A Child is Born to Us Whose Name is “Mighty God”

Posted by on Apr 23, 2023

Who was the child about whom it is said in Isaiah 9, “a child is born to us … and his name is the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”? Thus read, it will be clear to the reader that the perception of a deity born as a child is explicitly expressed by the phrase, “the mighty God, the everlasting Father” referring to the child. Below is the digital copy of the Great Isaiah Scroll with the traditional translation.

The Great Isaiah Scroll, Chapter 9 (1QIsaa), Qumran Cave 1, 1st century BCE, Parchment H: 22-25.  Government of Israel, Courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

The Great Isaiah Scroll, Chapter 9 (1QIsaa), Qumran Cave 1, 1st century BCE, Parchment H: 22-25. Government of Israel, Courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Although most commentators have already treated this verse exhaustively, there is some room left for our comments. It is the object of this work to seek the answers to this question, as we will address it in due course and offer the conclusion for the reader’s consideration. We will try to show that the theological question of a child born as “mighty God” is far from being exhausted and hope to provide a more complex answer in this and a future study. We also ask the reader not to substitute his/her own judgment for ours but to consider what we intend to say in the following.

For the purpose of this study, we will focus on a single verse in Isaiah 9 KJV, as we read thus,

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6 KJV)

According to the KJV translation of Isa 9:6 (Isa 9:5 in the Hebrew Tanach), the child foretold in Chapter 7 (where he is called “Immanuel“) is called “Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”. In the Christian tradition, thus translated, this verse is seen as a validation of the “divinity of Christ” and more particularly being God Himself in a human body, for he is called “The mighty God, the everlasting Father”: titles attributed exclusively to the Creator Himself. This difference in the theologies between Judaism and Christianity has divided the Jews and Christians over the centuries?

To start our study of this theological controversy, we should notice that while in Isaiah 7, the same child is named by his mother, here in Isa 9:6, however, no subject of the sentence is given. According to the KJV translation, it is not clear who named the child concerning whom it is said “everlasting Father, mighty God”. We are simply told that the child’s name will have all the heavenly attributes associated with the Mighty Elohim, God Himself.

The Christian commentators and theologians go even further to blame the Jews of twisting the original Hebrew text for the purpose of eliminating the Messianic sense of the passage. They say that Jewish commentators such as Rashi, Ezra, and others have altered the Messianic prophecy of Isa 9:6.

While it is true that Rashi did change the original Messianic meaning of Isaiah 53 (for more information on this controversy the reader may refer to the articles Who is the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53? Part I and Part II), below we will see that the accusations of altering Isa 9:5 (9:6) are not true at all. 

In order to solve the theological dispute, we will read below from the Hebrew text of the Leningrad Codex (WLC) which is the authoritative text of the Hebrew Scripture along with the Aleppo Codex and the Dead Sea scroll. It is up to the reader to decide who changed what concerning the child born to us. The present author’s intention is to give information on what the Hebrew text actually says. We read,

(Isa 9:5 WLC) כִּי־יֶלֶד יֻלַּד־לָ֗נוּ בֵּן נִתַּנ־לָנוּ וַתְּהִי הַמִּשְׂרָה עַל־שִׁכְמֹו

וַיִּקְרָא and he called שְׁמֹו his name פֶּלֶא Wonder יֹועֵץ Counselor אֵל El גִּבֹּ֔ור Mighty אֲבִיעַד everlasting father שַׂר־שָׁלֹום ruler of completeness

The first word which is also the key word in our passage is וַיִּקְרָא vaikra. We should notice that this word is used very often to start a sentence in Hebrew, because its simple meaning is “and he called.” The three-letter root is קָרָא kara, which means to call out to and more properly to address by name. It is used in a wide variety of applications. The third person singular, imperfect tense will be יִּקְרָאhe calls”, or “he will call” and the prefix vav changes the verb to the perfect tense, “he called”.

We should also know that in Hebrew unlike English, for instance, there are no tenses as we know them in Hebrew. What is known in Hebrew as imperfect denotes unfinished action and is very often translated as present, present continuance, or future tense. On the other hand, the perfect form of the Hebrew verb denotes a finished action whose results can be seen; hence it is translated as past tense.

We should also notice that וַיִּקְרָא vaikra, as this word appears vocalized in the Masoretic text, is in active voice, meaning “and he called”, while in the KJV translation and all other Christian translation in English we find “and he is called” (passive voice). In Hebrew that would be the verb וַיִּקָּרֵא vaikrey (passive voice), “and he is called.” The only difference between these two words is in the vocalization provided by the Masoretes.

Note: A Masorete is a scholar who is expert on the Masorah, commonly known as the Jewish scribe learned to copy the Hebrew text of the Tanach (the Hebrew Scripture). We have the Hebrew Scripture because of the painstaking work of these people who dedicated their lives to preserve the original text of the Word of YHVH for us. Hebrew is a consonant language, and for this reason in the Masoretic text, the vowels are provided. We now return to the text.

Sadly, the vocalization of this word has led to diametrically different translations and interpretations of otherwise Messianic prophecy of Isa 9:6: “a child is born to us whose name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”.

Ironically, no one denies that Isa 9:5 is about the Messiah; neither the Jewish, nor the Christian commentators. For instance, this is what the sages say concerning the child in the ancient Aramaic paraphrasTargum Jonathan on Isaiah 9:5. We read thus,

The prophet said to the house of David, For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and He has taken the law upon Himself to keep it. His name is called from eternity, Wonderful, The Mighty God, who liveth to eternity, The Messiah, whose peace shall be great upon us in His days.

And Targum Yonathan goes on to read,

The greatness of those who do the law shall be magnified, and to those, that preserve peace. There shall be no end to the throne of David, and of his kingdom, to establish it and to build it in judgment and in righteousness from henceforth, even for ever. By the Word of the Lord of hosts this shall be done.

We should not have been objective, if we do not see how the Jewish translators have rendered Isa 9:6 (9:5). Below is the Jewish Publication Society translation (JPS) edition 1917 in which the JPS translators chose to transliterate, not to translated “the names” of the child as one name: Pele- joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom. We read,

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 (Isa 9:6 JPS 1917)

Why the JPS translators have decided to render the word in question וַיִּקְרָא vaikra, in passive voice, not in active voice as in the Hebrew text, the present author has no explanation. Therefore, we see that regardless of how Isa 9:5 (9:6) is translated, the Hebrew text says: vaikra, “and he called”, because it is the desire of the present author to present the Hebrew text to the reader as it is.

With that being said, let us read a translation of the Hebrew text of verse 5 by simply following basic Hebrew grammar rules. And these basic Hebrew grammar rules are as follows.

We should know that in the Biblical Hebrew the verb usually precedes the subject of the sentence in a verb-subject-object syntax, unlike in English and other languages it is a subject-verb-object syntax. We find the verb-subject-object syntaxes and the very same word (vaikra, “and he called”) in the third book of the Torah named in Hebrew Vaikra (but in English “Leviticus”) “and He called”, as we read in the first verse,

And called Yehovah to Mosheh, and spoke to him from the Tent of Appointment, saying, (Lev 1:1)

So, in Lev 1:1 we find the same pattern in the phrase in question the verb-subject-object syntax in which the first word is the verb וַיִּקְרָא vaikra, “and he called”. Then is the subject of the sentence, that is, “the everlasting Father, wonderful Counselor, El the Mighty”. And at the end of the sentence is the object of the sentence: Sar shalom. We read from the interlinear translation of our verse,

וַיִּקְרָא and he called שְׁמֹו his name פֶּלֶא Wonder יֹועֵץ Counselor אֵל El גִּבֹּ֔ור Mighty אֲבִיעַד everlasting father שַׂר־שָׁלֹום ruler of completeness

In the phrase שַׂר־שָׁלֹום sar shalom, the word שר (sar) means “ruler” or “minister” and שלום (shalom), commonly translated as “peace”, but more literally it means “wholeness, completeness, or well-being” or peace. For more on the deep meaning of the word shalom, the reader may refer to the article The Blessing of Psalm 122:6.

Therefore, we see that the everlasting Father, the wonderful Counselor, El the Mighty called the child born to us by the name “Ruler of completeness” or “Prince of peace”. And since no one will object without falling into a theological error that “the everlasting Father, the wonderful Counselor, El the Mighty” is the Creator Himself, then the subject of the Hebrew sentence is YHVH, the Creator.

Before we close this study, there is one more thing we need to clear. In the KJV translation, all verbs in the verse are given in present and future tense: “a child is born”, “a son is given”, “the authority shall be”, “his name shall be called”. All these renderings denote a future fulfillment of the message conveyed in Isaiah 9 at the time of writing. Besides, it is not an accepted practice in English to refer to a person as “is born”, i.e., “being born”, but “was born”. Remaining faithful to the Hebrew text, we will now return to complete what we commenced to explain in the beginning. We will render these verbs in their proper past tense, as we read Isaiah 9:5 anew,

Because a child was born to us, a son was given to us, and the authority was on his shoulder, and the everlasting Father, wonderful Counselor, El the Mighty called his name “Ruler of completeness.”

By laying out these factors, a conclusion follows naturally from the plain words of the Hebrew text. It should not come as a surprise to us that thus translated our verse conveys the idea of an already fulfilled prophecy of a child who had already been born at the time of the writing. Who was that child and is there a Messianic meaning of this prophecy, are questions we intend to address in a future study. For now, it suffices to say that it was our desire to clear some discrepancies, whether intentional or by design, between the Hebrew text and the translations, and leave the conclusion to the reader’s consideration. 

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