A Critical Study of Isaiah 53


Isaiah 53 is considered almost universally by Christians as a prophecy concerning the crucifixion of Jesus. They base their claim on verses applied to Jesus in the New Testament such as Matthew 8:17 that are taken from Isaiah 53. In this article we shall explore the chapter as analytically as possible and see whether the Christian claim has weight or not.

The context of Isaiah 53 actually begins in verse 13 in chapter 52. Superficially, some of the verses do seem applicable for Jesus, but, does the entire passage agree with the Jesus that is portrayed in the so called gospels? If the prophecy is really about Jesus then it surely follows that there should be no contradiction at all between the contents of Isaiah 53 with the life of Jesus according to the so called gospels[1]. For example, let us say we have a prophecy from Nostradamus that may at a glance seem to be about Ibn Anwar. So in the prophecy Nostradamus says,”that there shall arise a person in 2008 and 2009 who will debate with Christians a lot on the internet. He will be 50 years old and he will have many friends who will support him in his endeavours.” All right, so we’re in 2009. Everything Nostradamus mentions in his prophecy is true to the letter except for one thing, that is, my age. I am not 50 years old. Can any reasonable person say that the prophecy is truly about Ibn Anwar? The answer is obviously NO. Likewise, if there is even a single verse in Isaiah 53 that is incompatible with Jesus then the whole argument falters. Everything has to correlate with Jesus. With that said let us not waste any time and begin with verse 13.

*The translation used in this article is from the New International Version unless stated otherwise*

13. See, my servant will prosper;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Analysis

Who is this “servant” who will prosper? To know who he is we should have a look at the previous passages that are in actual fact related to chapter 53. For example, in Isaiah 41:8 the verse says,”But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen.” Once again in verse 9 it says,”I said,‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.” In Isaiah 43:1 we read,”..he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.” And again in Isaiah 44:1 says,”But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen.” In all those instances the same Hebrew word is used namely ‘ebed which means servant(‘abd in Arabic). Look carefully at the verses and notice that the servant(‘ebed) is mentioned along side Jacob and Israel. Thus it is safe to say that in verse 13 of chapter 52 the servant is not Jesus but rather the nation of Israel portrayed in one man namely, Jacob. According to Rabbi Rashi and the like it is a representation of the people of Israel.

14. Just as there were many who were appalled at him —
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness

Analysis

If Jesus was marred beyond human likeness or as God’s Word Translation renders it, “His looks will be so disfigured that he will hardly look like a human.” surely people would not have recognised him. However, as we read in the gospels none of them had any problem in recognising the figure of Jesus e.g. Luke 23:27 and John 19:6 says that ,”as soon as the chief priests and officers saw him, they shouted,”Crucify! Crucify!”. So according to John 19:6 the moment Jesus stepped out of the shadow to meet them they immediately recognised him. If he had been marred beyond recognition surely there would have been hesitation. In fact the narratives about his alleged torture are not as dramatic or grim as the words of verse 14 in Isaiah 52 convey. In Luke 22 verse 63 it just says that the guards at the temple beat him. Interestingly enough Luke totally omits what is found in Matthew, Mark and John i.e. the narrative about Jesus getting beaten and his head getting fastened with a crown of thorns after his condemnation by Pilate. Nonetheless, even in those narratives Jesus is not described as being marred beyond recognition or human likeness.

53:1 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

Analysis

The arm or zrowa’ is often used in reference to God’s assistance  or intervention in saving his people(Israel included) from the oppression of other nations. For example we read in Deuteronomy 4:33, “Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretchedarm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?” In Isaiah 52:10 we read,”The LORD will lay bare his holy arm.” The same may also be found in Deuteronomy 7:19 and Isaiah 63:12,”who sent his glorious armof power to be at Moses’ right hand, who divided the waters before them…”. The arm does not symbolise a human being who will die for the sins of all of humanity.

verse 2, He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him
.

Analysis

This particular verse is just downright weird if not a mockery. If we were to accede to the Christian understanding i.e. it’s Jesus then we might as well just say that Jesus is ugly and there goes 90% of the portraits of Jesus the world over! The Passion of Christ ought to have had an ugly actor!

verse 3, He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not

Analysis

Do you notice anything pecular about the verse? Yes, it uses the PAST TENSE! What is a prophesy? To prophesy is to foretell. It is something in future. To tell the future the appropriate tense to use is the future tense, hence, we have the famously quoted prophesy of Isaiah 7:14,”Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign…”. Isaiah 53:3 then seems to describe something that has happened. Secondly, it says that ,”he was despised and rejected” and “we esteemed him not”. This does not seem to correlate with what we discover in the gospels about Jesus’ relationship with the masses. For example, in Luke 4:14-15 we read, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.” The Greek word there is pas which means all and they praised(doxazo which can also mean glorify) him. So the verse says that EVERYONE praised him. In Matthew 4:25 it says, “Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” In Matthew 21:9-11 we read about “a very large crowd” or pleistos ochlos greeted Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna, Hosanna. Even “nearing the end” Jesus’ popularity with the people did not wane as we read in Luke 23:27 ,”A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.” All of these passages clearly contradict Isaiah 53:3 which describes the person as despised and rejected.

Verse 4, Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.

Analysis

The word infirmities and sorrows in Hebrew are choliy and mak’ob respectively. Neither convey the meaning of sin or iniquity. In fact, the word choliy is synoymous with davah which is mentioned in Leviticus 12:2 describing the infirmity of women during menstruation. Is menstruation or the weakness as a result thereof a sin or iniquity? No. Mak’ob is simply sorrow or anguish. What is the purpose of Jesus’ crucifixion? According to Christians it is to ATONE FOR THE SINS/INIQUITIES of humanity. The verse does not seem to suggest that. Nowhere does it mention the word sin. Had it really wanted to convey the meaning of atoning for sins surely it would have used words like ‘asham , chatah or chet all of which convey the meaning of sin. Did Jesus take up our weakness and sorrow? No, women are still menstruating and get tired during that period and all of us experience sorrow at least once a week. Further more, it says that he was smitten by God. The word there is nakah which means to strike. Are the Christians trying to tell us that the Pharisees and the Romans are all God since they were the ones who supposedly hit Jesus? Finally, notice that like the verse before this too is in the PAST TENSE.

Verse 5, But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Analysis

The translation which is used by most Christian Bibles correspond with the above. However, the preposition used is inaccurate. The word for in the verse is min in Hebrew which should be translated as from or because of. As such the Bible resource website net.bible.org explains in its footnote on the verse,” tn The preposition מִן (min) has a causal sense (translated “because of”) here and in the following clause.” You may be wondering what’s the big deal? Allow me to illustrate with an example. This is for you VERSUS this is because of you. In the first instance it is as if the you is given something(perhaps a reward or gift), however in the second instance the notion of a gift or reward is totally absent and instead the idea of accusation or guilt are implied.  Likewise, in the common Christian translation the idea seems to be that the person who is supposed to be Jesus dies for you(as a gift or reward for you in order to save you, offer salvation) rather than just as a consequence of what you’ve done without reward or gift. The verse also mentions that he is “crushed”! When in the world was Jesus crushed?!? It says that “by the wounds we are healed”. That does not correlate with Hebrews 9:22 which is often used as the proof text for blood atonement, “without sheeding of blood there is no atonement.” So Hebrews 9:22 says that it is the blood that atones, but Isaiah 53:5 suggests that the wounds are the source for healing. Which is it? Finally, the verses before this too is in the PAST TENSE!

Verse 6,  We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way
;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Analysis

The verse seems to suggest that everyone has gone astray and chosen their own devices instead of following God. However, in Luke 1:6 we read something quite different. It says, “They(Zacharias and Elizabeth) were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” These two individuals obeyed all of God’s laws and teachings and did not do anything wrong, hence they cannot be blamed for anything! If that is so then the verse in Isaiah 53:6 applied to Jesus is false! And once more the verse is in the PAST TENSE just like the ones before!

verse 7, He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

Analysis

The verse is virtually saying that the person was led to his slaughter SILENTLY and QUIETLY with his mouth CLOSED. Did Jesus meet this criteria? I’m afraid not.

When Jesus was arrested he OPENED HIS MOUTH!

Matthew 26:55, “At that time Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me.”

See also Matthew 26:64, Matthew 27:11 and 46.

Luke 23:28, “Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.”

See also Luke 23:34, 43, 46

In John we see that Jesus attempts a defence against the High Priest at the temple.

John 18:20-21, “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret.Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

See also John 18:34, 36, 37 etc.

Clearly, from the above given verses Jesus never kept silent as he was “led to the slaughter”. It cannot be about Jesus.

verse 8, By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

Analysis

There is not a single Christian version of the Bible that translates the pronoun in the forth line differently than the above(NIV). They all translate it with the singular pronoun “he”. The following is the original Hebrew text of Isaiah 53:8,

מעצר וממשפט לקח ואת דורו מי ישוחח כי נגזר מארץ חיים מפשע עמי נגע למו׃

“meotser umimishpat lukakh veet doro mi yesokheakh ki nigzar meerets khayim mipesha ami nega lamo: “

The pronoun in the fourth line is lamo in Hebrew. Look at the following verse carefully from Psalm 99:7,

בעמוד ענן ידבר אליהם שמרו עדתיו וחק נתן למו׃

“beamud anan yedaber aleihem shamru edotav vekhok natan lamo:”

When the two verses are compared what becomes obvious is that both use the exact same pronoun i.e. lamo. Now, look at the NIV translation of Psalm 99:7,

“He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud;
they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them(LAMO).”

Can you see the game now? The deception? One moment they translate it in the singular and the next it’s plural! They translate as they please when it suits them! The following is the correct translation of Isaiah 53:8 from the Jewish Bible,

“From imprisonment and from judgment he is taken, and his generation who shall tell? For he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the transgression of my people, a plague befell them.”

So it’s not a “he”, but rather “them”. It is in the collective and not in the singular. It speaks of the people of Israel as a nation and not a single man god who will die for mankind.

verse 9, He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Analysis

Jesus was given a grave with the wicked? Last I checked he was not even buried but rather stored in a roomy chamber called a sepelchure(chamber carved out of rock) and left there ALONE. Nobody else was stored with him by Joseph of Arimathea. The verse also suggests that “he had done no violence”. According to Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15-16 and Luke 19:45 Jesus drove the people out of the temple. Did he do it by giving them sweets? Read the narratives yourself. He acted violently by overturning the tables and benches. Was there any deceit from the mouth of Jesus? The answer would seem to be yes according to Luke 23:43,”Today you will be with me in paradise.” He made this promise to one of the thieves who were exectued with him that he will be with him in paradise that very day. However, we know from John 20:17 that Jesus never ascended to heaven on that day or the day after that or even the day after that, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them,’I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Where is the Father who is God? The “Lord’s prayer” tells us succinctly that,”Our Father who art IN HEAVEN.” So did Jesus lie when he made that promise that he obviously did not fulfill? You tell me.

verse 10, Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

Analysis

We have noted the “crushing” issue earlier. Jesus was never “crushed”. It says that “he will see his offspring and prolong his days,” Since when does Jesus have offspring? And how in the world can the days of God be “prolonged” which means to extend. God is immortal and time has no bearing on his being. If Jesus is God it makes no sense to prolong his days.

I think I will end the article here. It’s past 1 am now and I really need my sleep. I believe the thesis thus far is more than sufficient in proving our point.

Remember what was mentioned in the beginning? If there is even one thing that does not correlate with Jesus then the whole Christian argument for Isaiah 53 fails. But, it’s not just one non-correlation! We have seen that almost all the verses give rise to many problems when Jesus is forced into it. In conclusion, it is foolish to claim that Isaiah 53 is about the alleged crucifixion of Jesus to atone for the sins of the entire human race.

Notes:

[1] I do not claim that the four gospels contain fully true and authentic accounts of the life of Jesus. They may contain both truth and falsehood. However, that is not the point of the discussion in the article. The reason why the gospels are referred to in the article is because the Christians believe in them and apply them together with Isaiah 53. The purpose of the article is to show that according to their own standard the gospels refute their usage of Isaiah 53.

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