Q. I was taught that a Christian should never address the Lord as “Jesus,” but always as “Jesus Christ,” “the Lord Jesus,” or some other title. I have checked the Bible and it seems that the only people who refer to him directly as “Jesus” were demons. That makes me even more uncomfortable every time I hear someone pray to “Jesus” or refer to him as only “Jesus.” Since I know many believers who use his name in this way, can you help me understand why I should or should not?
A. Many of us were taught in this way, and still struggle with the same feelings of discomfort. But it will help us to study the many times he is referred to as “Jesus” in the Church Epistles. The use of the unadorned name of “Jesus” is particularly significant in Philippians. 2:10 where we see that every knee must bow at the name Jesus-this one who started out as a baby but who is now the highly exalted Lord.
This teaching probably originated from E. W. Bullinger, who correctly noted that nowhere in the New Testament is he ever called only “Jesus” when directly addressed by his followers, and that it is his enemies (John 18:5, 7; 19:19; Acts 4:18; 5:40; 6:14; 26:9) and demons (Mark. 1:24; 5:7) who refer to him as “Jesus” in direct discourse. Some have concluded from this that his followers should never refer to him as “Jesus,” either in direct address or otherwise. However, we regard this teaching as very impractical and legalistic. We have seen firsthand the verbal paranoia that can be generated among those who are exposed to this teaching. One becomes uncomfortable even uttering a verbally naked “Jesus” in any context, and must always quickly clothe it with one of his titles like Christ, Lord, etc.
We cannot imagine that Jesus himself would want his brothers and sisters feeling uncomfortable every time they say his name without any adornment. First of all, there is no biblical injunction against such use of the name “Jesus.” It is, after all, his God-given name, as distinct from a title or appellation. Secondly, the resurrected and glorified Lord still identified himself as “Jesus” when appearing to Paul in Acts 9:5 (we suppose he did so because it continues to be his name). The angel at his ascension referred to him as “Jesus,” and Peter uses his simple name three times in his sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:22,32,36). The disciples refer to “Jesus” when praying to God in Acts 4:27 and 30 (and they weren’t struck by lightning). Finally, Paul uses an unadorned “Jesus” throughout his epistles with a precision and power commensurate with his being a holy man inspired to write Holy Writ (See 2 Cor. 4:11; Eph. 4:21; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2:15; 4:14). Having thus made my point, all I can say is Praise JESUS! Thank you, JESUS! We love you, JESUS!
If he was not called “Jesus” by his followers in direct address, what was he called? The most common term was “lord,” a title of respect at least equivalent to “Sir,” but with a meaning ranging from “Sir” to “master” or “owner.” Sometimes he was called “Rabbi,” mostly in John (8 times), a title that was keenly desired by the Pharisees (Matt. 23:7), and equivalent to “Teacher.” Against this backdrop of Pharisaical arrogance, Jesus taught his disciples about the use of titles for the purpose of personal elevation.
He expressly discouraged them from referring to themselves as “Rabbi,” because they were all brothers, and they had only one “Teacher,” namely he. In that same context, he also forbade the use of the titles “Father,” because there is only one father (our heavenly Father), and “Master,” because he was their only Master. This latter title (Gk. kathegetes) was never used of him, and since this is the only use of this word in the New Testament, we cannot be certain of precisely the way Jesus used it since it has a wide range of secular usage. Though he discouraged their use of titles for themselves by identifying himself as their Teacher and Master, he did not seem to expect them to refer to him as such. They continued to refer to him primarily as Kurios, and he made no attempt to correct them. The bottom line of this discussion about titles, however, is that they ought not to be used to elevate oneself. Humility must be the mark of Christ’s followers (Matt. 23:8-10).