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Isaiah 9:5 is a famous verse used by Christians. A Christian translation is:

For to us a child is born. To us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The English translation uses present tense. So I do not know whether this child is something that has been born or is being born.

The curious fact is that two of the names for the child seems to imply divinity.

Of course this is not the only time Tanakh have references to "Bene Elohim" or son of god and it could mean many things. In this passage, what does it mean? Why would a born child be called mighty God, everlasting father?


Note: I cross-asked this in https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/7788

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  • The verse quoted is Isaiah 9:5. Christian versions of the Bible appear to include 9:1 in chapter 8 and begin the ninth chapter with 9:2. Looking it up in a Jewish source would also have been more likely to give you the correct translation, as seen in @MoshePeston's answer.
    – WAF
    Dec 29 '13 at 0:11
  • Okay I am quite annoyed with this various differing translation. So I pick a site where various translations are given. You mean ALL those translations are wrong?
    – user4951
    Dec 29 '13 at 1:11
  • 2
    In fact, that site, Christian as it is, includes the JPS (Jewish Publication Society) version of the Bible, although not apparently in parallel view, which is not surprising since in a number of places the verses are not parallel. . . and because it is a Christian site.
    – WAF
    Dec 29 '13 at 1:30
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    the Cantillation Marks in the verse indicate that Wonderful and Counselor should come together as one phrase. Not crucial to the question, but I thought I'd mention it. The mistake is present over at BH too.
    – Baby Seal
    Dec 31 '13 at 0:07
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    To be a bit blunt, why do we care how the Christians translate it? Why do you not use a Jewish translation? (I am blunt because this is not the first time you've been asked this.) Dec 31 '13 at 1:21
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Rashi (and similarly other Jewish commentaries) explains the meaning of this verse very differently from the Christian translation from which you ask your question, and hence your question does not begin:

and… called his name: The Holy One, blessed be He, Who gives wondrous counsel, is a mighty God and an everlasting Father, called Hezekiah’s name, “the prince of peace,” since peace and truth will be in his days.

Thus according to Rashi and others, the correct translation of the verse is:

For a child has been born to us, a son given to us, and the authority is upon his shoulder, and the wondrous adviser, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, called his name, "the prince of peace."

Translation of the verse and Rashi are quoted from here.

added by barlop

enter image description here

The translation that rashi gives(which isn't used by the JPS), is that the hebrew is written using verb, subject, object. Rather like and god called/named light 'day' is not and he called god .. So vayikra shmoh tony, could be "and he called his name tony", or it could be "and tony called his name". So vayikra is not always translated 'and he called' it can be that the subject comes one or two words later.

So to put it another way, the translation that rashi gives, is structured like this. Verb subject object, which is very common in hebrew.

enter image description here

The NET (New English Translation) is a christian translation but is academic and has lots of translation notes that discuss both translations re structure, and also re tense of "born".

For tense, the JPS has "a child is born". e.g. https://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt1009.htm " For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom;"

The NET has "a child has been born" (i.e. past tense), and the word is past tense. Though the NET also notes, that "The Hebrew perfect (translated “has been born” and “has been given”) is used here as the prophet takes a rhetorical stance in the future. See the note at 9:1." So the NET commentary is saying that as in 9:1 a prophet can use the past tense as a rhetorical device. We do that in English, if somebody can see their impending death, they might say "we are dead", when they're not dead yet. In the mind of a prophet, the future has already happened. So there is such a thing as the "prophetic perfect". A word written in the "perfect" as in, completed, but that hasn't happened yet.

The word Vayikra is translated by the JPS 1917 in the present "and his name is called" and JPS 1985, in the past "and he has been named". The NET says "is called", and notes that "vav consecutive are used with the same rhetorical sense as the perfects". There doesn't seem to be such a term as prophetic imperfect but I guess that's what the the NET translation is effectively saying it is.

enter image description here

NET translation notes state-

There is great debate over the syntactical structure of the verse. No subject is indicated for the verb “he called.” If all the titles that follow are ones given to the king, then the subject of the verb must be indefinite, “one calls.” However, some have suggested that one to three of the titles that follow refer to God, not the king. For example, the traditional punctuation of the Hebrew text suggests the translation, “and the Amazing Advisor, the Mighty God called his name, ‘Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’”

The JPS 1917 and JPS 1985 use a translation with a structure that doesn't follow rashi / the traditional punctuation.

JPS 1917 https://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt1009.htm

JPS 1985 https://www.sefaria.org/Isaiah.9?lang=bi

Translation on chabad.org, translated by Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg. And includes Rashi with translation of Rashi https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15940/jewish/Chapter-9.htm

added by nissimnanach

Thus Rashi renders it the same as Targum Yonatan where only the last two names, Sar Shalom, Prince of Peace, apply to Messiah's name:

אמר נביא לבית דוד ארי רבי איתילד לנא בר אתיהב לנא וקבל אוריתא עלוהי למטרה ואתקרי שמיה מן קדם מפליא עצה אלהא גברא קים לעלמיא משיחא דשלמא יסגי עלנא ביומוהי:

The prophet said to the house of David, For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and He has received the Torah upon Himself to keep (guard) it. His name shall be called by the authority of [min-qadam lit. "from before"] the Wondrous the Counselor the Mighty God who is Everlasting: the Mashiach in whose days peace shall be great upon us.

However, Rambam does apply all six names of Isa. 9:5 to the Messiah. Boaz Cohen translation of Epistle to Yemen, pg. xvi-xvii:

...How odd is your remark about this man, that he is renowned for his meekness and a little wisdom, as if these were indeed the attributes of the Messiah. Do these characteristics make him a Messiah? You were beguiled by him because you have not considered the pre-eminence of the Messiah, the manner and place of his appearance, and the marks whereby he is to be identified.

The Messiah, indeed, ranks after Moses in eminence and distinction, and God has bestowed some gifts upon him which he did not bestow upon Moses, as may be gathered from the following verses: "His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord." (Isaiah 11:3). "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him." (11:2). "And Righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins." (11:5). Six appellations were divinely conferred upon him as the following passage indicates: "For a child is born unto us, and a son is given unto us, and the government is upon his shoulder, and he is called Pele, Yoetz, el, Gibbor, Abiad, Sar-Shalom." (Isaiah 9:5). [And another verse alluding to the Messiah culminates in the following manner "Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee." (Psalms 2:7). All these statements demonstrate the pre-eminence of the Messiah.] ...

Thus according to Rambam this list of six names apply to the Messiah-man:

(1) Wonderful (2) Counselor (3) el- Supreme (4) Gibbor- Strong, (5) Everlasting (Father), (6) Prince of Peace.

The Leipzig text, Hebrew version by Nachum Ma'aravi z"l, has this instead of the Ps. 2:7 reference:

... The appelation el ("mighty;" elsewhere "God") is in a sense of exceptionalism, to inform you his greatness will be more exalted than the level of any other man.

ויש תימה בדבריך, שאמרת שידוע בשלוה ויש אתו מקצת חכמה. התעלה על דעתך שבמדות האלו יהיה משיח. אבל חייבך לומר כל זה מפני שלא השגחת למעלת המשיח מה הוא ואיך תהיה עמידתו ובאיזה מקום יהיה ואיזה אות תהיה מיוחדת לו. אבל מעלתו תהיה יותר מעולה ממעלת הנביאים, ויותר נכבדת זולת משה רבנו ע"ה. וייחד אותו הבורא יתברך בדברים שלא ייחד משה רבנו ע"ה. שנאמר בו ישעיה י"א ג' "והריחו ביראת ה' ולא למראה עיניו ישפוט ולא למשמע אזניו יוכיח. ונחה עליו רוח ה' רוח חכמה ובינה רוח עצה וגבורה רוח דעת ויראת ה'. והיה צדק אזור מתניו והאמונה אזור חלציו". וקרא לו הקב"ה שש שמות, באמרו שם ט' ה' "כי ילד יולד לנו בן נתן לנו ותהי המשרה על שכמו ויקרא שמו פלא יועץ אל גבור אבי עד שר שלום". וזה שקראו אל, על דרך ההפלגה, להודיע שגדולתו מעולה ממעלת כל אדם

In the continuation, Rambam explains these six names/traits of the Messiah and how they will manifest in him, and mentions how the false Teiman messiah has not these traits, nor did Jesus even according to descriptions of him in the Christians' own literature.

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  • I think these translations may have been transposed. Dec 29 '13 at 1:01
  • Ah I see... The comma are different. Who is this prince of peace, hezekiah? Is he warlike king or leftist liberal king?
    – user4951
    Dec 29 '13 at 1:12
  • hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/7788/… shows differently. Care to explain how the comma got in the way? How do I know that God is calling the child prince of peace rather than mighty God as one of the child's name?
    – user4951
    Dec 29 '13 at 6:06
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    @JimThio Because only Gd is called Mighty Gd, and not any of Gd's creations.
    – avi
    Dec 29 '13 at 8:25
  • Ah so theology rather than plain reading is inserted into the meaning. However, the point 12 in hermeneutics does show something though.
    – user4951
    Dec 29 '13 at 14:35
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None of the words in the verse that imply divinity imply so absolutely.

Thus, using the structure of the verse in your question is perfectly compatible with Jewish beliefs.

ויקרא שמו פלא יועץ אל גבור אבי עד שר שלום...

Concerning אל: see Gen 31:29 where אל means power, (See Onkelos the Convert's aramaic translation, חילא‏, power or strength, see also Rashi). See also Ezek 23:21 where אלי גבורים‏, a plural form of our phrase, means mighty heroes, (see Jonathan Ben Uziel's aramaic translation, תקיפי גבריא‏ mighty amongst the strong, and even the King James Bible that translates this way).

Concerning אב/אבי‏: see Gen 45:8, where, based on context it is clear that אב‏ does not mean father literally, rather it means friend or patron, (see Rashi ibid). Also see Gen 4:20-21 where again אבי‏, father of is non-literal, meaning founder of or head of, (see Rashi ibid).

Thus the translation of the verse would be:

... And his name was called, wonderous counselor, mighty power/hero/strong one, friend/patron/founder of eternity, prince of peace.

So even according to this verse structure, the subject remains human, namely King Hezekiah, (see Rashi Isa 9:5, Ibn Ezra ibid).

This article goes in to more detail about this verse. See page 15, specifically, which brings Abraham Ibn Ezra's interpretation of the verse, consistent with this answer, which expounds upon Hezekiah's given names, based on events that occurred during his reign:

פלא יועץ‏ - “Wondrous” alludes to wonders God performed in his day, such as the wonder of the sun going backwards when Hezekiah was miraculously cured of his illness (Isaiah 38:8). In fact, Hezekiah's recovery, in itself, was considered a wonder. “Adviser” refers to the root word יעץ‏ is used when Hezekiah decided to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem and invite the people of the Northern Kingdom to join in the celebration, (ChronII 30:2). As the siege of Jerusalem by Sanheriv drew near, the text describes how Hezekiah and his staff came up with a plan of defense, (ChronII 32:3).

אל גבור‏ - “Mighty Hero” alludes to the fact that, even though Sanheriv approached Hezekiah with a large army, Hezekiah did not surrender in defeat. Instead, he defied Sanheriv's threats and blasphemy, and he (and Isaiah) prayed for God's intervention and help, and God’s mighty hand destroyed the threat, (ChronII 32:20-22).

אבי עד‏ - “Eternal Patron” alludes to the fact that, in Hezekiah’s merit, the Davidic dynasty was prolonged, and has been preserved for the eternal future. King Hezekiah was one of the most extraordinary personalities among the Jewish kings, about whom some Sages said that he was worthy to be the Messiah, (Sanh 94a, 98b, 99a).

שר שלום‏ - “Ruler of Peace” alludes to the fact that there was a prolonged period of peace in the Land of Israel during the reign of King Hezekiah. This peaceful span was highlighted by his invitation to the remnant of the Jews who lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel to participate in the celebration of the Passover (ChronII 30).

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  • So your interpretation is like Christian interpretation except that El here means power instead of God and father of eternity means patron of eternity.
    – user4951
    Dec 31 '13 at 6:50
  • I think your answer is good. I have christian/atheistic background and I often wonder why the same scripture produces two very different opinion. Turns out, many verses are indeed very ambiguous and vague.
    – user4951
    Dec 31 '13 at 10:23
  • But how come the child is called friend/patron/founder/father of eternity if his reign is not eternal at all?
    – user4951
    Jan 1 '14 at 5:47
  • @JimThio edited in explanatory comments from cited article.
    – Baby Seal
    Jan 20 '14 at 3:44
  • you wrote "אבי עד‏ - “Eternal Patron”" <--- אביעד is one word
    – barlop
    Jun 30 '18 at 21:11
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I have some research on this and made some observations that might be helpful toward formulating an answer. IT was just too much to share in comments.

Observations: Hebrews often name their babies in praise to some attribute of God at work in their life. Thus, names contain El, or Yah.

Some seem to indicate relationship to God, like, Elichai, meaning my God alive.

Others do not indicate relationship, like Elead, meaning, God eternal.

Doubtless, neither Elead's mom nor anyone else thought that she was saying this baby was God eternal or we would have heard a lot more about it!

Similarly, the prophecy given by Isaiah earlier in chapter 7, that a young woman would conceive and bear a child and his name would be called Immanuel, meaning God with us does not mean the child was God with them. We know that God told Israel, when a prophet spoke, the way they would know if a thing were from God, or if a prophet spoke presumptuously, was if that thing came to pass (Deuteronomy 18:22). Isaiah is telling Israel they will be invaded and overtaken by the Assyrians; but, he also offers words of hope that a government will arise. The only way people would know if what he said was certainly from God, is if what he fortold came true. What comfort is hope if one is not certain it is true or from God. The only way that Israel would know if these words of hope were certain and true, was if something he spoke already transpired as he said. He prophecies that a child will be born, his name will be called Immanuel, and before he is old enough to discern between good and evil, the Assyrians will invade and remove them from their land. While, to my knowledge, we do not hear anything more about the child, Immanuel, we do know the Assyrians did indeed invade as foretold, and logically we assume the baby was born first as prophesied and all this happened before he was old enough to discer between good or evil. (IF it did not come true then Isaiah would not be regarded to this day as a prophet) Israel would have known from these events that also the promised hope would come just as surely. It is not illogical to assume that in that day, no one thought that baby Emmanuel was actually God with them. The child's name was only prophetic to assure Israel God was with them though things looked bleak and that the rest of the prophecy spoken of in chapter 9 would also occur, that a Governor would come.

So, it seems that we cannot always take a Hebrew name and say it says the child himself is those things the name says; sometimes the child's name serves as a memorial of Gods attributes and even promise, in the community.

Now, looking at this long name in chapter 9, Its elements are not logically congruous. One element is Almighty God and another is Prince of Peace. One cannot be Almighty and Prince simultaneously for a prince would be, by definition, subordinate to the Almighty. Could it be that this name, like the Hebrew name, Elichai, show a relationship between two people?

Observe now that one of the words, translated by some "comforter" is actually a verb. I am no Hebrew scholar, just relying on libronx ESV interlinear which shows "counselor" to be "verb, qal, active, pure noun participle, singular, masculine, normal." If I understand correctly, a noun participle acts like an adjective, in this case the verb is to advise/counsel. Could it be that this name shows the activity of God in relationship to the other.

It is not illogical that this prophecy speaks of a hope that there would be a Prince of Peace who would come in the wonderful counsel of Almighty God and Everlasting Father.

Isaac Leeser translates it accordingly:

Wonderful, counsellor of the mighty God, of the everlasting Father, the prince of peace.*"

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  • Excellent, very logical, especially: "Its elements are not logically congruous. One element is Almighty God and another is Prince of Peace. One cannot be Almighty and Prince simultaneously for a prince would be, by definition, subordinate to the Almighty." Aug 10 at 15:03

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