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Everlasting Father in Isaiah 9:6: Descriptive of the Messiah or His Father?

“Everlasting Father” in Isaiah 9:6: Descriptive of the Messiah or His Father?

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Isaiah 9:6 is the only biblical text that might seem to use the word “father” with reference to Christ. The expression “Everlasting Father” in the King James Version (kjv) translates the Hebrew ´ábî`ad. Based on the kjv rendering, Oneness Pentecostals have argued that Jesus Christ is God the Father in the flesh. In this brief article, I will explain why this interpretation is incorrect. I will not be arguing that the kjv translation is incorrect, although there is a possibly better translation, but that Oneness Pentecostals have misunderstood the significance of the name in context.

The following table shows that the Hebrew ´ábî`ad in Isaiah 9:6, part of the Messiah’s compound name, does not describe the Messiah as “Eternal Father,” but rather describes the Messiah’s divine Father as eternal. Most likely the Hebrew should be translated literally as “(my) father is eternal,” although “father of eternity” (in the sense of a father whose nature is eternal) is also a possible interpretation of the name. I have omitted the names Abiathar and Abner because they have different vowel points with Abi- than the other names. I have also omitted the names Abi (since it has no second component) and Abi-albon (since unlike all the other names, it is hyphenated).

 

Hebrew Names Beginning with ´ábî´

English Form

Hebrew Name

Transliteration

Translation

References

Abiasaph

אֲבִיאָסָף

´ábî´äsäp

(my) father has gathered

Ex. 6:24

Abida

אֲבִידָע

´ábîdä`

(my) father took knowledge

Gen. 25:4; 1 Chron. 1:33

Abidan

אֲבִידָן

´ábîdän

(my) father is judge

Num. 1:11; 2:20; 7:60, 65; 10:24

Abiel

אֲבִיאֵל

´ábî´ël

(my) father is El

1 Sam. 9:1; 14:51; 1 Chron. 11:32

Abiezer

אֲבִיעֵ֫זֶר

´ábî`eºzer

(my) father is help

Josh. 17:2; Judg. 8:2; 2 Sam. 23:27; etc.

Abigail (f.)

אֲבִיגַ֫יִל

´ábìgäºyil

(my) father is joy

1 Sam. 25:3-42; etc.

Abihail

אֲבִיהַ֫יִל

´ábîHäºyil

(my) father is might

Num. 3:35; 1 Chron. 2:29; 5:14; etc.

Abihu

אֲבִיהוּא

´ábîhû´

(my) father is he

Ex. 6:23; 24:1, 9; etc.

Abihud

אֲבִיהוּד

´ábîhûd

(my) father is majesty

1 Chron. 8:3

Abijah

אֲבִיָּה

´ábiyyâ

(my) father is Yah

2 Chron. 13:1-22; etc.

Abijam

אֲבִיָּם

´ábiyyäm

(my) father is (the) sea

1 Kings 14:31; 15:1-8

Abimael

אֲבִימָאֵל

´ábî|mä´ël

(my) father is God (El)

Gen. 10:28; 1 Chron. 1:22

Abimelech

אֲבִימֶ֫לֶך

´ábîmeºlek

(my) father is king

Gen. 20:2-18; 21:22-32; 26:1-26; etc.

Abinadab

אֲבִינָדָב

´ábînädäb

(my) father is noble

1 Sam. 7:1; 16:8; etc.

Abinoam

אֲבִינֹ֫עַם

´ábînöº`am

(my) father is delight

Judg. 4:6, 12; 5:1, 12

Abiram

אֲבִירָם

´ábîräm

(my) father is exalted

Num. 16:1, 12, 24-27; 26:9; Deut. 11:6; etc.

Abishag (f.)

אֲבִישַׁג

´ábîšag

my father is a wanderer

1 Kings 1:3, 15; 2:17, 21-22

Abishai

אֲבִישַׁי

´ábîšay

(my) father is Jesse

1 Sam. 26:6-9; etc.

Abishalom

אֲבִישָׁלוֹם

´ábîšälôm

(my) father is peace

1 Kings 15:2, 10

Abishua

אֲבִישׁ֫וּעַ

´ábîšûª`

(my) father is rescue

1 Chron. 6:4, 5, 50; etc.

Abishur

אֲבִישׁוּר

´ábîšûr

(my) father is a wall

1 Chron. 2:28

Abital

אֲבִיטָל

´ábî†äl

(my) father is (the) dew

2 Sam. 3:4; 1 Chron. 3:3

Abitub

אֲבִיטוּב

´ábî†ûb

(my) father is goodness

1 Chron. 8:11

 

 

 

 

 

Abiad

אֲבִיעַ֖ד

´ábî`ad

(my) father is eternal

Isaiah 9:6

 

The Hebrew Old Testament has about two dozen names in which Abi- (which means either “father of” or “[my] father is”) is the first part, e.g., Abigail (1 Sam. 25, etc., “father of joy” or “my father is joy,” a woman’s name), Abihud (1 Chron. 8:3, “father of majesty” or “my father is majesty”), etc. Hebrew scholars have interpreted these names in two different ways.

The more familiar interpretation translates Abigail to mean “father of joy” and interprets the second part as a Hebraic way of expressing a description (i.e., “father of joy” means joyous father). Reading Isaiah 9:6 this way, the kjv translators interpreted ´ábî`ad to mean “father of eternity,” that is, Eternal (or Everlasting) Father. This is a possible translation, but if correct it would be describing the Messiah’s father, not the Messiah himself, as “Everlasting Father.” I will explain why shortly.

The alternative interpretation translates Abigail to mean “(my) father is joy,” an interpretation which would seem to mean essentially the same thing (“my joyous father”) if the second noun is descriptive. On this way of construing the name, ´ábî `ad in Isaiah 9:6 would translate “(my) father is eternity.”1

Either way, in most or all cases these names must be descriptive of the name-bearer’s father, not of the name-bearer himself (or herself!). For example, obviously the name Abigail expresses the idea that her father is joyous over her, not that she is a joyous father. Other similarly formed names appear to mean that the father of the named individual is strong (Abihail), majestic (Abihud), delighted (Abinoam), good (Abitub), and so on. The names Abijah and Abimael must mean that the named individual honors Jehovah (Jah) or God (El) as father.

In short, Isaiah 9:6 does not refer to the Messiah as “Everlasting Father,” but rather describes the Messiah’s divine Father as eternal. This does not mean that the Messiah is not God, as he is called such both in Isaiah 9:6 (“mighty God”) and in Isaiah 7:14, but that he is not the person revealed more specifically in the New Testament as God the Father.

 

NOTES

 


1. On the construction and meaning of names beginning with ’abi-, see ee W. J. Beecher, “Abi,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, rev. ed., ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 1:5-6.