God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Who is the Prince of Peace?

Two questions from the About page ask about Isaiah 9:5 (9:6), “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (NRSV).

The final phrase of this child’s name (“Prince of Peace”) are probably the most famous, so we’ll start there.

The Hebrew is sar shalom, that is, sar of shalom. While the English “Prince of Peace” has a nice alliterative ring to it, there’s little support for translating sar as “prince,” and even “peace” for shalom is a bit misleading.


The Hebrew sar is generally someone in charge of something. For example, we find in Genesis (21:22, 21:32, etc.) that Phicol is in charge of Abimelech’s army; Phicol there is the sar of the army. Later in Genesis, Potiphar is sar of the tabachim (this is probably an expression, perhaps “chief steward”). There’s a sar of the jail (“jailkeeper”), of drink (“cupbearer”) and baked goods (“chief baker”).

In Exodus 2:14 the term is used generically when a Hebrew challenges Moses with the rhetorical question, “who made you sar and judge over us?” In Numbers 16:13, a verbal form of the noun is used to mean “rule over us.”
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January 22, 2010 Posted by | translation practice | , , , , , | 6 Comments