15

Translators publishing for the Christian market translate the title in Isaiah 9:6:

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)

But the Jewish Publishing Society's 1917 edition of the Tanakh renders the same verse (which is numbered slightly differently) as:

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;—Isaiah 9:5 (JPS)

Wikipedia implies that the the decision to translate or transliterate is largely motivated by doctrinal issues that exist outside of the text. What principles should be used by translators to judge whether to render a name or title into words that carry the same meaning in the target language (as some do with the Adversary) or the simply reproduce the sounds of the words from the source language (as is done with Israel)?

Bonus question: I assume the phrase is ambiguous in Hebrew; either of the common translations can be made to work. Is there a way to translate this phrase in such a way as to avoid privileging one doctrinally-based interpretation over another?


We've been reading one of my favorite Christmas books as a family and this question is touched upon there:

"She said, 'His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.'" ...
"My God!" Imogene said, "He'd never get out of the first grade if he had to write all that!"
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

  • 1
    This is such an excellent question. It might seem rude of me but I find this kind of translation as more or less gibberish. It might seem rude but when I read an English Bible I expect English words. Can you imagine a Bible that had (which means God) or (which means Jesus) everywhere while preserving the original sounds of the Hebrew and Greek? That would be just plain silly. If one can't determine a probable English meaning then yes just make a transliteration and provide possible meaning in a footnote if that is feasible. Anyway the question was more informative than most. – Mike Feb 3 '13 at 3:32
  • Interesting. So even jewish translation consider the whole Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom as part of the child's name – user4951 Feb 19 '14 at 6:08
  • Of note, NJPS (1999) translates the titles but does so quite differently from Christian translations: "...He has been named 'The Mighty God is planning grace; The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler'". The syntactical issues here are interesting. – Susan Mar 18 '16 at 15:34
7

All translation is based on an understanding of the underlying text, and so is to a greater or lesser extent doctrinal in nature. Most of the time it doesn't matter. But these things are really a matter of opinion. The Hebrew is invariant, the transliteration is of the Hebrew that would be translated. I suspect that the Jewish translation is more motivated by bias than the Christian, simply because the verse is so very significant in Trinitarian theology. But there basically isn't a way to render this in English that conveys the two underlying meanings. At various points in the NT the practice was to give the original language name and then the translation. For example,

And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing. (John 9:6)

The "which by interpretation is..." is in the Greek text, it is not a translation artifact. So perhaps English translators could adopt the same practice:

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, which is Wonderful counselor;

El-gibbor, which is Mighty god;

Abi-ad, which is everlasting father;

Sar-shalom, which is prince of peace.

Which would use the same technique used in various other parts of the Bible by the Bible writers themselves.

BTW, I have rendered El-Gibbor is Mighty god with a lower case because I think the doctrinal practice of treating this as a Trinitarian verse is wrong, unless you think that Hezekiah, to whom this verse refers, is also El Shaddai.

EDIT: I forgot to say in my original answer that I set the interpretations, such as which is Mighty god in italics deliberately. This is a tradition in some translations of the Bible such as the KJV, NKJV, NASB etc to indicate words not in the original text but supplied by the translators for clarity. I should say that it is a pretty hit and miss indicator in those translations, nonetheless, I continued it in the above proposal.

  • This is a helpful answer though I'm not sure it's possible to know which translator is more biased. Probably a footnote describing all reasonable translations seems the least biased or a the most balanced. – Jon Ericson Dec 20 '12 at 18:40
2

In answer to your question "Should the title in Isaiah 9 be translated?" the "title" is actually a name, as Yikra Shmo means "was called His name".

Not translating His name is OK by me, as I speak Hebrew and understand the meaning of His name. Since this is a translation from Hebrew, non speakers of the language will not have an understanding of the meaning, therefore a translation is acceptable. In other places in the Bible,the translation is left out of names, few are added.

Fraser Orr's comment above is in error, as Hezekiah's name is NOT El Shaddai. The "I" sound in the middle of a name is used to refer to a sense of personal belonging, such as the word "sheli" or "shmi". Chezikiyah would be interpreted as "My Strength is Yah". It is not calling Hezikiah the God of Strength. Same with how Ruminator translated Isaiah's name to mean "Savior Yah" It actually means "My Salvation is Yah". Y'shua means straightforward "Salvation" or "Savior".

The Jewish Publishing Society's translation which is used today by most English speaking Jews is: "For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us and the dominion will rest on his shoulder; the Wonderous Adviser Mighty G-d, Eternal Father, called his name Sar-shalom

It is literally saying in their translation that God The Father is calling His Name" simply "Sar Shalom". That is the only title or name that they use for the child in this verse. Today's translation has been changed to take the Messiah completely out of the verse, that is why that they believe that Hezekiah is the Sar Shalom that this verse is speaking of. After the name "Aviad" they added "called his name" which is not even there and is in direct violation of Hebrew sentence construction.

The literal word for word interpretation for this verse, made by me is:

Because a child was born to us, son was given unto us, and was the government on His shoulder;And was called His name "Miraculous Counselor, God Mighty, My Father Is Eternal,Prince of Peace"

It is evidently clear that all of these names are referring to the child, which Hezekiah did not fulfill.

Break down the name Aviad. Most people forget about the "Yud" in the middle which changes it to personal possession, such as "sheli", belonging to me. Children on the streets of Israel knows that Avi means "my father".

Avi - "My Father" Ad - "Eternal" or "Eternity" Aviad - "My Father Is Eternal"

The verse is calling this child the Son of the Eternal God!

This has been hidden for many reasons.

In the Dead Sea Scrolls there is no space between Aviad. It is all one name.

As far as what Fraser Orr said about El Gibor being "god" instead of capitalized God, the same term is used in Jeremiah 32:18 Thou shewest lovingkindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them: the Great, the Mighty God, the LORD of hosts, is his name,

So by his logic we should change that translation to a small "g". Nonsense!

For your "Bonus question" being able to translate it word for word without adding any flowery words or taking away any words is the way to avoid privileging one doctrinally-based interpretation over another... as I have done above.

0

I have looked at one title - "el-gibbor" so here is what I found if it helps?

VARIOUS MEANINGS OF THE PHRASE "MIGHTY GOD"

(Hebrew El and gibbor) IN THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES (O.T.).

King James Version Isa 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 (Heb. El gibbor), The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

Isa 10:21 "The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God (Heb El gibbor)."

Ezk 32:21 "The strong among the mighty (Heb. El gibbor; “mightiest of warriors”-TANAKH; “mighty chiefs” N.R.S.V.; “giants” LXX) shall speak to him out of the midst of hell with them that help him: they are gone down, they lie uncircumcised, slain by the sword."

"At Isaiah 9:6 the future Messiah is called, among other titles, "Mighty God"; and "Eternal Father". Does this mean he is Almighty Jehovah and is a father that never began nor will never end? Jehovah is called "the mighty God" at Isaiah 10:21 (NASV) Because of this some have concluded that the Father and the Son are of equal rank; both being called "the mighty God". However others are referred to by the same title; does this make them equal to the Father in rank? This occurrence is found at Ezekiel 32:21. On this passage The New Century Bible, New Series, has this comment: "mighty chiefs is the plural of the Messianic title, "Mighty God" given the child in Isa 9:6 (MT 5) -[Jewish scribal] text, verse 5) "and could be rendered "mighty gods" just as correctly." If the original Hebrew text could call these human warriors 'mighty gods' without elevating them to the position of Jehovah, so could the Son of God be called without such elevation.

The Hebrew for "Mighty God" is "el" (god) "gibbor" (mighty) and has a broad range of meanings. We see in Brown, Driver, and Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, page 42*, on "el" "applied to men of might and rank ... mighty heroes". In various translations this phrase is rendered as: "a divine hero" (Moffatt{Mo}); God-Hero" (New American Bible [NAB]; in battle God-like" (New English Bible [NEB]) and "Leaders of Champion" S. T. Byington).

Only the Father Jehovah is ever called "God Almighty" which, of course is above Mighty God". Neither the Son nor the holy spirit are ever called "God Almighty". The Father Jehovah is supreme and unique."-'The Trinity Doctrine' Examined in the Light of History and The Bible p.21

*Also see Gesenius Hebrew Chaldee Lexicon of the O.T. pp.45, 153.

A relevant comment is found in the book called 'Principles of Biblical interpretation' by Louis Berkhof pp.80-1:-

"In employing the aid of parallel passages, the interpreter must be sure that they are really parallel. In the words of Davidson. "it is not enough that the same term or phrase be found in both; there must be similarity of sentiment. . . . Parallels of words properly so called. . . . In Isa. 9:6 the prophet says: "For unto us a child is born . . . and his name shall be called . . . Mighty God (El gibbor)." Gesenius finds no reference to God here, and renders these words "mighty hero." But in Isa. 10:21, the same phrase is employed in a context, in which it can only reefer to Deity. …"

Also See the following from James Strong's Hebrew Dictionary for other uses of the Hebrew "El-gibbor" or "Mighty God" applied to beings other than Jehovah:-

Strong's No.410 el {ale} shortened from 0352; T.W.O.T. - 93a; n m A.V. - God 213, god 16, power 4, mighty 5, goodly 1, great 1, idols 1, Immanuel + >06005 2, might 1, strong 1; 245 1) god, god-like one, mighty one 1a) mighty men, men of rank, mighty heroes 1b) angels 1c) god, false god, (demons, imaginations) 1d) God, the one true God, Jehovah 2) mighty things in nature 3) strength, power

Strong's No.1368 gibbowr {ghib-bore'} or (shortened) gibbor {ghib-bore'} intensive from 01396; T.W.O.T. - 310b A.V. - mighty 63, mighty man 68, strong 4, valiant 3, .... ones 4, mighties 2, man 2, valiant men 2, strong man 1, upright man 1, champion 1, chief 1, excel 1, giant 1, men's 1, mightiest 1, strongest 1; 158 adj 1) strong, mighty n m
2) strong man, brave man, mighty man Also see Theological Wordbook of the O.T. pp.41, 148-9

In various other translations this phrase "el gibbor" is rendered as when referring to humans: "a divine hero" -J. Moffatt; "God-Hero" -New American Bible; "Divine Champion" -S.T. Byington; "mightiest of warriors" -E. Goodspeed; "The strong among the mighty" -K.J.V.; "The mighty chiefs" -Revised Standard Version & the New Revised Standard Version; "Warrior chieftains" -Revised New English Bible; "greatest heroes" -Good News Bible; please see the text at Ezekiel 32:21 for this use of "el gibbor" and it being applied to men so if the original Hebrew text could call these human warriors "el gibbor" (literally "Mighty Gods") without elevating them to the position of Jehovah, so could the Son of God (Jesus) be called without such elevation.

New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures Isaiah 9:6 "For there has been a child born to us, there has been a son given to us; and the princely rule will come to be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God (Heb. El gibbor), Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 10:21 "A mere remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the Mighty God (Heb. El gibbor)."

Ezekiel 32:21 “‘The foremost men of the mighty ones (Heb. El gibbor; “mightiest of warriors”-TANAKH; “mighty chiefs”-N.R.S.V.; LXX “giants”) will speak out of the midst of She'ol even to him, with his helpers. They will certainly go down; they must lie down as the uncircumcised, slain by the sword."

This show the high position Jesus holds in God's purposes for the salvation of mankind.

-1

The question refers to the name as "his title". I think the question is somewhat prejudicial. The question should probably ask "Is Isaiah 9:6 the messiah's title or his name?" Hebrew names are not generally titles. To assume it is a title is to hijack the question. Names, while meaningful, would be blasphemous if they were assumed to be titles. Isaiah's own name "Savior Yah" (or something to that effect) as a name gives significance to his ministry but as a title is inappropriate.

So the answer, in my ever so humble opinion is that not only that "his name will be called" and "Yehovah will do this" (give him a ministry of that tenor) indicating that he is not a god acting on his own but rather God's obedient servant, Hebrew names are not generally titles but rather divinely supervised hints at God's calling on a life.

So the names should be untranslated in the text but rather in the footnotes so that people are not misled into thinking that they are titles when they are names which, while full of meaning, are not titles of the one who bears the names. Instead the names describe the work of God through his servant.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.