Why wasn’t Jesus named Immanuel? After all, Isaiah seemed to indicate what the Messiah’s name would be. He writes, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). Many Christian songs feature the name Immanuel, and we may be puzzled about why we are applying this name, or why Jesus was not named Immanuel by his mother if the Scriptures indicate that the Messiah would be named Immanuel. After all, if the Messiah is not named Immanuel, that would render the prophecy unfulfilled. So, the question that imposes itself: why wasn’t Jesus named Immanuel?
In Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus (1:22-23), he cites Isaiah 7:14, writing, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, ‘God with us.'” So Matthew, a gospel written specifically to a Jewish audience, appealed to the Jewish passage which says that the Messiah would be named Immanuel. Thus it was not left out or overlooked. Matthew said that this very prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus. So why wasn’t Jesus named Immanuel? Matthew suggests that his name is Immanuel.
There is no distinction between a title and a name. In modern thought, we have a habit of separating titles and names. A person has one name, their birth name given to them by their parents. We usually do not even know what that name means. But to God, names are vital. To God, a name is a reflection of who a person is. That is why when one was born again, God would change their name, like from Abram to Abraham, or Saul to Paul, and so on. A name is a reflection of who a person is.
But people were often given names that were not their birth name. What we would regard as a title, like ‘father’ or ‘son,’ is a name in the Old Testament. That is why Isaiah can say that the name of the Messiah is the prince of peace, wonderful counselor, mighty God, and everlasting father (Isaiah 9:6). He can say that the name of the Messiah is to be Immanuel, even if the Messiah was given the birth name of Jesus. We can say that we baptize in the name “Jesus Christ,” even though Christ is a title (Acts 2:38). We can say that we baptize in the name “Father, Son, Holy Spirit,” because each of these are names (Matthew 28:19). (For a detailed discussion of what it means to baptize “in the name of” click here.) Solomon can be named Jedidiah (2 Samuel 12:25) even though his birth name is Solomon. Jesus can be named Immanuel even though his birth name is Jesus.
This distinction between titles and names is really a modern distinction. But in the Bible, a title is a name, and a name is a title. In fact, one could even say that a name is a title under which a person is designated. In Hebrew thought, these are interchangeable.
Why wasn’t Jesus named Immanuel? He was. He was also named prince of peace, wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father (Isaiah 9:6), he was named Christ (Acts 2:38). He was named these things despite that his birth name was Jesus.
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