Isaiah 9:5-6 (6-7) occupies a special place in Christian apologetics. Many apologists claim that this passage speaks of the Messiah being God, and is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ divinity. This passage reads:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace.” (NIV)
However, as with so many apologetic proof texts, the interpretation which insists that Isaiah is speaking about the messiah being God is a shaky one, and is widely rejected by scholars, even among many conservative Christian scholars. A selection of scholars on the subject, and although their perspectives and conclusions vary, demonstrate a wide agreement in some areas. Of course one will always be able to find dissenting views, but these quotes demonstrate that one of the core weapons in the apologetic ‘proof text’ arsenal is not being interpreted nearly at all the way it is often argued.
“The second title, ‘mighty god,’ should not be understood in a belatedly substantive, trinitarian category nor as a claim of divinity. Rather, the language means that the new king will be filled with all the powers (especially military) that are required.” Isaiah: 1 – 39, Volume 1 By Walter Brueggemann
“…subject of [Isaiah’s] oracle is clearly identified as a Davidic royal descendant – not a deity himself, but simply a charismatic human agent of the deity. The exalted titles in Isaiah 9:6, therefore, must be seen as applied not to the Davidic king but to the God whose powers are made manifest in him.” Scripture and other artifacts: essays on the Bible and archaeology in honor …By Michael David Coogan, J. Cheryl Exum
“Neither Ps 45.6 nor Isa 9.6 need be taken as implying that the king is literally thought of as a god, which would, as we have seen, appear to be contrary to the Old Testament view of the king…in both Psalm 45 and Isaiah 9 the context is that of the king as a warrior…” Psalms By John Day
“So Isaiah 9 articulates hope for a perfect king, though not one who was divine in our sense of the term.” Introduction to the Prophets. By Paul L. Redditt
“Here Isaiah extols Hezekiah in terms familiar to the King-Zion complex. And Isaiah links the ruler’s identity to YHWH, describing this king as a mighty god, a father whose rule does not end, a leader who will bring security. Granted, Hezekiah is not a god here. YHWH’s zeal is the active principle, for YHWH acts to “establish” and “uphold” the Davidic ruler.” An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible: A Thematic Approach. By Sandra L. Gravett, Karla G. Bohmbach, F. V. Greifenhagen
“Most scholars understand this poetic language as the hyperbole of Eastern “court style.” The king was extolled in extravagant terms, especially on festival occasions (enthronement, royal wedding). In the Old Testament there was no serious departure from the view that the king was God’s agent, anointed for a task. This is undoubtedly true in the well-known messianic passage in Isaiah 9 (“unto us a child is born, a son is given”) where the coming king is given the most glorious throne titles: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6). The King, even the one who was to come, was not regarded as divine, ‘cosubstantial with the Deity.’” Contours of Old Testament theology By Bernhard W. Anderson, Steven Bishop
Hebrew Bible scholar Paul Wegner “…concludes that the names describe Yahweh rather than the child and that they are designed, like Isaiah’s own name (“Yahweh is salvation”) to point beyond the child to God.” Wegner paraphrased by Proverbs—Isaiah By Tremper Longman III, David E. Garland
Hebrew Bible scholar W.L. Holladay “…objects to the view that the titles in Isaiah 9:5 indicate that the king is receiving divine titles. Like other commentators, he argues that the titles are throne names given to the king as part of a coronation ode upon his accession. More specifically, the titles…reflect no more a divine attribution to the monarch than any theophoric names given to anyone in ancient Israel. The content of the names therefore would refer only to God and not to the king.” The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts. By Mark S. Smith
“In any case, the Hezekiah materials in Isaiah 36-39 serve as a literary counterpart for Isaiah 6:1-9:6, and Hezekiah as a theological foil for King Ahaz.” Dictionary of the Old Testament: historical books By Bill T. Arnold, Hugh Godfrey Maturin Williamson
“In chapter 9 the boy is a sign of coming quiet and peace in the land. The reference is very likely to Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, who would prove to be a righteous king.” Isaiah through the ages By Johanna Manley
“To Isaiah’s audience, this child could be none other than Hezekiah!” How the Bible Became a Book: The Textualization of Ancient Israel. By William M. Schniedewin
“The names ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ are the reasons this poem has been interpreted traditionally as a reference to Christ. These names do not necessarily refer to the individual who bears them. Symbolic names are common in the prophets. The child Immanuel (“God is with us,” Isa. 7:14), born in 734 BCE, was not divine…” How to Read the Bible: History, Prophecy, Literature. By Steven L McKenzie
“Therefore, the title ‘Wonderful Counselor’ probably depicts this warrior-king as an extraordinary military strategist.” Handbook on the prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, minor prophets. Robert B. Chisholm
“Modern scholarship dates this passage to the birth or ascension to the throne of King Hezekiah who ruled over Jerusalem from 727 to 698 BCE…” Christianity: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Guide for Students. By Kathryn Muller Lopez, Glenn Jonas, Donald N. Penny
“Whether it was written specifically for Hezekiah or not, it now appears in the context of literature that was written in conjunction with the Syro-Ephraimite War and the years that followed. Consequently, the new king presupposed in the present context must be Hezekiah.” Isaiah 1-39: with an introduction to prophetic literature by Marvin Alan Sweeney
“Most scholars believe this passage is Hezekiah’s accession oracle.” An examination of kingship and messianic expectation in Isaiah 1-35. By Paul D. Wegner
Isaiah 9:5 (6) is one of a small selection of verses from the Hebrew Bible popularly used by apologists in an attempt to demonstrate that the Hebrew Bible speaks of the messiah being God. Even among scholars who believe Isaiah 9:6 describes a king who is ‘divine,’ that label does not mean the king is God. As Collins & Collins write in ‘King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature,’ the subject of Isaiah 9:6 was Hezekiah, and divinity meant one with divine attributes, but not God himself. Hezekiah was given these titles, say Collins & Collins, due to his “potential rather than his accomplishments.”
This text is widely seen as referring to Hezekiah, as depicting a king who would defeat Israel’s enemies, especially in battle, and even for scholars who say the king is being described as ‘divine,’ its primary referent was Hezekiah, and ‘divine’ does not describe a king who was actually God, but someone fully submissive to God. Therefore, Isaiah’s oracle in 9:5 (6) cannot be used to demonstrate Jesus’ deity.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal