Isaiah 9:6-7, the Hebrew Text & the Ancient Versions

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

Of Old Testament prophecies of the birth of the Messiah, among the most famous and well-known (in part because Handel included its words in his magnum opus, ”The Messiah”) is Isaiah 9:6, 7 (numbered 9:5, 6 in the Masoretic Hebrew text, the Septuagint Greek version and in German and some other translations). The KJV’s translation of vv. 6, 7 reads:

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.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David & upon his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and forever; the zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah chapters 7 through 12 are all a connected unit presenting a progressive series of Messianic prophecies. Franz Delitzsch in his famous 19th century commentary on Isaiah wrote:

It was the Messiah whom the prophet saw here [Isaiah 7:14] as about to be born, then again in chapter 9 as actually born, and again in chapter 11 as reigning—an indivisible triad of consolatory images in three distinct stages, interwoven with the three stages into which the future history of the nation unfolded itself in the prophet’s view. (Franz Delitzsch, Isaiah, translated by James Martin, Vol. I, p. 218)

That the prophetic person in view in these chapters is of the house of David is implied (7:13) or expressly declared (9:7; 11:1), excluding any of Isaiah’s children—or any other child not of the Davidic line—as the fulfillment, and also naturally leading to the identification of the one conceived, born and reigning as the promised Davidic Messiah.

It is to be observed that twice the Messiah is “named” in this section—Isaiah 7:14, where His “name” is called Immanuel, and again in Isaiah 9:6 where His “name” is called “Wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting father, the prince of peace.” Of course, these are not proper names such as “Jesus,” but epithets of the Messiah, descriptive of His character and nature, just as God’s theophanic declaration of His “name” to Moses in Exodus 34:5-7 is not an explanation of the etymology or meaning of the name Yahweh, but a chain of characterizations of God’s nature and being: “merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth,” etc. (That the Hebrew word almah in Isaiah 7:14 does mean “virgin,” see “Isaiah 7:14 and the Virgin Birth,” AISI 12:7, July 2009).

And twice, the Messiah, though to be “born of the lineage of David, according to His humanity” is “powerfully proclaimed” to be Deity as well (Romans 1:3, 4):

1. “Immanuel,” that is “God with us” (7:14), not merely figuratively or ethereally but literally in the incarnation when “the Word became human” (John 1:14); and 2. “the mighty God” (9:6), a plain and direct declaration of the Messiah’s Deity (precisely the same term is used of Yahweh in Isaiah 10:21). There are several other OT declarations of the Messiah’s Deity in the prophets (among them Jeremiah 23:6 and Zechariah 12:10). Delitzsch remarks on this point: “The incarnation of Deity was unquestionably a secret that was not clearly unveiled in the Old Testament, but the veil was not so thick but that some of the rays could pass through” (Ibid., p. 220).

But let us briefly deal with all eight terms involved in the “name” of the Messiah here:

Pele yoetz. Pele is a noun from the Hebrew root pl’ which carries the basic significance, “to be extraordinary, wondrous, mysterious, inscrutable, unfathomable.” A related word is nifla’ot (actually a niphal feminine plural participle from the root pl’) which is one of the OT words for “miracles,” indicating the wonder or amazement such events provoke in those who observe them. The angel of the LORD in Judges 13:18 refuses to tell the parents of Samson His name, saying instead that it is “wondrous” (or, “mysterious”); the Hebrew there is the adjective from this same root, pil’iy. Pele is evidently (in spite of the Masoretic accents) in Isaiah 9:6 “in construct” with the word that follows, literally “(a) wonder of …”

The second word, yoetz is a present participle used as a substantive from the root y’ts “to advise, counsel” and is commonly used of personal advisors or counselors, often those in the service of an OT king.

Taken together, these identify the Messianic king as “a wonder of a counselor,” that is, “a wondrous” or “amazing” advisor. That the Messiah would be one of surpassing wisdom was foreshadowed in the great wisdom given Solomon (I Kings 3; Ecclesiastes 1:16), and fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In the NT, we read of the response of the people to Jesus when he taught:

And all who heard Him were continually amazed at His understanding and answers. (Luke 2:47)

And all were giving testimony about Him and were amazed at the gracious words which went out of His mouth. (Luke 4:22a)

And so it happened, when Jesus had finished [speaking] these words, the crowds were amazed at what He taught, because He had been teaching them as one who possessed authority, and not as their scribes did. (Matthew 7:28-29)

No one ever spoke like that! (John 7:46)

The great desideratum for rulers is that they first be men of wisdom to know how to rule justly and properly. In this, the Messiah will be without peer.

El gibbor Having dealt with this pair of terms in detail elsewhere (see “‘The Mighty God’ of Isaiah 9:6 and the NET Bible,” AISI 12:8), we will merely reiterate our findings—this “name” for the Messiah is an unambiguous declaration of His Deity (precisely the same term is used in Isaiah 10:21 for Yahweh; the absurd attempt by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to find a distinction between “the mighty God” here and the “Almighty God” elsewhere is an act of desperation to avoid the obvious).

Avi-ad. Avi is a construct form of av, “father” (compare the Aramaic “abba”), here meaning “father of.” Ad has the potential to be puzzling to the reader, especially in a Hebrew text without vowel points (the text of the OT was “consonants only” from the time of its original writing until the written vowel points were invented by the Masoretes in the Middle ages) since this pair of consonants (ayin-dalet) can be read multiple ways. Being joined with a noun in construct (i.e., avi) means this word must be a noun, but even at that, there are at least three possibilities: ‘ed, “witness,” with the resulting phrase meaning “father of witness,” i.e., “one who gives testimony.” That is not how the Masoretes understood it or pointed it, nor did any of the ancient translations read it thus. The second possibility is to understand this noun as ‘ad, “spoils, plunder,” hence “father of plunder,” that is “he who distributes spoils” to his followers. Some radical critics have adopted this understanding (which requires no change in the vowel as pointed by the Masoretes). Finally, ‘ad can be—and has historically been—understood as a noun meaning “perpetuity” or “the future” and so the “father of the future” would mean “eternal father.”

One must not imagine that in this use of the term “father” with reference to the Son there is some “confounding of the persons” of the Trinity, or some support for the “Jesus-only” error propounded by Oneness Pentecostalism. Rather, the reference is to the Messiah’s role as king over His people Israel. In ancient times, the ruling monarch was viewed (at least ideally) as a benevolent father to those he ruled—protecting them from their enemies and providing for their needs. Here the Messiah is not a temporary king, whose rule will terminate in death, but one whose benevolent rule is perpetual, having no end, as v. 7 expressly affirms twice: “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David & upon his kingdom, to order it and to establish it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and forever” (see also, inter alia, Psalm 72:5, 17; and John 12:34a).

Sar shalom. “Prince of peace,” that is, a prince or ruler who brings peace, whose rule is characterized by peace, another great desideratum for the rule of any monarch, though such is in actuality an earthly rarity (all too truly did George Santayana write, “Only the dead have seen the end of war”). Verse 7 declares further that the peace the Messiah’s rule brings will never be interrupted.

Of the Messiah and His rule, Micah, Isaiah’s contemporary, in the context of the prophecy of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem (5:2) also wrote (5:4, 5):

“He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God, and they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.”

Paul, perhaps consciously echoing Micah, wrote, “For He Himself [i.e., Jesus] is our peace,” (Ephesians 2:14). Both Isaiah and Micah had foretold the time when weapons of war (swords and spears) would be recycled into tools of productivity (plows and pruning implements) and war would be a thing of the past (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3).

After the exile, Zechariah continues the theme by foretelling the Messiah’s coming:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations [9:9, 10; bold-face added].

The angels did proclaim at Messiah’s birth earthly peace to those who were pleasing to God (Luke 2:14), though the universal peace of Isaiah 9:6, 7 must await the establishment of Messiah’s millennial kingdom.

Such is the character of the promised Messiah ben-David, and the long yearned-for features of His reign. With so much content of surpassing importance regarding the coming Messiah in these verses, it is somewhat surprising to discover that Isaiah 9:6, 7 are nowhere directly quoted in the NT. They are nevertheless clearly and unmistakably alluded to in the words of Gabriel to Mary in Luke 1:31-33:

And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end [bold-face added to note allusions].

It might be asked, why weren’t these obviously important prophetic verses directly quoted in the NT, as were other prophecies of Messiah’s birth—Isaiah 7:14 (quoted in Matthew 1:23) and Micah 5:2 (quoted in Matthew 2:6)? The answer may lie in the condition of the translation(s) then available for quotation, namely the Greek Septuagint and just possibly an Aramaic targum (interpretive translation or paraphrase), if this latter were actually extant at that time, and if it strongly resembled the later Targum Jonathan of Isaiah). Both have, especially in v. 6b, something very much other than a literal translation of the Hebrew text, which may have made them unusable as sources of a direct “quote” in the NT.

The standard Septuagint printed editions (here, I follow Rahlfs’ text) read (and I purposely give a woodenly literal translation for comparison purposes):

For a child was born for us, and a son was given to us, whose authority has come upon his shoulder; and his name is called, of great counsel messenger (or, angel), for I will bring peace upon the rulers, peace and health to him [Swete’s text lacks the second “peace”].

Great is his rule and of his peace there is no boundary (or, limit), upon the throne of David and his kingdom, to set it in order and to support it in righteousness and in justice from now and to the eternal age. The zeal of the Lord of Sabaoth will do these things.

This is believed to be the original reading (or virtually so) of the Septuagint, and is the text as preserved in manuscript “B” (Vaticanus), as well as manuscripts A, Aleph, Q and Gamma, with minor variations (these are all the manuscripts cited by Swete). The whole latter part of v. 6, from “messenger” to the end of the verse, is clearly not a translation of the Hebrew text as we know it. Perhaps the translator’s text was garbled or damaged, or misread by the translator, or some combination of these. “Angel” is perhaps a “paraphrase” of el gibbor, a substitution to avoid applying a Divine title (see 10:21) to the Messiah. The words “I will bring peace to the rulers (princes)” (representing a presumed Hebrew ‘avi’ ad sarim shalom?) is similar enough to the Hebrew avi-ad sar shalom to be a misreading or mis-writing of them. There is nothing in the Hebrew text corresponding to “peace and health to him”; perhaps these came from a note made in the margin of some manuscript. Whatever the case, the names of the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6 were not conveyed in any intelligible form to the reader of the OT in this Greek version, and since the Septuagint was more often than not the source for NT quotations of the OT, this would explain in part why Isaiah 9:6 (especially) was not directly quoted in the NT.

There is also, following the statement “I will bring peace to the rulers” in v. 6, and preceding “peace and health to him,” the insertion in some Septuagint manuscripts of a close and accurate translation of the traditional Hebrew text:

Wonderful advisor, strong God, authority, ruler of peace, father of the coming age

According to the editions of Rahlfs and of Swete in their notes on Isaiah 9:5 (6), this insertion is found (with some variations) in Septuagint manuscripts A, Aleph, Q, Gamma, the Lucian recension of the Septuagint, and Origen’s Hexapla (in this latter, being marked with an asterisk indicating that it is a non-original part of the Septuagint but is a later insertion). No doubt other manuscripts read the same. This, if I understand the situation correctly, means that the supplementary words—essentially a literal translation added as a correction or alternate (and improved) translation of the eight-part “name” of the Messiah which the LXX failed to adequately and accurately translate—is an insertion (and marked as such) made by Origen and his co-laborers into the original LXX text in the massive 6-columned “Hexapla” OT edition.

And, be it noted that we know how the three now-mostly-lost Jewish LXX revisions made in the 2nd century A.D.—those of Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion (which together occupied three of the six columns of the Hexapla)—translated this verse. Swete gives their translations, as preserved in the margin of manuscript Q, in his notes to v. 5 [6] (which see). The revised “Septuagint” insertion agrees quite closely with Aquila’s rendering, and only slightly less so with Theodotion, and Symmachus, all of which to varying degrees improve on what the LXX here left so poor. None of these—Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion or Origen’s “revised LXX”— were available for quoting or consultation in the first century A.D.

Targum Jonathan to the Latter Prophets is an Aramaic translation / paraphrase / interpretation / of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve Minor Prophets. In its present form, it dates to several centuries after the time of Christ, but no doubt had it roots at least as early as the first century A. D., and perhaps earlier. It had become a synagogue custom by the time of Christ that after the public reading each Sabbath day of a portion of “the Law and the Prophets” from the original Hebrew (compare Acts 13:15, 27; 15:21), an Aramaic ad hoc sight translation of the text was made for the sake of those who did not understand Hebrew. Precedent for this practice was found in Nehemiah 8, wherein Ezra and his fellow priests read publicly from the Law of Moses then orally translated it: “They read from the book of the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading,” (v. 8). The rabbis formulated extensive regulations to govern exactly by whom and how this reading and translating was to be done; these regulations are codified in The Mishnah, edited by Judah Han-Nasi’ around A. D. 200, in tractate Megillah (see especially chapter 4). Targum Jonathan to Isaiah is much more interpretive and much less literal that the Targum Onkelos to the Torah, or Targum Jonathan to the Former Prophets (the historical books Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings), and this inclination to paraphrase is evident in our text. Isaiah 9:6, 7 (in Aramaic numbered 9:5, 6) in Jonathan read (Stenning’s translation; I have italicized additions and differences from the Hebrew)—

The prophet saith to the house of David, a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us; and he has taken the law upon himself to keep it, and his name has been called from of old Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, He who lives forever, the Messiah, in whose days peace shall increase upon us.

Great shall be the splendour of them that observe the law, and of them that preserve peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to build it in judgment and in righteousness from henceforth and forever: by the Memra [lit. word] of the Lord of hosts shall this be wrought. (The Targum of Isaiah, edited with translation by J. F. Stenning. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949, p. 32)

Note first that the passage is clearly understood as a Messianic prophecy of a personal Messiah-King, descended from the lineage of David. In rabbinic thinking the pinnacle of Messianic piety is his willing acceptance of “the yoke of the law,” that is, the willing submission to all the requirements, regulations and laws of the Torah.

The statement, “His name has been called from of old” alludes to the rabbinic belief that the name of the Messiah has existed from eternity past (compare Psalm 72:17) as one of seven things created before the world (the others being the throne of glory, the Torah, Paradise, the Temple, repentance and Gehenna; see Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 1, p. 175, note 2).

No attempt is made in the Targum to explain the names of the Messiah “wonderful counselor” or “mighty God” (though I would think that the latter, especially, would call for some explanation / paraphrase to either explain, or explain away, the obvious implication that the Messiah is Deity. Abi-ad (“Eternal father” or “father of eternity”) calls forth a declaration of Messiah as one “who lives forever,” based in part also on Psalm 72:17, and as was mentioned and believed by Jesus’ contemporaries in John 12:34. “Memra” is a frequent “distancing,” practically personified at times, in the Targumim, especially Onkelos to the Torah, of God from man. It is commonly inserted into the translation to avoid anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms (here substituted for “zeal”—a decidedly “human” emotion) or direct contact between God and man, and at times is essentially an intermediary between them. The Targum, then, has all the trappings of rabbinic theology in its handling of the text, but not a close translation of the Hebrew.

For the sake of comprehensiveness in examining the ancient versions of our text, we will also briefly examine the passage in two ancient Christian OT translations: the Peshitta Syriac version, and Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation.

The Peshitta Syriac version, made directly from the Hebrew text but in consultation with the Septuagint Greek version, and in its present form dating to perhaps the 3rd or 4th century A.D., has a formal equivalence rendering that conforms closely to the traditional understanding of the Hebrew, which I give in woodenly literal form—

For the child was born to us, the son was given to us. And his authority was upon his shoulder, and his name was called the wonder and the advisor, the mighty God of the ages (or, forever), the prince of peace. For the multiplying of his authority and for his peace there is no end. Upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom so that he may establish it and sustain it with the judgment and in the righteousness from then and until for ever. The zeal of the Lord the mighty one did this.

The eight-fold “name” of the Messiah is given literally (except for “father of eternity”). It is evident here that the Peshitta was influenced by neither the original form of the Septuagint nor by the Targum. Influence from Aquila, et al. is naturally a possibility, even perhaps a probability.

Finally, the Latin Vulgate translation of Jerome, dating to circa 400 A.D., gives a good, close translation of the traditional Hebrew text of these verses. The Douay OT English version of the Vulgate by Gregory Martin as revised by Richard Challoner in the 18th century gives an accurate English translation of Jerome’s Latin (I place my alternative renderings in parentheses, and italicize any words in the English version not found in the Latin)—

For a CHILD IS BORN to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, Father of the world to come (or, the future age), the Prince of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace: he shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom; to establish it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and for ever: the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Jerome’s independent knowledge of Hebrew, as well as his knowledge of the contents of the Hexapla no doubt guided him away from the Septuagint’s inaccurate version (which he also knew) to a more accurate representation of the Hebrew.

It is immediately evident that these latter two Christian translations, the Peshitta Syriac and the Latin Vulgate, both made from the Hebrew text (though no doubt with consultation of the Septuagint and likely other Greek versions) more faithfully render this passage, especially the latter part of v. 6, than did the pre-Christian Septuagint on the one hand, and the paraphrastic, interpretive Targum Jonathan on the other.

Douglas K. Kutilek Bio


Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.

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