BASIC Newsletter #254
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The Meaning of Immanuel
The following is an excerpt from “Die grosze Weissagung vom Jungfrauensohn in ihrem historisehen Rahmen,” by August Pieper. Quartalschrift, October, 1904, p 219ff. Translated by John Jeske, with some minor updating. The full essay can be found on the WELS Essay website, https://www.wlsessays.net/node/
Let us turn our attention now to the second great question: What does the name Immanuel given to the virgin’s Son express? Specifically: In this passage is the name Immanuel (“God with us”) a reference to the mystery of the person of the God‑Man, to the personal union of the divine and human natures in the virgin’s Son? Or is the name intended merely to express the general truth that through this child’s activity and work and ministry God would be with us in an especially tangible way?
It was the latter sense which was commonly conveyed by the names Old Testament people (and especially men of God) bore. As is well known, Isaiah means “God saves”; Jeremiah “the one whom God establishes”; Ezekiel “the one whom God makes strong;” Obadiah “God’s servant”; Zechariah “the one whom God remembers”; Malachi “God’s messenger”; etc. These names all designate the nature, the characteristics, the sending, or the office of the person who bears the name. If one looks only at this text, it is difficult to see any reason to take the name Immanuel in any other sense. The name itself (here spelled as one word Immanuel; in chapter 8:10 as two, Immanu El) does not indicate anything of the kind. Neither dare one confidently draw conclusions about the child’s divine nature simply from the fact that his conception was a special miracle of God, without the participation of a human father. With a simple Creator‑act God could have formed a child in the womb of a mother, without having that child be God himself.
The parallels to our passage, however, declare unmistakably that the virgin’s Son is God himself. Look first at Isaiah 9:6. The subject there is clearly the same as in our passage, the virgin’s Son. “The virgin will be with child—and will give birth to a son—and will call him Immanuel.” This triple prophecy is echoed as Isaiah anticipates its threefold fulfillment: “To us a child is born—to us a son is given . . . and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The passage clearly proclaims the deity of the virgin’s Son. We see the same thing in Micah 5:2‑3. There we are told that the child whom “she who is in labor” (v.3) will bear is one “whose origins are from of old, from days of eternity.” That description rules out any and every creature. There can be little doubt, therefore, that the child’s name describes not only his saving work, but at the same time his mysterious divine‑human nature dens in terra, theanthropos, God in human flesh. The Old Testament clearly reveals the essential, eternal deity of the Messiah, alongside of his human nature.