Names

There is an idea in Christianity that the name ‘Jesus’ (from the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians usually take to be a person of a trinitarian God) has some special power. What does this mean?

It can’t be the actual sounds by which we pronounce the name or the way the name is written, as these vary. Furthermore, it can’t be the name Jesus, as many people are called ‘Jesus’ (and many were at the time when the historical figure presumably lived, which is a reason why the disambiguator ‘of Nazareth’, or similar phrases, was often used).

One possibility is a particular kind of concept which can be attached to the word ‘Jesus’ (spelt or pronounced whichever way). That is, the word has power the way any word has power in terms of being associated with a concept, except that it is associated with a specific kind of concept which may be relatively unique in someone’s cognitive economy, and so may have relatively unique capacities.

Certain concepts are more useful for interfacing in certain situations than others. Consider a picture of a room as a proxy for a correlated concept. One picture might represent the room as square, another as a blob. If the room were square, then it is easy to see how the former concept might be more useful than the latter in various contexts.

If this is right, then there are two questions that seem salient which follow from this. First, how is the concept which Christians refer to relevantly developed? (It seems that different Christians will have different concepts, overlapping in various areas. What is relevant for these concepts in terms of use?) Probably, spiritual experiences (such as conversion experiences many Christians have), stories about Jesus from the Gospels, and spiritual practices would be central to the development of this concept for an individual Christian, as well as cultural artifacts – songs, paintings, architecture, and so on – among other things.

Then, how does such a concept actually work? (This and the first question are related.) I.e., if a relevant concept ‘Jesus’ does have power, what is it about it that allows the person employing the concept to interface with reality in such a way as to have the concept be useful? The obvious answer, as in the case of the concept of a square room, is that the concept corresponds to something in reality, and therefore allows for a certain kind of ‘navigation’ via the concept.

(These sorts of considerations bear not just on certain powers Christians may attribute to the name of Jesus, but also any sort of relationship at all, to some extent.)

These considerations make some sense of an idea in Christianity that the name ‘Jesus’ has special power.

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