Wasn’t the Messiah supposed to be named Emmanuel?

Q. In Isaiah, the Messiah’s name is Emmanuel. Why did Gabriel say to call the baby Jesus?

“The Annunciation” (detail), Bartolomé Murillo, 1665-1660. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, announces that she’s going to give birth to the Messiah, and tells her to name the baby Jesus.

This is a bit of a puzzle, particularly since the Bible calls direct attention to the difference in names.

According to Luke, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.” In other words, he will be the Messiah.

According to Matthew, an “angel of the Lord” also appeared to Joseph and told him, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” The angel refers to Joseph as “son of David” to show that he’s in the royal line of Judah and that as his legal (though not biological) son, Jesus will be in that line as well and so can be the Messiah.

But Matthew then adds, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel.'” So how could the prophesy have been fulfilled that said a virgin would bear a son named Emmanuel if the Virgin Mary instead named her son Jesus?

The issue depends on what it means for a Scripture to be “fulfilled.” Let me quote here from another post on this blog that addresses that specific question:

The very first book of the New Testament, in its very first claim that a prophecy was fulfilled, rules out the understanding of “fulfillment” as a foreseen future coming to pass.  Matthew writes that when Mary had borne a son, and Joseph had called his name “Jesus,” the prophetic word was fulfilled that said, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” We would expect that if the passage quoted from Isaiah here really were a future foreseen and described, Mary would have actually named her son “Emmanuel,” not “Jesus.”  So something different is going on.

The necessary conclusion is that when Matthew speaks of “fulfillment,” he does not mean that a foreseen future has come to pass.  Instead, he means that words spoken at an earlier time in redemptive history have taken on a fuller and deeper meaning in light of later, more developed redemptive-historical circumstances. This, to me, is actually a much more powerful concept:  not that humans were given an advance glimpse of what was going to happen in the future, but that the God who superintends and overrules human affairs has demonstrated His unchanging character consistently through time and has revealed more and more of his purposes while reaffirming the earlier-revealed ones.

We may appeal to American history for an illustration of this sense of “fulfillment.”  When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” he said this to dispute the premise that kings ruled by divine right and that their subjects therefore owed them the kind of unquestioning loyalty they would offer to God.  (That is, he said this to justify a revolutionary independence movement.) 

But when Abraham Lincoln observed in his Gettysburg Address of 1863 that our nation was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” he meant instead that slavery was incompatible with the fundamental premises of American society. 

And when Martin Luther King said, in his “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963 (appropriately delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial), that he longed for the day when our nation would “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:  ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal,’” he explained that in such a nation, people would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  This is how the “true” or “fulfilled” (fullest and deepest) meaning of Jefferson’s words would be realized, according to King.

By this same analogy, when Matthew says that Isaiah’s words were “fulfilled” when Mary bore her son and named him Jesus, he means that those words have taken on a fuller and deeper meaning.  The Greek translation that Matthew quotes has helped this happen:  Isaiah uses a Hebrew term that arguably can best be translated “maiden,” while the Greek reads, more intensively, “virgin.”  Moreover, “Emmanuel” is no longer the boy’s name, but rather an explanation of his identity—“God with us.” These two intensified aspects of meaning are brought out when the original statement is heard in the light of later developments as the plan of God unfolds.

So, to summarize, instead of being named Emmanuel, which means “God with us,” Jesus actually is “God with us.” That’s the deeper meaning of the earlier statement that can be recognized as God carries out the plans he announced.

And the name “Jesus” itself is not without significance. Mary and Joseph were told to choose this name precisely because of its significance. It’s the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, or more specifically Yehoshua, which means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.” That’s why the angel said to Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

So Jesus is “God with us,” as the prophetic name Emmanuel indicates, and he does save us from our sins, as his actual proper name describes.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

13 thoughts on “Wasn’t the Messiah supposed to be named Emmanuel?”

  1. Gabriel did not say Jesus he said he Emmanuel God With Us the letter J did not exist until after 16:23 did not exist backed over 2000 years ago so stop trying to change things revelation 22:19

    1. Did you ever get a reply? I’m also curious about this as I also heard it was the opposite. That they were never asked to call Him Jesus but instead Emmanuel is what they were told.

      1. As this post documents, both Matthew and Luke record angels telling Mary and Joseph to name their child Jesus. And as the post explains, his birth nevertheless fulfilled the prophecy that the virgin’s son would be called “Emmanuel” in an intensified way, because Jesus actually was “God with us,” which is what “Emmanuel” means. In general, when Old Testament statements are said to be “fulfilled” in the New Testament, this is in a heightened, escalated way. There’s no need to try to support the idea of a literal fulfillment by arguing that Mary and Joseph were actually told to name the child “Emmanuel,” which would be contrary to what two of the gospels tell us.

      2. Hint hint
        You say his name thee end of every preyur
        Ahh now day it would be pronounce Allah or Allen or even?

    2. A much simpler answer is: “Jesus” is the English pronounciation of the Hebrew name “Yeshua”. “Emmanual” means “God with Us” in all languages.

    3. He is Immanuel Which being interpreted means God with us. This is the revelation before the Jesus was born telling who he was God with us. This is not the name given as spoken of in Isaiah 9:6 of the son that would be given. His name would be called Everlasting Father The Mighty God Prince of Peace Wonderful Counselor. This tell all the things his name would represent. This is Emanuel which being interpreted is God with us. The name however is Jesus and is the name revealed by Gabriel the angel that stood in presence of God. He gave before the child was born. So word Emanuel is his person but Jesus is his name

  2. Wrong the angle Gabriel said to call him Immanuel it was the Greek that translated to Jesus and his real name is yeshua for he was Hebrew the Greek added the judge like zuese they mystical God they decided to call him Jesus nowhere in the Bible does it say to call him Jesus remember the Greek were the ones that translated the Hebrew Bible to us but the Torah is the original word of God

      1. Greek name is Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous) /The letter and the sound ”J” comes a few centuries later. Neither the original Greek bibles nor the Hebrew texts have the letter ”j”.

  3. ? Why do historians and theologians insist on translating Jesus from Hebrew throughout Greek and Arabic language to arrive at these explanations?
    I believe the simplest way is the purest. Considering Jesus is the only name in history that undergoes such a complicated explanation.
    Sincerely, how is this not a more discussed case of identity theft?
    Case being yeshua meaning different things based on region. With none of them meaning “God with us”.
    I find this statement to jump over true meaning if names. While using a complicated method of explanation.

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