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Is there a difference, even very small, in the meaning of:

A male child is born to us.

vs

A male child has been born to us.

The "is born" is rather unusual in English.

What is the best translation of this verse?

Isaiah 9:6 (CEV):

A child has been born for us.

Isaiah 9:6 (ESV):

For to us a child is born

https://biblehub.com/isaiah/9-6.htm

https://biblehub.net/search.php?q="has+been+born+to+us"

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  • Edited. The last doesn't have the full link.
    – Quidam
    Nov 16 '19 at 1:22
  • No, it works, take care to copy-past full URLs, not just click the pretty part. I edited it so that the link works. :-) Nov 16 '19 at 11:18
  • Although יֶלֶד (yeled, "child") is masculine, the Hebrew can actually refer to either a male or female offspring when the text assumes a prenatal POV (Exo 21.22). It can also refer to 'any' child born (2 Sa 6.23) the same way we use the English 'child' regardless of gender. I don't think, however, that the adjective 'male' is inappropriate, only that we decide it by context rather than translation. יֻלַּד (yulad, "born") is in the perfect, meaning a completed action regardless of its position in time. In this case either 'is born' or 'has been born' is an apt translation of the verb. Nov 18 '19 at 13:08
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Generally, in Bible translation "have/has VERB" is the standard translation from Perfect Tense and "is VERB" is a somewhat standard translation for Present and Present Passive verbs.

You're citing Old Testament and Hebrew doesn't have verb tense; Greek does, and there is relevance to Luke, with one of your quotes...

Luke 2:11 (NASB):

there has been born for you a Savior

So, in English (and Greek, if you're interested)...

"has been" = Perfect Tense

This lesson explains Perfect Tense well.

it emphasizes the present, or ongoing result of a completed action

"is" = Present Tense

This Lesson explains the Present Tense well:

is linear. It is also called durative, continuous, or progressive

What is the difference?

"has been born" would mean that it happened in the past, but that it has an important and continued relevance to our present situation. This birth already happened, but it is important in the here-and-now.

"is born" would mean that the birth is happening or that, while it may have just recently happened, it is so relevant to our situation that we speak of it as if it is happening right now because that's how important it is.

Why Perfect translated as Present?

This is a very relevant article: Why are Hebrew verbs in the "perfect" form so often translated as present tense in modern translations?

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  • 2
    Isaiah 9:6 is clearly referenced in the first URL. An answer should focus on Hebrew or English, one would think. Nov 16 '19 at 16:06
  • @DerÜbermensch Correct, but formatting across SE also calls that relevant links be quoted. I edited it yet again for that. Nov 16 '19 at 17:23
  • ...I would delete my answer, but at decision time there have been no answers from anyone with a background in Hebrew. This is also partially an English answer. I hope someone offers an answer more acceptable, but still sharing with hopes to be of benefit. Thanks, I should have seen that sooner to make the edits to the OP. Nov 16 '19 at 17:32
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The MT for the Christian verse numbered Isaiah 9:6 is Isaiah 9:5:

כִּי יֶלֶד יֻלַּד לָנוּ בֵּן נִתַּן לָנוּ וַתְּהִי הַמִּשְׂרָה עַל שִׁכְמוֹ וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ אֵל גִּבּוֹר אֲבִי עַד שַׂר שָׁלוֹם

The verse describes an event in the immediate past. It is an announcement of a news event that has just now happened. The following verse, regarding the child's name refers to a future event.

The problem with translating "a child is born to us" is that this isn't English usage. In fact, without this verse, it wouldn't be clear what "a child is born to us" means. It sounds like an ongoing event in the immediate present, which is not the way that we speak about birth in English.

Another problem with this translation is that in English we don't generally speak of a "child" being born, we speak of a "son" or "daughter" or "baby" or possibly "infant" being born. We generally use "child" for a later stage of life. In Hebrew however, the word ילד used in this verse, can mean either a newborn or an older child, depending on the context.

The translators use "male child", injecting the word "male", which isn't in the MT at all, but is inferred from the gender of "child", ילד, and which is clear from the parallelism of the next clause, "a son has been given us". The translator is forced into this situation because there is no clear synonym in English for "son" used in the parallel clause.

It is not possible to understand this verse without taking into account the alliteration and the poetic rhythm. The transliteration the verse is:

Ki yeled yulad lanu, ben nitan lanu, wa t'hee hamisrah al shichmo; ...

The prophet has chosen his words for maximum alliterative and rhythmic effect, like a chant used by demonstrators in a demonstration1. It is not possible to translate this effect without deviating significantly from the meaning of the verse.

So, to translate the meaning of the first half of the verse into modern American usage:

For a son has been born [to the Davidic line], a boy has been born, and the leadership will be on his shoulders...

In this translation I have indicated interpolations in brackets. It is clear from the context that the phrase לנו, translated as "for us" or "to us" refers to the the Davidic line, which is "our" (the prophet's audience) line of leadership.

Remember that the MT here is poetry and the translations that you are reading are translations of poetry that capture the gist of the meaning of the original but not the nuance, the rhythm or the alliteration. This means that when you compare translations you need to understand them as approximations of the translated text which means that you can't make theological inferences about the meaning of the original text based the translation. You also need to be aware of the translation philosophy of each translation. Some translations, like the KJV, probably sounded stilted in their time, because the translation philosophy was to stay as close to the Hebrew word count and word order as possible, in keeping with the Scholastic ideals of the period. Modern translations tend to value closeness to current idiom as the criteria for translation.

So, to answer the OP question, there might be a difference between "is born" and "has been born" in English, but it is not reflected in the MT. Both of these translations are reasonable.


  1. A similar example of slogan-like verse can be found in Isaiah 8:10, עצו עצה ותפר דברו דבר ולא יקום כי עמנו אל, ootsu aytsa watufar, daberu davar walo yakum ki imanu el.

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