A reader asks…

I know I really ought to give Catholic Answers a ring, but it’s hard to time since I only get to listen to it on the Internet. I thought you and your readers might take a whack at something that has always nagged at me:

Matthew 1:22-23 says “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.”

As you know, this refers to Isaiah, and is very commonly cited as a passage which helps show how Jesus Christ fulfils Messianic prophecy. One thing has always nagged at me: hello? um… he *wasn’t* called Emmanuel, but rather Yeshua bar Josef, Rabbi, Lord, Son of Man, Buddy Boy (all right, maybe not that one), etcetera. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say Jesus Christ was ever named or called Emmanuel, just that the *prophecy* said he would be called Emmanuel.

That is, Matthew just *says* this fulfils prophecy, but doesn’t say *why* this fulfils prophecy, other than the “virgin” part, which of course some people say is a mistranslation for “young girl” anyway. The only reason anyone ever refers to Our Lord as “Emmanuel” is because of Isaiah, not because of the Gospels. It reminds me of the “three kings / three wise men” thing: Luke only says “astrologers from the East.” Only Old Testament prophecy refers to “kings,” or makes any reference to there being three of them.

As you know, I’m Catholic, and try to be on board with the Church as best I can, so I’m not just trying to stir up trouble. Cheers, and don’t get caught under a ruck out in Kiwiland.

For my take on the curiously allusive way in which Matthew makes use of the text from Isaiah 7:14, go here. I think it’s a bit literalist to see the Isaiah prophecy as a Jeanne Dixon/Nostradamus style “prediction” that Jesus was to have people call him “Emmanuel” as a sort of nickname or title. Matthew is instead making clear that “God with us” is a title that is more deeply true than Isaiah himself realized. Hezekiah was a sign that God was with Israel. But the Jesus whom Hezekiah foreshadowed is, as Matthew takes pains to show, “God with us” not as a sign, but as the reality Himself.


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