Immanuel vs. Emmanuel, or A Question of Translation Philosophy

Michael H. Burer's picture
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A NET Bible reader recently posted this question in our comments database concerning Matthew 1:23:

"Should the name be Immanuel instead of Emmanuel?"

This is a great question for a number of reasons.

I can answer it best with some linguistic data, but there is an interesting aspect of translation philosophy to consider at the same time. The question is important because the same name is spelled differently in two places in the NET Bible. Matthew 1:23 contains a citation of Isaiah 7:14. In the Isaiah passage, we translate the name as Immanuel, starting with the letter I, but in the Matthew passage we translate the name as Emmanuel, starting with the letter E. The different spellings ultimately are because of different vowels used in Hebrew and Greek in this name:

The Hebrew name ‏עִמָּנוּ אֵל is transliterated as 'immanu el. The first vowel in the name is normally regarded as the equivalent of a short i in English.

The Greek name Ἐμμανουήλ is transliterated as Emmanuel. The first vowel in the name is normally regarded as the equivalent of a short e in English.

So each language uses a different vowel to start the name, and we have retained those in our spellings in the NET Bible.

The next question you could ask is, "Why not make it the same?" This gets to a more complicated issue. For a variety of reasons, there are sometimes changes in wording of passages between the testaments. Even in Old Testament passages which are cited directly in the New, there can be differences. Our philosophy of translation seeks to maintain these differences as a matter of accuracy, instead of changing them, so the reader can recognize they are there and make an informed decision about what they mean. This philosophy is of little consequence in a passage like this, where only a single short vowel is in play, but in other places it can make for important differences in translation and interpretation. We feel it is best to be accurate even when it comes to differences so the reader can understand exactly what is going on in the text.

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