stepping stone in the biblical narrative between slavery in Egypt, rescue by Moses, and ultimately true rest in Christ.
Correctly understanding the name in Hebrews 4:8 removes any confusion and allows readers to see the place of Joshua in the writer’s flow of argument. He is contrasted with Jesus, who surpasses him as the giver of eternal spiritual rest and salvation open to all who put faith in Him.
Joshua in Other New Testament Passages
While the primary New Testament reference to Joshua is in Hebrews 4, a few other passages also mention him:
- Acts 7:45 – Joshua is mentioned as leading Israel to conquer the nations and take possession of the Promised Land.
- Acts 13:19 – Joshua is named as the one who oversaw the distribution of land to Israel’s tribes as God drove out the nations.
- James 2:25 – Joshua is listed along with Rahab as examples of those considered righteous because of their works and obedience to God.
These verses reinforce Joshua’s image as a leader who acted in faith to facilitate God’s plan for Israel to inhabit their promised territory. He is presented as a positive example of one who trusted and obeyed God.
Lessons Christians Can Learn from Joshua
While ultimately the New Testament points to Christ as the fulfillment of God’s plan, Joshua provides an example for Christian living in many ways:
- He demonstrated courage and leadership in the face of opposition as he advanced into Canaan (Joshua 1:9).
- He showed faith in God’s power by launching the daring plan to conquer Jericho (Joshua 6).
- He was careful to obey God’s commands closely, seen in renewing circumcision and celebrating Passover (Joshua 5).
- He trusted God to fulfill His word and provide the Promised Land (Joshua 21:43-45).
- He renewed Israel’s covenant with God, strengthening their commitment after Moses’ death (Joshua 8:30-35).
Joshua models many virtues Christians should imitate. His legacy as a leader who brought Israel into their inheritance can inspire modern believers to wholeheartedly pursue the promises of God as well.
In summary, the appearance of the name “Jesus” in Hebrews 4:8 in the KJV reflects a translation approach shaped by the language conventions of 1611. All modern versions correctly render this as Joshua, keeping the distinction clear between the Old Testament leader who began Israel’s era of “rest” in Canaan and the salvation completed for eternity through Jesus Christ.
Joshua played a pivotal role as one who acted on faith to bring Israel into their homeland. The book of Hebrews uses his legacy as a stepping-stone to point to the greater spiritual rest available now for all God’s people through faith in Christ. As a leader and example of obedience, courage and trust in God’s promises, Joshua continues to provide helpful lessons for Christians today.