ISAIAH 53…IN 53 SECONDS
MISSIONARY ONLINE Awareness Week
Chosen People Ministries has focused on Isaiah 53 because it believes this passage is one of its most powerful proof-texts. When read out of context and mistranslated, Isaiah 53 gives the impression of a prophecy describing the suffering and death of the messiah, specifically Jesus dying for our sins.
This Christian interpretation is absolutely incorrect for several good reasons. Isaiah commonly uses familiar metaphors and often speaks of the people of Israel as a single individual referred to as the Servant of God. Moreover, in nine previous passages, Isaiah identifies the Servant to be Israel, as we see in Isaiah 41:8, “Israel is my Servant…,” and Isaiah 43:10, “You are My witnesses says the Lord, and My Servant whom I have chosen….”
Chapters 52-53 describe the reaction of the nations of the world when they witness the future and ultimate redemption of the Jewish people. Initially, the nations viewed the Jewish people scornfully and considered them to be rejected by God and deserving of suffering and His divine punishment. Isaiah states that in the future, the nations will be shocked and dumbfounded when they witness God’s unexpected and glorious redemption of the Jewish people.
The nations will then contrast their new realization of Israel’s grandeur with their previous beliefs. Ultimately, they will conclude that the Jews were not rejected by God, but in fact, they suffered from the unjustified and disproportionate persecution inflicted upon them by the nations of the world. To validate their biased misinterpretation, missionaries intentionally avoid mention of a critical fact. In Isaiah 53:5, they deliberately mistranslate the word “from” as “for,” and thereby claim that the Servant will suffer for the sins of the Jewish people. In fact, the verse says that the nations of the world will actually admit that Israel – the Servant of God – “was wounded from our transgressions, bruised from our iniquities.” In the original Hebrew, the letter “n – mem” which serves as the prefix to the words “transgressions” and
“iniquities” means “from,” not “for.” Therefore, this verse cannot be read as supporting the Christian view that the Servant, namely Jesus, suffers for the sins of the world.
In fact, many Christian commentaries including The New English Bible: Oxford Study Edition, The New Interpreters Study Bible and The Harper Collins Study Bible agree with the Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 53. For example, the Oxford Study Edition states, “Israel, the servant of God, has suffered as a humiliated individual.”