What is the meaning of “Everlasting Father” in Isaiah 9:6?Question: "What is the meaning of ‘Everlasting Father’ in Isaiah 9:6?"
Answer: “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” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV).
In context, this verse is proclaiming the redemption of Israel and the activities, titles, and blessings of the Messiah who is to rule the earth and usher in a reign of blessing and peace that will have no end. One of His titles is “Everlasting Father.”
The Hebrew phrase translated “Everlasting Father” could be translated literally “Father of Eternity.” For this reason, some have suggested that the title means that this coming Messiah is also the creator of everything: He is the father of time and eternity, the “architect of the ages.” While we know this to be true from the New Testament (John 1:1–3, Colossians 1:16–17), that is not the emphasis in Isaiah. In the Hebrew construction of the phrase, father is the primary noun, and everlasting (ESV, NIV, KJV) or eternal (NASB) is the term that describes His fatherhood. He is Father forever.
The Hebrew word translated “everlasting” has the idea of “in perpetuity” or “without end.” Indeed, the next verse says of the Messiah, “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). The emphasis is forward looking, so “everlasting” is probably a better translation than “eternal,” which not only indicates “without end” but also “without beginning.” (Again, from the New Testament we may argue that the Messiah is without beginning, but that is not the emphasis of this term in Isaiah.)
So, as the Everlasting Father, the Messiah will be a father, and His fatherhood will be without end. Some have objected that this designation as father seems to confuse the roles within the Trinity, calling “Father” the one who is really “the Son.” Some in the Oneness movement use this verse as a proof text to show that Jesus really is the Father and that there is only a Unity, not a Trinity. In both cases, the interpreters are reading New Testament concerns back into the Old Testament. Neither Trinitarian nor anti-Trinitarian concerns are being discussed in Isaiah 9:6.
Many rulers in ancient times were considered “father of the country.” Americans who read this term might immediately think of George Washington who is called “the father of his country.” It was Washington’s determination and leadership that lead to victory in the Revolutionary War and his support of a strong national government that led (at least in part) to ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Without Washington, the United States might not exist today, or it might exist with a far different form of government. However, if some of the interpretations discussed so far are guilty of reading New Testament theological concerns into Isaiah in an anachronistic fashion, using George Washington as an interpretive clue to the meaning of the phrase is also anachronistic. The most appropriate analogy is far more universal.
In ancient times, the “father of the nation” was viewed in much the same way as the father of a family. It was the father who was to protect and provide for his children. In the same way, this Child to be born will become a king who will be a father to the children of Israel—He will protect and provide for them. And His role as protector and provider will not be limited by aging or death. His role as father (protector and provider) will continue in perpetuity. Just how this will come about is not revealed in Isaiah’s prophecy. The full identity of the Messiah—that He is God in the flesh, the second Person of the Trinity who would protect and provide for His people by His death and resurrection on their behalf; and that Gentiles could also be grafted into the family of Israel—may be hinted at in Isaiah, but God’s people would have to wait almost 700 years to see the Messiah revealed in the “fullness of time” (see Galatians 4:4).
Recommended Resource: Isaiah, Holman Old Testament Commentary by Trent Butler
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Questions about Isaiah
What is the meaning of “Everlasting Father” in Isaiah 9:6?