The Messiah Will be Divine?!? Analysing Isaiah 9:6

She’s at it again! The internet’s favourite armchair expert is trying to use her extraordinary and unquestionable abilities to argue that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah the only way she knows how; by using her trusty skills of pressing “ctrl + c” and “ctrl + v”.

I don’t want to dignify her by citing her blog, but she is offering a number of apparently “undeniable prophecies” that prove Jesus is the Messiah. But she is not alone, I have been having a recent exchange on Twitter in which some of the same prophecies are cited:

While I will continue to go through a number of claimed prophecies which Christians cite to apparently prove Jesus is the Messiah, the purpose of this blog post today is to go through one of the most interesting claimed prophecies which Christians rely on, Isaiah 9:6. So let’s have a look at how it appears in the King James Version:

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, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 KJV)

The Christian reading of this passage, is that this is talking about a prophecy that when the Messiah is born he will be divine. However, in order to understand the meaning of this apparent “prophecy” and specifically, why Jewish people do not consider this to be a prophecy about the Messiah and certainly doesn’t prove that there is any plurality of God’s nature, in order to do this, we need to understand this in the original Hebrew language. 

Past or Future Tense?

To begin I need to stress that the KJV version changes the tense of the passage. The importance of this can be seen when we consider the term I1aas “is born” (i.e. in the present tense). However, the identical term is used in Genesis 4:26, Genesis 10:21, Genesis 10:25, Genesis 35:26, Genesis 41:50, Genesis 46:22, Genesis 46:27, Judges 18:29, Ruth 4:17, 2 Samuel 21:20, 1 Chronicles 1:19, Psalm 87:4, Psalm 87:5, Psalm 87:6 and Jeremiah 20:15 and in all of these passages, the past tense is employed (i.e. was born, were born etc.). Next, the verb to look at is I2b is rendered as “is given” in the KJV. Yet this should be translated as has been given” or “was given”. Again, looking at how this term is used in Leviticus 19:20, Numbers 26:62, Joshua 24:33, Isaiah 35:2, Jeremiah 13:20, Jeremiah 51:55, Ezekiel 15:4, Ezekiel 16:34, Ezekiel 32:25, Ecclesiastes 10:6, Esther 4:8, Esther 6:8 and 2 Chronicles 34:16 all employ the past tense (e.g. had … been given, was given etc.). The next word to analyse is I3together with the conjunctionI4“and” is translated as “and … [it] shall be [placed]” in the future tense. Yet again, this is completely different with what else is reported in the Bible. To just look at the other times that the phrase is used in the book of Isaiah, Isaiah 5:25, 23:3, 29:11 and 29:13 all use the past tense. Finally, I5 translates “as [he] will call” while KJV renders this in Isaiah 9:6 as “shall be called” in the future tense. As you might imagine, this again is an issue given that to just look at the other times that the phrase is used in the book of Isaiah; Isaiah 21:8, 22:12 and 36:13 all use the phrase “and [he] called.” 

Given the above therefore, it seems clear that the Christian reading of this text is based on a number of mistranslations and/or deliberately changing the tense of this verse. But before we get into the identity of who is being referred to, let us look carefully at the titles being used.

Looking at The Titles

The first titles which are used in the passage is what the KJV renders as “Wonderful” and Counsellor.” The key phrase to look at is I6a– despite this being unique in the Bible, it is important to notice that this is broken down into two distinct parts. The first is thisI7which is used in Isaiah 25:1 and 29:14 which is translated as “a wonder” or “a marvel”. Second, the word I8is also used in a similar form in Isaiah 3:3 and 41:28 to mean an adviser or a counselor. Thus, together this phrase is taken to mean this is referring to something/someone as a wondrous adviser.

The next phrase to look at is this:I9. This again is made up of two parts: I10and I11. The first part of this may be familiar to some of you, as this is the term El which is often used in reference to God (e.g. Exodus 34:6) and idols (e.g., Exodus 34:14) or just someone/something powerful (e.g., Psalms 90:11). The second is often used to identify someone who is mighty, brave, a hero (e.g., Genesis 10:9; Zechariah 9:13). Therefore, the KJV is actually consistent with the Hebrew, however there is no definite article “the” I12and thus, it would be more appropriate to say this is translated as “Mighty God” or “Mighty Hero”. Moving onto the next title, this again is made up of two parts. So the phrase is I13amade up of I14 and I15. The root word for the former often translates as a grandfather (e.g., Genesis 31:42, 32:10); a progenitor of a line of descendants (e.g., Genesis 17:4, Isaiah 51:2); one who is the first of a kind or an inventor (e.g., Genesis 4:20,21); an advisor, a counselor, a patron (e.g., Genesis 45:8, Job 29:16) or a founder (e.g., Joshua 17:1, 1 Chronicles 2:50). The latter portion of this is often a noun which can mean eternity and thus, this can be best understood as “Eternal Father” or “Eternal Patron.” Again, there is no definite article here, so there should be no “the” before this phrase, which the KJV version does. The final title is this I16which again is made up of two parts. The first is I17which often means a government official (e.g., a ruler, or a minister, or a nobleman, etc.). The second I18is again another word which may be familiar to some of you; shalom, thus this phrase can be thought of as referring to “Ruler of Peace.” So who is this referring to?

According to the traditional Christian reading of this, this is saying that this a prophecy saying that the Messiah will be God incarnate. However, given the issue that this is based on the wrong tense of the verse, when we consider the passage reads:

For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us, and the authority was placed upon his shoulder, and [he] called his name: Wondrous Adviser, Mighty God [or, Mighty Hero], Eternal Patron, Ruler of Peace;

As Soncino Books of the Bible – Isaiah correctly point out:

The verse has been given a Christological interpretation by the Church, but modern non-Jewish exegetes agree that a contemporary person is intended. (p. 44)

Given that the above translations have shown that the child already was born, the contemporary person being mentioned is the birth of Hezekiah, the son of King Ahaz (anyone who knows anything about Isaiah 7 will remember him!). How do we know who is being referred to here? Well there are actually two ways of reading this passage. First, let’s look at this way of reading it:

For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us, and the authority was placed upon his shoulder, and [He, the] Wondrous Adviser, Mighty God, Eternal Father/Patron, called his name: Ruler of Peace

In other words, this passage is not giving and incredibly long title to the child, but is saying that Wondrous Adviser, Mighty God, Eternal Father (i.e. God) will call this child born a “Ruler of Peace”. The reason he is referred to as such is because there
was a prolonged period of peace in the Land of Israel during King Hezekiah’s
reign. Let us recall that throughout the life of Ahaz, he was condemned by the prophets and great troubles and misfortunes befell the land and the king. While the reign of King Hezekiah was a period of happy political and economic development and the last fifteen years of Hezekiah’s reign were particularly peaceful and happy (these last 15 years are particularly important when we consider God’s miraculous healing of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38:5 below). Therefore, after the death of his father, many people looked towards Hezekiah as the saviour of the people and of Judaism as a whole, at a time when Judea had sunk to the bottom of political and spiritual depravity. So this passage is saying that a child has been born which will be a ruler during time of peace, which was fulfilled in the life of Hezekiah, particularly the last fifteen years.

Despite this, there is another way of reading this. So one could read this to say that:

For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us, and the authority was placed upon his shoulder, and [he] called his name: Wondrous Adviser, Mighty Hero, Eternal Patron, Ruler of Peace

These could actually be referring to Hezekiah himself. For instance, this could refers to the fact that the root verb of Adviser” is the same as “[to] counsel” I19and so, when it reports in 2 Chronicles 30 that:

And the king took counsel with his officers and the entire congregation in Jerusalem, to celebrate the Passover in the second month. (2 Chronicles 30:2)

And:

And he took counsel with his officers and his mighty men to stop up the waters of the fountains that were outside the city, and they assisted him. (2 Chronicles 32:3)

Thus, this would seem to be able to refer to Hezekiah. Furthermore, in Isaiah 38, this reports a time in which Hezekiah became mortally ill God told Isaiah:

“Go and tell Hezekiah that this is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.” (Isaiah 38:5)

Thus, his recovery and ability to live an extended life (during the most peaceful era at that time) was a miracle. This might explain how one can refer to Hezekiah as a “Wondrous Adviser”. Equally, the phrase “Mighty Hero” can apply to when Hezekiah’s battles in 2 Chronicles 32:20-22:

And King Hezekiah and the Prophet, Isaiah the son of Amoz, prayed concerning this, and they cried out to Heaven. And the Lord sent an angel, and he destroyed every mighty warrior and commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria, and he [Sanheriv] returned in shame to his land, and he entered the temple of his god, and some of his own offspring felled him there with the sword. And the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sanheriv, the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all others, and guided them on every side.

Next, we need to consider the phrase “Eternal Patron.” Let us not forget that Hezekiah was from the House of David. When you recall that King David was promised that his seed and throne would endure forever, for instance, as it says:

“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before you forever. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:12 13,16)

This could apply to the linage of Hezekiah as well. Then obviously, we have the description of “Prince of Peace” already analysed above. This therefore means, whether one reads this as God speaking of the child to be the “Prince of Peace” or referring specifically about Hezekiah as each of these titles, neither of these interpretations are speaking of an individual with a divine nature. When we add this to the fact that the authors of the New Testament never refer to Jesus with any of these titles (with the only slight exception that John 14:27 refers to peace). This would seem to indicate that they did not consider them as references to Jesus but fits perfectly well referring to a contemporary person, not a future demigod.

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