Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why "Jesus"—not "Immanuel"?

Biblegems #17
Here is a great question someone has submitted for this Christmas season: “Why did they name Him Jesus when the OT said His name would be Immanuel?”

“Immanuel” shows up in Scripture only three times (Is. 7:14; 8:8; Matt. 1:23), each time referring to the Messiah.

The first occurrence in Isaiah 7:14 prophecies that a “virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Matthew’s Gospel reports that the angel Gabriel, quoting this Scripture, announced to Joseph that Mary was the virgin of Isaiah’s prophecy, and that her child would be the “Immanuel” of that prophecy (Matt. 1:22). Yet it is also Gabriel who in the previous verse instructs Joseph to name the baby “Jesus” (Lit., Yahweh saves) because he will save his people from their sins (1:21).

So we know that Gabriel, as God’s messenger, understood “Immanuel” to be an adjective meaning “God with us,” not the Messiah’s name. Joseph also understood that naming the baby “Jesus” as the angel instructed did not contradict the Isaiah prophecy, but fulfilled it. This was further confirmed when the same angel instructed Mary to name the child “Jesus” (Lk. 1:31). Not only so, But Gabriel informs Mary that the child would be conceived through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, “so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). In other words, the child would be God—with us!

Even the similarity in phrasing is interesting: Isaiah says that the virgin “will call him” Immanuel, and Gabriel says that the child “will be called” the Son of God. Neither time is the phrase meant to indicate the baby’s name, only what terms would be eventually applied to Jesus. The same can be said of another familiar Isaiah prophecy concerning the Messiah:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6).

So it is clear that the phrase “will be called” was never meant to mean “will be named.” “Immanuel” refers to what Jesus is—God with us; and the name “Jesus,” though likewise highly symbolic in its meaning, refers to Jesus’ identity as a person. It is one thing to know in theory that there might be a unique person somewhere in existence who is “God with us.” It is something else entirely to know who this specific person is by name, because: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Remember, you can submit your Bible question in the comment box below and share the blessing with others!


  1. thank you. going to pass this on to facebook friends and family.

  2. Very cool! I love when God does something "very cool" surreptitiously . . .

    "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings." - Proverbs 25:2