Why Was Jesus Not Named Immanuel?

Immanuel was not intended to be a proper name that people would call Jesus. But as we read in Scripture, we do find that people did identify him as “God with us.”

Ed Jarrett
Manger in front of the Bible and candles

In Matthew 1:21-22, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and gave him instructions about naming the child that Mary was carrying.

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

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 Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

A question that many people have about this passage concerns the note that “they will call him Immanuel.” Yet no place in the Scripture do we find anyone applying this name to Jesus.

This has caused some to question the inspiration of the Scripture. But is this really a problem?

This article will seek to provide an answer to that question.

Two Names

You will notice in the passage quoted above that Jesus appears to be given two names. Joseph is instructed to name the child Jesus, a name that means “Yahweh saves.” This name is appropriate because he will save his people from their sins.

The actual name given in this passage is Yeshua, which translates into English as Joshua. But as it has gone through Greek, Latin, and then English translations it has morphed into Jesus.

The second name is Immanuel, sometimes spelled Emmanuel. This comes from Isaiah’s prophetic sign to King Ahaz in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Matthew sees this sign that Isaiah gives as being applicable to the birth of Jesus as well.

Immanuel, as Matthew tells us, means “God with us.” While the name “Jesus” is descriptive of what Jesus did, this name is descriptive of who Jesus was/is.

But was Immanuel actually a proper name given to Jesus? Or was it more descriptive of who he was? Note that Joseph is told to name the baby Jesus. But that he would be called Immanuel, not named Immanuel.

The G.O.A.T.

Several sports have identified specific players as their G.O.A.T., which means the Greatest of All Time. That is not actually a name that has been given to them. Instead, it is more of a descriptive title. No one actually calls them Goat. But many identify them as G.O.A.T.

I believe the same is true here with Jesus and Immanuel. Immanuel was not intended to be a proper name that people would call him. But as you read the Scripture, you do find that people did identify him as “God with us.”

Jesus Is Identified as Immanuel

What I believe is the most explicit “God with us” reference to Jesus comes from the prologue to John’s gospel. He starts by introducing the Word as God, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

And he follows that up by describing the Word as taking on human form, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The Word that John described here is Jesus, who is God, and who became flesh. He was God living among us.

Later in the gospel of John, Jesus gave some last instructions to his disciples on the evening of his betrayal. During that time Phillip asked Jesus to show them the Father (John 14:8).

And Jesus responded with “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus was God with us. When people saw Jesus, they saw the Father.

Paul referred several times to the divinity of Jesus. In Philippians 2:6, he said of Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God.” In Colossians 1:15, he said that “The Son is the image of the invisible God.”

And in Colossians 2:9, he told us that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” In all these passages, Paul was referring to Jesus as Immanuel, God with us.

A final passage to look at comes from Hebrews 1:3. Here the author of Hebrews says that “the Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.

When we see Jesus, we see the radiance of God’s glory. Jesus fully represents God in the flesh. Jesus, according to the author of Hebrews, is Immanuel.

Immanuel and the Incarnation

Incarnation is a theological term that is often used around Christmas. In general, it refers to a spirit or deity who is clothed in flesh, whether human or an animal.

When we use the term as Christians, we are referring specifically to God taking on human form in the person of Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh.

Whenever we refer to the incarnation of Jesus, we are referring to him as Immanuel. We may not use that specific term, but none-the-less that meaning is there.

So, is it a problem that no one specifically used the term Immanuel when referring to Jesus in the Scripture? I do not believe so. Over and over he is identified as God in the flesh. His name is Jesus, but he is called “God with us.”

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/udra


Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.


Originally published December 08, 2020.