Isaiah 9:6:

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.

What does this mean? That the government will be based on Jesus, or that the government will hurt Jesus?

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    To the individual who voted to close, how is this primarily opinion-based? It is asking for the interpretation of the verse. – user862 Dec 9 '16 at 3:39
  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange Andrea, thanks for contributing - this is a good first Question! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. – Steve Taylor Dec 9 '16 at 8:13
  • There is no Jesus in Isaiah. Not in this verse. – Cynthia Avishegnath Jan 10 '17 at 13:22
  • @CynthiaAvishegnath he is all through Isaiah. You must have eyes to see though. – diego b Dec 26 '17 at 4:28
  • That is as good as saying - there is Joseph Smith and Barack Obama all over Isaiah, you just don't have the eyes to see that ! ! ! – Cynthia Avishegnath Dec 27 '17 at 8:31

With regard to the OP question rather than the OP assumption regarding the referent of the verse, the part of the verse translated

the government shall be upon his shoulder

corresponding to the MT

וַתְּהִ֥י הַמִּשְׂרָ֖ה עַל־שִׁכְמ֑וֹ

means that the referent will carry, that is, will accept, the responsibility to govern.

The Hebrew idiom uses "shoulder" in a similar way that English does to indicate acceptance of the burden of a responsibility. The phrase refers to kingly leadership rather than a religious leadership, since at the time that the prophesy was written, religious leadership rested with the priests of the house of Zadok. The following verse clarifies this by stating that this leader will sit on the throne of David and rule over the kingdom that David ruled, i.e. the combined kingdom of Judah and Israel before the split.

With regard to controversy over the Christological identification of the referent of the verse, this phrase seems to be the only part of the verse that has escaped the controversy, although a careful reading of the phrase in the context of the surrounding verses indicates that the prophet was referring to a kingly leader, not a spiritual leader, and in his own time, as the KJV states, "from henceforth" (מֵעַתָּה֙).

For reference, the complete verse, Christian Isaiah 9:6, is MT Isaiah 9:5:

כִּי־יֶ֣לֶד יֻלַּד־לָ֗נוּ בֵּ֚ן נִתַּן־לָ֔נוּ וַתְּהִ֥י הַמִּשְׂרָ֖ה עַל־שִׁכְמ֑וֹ וַיִּקְרָ֨א שְׁמ֜וֹ פֶּ֠לֶא יוֹעֵץ֙ אֵ֣ל גִּבּ֔וֹר אֲבִי־עַ֖ד שַׂר־שָׁלֽוֹם

and the following verse, Christian Isaiah 9:7, is MT Isaiah 9:6:

לְמַרְבֵּ֨ה הַמִּשְׂרָ֜ה וּלְשָׁל֣וֹם אֵֽין־קֵ֗ץ עַל־כִּסֵּ֤א דָוִד֙ וְעַל־מַמְלַכְתּ֔וֹ לְהָכִ֤ין אֹתָהּ֙ וּֽלְסַעֲדָ֔הּ בְּמִשְׁפָּ֖ט וּבִצְדָקָ֑ה מֵעַתָּה֙ וְעַד־עוֹלָ֔ם קִנְאַ֛ת יְהֹוָ֥ה צְבָא֖וֹת תַּעֲשֶׂה־זֹּֽאת

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Every parallel version I can find from Christian Bibles translates Isaiah 9:6 the way the KJV does:

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

This seems so obviously a reference to Jesus that one must wonder why, if this is an accurate translation from the Hebrew, all Jews did not become Christians long ago. The Hebrew text is difficult to translate accurately, but the verb יֻלַּד־ ('born') is in the passive perfect tense, indicating a completed action. A Jewish translation from the Hebrew language reflects this:

Isaiah 9:6 (The Complete Jewish Bible): For a child has been born to us, a son given to us, and the authority is upon his shoulder, and the wondrous adviser, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, called his name, "the prince of peace."

This no longer need be a reference to Jesus. Instead of saying his name will be "Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father," it now says the wondrous adviser, the mighty God, the everlasting Father called his name "the prince of peace." In fact, the use of tense ("has been born", "is upon his shoulder") tells us that this was a (royal) child born in the recent past and still alive. When we read the same verse with comments by the medieval Jewish scholar Rashi, we see that the child was Hezekia, the son of King Ahaz.

Another translation, from Jews for Judaism, once again says the child was already born, but identifies the child with a theophoric name, "A wonderful counselor is the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the ruler of peace":

Isaiah 9:6 (Jews for Judaism): For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called A wonderful counselor is the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the ruler of peace; that the government may be increased, and of peace there be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it through justice and through righteousness from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts does perform this.

Although the translation is difficult, what these have in common is that the child was already born. One translation says that God called his name "the prince of peace," while the other gives him a lengthier theophoric name, theophoric names being not uncommon at that time.

The question asks, in its first part, "What does this mean?" The answer is that it means that Isaiah says the child, the future King Hezekiah, will lead Judah through a period of peace, rather than the turmoil of the recent past. Most importantly, there is no literal reference to Jesus, who is never called "The everlasting Father," a term reserved for the first person of the Trinity.

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    Re: the “passive perfect tense,” you may wish to see my answer here on another thread re: Isa. 9:6. – user862 Dec 9 '16 at 7:42
  • Hi @SimplyaChristian While you agree with my reading of the verb in the body of your answer, you then put a general opinion from the Radak against a specific opinion of Rashi. I think Rashi outranks Radak in Jewish scholarship (although I may be wrong) but I stick with the plain meaning of the words, especially when nowhere else in the Bible is Jesus called "The everlasting Father," a term reserved for the first person of the Trinity. – Dick Harfield Dec 9 '16 at 9:04
  • The wondrous adviser, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, called his name, "the prince of peace." I have no problem with Isaiah telling me that God (the everlasting Father) called Hezekiah the Prince of Peace. – Dick Harfield Dec 9 '16 at 9:09
  • It might be worth clarifying that not all Jewish translations push the sense of the text in that direction. JPS 1960 and JPS 1978 are more middle-ground translations compared to our two extremes here. – Steve Taylor Dec 9 '16 at 10:49
  • The "Complete Jewish Bible" translation that you cite wreaks havoc with the MT word order, then interprets two parts of the child's name as referring to God rather than being appellations and appears to make God the subject of "called his name". IMHO this is unsupportable. Both Rashi and Radak are back-reading their medieval sensitivities regarding the bombastic monikers for Hizkiyahu back into the text. The נסתר (assumed, hidden) subject of ויקרא is the העם of verse 1 and the הגוי of verse 2. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Dec 10 '16 at 15:49

Christianity is a religion. Jesus did not bring a religion. He brought a government or a kingdom. Restored the kingdom for which man lost. Man lost the kingdom. In genesis it says god said let man have dominion over the earth. Dominion means kingdom. We had kingdom over the earth. Jesus bought the kingdom back. Adam gave the authority over the earth to satan when he committed high treason. Jesus restored the kingdom there for it has nothing to do with religion. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven not Christians.

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  • Before Adam fell he was in the only religion (way of worship and life) that there was and under God's rule. So when he fell he moved out of God's rule (as you say) but also out of God's religion or way of doing things that pleased God; is that not so? – user26950 Oct 17 '18 at 19:26
  • Can you show this from the text? – Jack Oct 20 '18 at 21:09

This idiom means to possess a (royal) authority or position: namely the 'keys of the kingdom.' The below example is from the same Book but as regards the 'Prime Minister' of the Davidic Kingdom (not the King himself) (here Shebna is taken over by Hilkiah):

Isaiah 22:20-22 (DRB) And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliacim the son of Helcias, 21 And I will clothe him with thy robe, and will strengthen him with thy girdle, and will give thy power into his hand: and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Juda. 22 And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open.

(I've heard it alleged that the key possessed by the 'prime minister' in the Davidic Kingdom would literally wear it on his person—hence 'upon thy shoulder,' but this doesn't affect anything here).

Similar language is used by Jesus to Peter in Matthew 13:13-19 (DRB).

And Jesus came into the quarters of Cesarea Philippi: and he asked his disciples, saying: Whom do men say that the Son of man is? 14 But they said: Some John the Baptist, and other some Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15 Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? 16 Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

And in Revelation 3:7 (DRB) on the lips of Jesus again, this time explicitly referencing these exact words:

And to the angel of the church of Philadelphia, write: These things saith the Holy One and the true one, he that hath the key of David; he that openeth, and no man shutteth; shutteth, and no man openeth:

In context, "the Holy One, and he that is true" is "the Son of God" (v. 18), i.e. Jesus.

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It means the He should have rule and dominion. Young's Literal Translation renders this as:

"For a Child hath been born to us, A Son hath been given to us, And the princely power is on his shoulder, And He doth call his name Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace."

There appears to have been a practice in the east of wearing a key on the shoulder as an emblem of the office and authority to open the king's treasury, or the king's palace, apparent so that all would know the importance of his personage.

Clarke's commentary includes:

"That is, the ensign of government; the scepter, the sword, the key, or the like, which was borne upon or hung from the shoulder. " (1)

Barnes Notes on this verse include:

"'How much was I delighted when I first saw the people, especially the Moors, going along the streets with each his key on his shoulder. The handle is generally made of brass (though sometimes of silver), and is often nicely worked in a device of filigrane. The way it is carried is to have the corner of a kerchief tied to the ring; the key is then placed on the shoulder, and the kerchief hangs down in front. At other times they have a bunch of large keys, and then they have half on one side of the shoulder, and half on the other. For a man thus to march along with a large key on his shoulder, shows at once that he is a person of consequence." (2)

As well as Jamieson-Faussett-Brown:

'So keys are carried sometimes in the East, hanging from the kerchief on the shoulder. But the phrase is rather figurative for sustaining the government on one's shoulders." (3)

As an aside, the English word "government" has been slipped into the English translations for a political purpose, and has caused a great deal of confusion. King James was in spiritual warfare with the Pope at Rome maintaining the divine right of kings to govern and rule their people; which concept did not sit well with the Pope. When King James commissioned the English translation of the Bible in 1604, the Jesuits conspired to assassinate King James in what was known as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Of course, this attempt to murder him did not endear the Pope to King James and the political motive to separate fully all rule and authority from Rome was made clear in the translation of the Bible known as the Authorized Version of 1611. (4) (5)

The word "government" used in the English translations needs further discussion as the intent of the KJV was politically motivated to support King James' contention for his divine right to rule England alone. The original Hebrew and Greek words are not "government".

For instance, 1 Cor. 12:28 reads in the KJV as:

"And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues."

But in the Interlinear, that word "governments" is actually "κυβερνήσεις" and is Strong's Gr. 2941 "kubernésis" and means a helmsman steering or piloting a ship. (6)

The subject matter of 1 Cor. 12:28 are those whom God set in the "church" or assembly and spoke of the order of their authority. It is not speaking of a secular political governing body. This has great implications on the current understanding and traditional teaching of Romans 13.


1) Source: here

2) Source: Biblehub

3) Ibid

4) Source: King James I and the Divine Right of Kings

5) Source: The Story Behind the King James Bible

6) Source: Biblehub

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