Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
In the Bible it says in Matthew 1:23 (and in the Old Testament) “a virgin shall conceive, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” In Verse 25 it also says to name the child Jesus. So why does the Bible use both names and how did they know to choose Jesus. I know that Emmanuel means “God with us” and Jesus means “God saves”, but why the name Jesus and not the name Emmanuel to fulfill the prophecy?
The texts to which you refer are Matthew 1:2-23 in which the angel tells Joseph:
“She (Mary) 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 Emmanuel which means God with us.”
The angel is quoting Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” In around 738BC the prophet Isaiah confronted the bad king Ahaz and told him that a good king was about to be born who would succeed him. That was the specific situation to which the prophet was referring. The good king was named Hezekiah, not Emmanuel. The prophecy took on a greater meaning in reference to the Chosen One (“Meshiach” in Hebrew, “Christos” in Greek, and “Christ” in English.) That’s how Heaven works: layers and layers of meaning. We want a simple meaning: A=B=C, but that’s not how Heaven works.
You say that you know that Jesus means “God saves”, but it’s much more than that. Let’s look at the words. Have you ever considered what the word “god” means? Our word “god” comes from early German which in turn comes from the Indo‑European word “ghutóm” which meant “the one who is invoked”. In other words, our word “god” just means the one to whom prayers are addressed. It’s not a name. It’s a job description. In other languages there are other words describing the Supreme Being. In the Semitic languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, the word is “El”. Which simply means the one who is above. In the Latin languages, Spanish, Italian French etc. the word for god all come from the Latin word “Deus” which probably means “the one who shines”. The Greek word “theos” is also related to the Latin word “deus”. These are all descriptions, not names.
What’s in a name? Power! That’s what. When I am dressed up in my little plastic collar and a perfect stranger calls me “Rich” instead of “Father” I know exactly what he is saying. He is saying, “I do not acknowledge your supposed authority as a clergyman”. When a sweet little old lady who is about 98 years-old calls me “Father” it means she does acknowledge my authority and I respond by calling her “my child” or “daughter,” she then giggles. Names are about power. For you to call me by my name means we are equals, and in God’s sight we are, but there are roles that have meaning in human society. Have you ever heard a little child call his parents by their first names? “Come in for dinner, little Timmy!” “Not now, Sue and Fred. I’m watching TV.” You just want to go in there and smack that little tyrant upside the head, which of course you would never do, even if you wanted to. Still something just rankles. The child is stating that his parents have no control over him, and probably they don’t.
To accord someone his title is to acknowledge authority. To call someone by his name is to claim intimacy and equality. God revealed His name to Abraham in order to invite Abraham to intimacy with Him. He said His name was YHWH, which probably comes from the Hebrew word meaning “the cause of existence”. That word is indescribably sacred among Jews. They never say it. NEVER. NOT EVER. It was said once a year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. He would enter the darkness of the Holy of Holies and say the Divine Name. For 2,000 years, since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, no Orthodox Jew has said that word.
Beginning in the 6th century AD, in Tiberias on the shores of Lake Galilee, Jewish sages edited the definitive text of the Hebrew Scripture. They were called the “Masoretes”, or “Keepers of the Tradition”. People no longer spoke Hebrew, and since Hebrew was written without vowels, the memory of the correct pronunciation would be lost. The Masoretes decided to add vowels, but how? The sacred text could not be changed, so they developed a system of lines and dots that would go above and below the consonants of the sacred text. This system is called “nikkud”, or in English, simply “vowel points”. When the Masoretes came to the Sacred Named YHWH, they hesitated to add the correct vowel points, lest someone inadvertently say the Holy Name correctly, so they added the vowel points of the word “Adonai”, that is “Lord” which is what the Jews say when they see the word YHWH in the text of Scripture. This leads to two interesting sidebars.
If you read the Hebrew texts as the Masoretes wrote it — that is with the consonants of YHWH and the vowels of “Adonai”— it comes our “YaHoWaH”, or “Jehovah”. This word doesn’t seem to have existed before 1520 when it was invented by a fellow named Galatinus and used by the English Protestant Tyndale in 1530. To me this is humorous. There are whole religions built on a mispronunciation. Ain’t no such thing as “Jehovah”.
Another interesting sidebar is the text, “No one can say Jesus Christ is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1Cor. 12:3) St. Paul is saying is that no one can recognize that Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth is YHWH, the God who spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob unless they are inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Enough of the sidebars, YHWH the unspeakable name of God has a short form that is perfectly permitted, “Yah” or “Yahu” or even “Ia”. Anytime you see “yah” in a Hebrew word or name, it refers to the God whose name we do speak, words such as AlleluIA, (praise YHWH) or EliJAH (which means my God is YHWH) or ZecharIAH (YHWH has remembered) and finally the one we are interested in YAHshua (YHWH saves) which is of course known to us in its modified Greek form, “Jesus”.
The name Jesus becomes the pronounceable form of the unpronounceable name “YHWH”. Through Yahshua, we have in intimacy with YHWH. That is why Pope Emeritus Benedict forbad the use of the Yahweh in the liturgy and in liturgical music. First it is an insult to Jews who do not pronounce the name and second, it is a kind of step backwards to address the Cause of Being without acknowledging that the Cause of Being loves us and wants to save us. We know more about the Holy Name than Abraham and the patriarchs did. We know the fullness of the Love of God in the person of Jesus.
So why Jesus and not Emmanuel? Jesus is the fulfillment of Emmanuel. Remember what El means, the one who is above. It is not a name. The one who is above, who slowly revealed His name, the one who causes being, is with us in his incarnate Son and loves us.
There is another very important dimension to the name Jesus. It was one of the most common names, if not the most common, at the time of Christ. He was like us in all things but sin. I believe that if you could get into a time machine and go back to the carpenter shop in Nazareth, you wouldn’t be able to pick Jesus out of crowd of two. He chose to be that ordinary. Jesus was in fact God with us. God as one of us that’s how much He loved us and loves us still, our humble Carpenter God. That’s why the angel told Joseph to name Him Jesus.