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In different translations of Isaiah 9:6 we see (emphasis mine):

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.

NKJV:

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will 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.

Yet looking at the Hebrew words used for will be, I find "וַתְּהִ֥י" (Strong 1961). It seems as though it is translated as will be, yet in all other usage I can find of it in the Bible it is translated in the past tense as become: example in Genesis 10:10, Numbers 31:36, 2 Samuel 3:1, Isaiah 29:11, ect.

Similarly for "shall be called", I find "וַיִּקְרָ֨א" (Strong 7121). It seems as though it is translated as "shall be called", yet like before all other usage I can find is in the past tense as "called": example in Genesis 1:5, Genesis 20:8, Genesis 41:45, 1 Kings 16:24, Isaiah 21:8, ect.

So why in Isaiah 9:6 are they translated into English as the future tense, when elsewhere they are seemingly always translated in the past tense?

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  • @Jason_ Yes, sorry for the late response
    – User2280
    Commented Jul 8 at 4:07

1 Answer 1

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Short Answer: It's translated future because it's understood to be something called, "the prophetic perfect tense". Let's look at a definition:

The prophetic perfect tense is a literary technique commonly used in religious texts, which describes future events that are so certain to happen that they are referred to in the past tense as if they had already happened.

In the Hebrew Bible, there are times where prophets speak of the past while referring to future events. The reason is because prophets often see the future. In other words, it's a prophet speaking of the future as if he's already seen it in the past.

Supposing other precedents hold true, this could be interpreted as either past or future. If you look at a traditional Jewish Bible you will see that it puts this verse all in the past. Often this interpreted as if it was about king Hezekiah, even though he would have been a grown man at that point.

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Now, it is given more credence as future Messianic prophecy as Matthew cites a few verse before this. Let's first look at the verses from Isaiah (Isaiah 8:23, 9:1) in a Jewish Bible:

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Now, let's look at Matthew 4:12-16 where Matthew quotes Isaiah:

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the
sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: 16 The people who sat
in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the
region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”

In other words, it can be inferred that, although he didn't cite Isaiah 9:6 exactly, he had this whole section in mind as a messianic prophecy.

I'll Conclude: The bottom line is this, all the names apply to the child.

After saying that the names refer to the child, then we can argue, is it Hezekiah? Did he fulfill it? Did it speak of him, but not find its fulfillment in him? Did it initially speak about him, but is now speaking about the Messiah? Is it only a pure prophecy of the Messiah?

These are good questions to ask.

If the prophecy is about Hezekiah then it would make sense to translate it in the past, however if the prophecy is about the Messiah then it makes sense to translate it in the future as an instance of the prophetic perfect.

I will not argue heavily that this is a Messianic prophecy. I'll just say that, when you read the very next verse, it talks about no end to his kingdom, but there was an obvious end to Hezekiah's kingdom.

References
Brown, Dr. Michael. “What Is the Right Translation of Isaiah 9:5(6)? Dr. Brown Responds to Rabbi Singer.” www.youtube.com, 19 May 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWouObse9dw. Accessed 4 Apr. 2024.
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    I would add that some commentators believe the prophecy should NOT be understood to refer to the future. The Jewish sage Rashi, for example, taught that it refers to Hezekiah, who was born during Isaiah's lifetime. Commented Apr 4 at 11:23

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