Friday, January 4, 2008

10th Day of Christmas


Although it is not cited in the NT, we are all familiar with the following verse:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6 ESV, though numbered 9:5 in Hebrew and Greek)


Isaiah 9:6 is important because it is the only verse in the Bible where Christ (as opposed to The Word) appears to be unambiguously called God. Despite claims that there are four or five instances of this in the Bible, in fact all the other verses claimed for Christ being called God are more naturally read as referring to two Persons, depending on textual issues and application of Granville Sharpe's rule regarding duplication of pronouns. Even Thomas' famous, my Lord, and my God fails the test by having a second my in front of God ¨ he should have said My Lord and God if his intention was to say "My Lord you are my God!"

Hezekiah or Christ, or both?

There is no doubt that the Immanu-El verses in Isaiah 7 & 8 have a double fulfilment related to both Hezekiah ¨ this is quite clear from the references to Emmanuel age at the times of the deaths of the two kings¡ (Pekin and Rezah 7:1), and the Assyrian flood in 8:8, and also to Christ ¨ this is clear from Matthew 1:23. Therefore if Isaiah 7 and 8 refer to both Hezekiah (as shadow) and Christ (as substance), then it is possible that Isaiah 9 also has a dual fulfillment. Objections to Hezekiah's mother Abi being referred to as a virgin do not stand up: the Hebrew word means a maiden, it does not have to mean a physically intact virgin, though obviously as a daughter of the High Priest betrothed to Judah's king Abi certainly would have been when Isaiah made the prophecy recorded in Is 7-9. It can be calculated that Ahaz had not yet married Abi ¨and so she was a maiden in both senses when the prophecy was spoken. Moreover we know that dual fulfilment prophecies and shadows apply less to the OT type (Adam, Joseph, Joshua, David, etc) than they do to Christ. All OT types and shadows fall short of the substance - Christ. In this case Hezekiah was not in either sense literally conceived of a virgin - not physically conceived of a virgin because Matthew 1:8 gives Ahaz as Hezekiah's father, and not legally conceived of a maiden firstly because her father, the Priest Zechariah would hardly have allowed his daughter to cohabit with Hezekiah's father before marriage and secondly because being conceived before marriage would have disqualified Hezekiah from the throne.

The name Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom;

In some Jewish versions such as the JPS (1917) given below, the name Wonderful Counsellor (etc) is written out in full Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom.

(v.5) 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;

In the New JPS 1985 translation, called Tanakh, this has now been through-translated as "He has been named 'The Mighty God is planning grace; The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler." (JPS Tanakh)

The 1917 reading, while a mouthful, has precedent. The first name given in Isaiah 7 & 8 was clearly not a literal name ¨neither Hezekiah nor Jesus were actually named Immanuel, God with us, although Hezekiah's name The strength of Yah and Christ's name, God saves do reflect the character of the Immanuel name. Hezekiah's name is only Immanuel in that his intercession for his people helped to avert the Assyrian destruction of Jerusalem.

The second name given in this section of Isaiah 7-9 Maher-shalal-hashbaz, which means The spoil speeds, the prey hastens is more likely to have really been given as a name. A prophet can insist with his wife: And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hashbaz The fact that we don't read about this distinctive name being born by an adult later may indicate that when the prophecy " the destruction of the Northern Kingdom ¨was complete Isaiah's wife persuaded him to allow the then teenage boy to change his name to something more normal.

That leaves the third name Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom. You'd think that versions which write out Maher-shalal-hashbaz in the Bible text of Isaiah 8 and footnote the meaning should, if consistent, do the same in Isaiah 9. But the justification, presumably, is that Isaiah's son literally bore the name Maher-shalal-hashbaz, whereas Christ never literally bore Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom. So consequently we get attempts to translate the meaning rather than simply transliterate the name and footnote the meaning.

The Hebrew text

The Hebrew text for Isaiah 9:5 appears fairly constant. It has not been possible to view a Hebrew text of the Dead Sea Scroll Isaiah, but, judging by the translation of Fred Miller the 1st Century Hebrew text is either exactly the same as the 8th Century Leningrad Codex on which the UBS Hebrew text is based or very close:

Because a child shall be born to us and a son is given to us and the government shall be upon his shoulders and he shall be called wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father the prince of peace.

So we are not dealing with a textual issue, only translation and interpretation.

The translation history of Isaiah 9:6

The majority Septuagint text (Rahlfs, Brenton)

kai kaleitai to onoma autou (and his name shall be called)
megalhs boulhs aggelos (messenger of great counsel)
egw gar axw eirhnh (for I will bring peace)
epi tous arcontas (upon the princes)
kai ugieian autwi (and health to him)

Codex Alexandrinus (Rahlfs footnote)

qaumastos sumoboulos (wonderful counsellor)
Qeos iscuros (God mighty)
exousiasths (having authority)
arcwn eirhnh (prince of peace)
pathr tou mellontos ainws (father of the coming age)

Vulgate (Clementina)

9:6 Parvulus enim natus est nobis, et filius datus est nobis; et factus est principatus super humerum ejus; et vocabitur nomem ejus, Admirabilis, Consiliarus, Deus, Fortis, Pater futuri seculi, Princeps pacis.

Note that Latin, like Alexandrinus, does not attempt to form these titles into phrases - i.e. call his name Wonderful, Counsellor, God, Strong, Father of future ages, Prince of Peace
Textual footnotes in Rahlfs Septuaginta.

So how should Pele-joez, El-gibbor, Abi-ad, Sar-shalom be translated?

Whether it is in the text, or as a footnote, the name Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom like Immanuel and Maher-shalal-hashbaz was intended to be understood, so one way or the other it must be translated. As has been noted, the New JPS 1985 translation now has "He has been named 'The Mighty God is planning grace; The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler." (JPS Tanakh). By analogy with the other names, and 700BC context that seems a reasonable rendering.

The following are brief notes:

Pele-joez = wonderful counsellor

The verb to counsel occurs 22 times in the noun form counsellor so this is fairly straightforward. The only thing to note is that God himself is not called a counsellor in the Bible. A counsellor, no matter how wonderful, is still one step down from a King or God.

El-gibbor = mighty God

Despite what one would expect from its familiar sound, El-gibbor is not in fact a common name for God at all. Otherwise it only occurs once ¨ in the next chapter in Isaiah where it's translated " A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God" (10:21 ESV). There is a different but similar construction in Jeremiah 32:18. Given that Isaiah 10 also refers to Hezekiah, has any one considered whether " A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty hero" (10:21). That sounds scandalous, but actually there is more evidence for El meaning herothan there is for it meaning god ¨when Nebuchadnezzar is called El-goyim in Eze.31:11, there is no intention to call him a god/God. If Nebuchanezzar is El-goyim, why not Hezekiah, then Christ, as El-gibbor?

But this term El- also is widely used as a construct form of the common name for God, singular, in Hebrew Elohim. Elohim is a singular noun of unknown derivation (guesses include the possibility the ¨im ending found in singular feminine nouns such as dark-ness blind-ness added to Eloah, to indicate Divine-ness, Deity). Elohim singular is often confused with the plural noun elohim, used of pagan gods plural. The confusion arises because in some structures where no verb or adjective is present, whether singular Elohim or plural elohim are meant can only be decided by context. However in contexts such as El-Shaddai, El-Elyon etc. it is almost certainly that El- is a construct form for Elohim singular. One never encounters forms such as Elohim-Shaddai (sic) and the El- forms all take singular verbs and adjectives. In other words, while the translation of Elohim singular, or elohim plural as mighty ones is bogus (mighty ones is gibborim pl. not Elohim sg.) and disproven by the NT translates OT verses with God and gods respectively. El-gibbor, gibbor meaning mighty can actually mean something closer to the Nebuchadnezzar idea.

Abi-ad = father of age[s]

By analogy with phrases such as harere-ad, eternal mountains, c.f. rock of ages, in Hab 3, this perhaps can be taken to mean eternal, or age abiding, rather than of the coming age as the LXX and Vulgate. Although Ab-i-ad can also be taken as my father is, (the I indicates my) like the names Ab-i-shai, Ab-i-ram etc. In this case rather than Christ being called eternal (age abiding) father, the name is my father is eternal (age abiding). (cf. the phrase used for God in De 33:27)

Sar-shalom = Prince of Peace

Although only occurring once together both prince and peace are common enough, so this appears the only likely reading. But again, as with counsellor, is God called a prince? Surely God himself is king? (cf. Heb 7:2)


The purpose of this study isn't to diminish Jesus in any way. It ¡s simply looking at the text and asking, does this justify the statement Jesus is called God? The conclusion is no. This is very shaky ground if this is the only proof. Yes, the Hebrew text is intact and reliable, but the English translation subject to question. Hezekiah in shadow, Jesus in substance, are both called by a composite name that encapsulates (i) The role of Counsellor, (ii) The role of a Mighty One, (iii) My father is eternal - abiding for the age, (iv) The role of Prince of Peace. None of these indicate that Jesus is called God in Is. 9:6. This name, wonderful as it is, and greater than Immanu-El, still is one step short of where God is.

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