His name shall be called … Mighty God: E.J. Young on Isaiah 9:6

In working on the December issue of our church’s newsletter, I spent some time pondering the famous words of Isaiah 9:6.

 כי ילד ילד לנו בן נתן לנו ותהי המשרה על שכמו ויקרא שמו פלא יועץ אל גבור אביעד שר שלום[MT 9:5]

ESV: “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.”

NASB: “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

This verse has long been a stumbling block.  Jews and Gentiles alike have sought to minimize its import for millenia.  Even the LXX changes it to read very differently:

ὅτι παιδίον ἐγεννήθη ἡμῖν υἱὸς καὶ ἐδόθη ἡμῖν οὗ ἡ ἀρχὴ ἐγενήθη ἐπὶ τοῦ ὤμου αὐτοῦ καὶ καλεῖται τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ μεγάλης βουλῆς ἄγγελος ἐγὼ γὰρ ἄξω εἰρήνην ἐπὶ τοὺς ἄρχοντας εἰρήνην καὶ ὑγίειαν αὐτῷ

For a child has been born to us, a son also has been given to us, who the authority will be upon his shoulder. And his name shall be called “messenger of the great council,” for I will bring peace upon the princes, peace and health to him.

The JPS Tanakh, a modern Jewish translation, follows this precedent.  The child is not declared to be “mighty God” but is instead given a name that simply speaks of God as mighty:

For a child has been born to us, A son has been given us. And authority has settled on his shoulders. He has been named “The Mighty God is planning grace; The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.”

Is this where we should be going with Isaiah 9:6?  Are the translations like those of the ESV and the NASB simply a Christian over-reading of this verse?

I thought E.J. Young made some very insightful comments about this verse, drawing in both the nature of prophecy and the progressive nature of revelation.  He writes:

What then did Isaiah mean by his use of the term ‘el and why did he employ it?  In answering these questions we must remember that the wondrous prophecy which we are now studying was not primarily the product of Isaiah’s own thought.  It did not come to him as the result of private interpretation (see 2 Pet. 1:21).  It was a revelation of God.  Isaiah penned these words concerning the Messiah for the reason that he was borne of the Spirit of God.  To what extent he himself understood the import of what he was writing we have no way of knowing.  The revelation was made to him, however, that the Messiah was a divine Person.  In the light of the New Testament we learn that this revelation was an adumbration of the doctrine of the Trinity.  Isaiah, in other words, is now given a glimpse of the fact that in the fullness of the Godhead there is a plurality of Persons.  Hence, in obedience to the revelation of God, he wrote of the Messiah that He was ‘el gibbor.  With this revealed truth may our hearts delight, for He who is born the mighty God is therefore able to save all those who put their trust in him.

The Book of Isaiah, Vol. I, pgs. 337-338

Not only does it make sense of Peter’s words that Young cites, it compliments Paul’s words in 2 Cor 3:12-15 quite nicely:

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.  But their  minds were hardened.  For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.  Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.

We can only speculate, but I can imagine Paul being comfortable substituting “Moses” of v.15 as follows: “Whenever Isaiah is read a veil lies over their hearts.”

For those of us who believe that Jesus is the one of whom Isaiah 9:6 ultimately speaks, this verse is a great comfort precisely because the Messiah is no mere human.  Q&A 17 of the Heidelberg Catechism explains why the Messiah must also be true God: “So that, by the power of his divinity, he might bear the weight of God’s anger in his humanity and earn for us and restore to us righteousness and life.”

Indeed, it is because of this that we can have confidence that in Christ we have all we need for salvation!  (Cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 30).
Rev. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

3 thoughts on “His name shall be called … Mighty God: E.J. Young on Isaiah 9:6”

  1. Hi Andrew,
    Doesn’t Hebrew script (well, Aramaic block letters…) just beat out English and Greek for aesthetic effect! (Sorry, it always does my little Hebrew heart good to see the MT in a blog post.)

    Out of curiosity, do you know what “recension” of the LXX represents Isaiah 9:6? (I’m visiting family right now and don’t have my Ralfs handy.) Do you think this might represent a different textual tradition or simply a 2nd Temple kind of “harmonization?” I would be curious to know what the DSS do with this text. My guess is that it follows the MT, but again I’m not near my library to check.

    At any rate, the “el gibbor” reading represents a beautiful proto-trinitarian impulse. (Reminds me a bit of “ish chayil” or “ish gibbor” but on a divine scale.)


    1. Greek has nothing on the elegance of Hebrew script!!! The script of the inscriptions – especially the Old Aramaic and Phoenician stelae – is even more wonderful … wow …

      I haven’t read the Rahlfs apparatus in some time so I can’t give you much more than what it says. It looks like there are some additions in ASsLC … those look at first glace to be leaning somewhat in the direction of the MT. I only wish I had access the Gottingen for these kinds of questions since Rahlfs is so limited in what it reports.

      As for the DSS, I only have the DSS Bible in English so I can’t check it with much scholarly precision, but they translate 1QIsaa right in line with the standard English renderings of the MT. I need to just break down one of these days and switch to accordance so I can have the Qumran biblical Mss … Although not sure if I can justify the $$$$$ …

      proto-trinitarian impulse … that’s a nice way of describing it!

      Hope you have a good thanksgiving break. If you went to MD for SBL, hope you scored some great deals at the book tables! I stayed on the west coast again this year. Although next year I can’t really miss in good conscience what with it being in San Diego and all!


      1. Hi Andrew,
        I picked up a couple of books: Chris Wright’s Ethics of the OT, Jim Bratt’s new biography of Kuyper, Cornelius Plantinga Jr.’s Reading for Preaching, Robert Jensen’s Creed and Canon, and Lyle Bierma’s new book on the Theology of the Heidelberg Catechism (glancing through it, I recall much of the material from my seminary class on the HC with him).

        You didn’t really miss much in Baltimore. The temperature was cold and was compounded by a vicious wind strafing the inner harbor. (I actually didn’t even attend a single session during my two days, but instead chatted with friends, interviewed, etc.)


Comments are closed.