Having covered the context, we move to the most critical point of contention – does the Hebrew word almah, used in the passage, translate as “virgin” or “maiden”? The only other occurrences of this word in Scripture, in Genesis 24:43, Exodus 2:8, Proverbs 30:18,19, Psalm 68:25, Song of Songs 1:3 and Song of Songs 6:8, all make more sense translated as “virgin”. So it is perfectly reasonable for us to do so here, too. Let’s return to our verse.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”. (Isaiah 7:14)
The word used for sign here, “ot”, always refers to a genuine supernatural miracle. It appears in Exodus, with Moses’ rod becoming a serpent and his hand leprous. It is also the word used when the sun’s shadow changed direction as a sign to King Hezekiah. So the scene is set. The Lord’s sign is going to be a supernatural event, a true miracle. A virgin birth certainly fits the bill, any other translation of almah does not speak of anything other than a commonplace occurrence – after all there’s nothing special about an ordinary lady producing a son and then naming him. Further evidence is provided in the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek by Jewish scholars in the third century BC, the Septuagint. They translated almah as parthenos, a Greek word that only has the meaning of “virgin”, with no axe to grind, as Jesus wasn’t to appear for hundreds of years. This brings us to a clincher, an argument provided by the Jewish critics themselves. If, as they say, the Gospel writers fabricated their accounts by declaring the virgin birth of Jesus as a mark of his Messiahship, then there must have been an expectation in the first century that the Messiah would be born of a virgin and not just any young maiden.
But “Jesus”? Surely he was to be named “Emmanuel”, the critics cry. I must admit, this had troubled me too, particularly when reading from the Matthew account.
“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.” (Matthew 1:21)
Yes, he is to be called Jesus. Then we are reminded, in the next verses:
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
Immanuel (or Emmanuel) or Jesus? Which is it to be? The answer is … both! This is one of the beauties of Hebraic thought. Names are not just … names. Names are to have meaning. The Bible is full of this concept. Virtually everyone in the Bible has a name that describes something relevant about that person or the situation in which he or she found themselves. From Adam (Hebrew for “man”) to Zechariah (“God has remembered” ) we have a cast of thousands of colourful characters. Then, of course, Jesus is our “Man of Many Names”, with over 350 names, each describing an aspect of his nature or mission. The name “Jesus” means “God is salvation”. As he chiefly came to save the World, then surely it is apt that his given name reflects that fact. Emmanuel, as the Gospel account tells us, means “God with us”, a comfort to us all, but still not a name with the power of Jesus, Our Saviour. We could call him Emmanuel, Son of Man, Son of God, the Word or Messiah, but it’s far more convenient to call him by the name his mum and dad were told by an angel to give him, Jesus, or Yeshua in Hebrew.
Why was Jesus called Jesus?
Written by: Miriam Emenike
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