Jesus was given two names. How come?

JOHN IN NEW JERSEY WONDERS:

(In Matthew 1:21-23) the angel tells Joseph to call the baby Jesus, meaning “the Lord saves,” and that this relates to the Old Testament and fulfills what was written there: They will call him Immanuel, which means “God with us.” How does one reconcile these differences?

THE GUY ANSWERS:

Like his New Jersey namesake, Father John Meier of the University of Notre Dame says “at first glance” it’s indeed “puzzling” that Matthew provides two names, “Jesus” but also “Immanuel,” taken from the prophet Isaiah 7:14. The second name is found only in Matthew, which often makes such Old Testament connections, whereas in the Gospel of Luke Mary’s separate visit by an angel bestows only the name Jesus.

Meier explains that Immanuel functions as a “comment on the name Jesus” and as a “throne name” to indicate status, as opposed to the personal name. Craig Keener of Asbury Theological Seminary observes that “symbolic use of names was common in the biblical tradition.” David Hill of Britain’s University of Sheffield comments that adding the name Immanuel “signifies his role in history: In him, God will be present in the midst of his people.” Other theologians say the linked names indicate that sin is what separates God from his people and Jesus as the savior from sin makes God present with them, also underscoring belief in the “incarnation,” that Jesus is both human and divine.

To sense the Jewish word play here, the New Oxford Annotated Bible suggests this alternate translation: “You shall call his name Savior because he will save.” Jesus was a popular name among Jews of that era. It is a Greek form of the Aramaic “Yeshua” and Hebrew “Joshua.” In the Arabic of Islam’s Qur’an Jesus is named the prophet “Isa.” Incidentally, the Qur’an mentions Mary but not Joseph and affirms the New Testament’s belief in Jesus’ virginal conception (or virgin birth).

About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.


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