"For to us a child is born, to 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."
There are two issues which require investigation:
Part 1 - Translation: The meaning and translation of the Hebrew word EL (This page).
Part 2 - Interpretation: The intent of the name given to the child-son.
This page explores and discusses the translation of Isaiah 9:6 chiefly pertaining to the meaning/definition of the Hebrew word EL. While I have concluded that EL, in this particular verse, is a direct reference to the God of Israel, and the Trinitarian translation is acceptable, I have also concluded the meaning of the Hebrew word EL is not equivalent to the English word "God" as Trinitarians commonly suggest. Similar observations by others have led some to believe EL is not a reference to the God of Israel in this verse but a term used to describe the strength/might/power of the Messiah. Indeed, as illustrated below, the word EL could be used to describe the Messiah without implying in any way that the Messiah is "God." While I have come to reject this interpretation, I think it is still very important for Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians alike to appreciate the true meaning of this particular word, how it is used in Scripture, how it can be used, and how the Trinitarian claim regarding this word is false. This page concerns translation of this verse. To read about the interpretation of Isaiah 9:6, please proceed to: Isaiah 9:6 - Interpretation
Trinitarians claim the name given to the child-son Messiah in this verse is also descriptive of that child and therefore this verse is prophetically identifying Jesus as "Mighty God." A basic premise is that the Hebrew word EL is equivalent to either the English word "God" or Greek word theos.
Examination of the Claim
Translation: The Meaning of the Hebrew word EL
The usual Hebrew word which we translated as "God" or "gods" in the Hebrew Scriptures is the word Elohim.. However, God is also called EL and Eloah. The word used at Isaiah 9:6 is the Hebrew word EL. Theis Hebrew word, EL, is used to refer to God for the majority of occurrences where we find this word in the Hebrew Scriptures. This is not surprising since God is the most mentioned character in the Bible and one of his names is "EL." However there are some facts that Trinitarian apologists usually do not disclose. This word is not always used to refer to God. El is used to refer to other gods, men, mountains, and trees. We would certainly not use the English word "God" to refer to men, mountains, and trees. This fact demonstrates that the Hebrew word EL is not equivalent in meaning to the English word "God."
1. How EL is used in the Scriptures.
A review of pertinent Scriptures illustrates how the Hebrew word EL is used in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to the might, power, or strength of men, mountains, and trees.
"And Laban said to Jacob... It is in my power/might to do you harm."
"Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all the day; and it shall not be in the power/might of your hand to prevent it" (Deuteronomy 28:32).
"Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children are as their children; yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved; but it is not in our power/might to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards" (Nehemiah 5:5).
"A Psalm of David. Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones, Give unto the LORD glory and strength" (Psalm 29:1).
"Your righteousness [is] like the mighty mountains" (Psalm 36:6).
"The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches" (Psalm 80:10).
"God (elohim) has taken stands in the assembly of the mighty ones (el); he judges in the midst of the gods (elohim)" (Psalm 82:1).
"Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power/might to do it" (Proverbs 2:27).
"I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations" (Ezekiel 31:11).
"The strong/mighty (el) among the mighty (gibbor) shall speak of them."
"Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil upon their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power/might of their hand" (Micah 2:1).
Notice very carefully how the Hebrew word EL is used to describe a man's great strength as his "might" or "power," or to refer to other gods as "mighty ones" or "powers" or to refer to a cedar tree or mountain as "mighty." A similar thing occurs with the word elohim which Trinitarian translators have sometimes translated as "mighty ones" in reference to other gods. We can see clearly that el was used to refer to anything which is mighty or strong or powerful including God. Now if we are honest with ourselves here, we can see plainly that EL is not equivalent to the English word "God" nor does the word itself imply deity. Otherwise, we would need to conclude that men, mountains and trees are "God" or "deity." This Hebrew word does not have the same field of intended meaning as the more specific English word "God" and the two words "El" and "God" are therefore not equivalent terms. The English word "God" is not used to refer to men, mountains and trees and cannot be used to refer to men, mountains and trees. The Hebrew word EL can indeed be used to refer to men, mountains, and trees. The English word "God" is a much more restrictive word and has a much more specific intention than the Hebrew word el.
The Hebrew words ELOHIM and EL are believed by scholars to mean, "strength," "might," or "power." Where the English word "God" can only be used with the intention of referring to God or gods with the specific intention of indicating divinity, the Hebrew word EL does not itself imply deity otherwise we would have to say that men, mountains and trees are deity. It has a much wider field of intended use and is something similar to our English word "power."
While we can ascribe the word "power" to many people and things, we can also understand that God is "The Power" and "The Power of powers" (see Daniel 11:36). Or we can understand God is "the Mighty One" and other gods which people may wrongly worship are "mighty ones." The Greek word for "power" is "dynamis" (or dunamis) from which we get our English word "dynamite." Mary refers to God as "The Power" at Luke 1:49 (dynatos) and a cognate of that word is used at 1 Timothy 6:15 (dynastes) which alludes to the idea of God as the "Power." To the Jews, God was "the Power" and Jesus was to sit at the right hand of "Power" (Matthew 26:64) which is a reference to sitting at the right hand of God the Father. In the mind of the Hebrew speaking Jews, their Creator was "the Mighty One" or "the Power", that is, EL.
Dunamis is the Greek word for "Power." The following verses illustrate New Testament statements containing the same concept.
For the Mighty One (dunatos) has done great things to me. Luke 1:49.
For the Power (dunatos) has done great things to me. Luke 1:49.
The Blessed and Only Power (dunastes). 1 Timothy 6:15.
The Blessed and Only Potentate (dunastes). 1 Timothy 6:15
The Blessed and Only Mighty One (dunastes). 1 Timothy 6:15
You will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Power (dunamis). Matthew 26:64.
The reason we often translate the Hebrew word EL as "God" is not because the Hebrew word EL is equivalent to the English word "God," or because this word itself means "God," but because this Hebrew word was often used in the Old Testament as an appellation to refer to God, and when we know by the context that it is a reference to the Supreme Being, we translate it as "God." In other words, we can use the word "God" in place of EL when God is obviously the "el" in question. However, this does not thereby mean that el means "God." "God" is not a literal translation of the word el since we cannot use the word "God" to describe men, mountains, and trees. A literal translation of el when it refers to God is "Mighty One." and this term would be a more literal and factual translation of the word EL. This fact is also clearly shown below where Trinitarian scholars themselves are translating the Hebrew word el as "Mighty One" when it is referring to God himself (see below).
In the same way, we could take a book written in German that was about Adolf Hitler and translate it into English. Whenever we seen the word "Dictator" we could translate this into English as "Hitler." It is perfectly appropriate to do so as long as the context makes it absolutely clear the dictator in view is indeed Adolf Hitler. We do not have a license to translate the word "dictator" as "Hitler" when a text is actually referring to "Mussolini." He is not Hitler and the word "dictator" does not mean "Hitler." And this is precisely what happens when you translate the Hebrew word el. As long as it is referring to God it is appropriate to replace the Hebrew word el with "God." However, this does not thereby mean the Hebrew word el means God. Other things are el too. EL was an appellation the Jews used to refer to their Creator as "the Mighty One." If we translated the Hebrew word el into English as "mighty" every single time it occurs in the Bible it would be perfectly literal and perfectly accurate. The English word "God" does not accomplish this feat.
2. EL and GIBBOR
The Hebrew words translated as "Mighty God" at Isaiah 9:6 are the words el gibbor. One must be careful not to be confused about which word is being translated as "Mighty" in various translations. You will find that BOTH the Hebrew word EL and the Hebrew word GIBBOR are translated as "Mighty." In the "Mighty God" translation it is GIBBOR which is being translated as "Mighty" not EL. However, the word EL is also translated as "Mighty" and one must not confuse the issue. For example, some such as Martin Luther, have translated the words here as "Mighty Hero" or "Mighty Champion" or some similar idea. Many people assume that these translations are exchanging the word "God", Hebrew EL, for "Hero" or "Champion." However, this is an incorrect assumption and that is not what is happening. The word order is what confuses people here because the "Mighty God" translation and the "Mighty Hero" translation are reversing the order of the Hebrew words being translated. In other words, the word being translated as "Hero" or "Champion" is the Hebrew word gibbor and the Hebrew word el is being translated as "Mighty" as Trinitarians do in several other places. The words may also be translated as "Mighty Power" where EL is translated as "Power." The chart below illustrates how this occurs:
3. Construct Forms and the Hebrew word EL
Because this word is used of other gods, men, mountains, and threes, in the Scriptures when the Hebrew word EL is used of the one God, this word is not used alone to refer to God and is almost always accompanyied by additional qualifying terms which makes it clear that the one God of Israel is in view. The nature of these construct forms can be seen in the chart below.
NOTE: One must be careful not to be confused concerning which word is being translated as "Mighty" in various translations. You will find that BOTH the Hebrew word EL and the Hebrew word GIBBOR have been translated as "Mighty." In the "Mighty God" translation it is GIBBOR which is being translated as "Mighty" not EL. However, the word EL is also translated as "Mighty" and one must not confuse the issue.
4. EL translated as "Mighty One" by Trinitarians when this word IS referring to God.
Trinitarian translations are very inconsistent and sometimes translate el as "the Mighty One" instead of "God" even when it is referring to God Himself. This clearly proves the word el carries the primary meaning "might" or "power" and not "God." As proof of that fact, note the differences in the following Trinitarian translations of Joshua 22:22 and Psalm 50:1.
| Joshua 22:22|
The Mighty One, God, the LORD, the Mighty One, God, the LORD ! (NASB)
||The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods (KJV)
The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God. (RSV).
The God of gods--Jehovah, the God of gods--Jehovah (Young's Literal)
The Mighty One, God, Jehovah, the Mighty One, God, Jehovah. (ASV).
The God of gods, Jehovah, the God of gods, Jehovah. (Darby)
The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! (NIV)
The LORD, the God of gods. (NASB)
The Mighty One, God, the LORD, has spoken (NASB)
||The God of gods, the Lord hath spoken (Douay-Rheims))
The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks (RSV).
The God of gods--Jehovah--hath spoken (Young's Literal)
The Mighty One, God, Jehovah, hath spoken (ASV).
God, Elohim-Jehovah, hath spoken (Darby)
The Mighty One, God, the LORD ,
The LORD, the God of gods has spoken. (NASB)
Now here is a very critical question. If indeed Trinitarians have seen fit to translate the word el as "Mighty" when it is a direct reference to Yahweh God, why do they refuse to translate this word in the very same manner at Isaiah 9:6?
4. EL - The Babylonian King Nebuchanezzar
At Ezekiel 31:11, we are told God will deliver Israel over to the "EL" of the nations. Here Trinitarians refuse to consistently translate the Hebrew word el as "God" because the word el is clearly referring to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Note how Trinitarians translate this selfsame word el in this particular passage:
I have therefore delivered him into the hand of the mighty one of the heathen (KJV).
I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nation (RSV)
therefore I will give it into the hand of a despot of the nations (NASB)
I handed it over to the ruler of the nations (NIV).
We must ask ourself why Trinitarians are so conveniently inconsistent. They demand that el should be translated as "God" at Isaiah 9:6 but will also refuse to translate the very same word as "God" at Ezekiel 31:11. Or put another way, they have no problem translating this word as "mighty" at Ezekiel 31:11 but refuse to do the very same at Isaiah 9:6. Carefully consider why.
6. EL GIBBOR
The two words translated by Trinitarians as "Mighty God" at Isaiah 9:6 are the words "EL GIBBOR" where they translate the word GIBBOR as "Mighty." In the very next chapter of Ezekiel (32:21), the words el gibbor are used in plural form of earthly men. Here again the term is a reference to men and Trinitarians are quite careful to make sure they do not translate the passage as "Mighty Gods will say" but have instead something like "the leaders will say" or "the strong among the mighty ones" or some similar concoction. The English words which translate Hebrew EL are underlined below in the following translations.
The strong among the mighty shall speak to him. KJV
The strong among the mighty ones shall speak of him. NASB
The mighty chiefs shall speak of them. RSV
The strong among the mighty shall speak to him. ASV
The mighty chiefs shall speak of them. ESV
the mighty leaders will say. NIV
the mighty warriors shall speak. NAB
EL GIBBOR shall speak/say to/of him.
Carefully observe how Trinitarian scholars translated the same words differently in Ezekiel 21 than they did at Isaiah 9:6. Also compare the following:
Isaiah 9:6 - Wonderful, Counsellor, MIGHTY GOD, Eternal Father.
Isaiah 9:6 - Wonderful, Counsellor, EL GIBBOR, Eternal Father.
Ezekiel 32:21 - EL GIBBOR shall speak to/of him.
Ezekiel 32:21 - THE MIGHTY LEADERS shall speak to/of him.
Note the difference in translation of the same two Hebrew words:
Ezekiel 32:21 - THE MIGHTY LEADERS shall speak to/of him.
Isaiah 9:6 - Wonderful, Counsellor, MIGHTY GOD, Eternal Father.
The fact that Trinitarians translate the Hebrew word el to be convenient to their doctrine illustrates their so-called evidence is not evidence at all but a personal desire to promote their doctrine by dishonest means wherever they think they can get away with it.
Notice carefully how Isaiah 9:6 says "His name shall be called." Gabriel was an angel. His name is formed from the same two root words forming the two words we have in Isaiah 9:6, "gibbor" and "el." Elijah is formed from EL and a shortened form of YAHWEH that also appears in the book of Revelation. Samuel means "the name of EL." Jerusalem was named YAHWEH our Righteousness at Jeremiah 33:16. We must be extremely careful with ascriptions applied to persons in the Old Testamenta and not jump to conclusions. Names or titles containing the word el, and the like, do not necessarily identify that individual as the Supreme Creator Deity, or that the person bearing the name is deity, and so we must ask ourselves if this is the case, or not, in Isaiah 9:6.
8. The Septuagint Witness
Jewish Greek scholars translated this passage from Hebrew into Greek before the time of Christ and this translation is called "the Septuagint."
"For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name is called the Angel/Messenger of great counsel: for I will bring peace upon the princes, and health to him" (LXX).
These Jewish scholars did not see this verse describing anyone as "God" in any respect. Rather they saw the verse describing an angel/messenger. The Greek Septuagint was a translation held in high esteem among Greek speaking Jews before the time of Christ. We know for certain this Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament was also heavily quoted by Jesus and his apostles who wrote the books of our New Testament. It was also the version used by the early Christians. We must also remember these Jewish scholars translated this passage before the time of Christ and so we can be sure they did not have an anti-Christian agenda. And very obviously, these Jewish scholars did not have any notion this passage was ascribing deity to anyone.
Now it is granted that the Septuagint translation does not attempt to translate the Hebrew text as literally as possible. Their translation of Isaiah 9:6 does not attempt to be a word for word translation. The Jewish scholars of that time were more concerned about presenting the intended concept and meaning of the verse rather than providing a word for word translation. And these unbiased ancient Jewish scholars did not perceive the Hebrew text to be describing someone as "God."
9. The Testimony of the New Testament Writers
Trinitarians would like us to all believe the New Testament writers wanted to indicate "Jesus is God" to their readers. If that is the case, one has to wonder why we cannot find even one of these writers ever mentioning Isaiah 9:6. If indeed these writers wanted us to know that "Jesus is God," and if indeed Isaiah 9:6 said the Messiah was "God," this verse more than any other would reinforce such a teaching. But we find not one single quotation of this verse in the New Testament.
Trinitarian apologists also conveniently forget that Matthew quotes the verses immediately preceding Isaiah 9:6:
"He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen."
(Matthew 4:13-16; see Isaiah 9:1-2).
Trinitarians like to claim that Matthew was promoting the deity of Jesus at Matthew 1:23 and Matthew 2:2. So then why did he not quote Isaiah 9:6? I think we all know that if Matthew had been working with the same mindset as one of today's Trinitarians he would have definitely not stopped short of quoting Isaiah 9:6. If anything he would have quoted Isaiah 9:6 and not the passage he did quote. However, he didn't because he wasn't promoting the idea that Jesus was God because he had never conceived of such an idea nor did he ever think Isaiah 9:6 asribed deity to the Messiah.
10. Eternal Father
Another glaring inconistency in Trinitarian claims concerns their interpretation of the words they translate as "Eternal Father" in this same verse. In Trinitarianism, Jesus is not the Father. We must ask ourselves why Trinitarians would demand that Isaiah is promoting the theological idea that Jesus is "Mighty God" but they do not also consistently demand that Isaiah is promoting the theological idea that Jesus is the "Eternal Father." In order to try and escape the implications of this problem, Trinitarians spin an interpretation that Jesus is the Eternal Father, not as a person, but in a metaphorical or positional sense. Again we see that Trinitarian translations and interpretations are by design rather than by objective fact and a desire to know the writer's intention. While it is quite true that Isaiah did not intend to convey that Jesus is God the Father, Trinitarians do not approach the words el gibbor with the same consistency as they do the words "eternal Father" and they intentionally interpret these words from a different perspective. In other words, they insist that this verse intends to tell us that the Messiah is "the Mighty God" but do not wish to insist that this verse intends to tell us that this verse them consistently says the Messiah is another God the Father, the Eternal Father, in the same pattern of thinking.
11. Lack of Scholarly Evidence
It is quite traditional for Trinitarians to appeal to "THE scholars" (i.e. Trinitarian scholars) when such a problem is in view as if they are an infallible and unified voice when neither is the case. We must remember that most major Bible translations are Trinitarian translations. Indeed, most major translations have "Mighty God" in this passage. Trinitarian apologists would like it very much if we simply accepted this "scholarship" as if it were an unquestionable fact and inquire into this matter no further. However, scholarship does not mean translating words as one desires but conveying the intended meaning of the writer, who in this case is Isaiah. Anyone can translate a verse to say what they would desire it to say. But to be true scholarship means they must have a reason for translating the verse as they do especially if they translate the very same word differently in other places.
While Trinitarian scholars translate this word el as "God" here in this passage, they do not translate this very same word el as "God" in several other passages of Scripture. We must ask ourselves "Why?" Any appeals to their scholars is rather worthless without also providing a scholar's justification for translating it as they do. The mere will of a scholar to translate it as such does not amount to viable evidence. They must demonstrate what Isaiah intended. They must also demonstrate their choice of translation is the only possible translation of the word el in this verse. If they cannot demonstrate this fact, this verse becomes entirely worthless as evidence for the Trinity since another possible translation would remain outstanding. This writer has never seen such evidence from Trinitarian scholars.
These scholars must also explain why they have translated this word el as "the Mighty One," or some similar term, in other verses where it is a direct reference to God but refuse to do so at Isaiah 9:6. Such evidence shows quite clearly that el can be translated in this way. What proof exists that el should not be translated as "mighty" or "power" or some similar term, in Isaiah 9:6 as they themselves translate it in several other passages? If scholars can present no reason for refusing to translate el as "Mighty", they have nothing but their own desire to translate it as they wish.
These are questions Trinitarians will want to avoid. Obviously, the evidence shows they translate el in a way that is convenient to their needs. When they want it to be a reference to deity they translate it as "God." And when they don't want it to be a reference to deity, they refuse to do so. When they want this word to be referring to God himself as "the Mighty One" they will translate el as such. And when el refers to men, mountains and trees, it would be far too inconvenient and revealing to consistently translate the word el as "God." And most importantly, it would be far to inconvenient for them to translate this word as "mighty" at Isaiah 9:6 as they have done in several other places of the Scriptures.
12. The Ancient Hebrew Writer and Readers
A good perspective to use on such an issue is to put yourself in the shoes of an ancient Hebrew reader and ask yourself what he would see when he reads the Scriptures. Would you know anything about the English word "God"? No you wouldn't. But you are quite familiar with the Hebrew term el. And you are not surprised when this term is used of men, mountains, and trees, in addition to Yahweh your God.
Think about this very carefully. A Hebrew reader who sees the word el in reference to a tree and understands this word to be the very same word he identifies his Creator. He is reading along through the Scriptures and finds this very same word used to describe other gods, men, mountains, and trees. What happens when he comes to these verses? Does he pause and change definitions for the word el from one verse to the next? Does he stop and think "God" in one context but think "might" or "power" in another? Of course not. He would have absolutely no reason to do so. Or does he simply know the Hebrew word el means "might" or "power" when it refers to God and when it refers to anything else? Intelligent and reasonable people can see the truth of this matter.
Analysis of the Evidence
When we review all the evidence it is quite clear that the Hebrew word EL can be translated as "mighty" or "strong" or "power(ful)." Trinitarian scholars are doing it themselves when el refers to other gods, men, mountains, trees, and King Nebuchadnezzar. And indeed, they even translate EL as "the Mighty One" when we know for certain it is referring to the one God of Israel. Even further, they translate the plural form of the whole term, el gibbor as "Mighty Leaders" or some similar idea at Ezekiel 32:21. We have also seen the God is called "the Power" in the Scriptures. Hence, it is quite clear that the words in question could be honestly translated as "Mighty Power" (gibbor el) or "Mighty Mighty One" (gibbor el) or "Mighty Hero" (el gibbor) or "Mighty Champion" (el gibbor) or some similar idea.
The very fact that Trinitarians themselves translate EL as "God" in one place, and as "mighty" or "power" in another place in Scripture, does it self render their claim as useless, to wit, that the verse identifies Jesus as deity. Moreover, we have seen that they themselves refuse to translate it as "Mighty" or "Power" here at Isaiah 9:6 when they have no qualms about translating it as such in other places when the word obviusly refers to the God of Israel. If they have no misgivings about translating the word as "Mighty" when it refers to God why do they such misgivings when it refers to the Messiah? There can only be one reason. Their translation and interpretation of Isaiah would no longer be convenient to their doctrine.
The Trinitarian claim must suggest that the Hebrew word EL is equivalent to the English word "God." This is simply not the case. While this word is used to refer to God, the meaning of a word, and the application of a word, are two different things. The Hebrew word EL was a word used to refer to anything mighty, strong, powerful, including men, mountains, and trees. It should be obvius then that the Hebrews were using the word EL to refer to their God as "the Mighty One," or "the Power" or "the Strong One." Men, mountains, and trees, can be mighty things and their God was a mighty one as well. Every single occurrence of EL in the Bible can be translated as "the Mighty One" just as Trinitarians do at in selected verses pertaining to Yahweh. Hence, since the word GIBBOR means "mighty" in the sense of a mighty warrior or hero, the two words EL GIBBOR are more accurately translated as "the Mighty Power" or some similar term. If men, mountains and trees, are EL but not God, there is no reason the Messiah can't also be EL but not God.
However, translation possibilities are one thing, interpretation is another thing. Regarding the interpretation of this verse, what something CAN mean is not necessarily what something DOES mean. When it comes to interpreting this verse, if the word EL is intended to refer specifically to the God of Israel, the precise meaning of the word is really a moot point.
Please proceed to: Isaiah 9:6 - Interpretation
Last Updated: June 17, 2012