The Trinitarian Claim
Trinitarians claim "God with us" is intended to identify Jesus as "God" by suggesting the name means God was "with us" in the sense of coming down from heaven to be spatially located with us in a geographic sense. Since Jesus came to be "with us" then He himself was God with us.
Examination of the Claim
1. Eisegetical Preconceptions
Trinitarians are reading extraneous ideas into the text:
- God the Son came down into the Virgin Mary.
- "God with us" means God spatially with us or God occupying the same space as us.
Essentially, Trinitarian incarnation theology, the Trinitarian belief that God the Son came down from heaven into Mary, is eisegetically read into Matthew 1:23 and it is then presumed that the words "God with us" must therefore refer to this incarnation concept and these words and this name, Immanuel, mean "God [the Son], Jesus, came down from heaven to be with us."
2. Inconsistent Interpretation
The Trinitarian interpretation is inconsistent with Scripture. It is tenuous to claim God came to dwell among Israel when Scripture informs us that no one has ever seen, or can see, God. But even more signifiant is the fact that we are also told explicitly that God will only be among humanity in the new heavens and earth. If indeed, God has already been among us, the point of God's promise to dwell among us becomes a meaningless promise.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:1-4).
3. A Child named Immanuel was prophesied to be born during the days of Ahaz and Isaiah
Matthew is quoting Isaiah 7:14. The context of this passage is that two Kings are attacking Ahaz the King of Judah. God informs Ahaz that he will give him a sign concerning the outcome of the situation.
Now it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Aram and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not conquer it. When it was reported to the house of David, saying, “The Arameans have camped in Ephraim,” his heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind. Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the fuller’s field, and say to him, ‘Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted because of these two stubs of smoldering firebrands, on account of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. Because Aram, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has planned evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and terrorize it, and make for ourselves a breach in its walls and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” thus says the LORD God: “It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass. For the head of Aram is Damascus and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people), and the head of Ephraim is Samaria and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!” Then he said, “Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? Therefore the LORD Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.
The LORD will bring on you, on your people, and on your father’s house such days as have never come since the day that Ephraim separated from Judah, the king of Assyria.”
The context plainly tells us that a child named Immanuel will be born during the days of King Ahaz and the prophet Isaiah. We are also told that the birth of this child was to be a sign to King Ahaz. This does not mean the prophecy cannot apply to Jesus. Such "dual prophecies" are common in Scripture and they are commonly called "near fulfillment" and "far fulfillment." There is a "near fulfillment" in view here. Scholars debate whether the child in question is Isaiah's son or Ahaz's son Hezekiah. For our intents and purposes it does not really matter if it is one or the other. What matters is that we recognize that this sign was fulfilled in the days of Ahaz and Isaiah. In fact, a time frame is explicitly given: 65 years (v.8). And verses 15-16 make it even more clear, "He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings (see 7:1-2) you dread will be forsaken." It is quite clear that this will all take place during the reign of King Ahaz.
Now once it is realized that the birth of this child will occur during the life of Ahaz and the prophet Isaiah, it should also be clear that it is impossible to interpret Immanuel, "God with us," to mean that the God of Israel would come down from heaven to be located in the same space as Israel. The child born during the days of Ahaz was not called "Immanuel' because he was God Himself. And it is also quite clear HOW God would be with them. God is giving them a sign that He is with King Ahaz and the House of David concerning the war situation there are suffering. In other words, it does not mean that God has decided to come and be located among them but that He is with them in plan and purpose. Moreover, it reads that Yahweh will give them a sign not that Yahweh will be the sign or that Yahweh will descend from heaven. We simply cannot interpret Isaiah 7:14 to mean God has come down from heaven when it concerns Jesus but deny those words mean the same thing when it comes to the near fulfillment of the prophecy when the child is born during the reign of King Ahaz.
Put another way, the verse must refer to a birth of a child contemporaneous with King Ahaz. That child will be named "Immanuel" or "God with us." It is impossible to interpret these words to mean that child is God Himself. This tells us that "God with us" does NOT mean God coming to be located in the same space as the people of Judah. Hence, if "God with us" does NOT mean God coming to be located in the same space as Israel, it can't mean that for Jesus either. Moreover, it would result in Almighty God not knowing right from wrong.
4. Before Almighty God knows right from wrong?
The two verses immediately following the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy tell us that the child Immanuel will not know right from wrong. To interpret the name Immanuel to mean that the child IS God would therefore mean Almighty God would not know right from wrong, a ludicrous proposition. However, if the name Immanuel was a name given to the child to show that the God of Israel, not the child himself, would be with them in plan and purpose, the name given to the child then makes complete sense. And indeed, the verses immediately preceding Matthew 1:23 show us that God's plan and purpose is in mind, not where God is located. Jesus will save his people from their sins. God sent his human son to the cross and in this way, God was with the people of Israel.
5. "God with us" - Spatially or Functionally?
A significant problem with the Trinitarian interpretation is that it involves the assumption that "God with us" necessarily means God is with us locatively, God is spatially or geographically with us, God is occupying the same space or environment as us. However, the evidence indicates this is is not the case. Trinitarians disregard the Biblical witness on this kind of language. "God with us" does not necessarily mean God is situated in the same spatial environment as us and this Trinitarian assumption conveniently ignores the weight of the testimony of the Scriptures. The idea of God being "with" someone in a functional sense rather than a spatial sense is a common expression in the Scriptures. For God to be with Israel, for example, meant He was with them in plan and purpose as opposed to being against them. It meant God is with Israel in a functional sense rather than spatial sense.
The "us" in 'God with us' is intended to refer to the people of Israel. It is incredulous to say that Matthew was telling us that God was with Israel in the sense of occupying the same space. God was with Israel in plan and purpose because we are told numerous times that "no one has ever seen God" or even can see God. The fact is, that we are told right here in the context of Matthew chapter one how God was with his people Israel: his son Jesus whose name is "YHWH saves" will save his people from their sins." As Simeon so vividly declares to the God of Israel, "Mine eyes have seen YOUR salvation." (Luke 2:30). And as Zachariah proclaimed:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited US and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for US in the house of David His servant
It should be quite clear what is intended by the word "God with us." The Lord God of Israel is with his people in plan and purpose by giving them a son from the House of David, his son, to redeem them from their sins.
Analysis of the Evidence
1. Isaiah Provided the Decisive Answer
If we look at Isaiah 8:8-10, another occurrence of the name "Immanuel," we can clearly also see here that the name Immanuel was intended to mean "God with us" in plan and purpose.
Then it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass through, It will reach even to the neck; And the spread of its wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel. Be broken, O peoples, and be shattered; And give ear, all remote places of the earth. Gird yourselves, yet be shattered; Gird yourselves, yet be shattered. Devise a plan, but it will be thwarted; State a purpose, but it will not stand, For God is with us" (Lit. Immanuel). (Isaiah 8:8-10).
2. God WITH His People
The Bible tells us that God was "with" his people many, many times and it never meant God was occupying the same space they occupied. And there isn't any reason whatsoever to think Matthew had this in mind either. Yahweh was said to be with his people in the Old Testament and it is a reference to God being with them in plan and purpose (Psalm 46:5-7; Haggai 2:4). In fact, at 2 Chronicles 13:12 we are told God was "with" Israel but no one assumes it means Yahweh was occupying their common space (Also see 2 Chron 15:2; 20:17). David says that although he walks through the valley of the shadow of death he fears no evil, because YHWH is "with him" (Ps 23:4). These references all mean that God is with His people in plan and purpose.
And when we come to the New Testament, and explore what it has to say concerning Jesus, this becomes even more abundantly clear. At John 3:2, Nicodemus remarks that he felt God was "with" Jesus because of the miracles he had done. Indeed, Jesus tells us plainly that he drove out demons not by himself but by "the Spirit of God" (Matthew 12:28), and that it is God the Father "in him" that does the works (John 14:10). Indeed, Peter also tells us plainly that God preached the good news of peace and did miracles through Jesus (Luke 8:39 24:19; Acts 2:22; 10:36,38; see Lk 24:20). God was with Israel in the sense that he was with them in plan and purpose in the activity of His Messiah Jesus.
At Luke 7:16 where Jesus rose a young man from the dead, we are plainly told, "They were all filled with awe and praised God. 'A great prophet has appeared among us,' they even said, 'God has come to help his people.'" No one seriously interprets this particular verse to mean Jesus was God and had come to raise this young man from the dead. In the very same way, Matthew tells us that God has come to save his people through his Son who is to be named "YHWH saves" and in this way the child is "God with us" because through this child God was with his people in the plan and purpose of salvation. It is plainly obvious to anyone who embraces the truth instead of clinging to a man-made tradition, that the term "God with us" refers not to the idea that "Jesus is God" but to the idea that God was with Israel in plan and purpose by sending His Son to them. The overwhelming force of Scripture, the immediate context of the passage, and the facts behind the origin of the quotation, demand we comprehend the name "God with us" in the sense of plan and purpose. Matthew was speaking in terms of God's function, not his geographic location.
The idea here in Matthew is to indicate God was with his people Israel in the plan and purpose of their salvation, not in the sense of being with them geographically. Let us get at the real truth of the matter here. If we back up just a little bit to verse 1:21 in Matthew, we will see that the angel tells Joseph that the child born to Mary is to be called "Yahweh saves" (Jesus) because he will "save his people from their sins." Now let us stop and think about that for one second. They named the child "YHWH saves." Obviously, the name "YHWH saves," given to the promised child, was to reflect back to the fact that God was going to save his people from their sins through this child, his son, God's salvation. The name "Immanuel" refers to His plan and purpose for his son. And "God with us" is also meant to convey the same idea that God was with them in the purposeful sense of saving them from their sins through his son Jesus. This is how Yahweh was "with" Israel. Yahweh God was saving his people from their sins and in this way is "with them." It is a matter of plan and purpose, not a matter of God's location. The name "Immanuel" or "God with us" is intended to refer to what God was doing rather than where he was. He was "with his people" in the sense that He sent his Son to save them and was "with" them in that plan and purpose.
- The Trinitarian interpretation of the name "Immanuel" is incompatible with Revelation 21 where we find the ultimate destiny of Christians is to have God with them in a geographic sense.
- Immanuel was not literally Jesus' name. It was an appellation intended to indicate that God was with his people in plan and purpose by providing his son Jesus to die for their sins. Jesus was God's Messiah and God's Savior.
- The name Immanuel also applies to a child contemporaneous with Ahaz and Isaiah. It is impossible to interpret this child's name to mean that the child himself is God located among us and that fact demonstrates to us that this is not what is intended by the name.
- The child Immanuel will not know right from wrong (vv 15-16). If the child's name meant the child IS God then it also necessarily follows that Almighty God will not know right from wrong.
- Matthew is quoting Isaiah where we are explicitly informed at Isaiah 8:8-10 that "God with us" means God was with his people in plan and purpose and opposed to being against them.
1. In context, the birth of this child has to occur during the reign of Ahaz. Nobody would not identify that particular child born during Ahaz's time as "God." We would rather interpret this to mean Yahweh God was with Israel by means of the birth of this child not that the child IS Yahweh God. As with many other prophecies in Scripture, this prophecy is a near/far dual fulfillment. The context DEMANDS a near fulfillment in the time of Ahaz, a child named Immanuel, "God with us," whom you would not admit is Yahweh God.
2. We are told that the child Immanuel will not know enough to refuse evil and choose good. To insist baby Jesus is called Immanuel because he IS Almighty God would necessarily mean that Almighty God did not know enough to refuse evil and choose God, a total absurdity.
3. Finally, we are explicitly told in Isaiah that the child Immanuel is a SIGN that Yahweh God is with his people Israel not that Immanuel IS Yahweh.
Taken in isolation, the name "Immanuel" interpreted as "God with us" could hypothetically mean two different things: (1) God with us in the sense of occupying the same space, or (2) God with us in the sense of being with us in plan and purpose as opposed to being against us. To be honest with ourselves and others we must be objective rather than simply choosing the one that suits our fancies. We do find that God will only be with us spatially in the new heavens and new earth - in the sense of occupying the same space as His people. The Bible commonly refers to God being "with" His people and it always means in plan and purpose. "God with us" is a reference to God the Father being "with us" by raising up a Savior for us, His salvation, the man Jesus (cf. Luke 2:30). We also find that Matthew was quoting Isaiah who made it quite plain he was referring to plan and purpose and not location. Hence, we are compelled to discern that the Trinitarian claim is without any merit whatsoever and that the name Immanuel is a name given to show us that through His Messiah Jesus, God the Father would be with us.
How God the Father was with Israel:
"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life." Luke 1:68-75
Last Updated: June 16, 2014