In Matthew 1:21-23, why is Jesus not named "Emmanuel"?:

Mat 1:21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." Mat 1:22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Mat 1:23 "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).

It seems that "Matthew" is ignoring the elephant in the room with this obvious contradiction. Is this a translation problem? Is "they shall call" not referring to his naming?

  • 1
    keep in mind, this is hermeneutics. Not truth questions. You can disagree with everything I'm saying and Matthew could be completely wrong to have connected Isaiah to Jesus... And at the same time everything I'm saying that Matthew thought could be true. That is, he did believe it. He could be wrong, but he did believe there was a fulfillment. Are you asking us to judge if Matthew was correct or are you asking us to interpret Matthew's understanding from the text he gave us? The latter is hermeneutics, the former is opinion. Please clarify.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 14:54
  • @Joshua Can you restate/retranslate verses 22-23 in a way that is faithful to the Hebrew and the Greek that does not create a contradiction with v 21?
    – user10231
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 15:14
  • Is that a separate request or are you clarifying that's your core question here?
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 15:49
  • @Joshua I think that if you do that you both clarify your position and answer the question, assuming you support your rendering. I think TheNonTheologian has the right idea that the problem is in the translation.
    – user10231
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 15:52
  • Try this exercise. See if you can state your entire question in one detailed sentence. If you cannot it is probably too broad or is multiple questions. Is your last paragraph actual points you expect to be addressed or are they, as I took them, ideas you are offering as possible solutions to the title question?
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 16:13

9 Answers 9


Matthew may not be saying what you think he is saying. He does not say "he was named this to fulfill the prophet" but rather "all this took place" to fulfill the prophet:

  1. Virgin conceives
  2. Child is born
  3. Angel tells them to name him Jesus.
  4. He is Immanuel

All of this, above, happened to fulfill the prophet. But the very fact that Jesus is not named Immanuel then implies there is another meaning, so we must look to the meaning of the name. Immanuel means "God with us." This is reinforced by the fact that Matthew interjects with this meaning to make sure his audience understands.

Also, in Hebrew thought, a name is not just what you are referred to as, but as who you are:

On the most basic level, a Jewish name is a keystone of Jewish identity... the name of a thing in the Holy Tongue represents the combination of sacred letters that reflects its distinct characteristics and the purpose and role towards which it was created.1

Meanwhile, the name Jesus, that is, Yeshua, means "God saves." And the angel declares he will be named this because "he will save his people..."

So we have Jesus described as:

  1. God saves
  2. He will save his people
  3. God is with us

You are right there is an apparent contradiction at first. How can his name be "God Saves" because he will save his people? But there is one solution available that harmonizes them all: That Matthew is saying Jesus is God with us and he will save his people himself.


The other question we may ask is what exactly Matthew intended when saying "to fulfill"? The point may have been the fulfillment or completion of what was promised by Isaiah or a typological fulfillment.

Or said differently, that this was the fulfillment of a promise from Isaiah of a child, conceived of a virgin, being born, who would be God with us.

More Names as Description

Finally, the promised Messiah is given many names by prophets. Isaiah himself also says in Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And yet none of these are expected to be his given name either. They are titles and descriptions. Christians would agree that Jesus is each of them, but that does not mean his name is not still Jesus.

  • Doesn't Matthew 1:23 specifically quote a verse that says "they shall call his name Immanuel". It doesn't say "he is Immanuel" as you suggest. Nothing you've said addresses that.
    – user10231
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 0:28
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    @WoundedEgo If you are referring to my first list, I am listing the things that MATTHEW is saying have been fulfilled. So in Matthew's mind Jesus was (technically going to be at this point) conceived of virgin(check), born(check), named Jesus and fulfills the prophet saying he would be named Immanuel (check). Matthew seems to think there is a checkmark on that one as well. I simply provided what I believe to be his reasoning for considering it also checked off. The fact that Matthew translates Immanuel for the reader should be a major clue.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 1:00
  • How do you get this checked?? "...fulfills the prophet saying he would be named Immanuel"?
    – user10231
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 1:36
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    @WoundedEgo I'm not debating you in comments. This is hermeneutics. Your question states that Matthew is ignoring something. I'm saying he's clearly aware of it. I am not checking it off, Matthew is: Matt 1:22 tells us he considers everything in v23 to be fulfilled by these events. If you have something you need clarified, let me know. But so far I am just repeating things that are in my answer already.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 1:39
  • (-1) because it appears you are saying that since "Matthew" said it "fulfilled" the calling of his name as Emmanuel then there is no conflict, yet you provide no rationale.
    – user10231
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 14:37

It seems like a contradiction but it is not. A few people have explained it well here and I just want to point out this resource: https://www.gotquestions.org/Immanuel-Jesus.html

Jesus was not literally to be named “Immanuel” but we can call Him that and people have and will.

I also think it’s important to mention in Luke chapter 1 verse 31 am angel tells Mary to name the baby Jesus but also says he will be called the “Son of the Most High.”

I’m not an expert, but maybe one way of looking at it is that “Son of the Most High” and “Immanuel” are TITLES but Jesus is His “formal” NAME given at birth.

I hope that’s helpful! It’s easy to get tripped up on these things but we can be confident in who the Lord is and it is fitting to praise Him as Immanuel, God with us.


Whoever wrote this is actually ignoring a few things. Immanuel is a Hebrew word (עִמָּנוּאֵל) which means "God is with us". Jesus is the English transliteration of Iēsous which is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Yeshua- YHVH our Deliverance. The author had to include Immanuel because it is part of the same sentence with "virgin".

However, the Hebrew word translated "virgin" is almah (הָעַלְמָה H5959), and it means "young woman". This word has nothing to do with being a virgin. If Isaiah wanted to say virgin, he would have said betulah (בְּתּוּלָה H1330).

This birth was to be a sign to Ahaz, who reigned 700 years before Messiah. It's impossible that Yeshua was to be the fulfilled sign to Ahaz because Ahaz was very dead when Yeshua was born.

"Therefore YHVH himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.

For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings." Isaiah 7:14

This prophecy is fulfilled in the very next chapter:

"And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said YHVH to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz.

For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria." Isaiah 8:3


"And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel.

Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces.

Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us." Isaiah 8:8

So we can see that Immanuel and Mahershalalhashbaz are one and the same, and he is Isaiah's son- which was not born of a virgin. Isaiah confirms that his son was the fulfillment of this sign:

"Behold, I and the children whom YHVH hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from YHVH of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion." Isaiah 8:18

If Isaiah 7:14 is a "dual-prophecy" or whatnot, then we have even bigger problems. First, Isaiah's wife would have to be a virgin when she conceived Mahershalalhashbaz, which wouldn't make the virgin birth that spectacular. But she wasn't a virgin because Isaiah specifically says he had sex with her.


Yeshua is not Immanuel. Isaiah 7 and Isaiah 8 have nothing to do with the Messiah. "They shall call his name Immanuel" refers to a nick-name God gave Mahershalalhashbaz, the son of Isaiah, whom Isaiah confirms is a sign to the people.

  • Except this question is within the context of Matthew, not Isaiah. Everything you say about Isaiah may be correct, but Matthew states it is fulfillment of Isaiah. His understanding of it as Messianic prophecy is already established. There is no arguing it within Matthew. Was Matthew right? Well... That's another question. But why does Matthew seem to think there is a fulfillment even though his given name was Jesus not Immanuel? That's the question as I read it.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 11:11
  • (+1) for getting to the heart of the problem with excellent exegesis. So would you say that "Matthew" was trying to pull a fast one? Or that "fulfill" does not refer to being what the original was talking about but rather in some way "echoing" it?
    – user10231
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 11:12
  • I tried to answer the question without providing an "opinion". To be honest, I believe the question is similar to asking "Who is the angel in John 5:4?" I don't think Matthew was trying to pull a fast one, because I don't believe Matthew knew anything about a virgin birth. I trust Matthew, but I don't trust the men that added pagan myths to his gospel.
    – Cannabijoy
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 15:17

You are correct. They shall call His name Emmanuel does not refer to His naming, but rather what He shall be called in the future, as relates to both His past and future.

John Chrysostom commented on this in the 4th century:

How was it then, one may say, that His name was not called Emmanuel, but Jesus Christ? Because he said not, you shall call, but they shall call, that is, the multitude, and the issue of events. For here he puts the event as a name: and this is customary in Scripture, to substitute the events that take place for names.

Therefore, to say, they shall call Him Emmanuel, means nothing else than that they shall see God among men. For He has indeed always been among men, but never so manifestly.

But if Jews are obstinate, we will ask the, when was the child called, "Make speed to the spoil, hasten the prey?" Why, they could not say. How is it then that the prophet said, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz? Because, when he was born, there was a taking and dividing of spoils, therefore the event that took place in his time is put as his name. And the city, too, it is said, shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city Sion [Isaiah 1:26-27] And yet we nowhere find that the city was called righteousness, but it continued to be called Jerusalem. However, inasmuch as this came to pass in fact, when the city underwent a change for the better, on that account he says it is so called. For when any event happens which marks out him who brings it to pass, or who is benefited by it, more clearly than his name, the Scripture speaks of the truth of the event as being a name to him.

Homilies on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Homily V

Theophylact of Ohrid later explained (in the 11th century):

The Jews say, "How is it then that He is not called Emmanuel but Jesus Christ?" One may answer, "The prophet did not say 'You shall call', but 'They shall call.'" That is, the events and deeds of His life will show that He is God and that He keeps company with us. For Holy Scripture gives names that are derived from the events of one's life; for example, "Call his name Plunder Swiftly" [Isaiah 8:3]. Yet where does it record that anyone was ever called by such a name? But since error was despoiled and taken captive at the moment of the Lord's birth, Scripture gives this as His name, which He acquires from the event.

Explanation of the Gospel According to Saint Matthew

  • Are you saying that "they shall call his name" is an idiom? If so, what does the idiom mean?
    – user10231
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 14:53
  • I don't know that I would call it an idiom, in the sense that it was a widely used phrase, but maybe that is the way to describe it. Please see the comment by Theophylact of Ohrid that I just added.
    – user15733
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 15:07
  • Can you try putting verses 22 and 23 into your own words to say what you think it means?
    – user10231
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 15:23

First of all, some people think that verses 20-23 are being said by the messenger, but it is actually the author of Matthew who is drawing a correlation between what was happening in Joseph's day with what happened in Isaiah's day. This is evidenced by the repeated phrase throughout the book of Matthew translated as "that it might be fulfilled...". (See Matthew 2:15,17,23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9,35)

The passage that is being quoted is from Isaiah 7:14, and if you notice, the fruition of that sign took place in Isaiah 8:3-10.

The son that was brought forth in Isaiah 8 was named a different name than Emmanuel, but in the description of what took place following the child reaching a certain age, we see the word "Emmanuel" or its English interpretation "God with us" in verse 8 & 10.

The LORD spake also unto me again, saying, Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son; Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel.

Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us. (Isaiah 8:5-10 KJV)

The sign was given in King Ahaz' day to demonstrate that God was with the house of David when he feared the Davidic dynasty was going to come to an end with the conspiracy of men invading Jerusalem.

The author of Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14, but then he defines the word "Emmanuel" for his reader: "(which means, God with us)".

I think this is because he saw the fact that Joseph was told that his wife was going to bring forth a son, who was to be the Christ, and he was to name him Jesus (Yeshua), which means YHVH is salvation, "for he shall save his people from their sins", was all a demonstration that God was still with the house of David.

Emmanuel was never meant to be Joseph and Mary's child's name.


Some nicknames for Babe Ruth may be related to these Names, Appellations, and Titles of Jesus, The Christ:

"George Herman Ruth was named George, of course. But we can call him other things, and we’re talking about the same person: “Babe,” “the Bambino,” “the Sultan of Swat,” or “the Colossus of Clout.” The names for Babe Ruth multiplied due to his personal history and his signature talent on the ballfield. In a similar way, we can call Jesus by His given name, but we can also call Him “Immanuel.” Or “Wonderful,” “Counselor,” “Prince of Peace,” or “The Lord Our Righteousness.” The names of Jesus Christ multiply due to His divine nature and miraculous work."

--A quote from gotquestions


Isaiah did not speak about an actual virgin who would bear an actual child. Isaiah was speaking about his country or his city (the virgin) which would have a prosper future under God's saving power which would deliver it from the other countries conspired against it.

Matthew sees that the metaphoric language Isaiah used can be actualize in Jesus birth to be an embodiment to God's saving power.


Great explanation from Got Questions. Don't forget Pentecost! Language is an expression of thought.

We refer to Him as “Jesus” because, as English-speaking people, we know of Him through English translations of the Greek New Testament. Scripture does not value one language over another, and it gives no indication that we must resort to Hebrew when addressing the Lord. The command is to “call on the name of the Lord,” with the promise that we “shall be saved” (Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32). Whether we call on Him in English, Korean, Hindi, or Hebrew, the result is the same: the Lord is salvation.


We could assume that Matthew is ignoring the contradiction, but I think it's more reasonable to assume that Matthew thought there was no contradiction. Is it possible to read the text as we have it in the way Matthew may have intended it, such that there is no difficulty? I believe so.

As you suggested, it's reasonable to read in the text that Yehoshua (Jesus) was not necessarily to be named Emmanuel, but that people would call his name, "God is with us." Furthermore, there is a very common Hebraism found throughout the Tanakh where "his name," "my name," etc. are referring to the person behind the name, not to the name, itself:

  • "his name" = "him"
  • "my name" = "me"

If we assume Matthew was using this figure of speech, then the passages in both Isaiah and Matthew may be understood to say that "they shall call out to him, 'God is with us!'" Both the Hebrew and the Greek words that are translated as "to call" can be translated as "call out" or "call aloud," so this interpretation would not be stretching things.

  • It says they would "call his name" not "call out to him".
    – user10231
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 5:52
  • "It" is an English translation. The Greek and Hebrew are important. Since I addressed both of the possible points that you may be intending to make in your rebuttal, I'm unsure what you're trying to say. Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 6:12
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    In Greek, "his name" (~"him") would need to be in the dative rather than accusative case to convey "call out to him."
    – Susan
    Commented Jul 11, 2016 at 7:29
  • Hmm, good point, @Susan. Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 15:47

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