By Gerald Sigal
© 2013 by Gerald Sigal
All Rights Reserved
Also by Gerald Sigal (Many books available in Kindle editions)
ISAIAH 53: JESUS IS NOT THE SUFFERING SERVANT
THE TEXT: ISAIAH 52:13-53:12
- Behold, My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.
- According as many were appalled at you–so marred was his appearance unlike that of a man, and his form unlike that of the sons of men.
- So shall he startle many nations, kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they perceive.
- Who would have believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
- For he grew up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry land; he had no form nor comeliness that we should look upon him, nor appearance that we should delight in him.
- He was despised, and rejected of men [e-shim: “men of high status”], a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
- Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; but we considered him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
- But he was wounded as a result of our transgressions, he was crushed as a result of our iniquities. The chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his wounds we were healed.
- All we like sheep did go astray, we turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has visited upon him the iniquity of us all.
- He was oppressed, though he humbled himself and opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; and opened not his mouth.
- From dominion and judgment he was taken away, and his life’s history who is able to relate? For he was cut off out of the land of the living; as a result of the transgression of my people he has been afflicted.
- And his grave was set with the wicked, and with the rich in his deaths; although he had done no violence, neither was there any deceit in his mouth.
- And it pleased the Lord to crush him–He made [him] sick. If he would offer himself as a guilt-offering, he shall see seed, he shall prolong days. And the purpose of the Lord will prosper by his hand.
- From the labor of his soul he shall see; he shall be satisfied. With his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant, shall cause many to be just. And their iniquities he shall bear.
- Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty; because he had poured out his soul to death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Herein we concentrate on showing why Isaiah 53 does not refer to Jesus. In countering Christian claims concerning the Suffering Servant passage it is really sidestepping the issue to discuss if it refers to the coming Messiah or national Israel. Significant though it is to establish this identification the conversation with Christianity is really about their claims concerning Jesus.
In developing the Jesus myth several traditions developed among distinct groups of followers of what was eventually called Christianity. Various strains of tradition were brought together in forming the New Testament. They were not uniform in their message as each told the Jesus story from the perspective of its own community needs. Isaiah’s Suffering Servant played a decisive role in forming the Jesus myth among certain Christian groups. It provided an outline to guide them in describing what they imagined Jesus’ ministry to have been. There is no doubt that the New Testament authors had the suffering servant in mind in developing their respective works. But this does not prove Jesus is the servant. In the traditions coming down to them concerning Jesus they did not fully eliminate the contradictions between the description of the servant and the description of Jesus. As a result, we are still able to get a glimpse of why Jesus is not the servant from their very own writings.
For a full discussion of how and why the passage refers to Israel see Gerald Sigal, Isaiah 53: Who Is the Servant?