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Why do English Bible translations say, "a child IS born" or "WILL BE born" in Isaiah 9:6 when the original Hebrew translation says, "WAS born" (happened already)?

Jewish rabbis claim the original Hebrew verb tense was in perfect (happened already),  "....a child WAS born.....a son WAS given....."   They claim that modern English translations that say "....a son IS born..." or "...a son SHALL BE born..." is incorrect.  Why the change in verb tense?

Isaiah 9:6

ESV - 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.

Clarify Share Report Asked September 15 2018 Mini E Chiang

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Mini Tim Maas Retired Quality Assurance Specialist with the U.S. Army
I have not studied Hebrew grammar, but my understanding is that Isaiah is speaking in this verse in a tense known as the "Prophetic Perfect". Normally, use of the perfect tense of a verb refers (as it does in English) to a completed or past action. However, Hebrew (again, as I understand it) does not have this same structure, or time orientation.

When the Prophetic Perfect is used, the speaker is referring to the events of which he is speaking as if he were in the future, where the events he is referring to have just happened, and he has already seen them. The English translation of the verbs in the passage cited (as in other similar passages) using verbs in the present or future tense is intended to convey this orientation.

Other examples of the use of this idiom include Isaiah 5:13 (where the prophet is speaking of Judah's future captivity as if it has already occurred); Isaiah 10:28-32; and Amos 5:2.

September 25 2018 0 responses Vote Up Share Report


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Mini Jack Gutknecht ABC/DTS graduate, guitar music ministry Baptist church
Compare Isaiah 9:6 with Isaiah 9:1 Net Bible

("The gloom will be dispelled for those who were anxious. In earlier times he humiliated the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali; but now he brings honor to the way of the sea, the region beyond the Jordan, and Galilee of the nations."--Isa 9:1)

tn (textual note) Hebrew: Just as in earlier times he humiliated…, [in] the latter times he has brought honor.” The main verbs in Isaiah 9:1-4 (especially Isaiah 9:1b-4) are Hebrew perfects. The prophet takes his rhetorical stance in the future age of restoration and describes future events as if they have already occurred. To capture the dramatic effect of the original text, the translation uses the English present or present perfect.

Edward J. Young writes about Isaiah 9:6, "We must note again how impressive this fact was to Isaiah. He speaks of the birth as though it had already occurred, even though from his standpoint it was future. We know that Isaiah is not speaking of a past occurrence, for the simple reason that to do so would not yield a good sense. Whose birth, prior to Isaiah’s time, ever accomplished what is herein described? To ask that question is to answer it. Furthermore, we must note that the Child whose birth is here mentioned was also the One whose birth had been foretold in chapter 7."

October 12 2019 0 responses Vote Up Share Report


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