As a believer with a Charismatic background, I am used to hearing prayers, baptism, and healing done “in the name of Jesus.” I’ve linked the expression with the idea of invoking the identity and person of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Though Jesus is with God the Father interceding for us at the moment, the Spirit has been sent to carry on the work of the ministry of reconciliation that has been tasked to his church. When we do anything in the name of Jesus, the Spirit that was at work in the life of Jesus goes to work in the lives of believers.
In the name of Jesus we:
- Are baptized (Act 3:28)
- Preach (Act 4:18)
- Heal (Act 3:6)
- Cast out demons (Act 16:18)
There is a wrong way to use this expression: via unbelief. To use the name of Jesus without a relationship or fellowship with him invites a bad situation to the potential degree of demon possession, as the sons of Sceva example teaches us (Act 19:13-17)! When we claim this expression, we seem to be taking on proxy for Jesus. We stand in his stead for whatever it is that we are doing. We are acting in his role; carrying out one of his functions.
In Greco-Roman antiquity, it was common to associate deities with several other names and identities. This is called polyonymy. In a recent article by N. Clayton Croy*, he has shown that early Christians avoided associating the name of Jesus with any other god other than YHWH. Though Jesus was associated with different functions such as the Word of God, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, he was never associated with other gods. Jesus was never Neptune, etc.
Even the titles used to describe his functions were taken from Judaism (the Old Testament) and not created outside of Jesus’ “discrete history and tradition” (p. 43). There was no single title that could capture the theological significance of Jesus. Many were then used to capture the rich meaning behind the appearance of Jesus. But the use of any name other than Jesus Christ was eschewed by the early church.
This article by Croy is helpful. I believe it further demonstrates that “the name of Jesus” is associated with his very identity. Croy rightly observed that it is not something the early church ever took lightly, nor should we. In like manner, when we are using the name of Jesus properly it truly is a name more powerful than any other. At his name, every knee bows (Phil 2:10)! With his name sickness, disease, possession, curses, and our sins all become powerless!
* “A God by Any Other Name: Polyonymy in Greco-Roman Antiquity and Early Christianity”, BBR, 24.1, 27-43.