Stephen D. Ricks, assistant professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages, Brigham Young University.
The name Jesus Christ—and also shortened forms, Christ and Jesus—are mentioned on numerous occasions in the Book of Mormon prior to the Lord’s birth in the flesh. The Savior appeared to the earliest Book of Mormon prophet, the brother of Jared, in about 2200 B.C., saying: “Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ.” (Ether 3:14.)
Nephi probably learned the Savior’s name from both the brass plates (the scriptures available to him) and personal revelation “According to the words of the prophets and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ.” (2 Ne. 25:19.) Other later Book of Mormon prophets who lived before Christ’s birth—such as Jacob, King Benjamin, Alma, and Helaman—also knew and used the Lord’s name. (See Jacob 1:6; Jacob 4:4; Mosiah 3:5–11; Alma 5:44; Hel. 5:12.)
We learn in the Pearl of Great Price that many of the early Old Testament prophets also knew the name of the Savior. It was revealed to Adam that he should be baptized “in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, which is Jesus Christ.” (Moses 6:52.) Enoch prayed “in the name of thine Only Begotten, even Jesus Christ.” (Moses 7:50.) Noah, in the course of his preaching, declared: “Believe and repent of your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Moses 8:24.)
Although the Redeemer’s life, mission, suffering, and death are foretold in the Old Testament—“in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms” (Luke 24:44), he is not identified there by the name Jesus Christ. Why?
There may be a logical explanation for the name Jesus Christ appearing in the Book of Mormon but not in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ is the English form of the Savior’s name in Greek—the language of the New Testament. But the brass plates were apparently written in Egyptian (see Mosiah 1:3–4; also 1 Ne. 1:2–3; 1 Ne. 3:19), the Large and probably the Small Plates of Nephi in Hebrew (see Morm. 9:33), and the abridged records of Mormon and Moroni in “reformed Egyptian” (Morm. 9:32). It is not likely, therefore, that the Greek name of the Savior appeared on the records from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, as these records were largely written in “reformed Egyptian” with Hebrew forming the basis of the language. Rather, the name Jesus Christ served the Prophet as the closest equivalent of the word or words used by the ancient writers of the Book of Mormon. In translating their writings, the Prophet Joseph Smith used the name with which he and other Christians were familiar.
Even though the Greek version of the Savior’s name would not have appeared in the writings of the ancient Hebrew and American patriarchs, the Hebrew prophets did use a version of the name, and that version may have found its way into the brass plates, and from thence into the Nephite writings. Both Jesus and Christ have Hebrew equivalents. Hebrew forms of the name Jesus—Yehoshua, Yeshua, and Yeshu—are frequently found in the Old Testament, although not with reference to the Savior. (See, for example, Ex. 17:9; 1 Chr. 24:11; Ezra 2:40.) The name Joshua and Jeshua are English renderings of the Hebrew names Yehoshua and Yeshua. Jesus in English is the equivalent of the Greek rendering of Yeshua and Yeshu.
The Hebrew equivalent of the word Christ—Messiah—also appears in the Hebrew scriptures. Mashiah, which means “anointed” and which is translated as christos in the Greek, is often employed in the Old Testament with reference to the anointed high priest. (See Lev. 4:3, Lev. 5, Lev. 16, for example, where mashiah is translated “anointed.”) It is also used with reference to God’s anointed king, such as Saul and David. (See 1 Sam. 24:6; 1 Sam. 26:9, 1 Sam. 11, 1 Sam. 16, 1 Sam. 23; 2 Sam. 19:21; 2 Sam. 23:1.) The term also came to be used specifically in reference to God’s Anointed who was to come in fulfillment of prophecy. The word Messiah is itself used in the King James rendering of Daniel’s vision, where “Messiah the Prince” is referred to. (See Dan. 9:25.)
Since Nephi, who studied the brass plates, probably learned the name of Jesus Christ from “the words of the prophets” (2 Ne. 25:19), it is likely that a version of the Savior’s name—perhaps the Hebrew equivalent of Jesus the Messiah translated into Egyptian—occurred on the brass plates. These plates contained much of the information found in our Old Testament: “the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, … And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah.” (1 Ne. 5:11–12.)
It is not clear why specific information found on the brass plates—such as the use of the Savior’s name in prophecy—was not included in the records now constituting the Old Testament. It is possible that the Lord’s name originally appeared in the writings of the prophets, but was one of the “plain and precious things taken away from the book.” (See 1 Ne. 13:28.) As the angel prophesied to Nephi, the Book of Mormon, which includes information from the brass plates, “shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them (the records of the Jews); and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.” (1 Ne. 13:40.)
Whether the name Jesus Christ appears in the Old Testament or not, that scripture still remains an important witness for him. Jesus told his questioners to “Search the scriptures … they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39.) The term scriptures is, with few exceptions, used in the New Testament to refer to the Old Testament. (See, for example, Luke 24:44–45.) These scriptures found their meaning and fulfillment in Jesus. (See Luke 4:21.) He was the triumphant Son of Man (compare Dan. 7:13–14; Mark 13:26), David’s son and heir (see Mark 12:35–37; Mark 15:2), the great High Priest (see Heb. 4:14).
Thus, the Bible—the Old Testament as well as the New—and the Book of Mormon stand together as witnesses of Jesus Christ, complementing, enhancing, elucidating, and confirming each other in their testimony of him.