Teaching Through Names

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What is in a name?” In this video Dr. Cynthia encourages us to look for the meaning inside names and use it to share truth and teach. We can do this with our family and friends; but it is especially helpful for teaching our international friends and “pre-disciples” from Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu backgrounds.

PLACE NAMES: In the Western United States, many places have the names of saints. If living near one of these cities, it is easy to start conversations about what these people did, like St. James for San Diego, or St. Francis for San Francisco. When the time is right it can be an opening to explain to a “pre-disciple” differences in denominations – such as that Catholics pray to saints, but Protestants do not.

USE SACRAMENTO: Sacramento, the capital city of California, is not its most famous or largest, but it is a special favorite of Dr. C’s. Through this name, she explains that it refers to the sacrament of communion, and how Christians use it to remember the sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood for us, and the gospel. After explaining it in English, she once called an Arab co-worker to repeat it in Arabic to a new student from Saudi Arabia. A few years later, that student became a Christian.

Even if you do not live in California, you can use place names to lead to Sacramento and the gospel. For example, Corpus Christi in Texas, means the body of Christ in Spanish. If you leave on the East Coast there may be fewer religious city names, but you can transition from explaining that English settlers usually named places in the New World after those in the Old World, like New York or Plymouth, whereas the Spanish used religious names. Then you can point to cities with saint names, ending with Sacramento.

PERSONAL NAMES: Muslim names, besides Mohammed, often are the Arabic version of Bible names, and these make a good bridge to the Bible and/or gospel. You can point them to passages in the Bible about them. So, if you want to talk to Muslims, it would be good to learn the Quran’s version of these names.

For example, men’s names:

  • Abraham = Ibrahim
  • Moses = Musa
  • Joseph = Yusef
  • Job = Ayub
  • Soloman = Salman
  • Jonah = Yunas
  • Yahia – John the Baptist
  • Essa or Isa = Jesus

Probably the most important names to respond to are YAHIA and ESSA. For Yahia, Dr. C shares how important John the Baptist was – that he was the prophet sent to prepare the way for Jesus, and to confirm that he was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Yahia was one of the 3 top proofs that Jesus gave for his ministry in John 5 – a living prophet who testified for him. No other prophet has had this, especially not Mohammed (be careful how you say this to a new Muslim friend).

With Essa (or Isa), you can gently challenge and suggest “Wouldn’t you like to read the words of Jesus in the Injeel?” You are in America (or Europe) and can easily do that. I could get you an Injeel (New Testament) in your language!

Women’s names are perhaps less powerful but can still connect.

For example:

  • Miriam or Mary = Maryam
  • Sarah = Sara
  • Hagar = Hajar

With Maryam you can connect to Mary in the Bible, and share the Christmas story, especially Luke 1:35 which explains what “Son of God” means.

Hannah is similar to the Muslim name Hanah, although the characters might not be the same, it can be used as a bridge to the story of the birth of Samuel.

SALT SHAKER Method: We like to teach internationals that we mentor, or have relationships with, through things in everyday life – like ordinary activities, and events. This is what Jesus did in his teaching: he drew the people’s attention to things that surrounded them, like flowers and sheep, or common occupations, like farming and fishing.

Likewise, this is what we do when pointing to the meaning behind places, and personal names. The Salt Shaker seasons as with salt, bringing a short but important message. We call that a Type 2 Bridge.

TYPE 1 & 2 BRIDGES: In closing, Dr. C explains that names can help us build bridges to connect with a Muslim (Type 1 Bridge) and connect that Muslim to the gospel (Type 2 Bridge). We talk more about these bridges in our BUILDING BRIDGES lesson.