Understanding Jesus’ Many Titles
BOOK PICK: The Biblical Names of Jesus
THE BIBLICAL NAMES OF JESUS
New Book Presents Beautiful, Powerful Portraits of Christ
By Paul Thigpen
TAN Books, 2018
239 pages, $24.95
To order: tanbooks.com or (800) 437-5876
Peter is blunt: Apart from Jesus, “there is no other name under heaven … by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
He has one name — Jesus — but many titles. As I reminded my undergraduates, “Christ” is a title, not Jesus’ last name.
In biblical times, names are not arbitrary, picked because they sound nice or are in momentary vogue. “A name, properly given and correctly understood, was seen to reflect something more important about the person’s identity, such as his origin, status, character, deeds, or destiny. It could even in some sense embody the person’s essence,” writes Paul Thigpen, author of this jewel of a book, gracefully written, thorough in its treatment, and as much nourishment for the soul as food for the mind.
Thigpen examines 18 titles and images used by or associated with Jesus, running from “Son of God,” “Son of Man” and “Savior” to “The Way, the Truth and the Life,” “The Bridegroom” and “The Alpha and the Omega.” Thigpen typically shows us what the title meant in the Old Testament, to see what people of Jesus’ day understood it to mean. He then shows us how Jesus often reworked and expanded that meaning, usually adding some well-chosen texts from the Church Fathers to show how Christ’s refinement of the title teaches us something spiritually. Each chapter ends with citations to biblical texts for additional reading and a traditional hymn that captures the richness of that title, often in beautifully poetic language.
Many titles associated with Jesus — like “Lamb of God” or “the Good Shepherd” — are familiar, but even here, we sometimes rest on that superficial familiarity rather than plumbing the depths. Some titles are less familiar: Why is Jesus the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah?”
Thigpen’s goal is not to give you “just the facts, ma’am.” Just as Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Thigpen wants the reader to appreciate what these titles mean so that “by believing, you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
Take “Firstborn of the Dead.” As Thigpen puts it, when Jesus raises Lazarus, “Death now knows who is Boss. But he bides his time, hoping for the chance to exact his revenge.”
“The day finally comes when Death will make his move. On that dark Friday morning, when Jesus cries out in his final agony, ‘It is finished’ — Death closes his jaws upon that thorn-crowned head, exulting that he has finally conquered his Enemy. We can imagine Death sneering and boasting in rasping whisper, ‘So has it ever been and ever shall be. In the end, no man escapes from me!’ No mere man, that is. No mere mortal. But this Man, this Jesus, is no mere mortal. Eternal life, the very life of God, flows through him. Dawn approaches on Sunday morning. God the Father speaks once again into the darkness, as he did when he first created the world. And from the dark womb of a dying world the light of eternity breaks forth. A New Creation is born that transcends the first creation. Jesus Christ rises from the dead, never more to die: the ‘firstborn of the dead,’ the Head of the New Creation.”
If we really seriously are what we read, what greater Good News can there be than that death is dead and God invites man to live forevermore?
If you want to be inspired by the wholeness, unity and plain Good News of your faith, all the while learning why his is the name “by which we must be saved,” this book is for you.
John M. Grondelski, Ph.D., writes from Falls Church, Virginia.
All views are exclusively his.