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Isaiah 53: It's Not Who You Think

Updated on December 30, 2017

For Christian believers, the Old Testament book of Isaiah is a treasure-trove of Jesus prophecies, and chapter 53 (including the last three verses of chapter 52) is perhaps the most popular of all. At first glance, the verses -- which describe someone who has been punished for others' offenses and who will later be exalted -- do appear to mesh with the Jesus story.

However, to believe that Isaiah's narrative refers specifically to Jesus requires a number of accommodations. First, one must downplay the reality that the New Testament was composed and compiled hundreds of years after the Old Testament, and years or decades after the events it supposedly describes, giving its authors free reign to fashion its narrative to agree with the older books.

Second, one must ignore that Jesus is never referred to by name ANYWHERE in the Old Testament. For someone so monumentally important in the hierarchy of Heaven, this seems an ominous oversight!*

*(I address this issue more fully in my hub, "The Missing Messiah")

A Past Event

Lastly, a prophecy is, by definition, a prediction of a future event. Yet the bulk of this particular narrative (when corrected with the original Hebrew) is in the PAST tense, and Isaiah is obviously speaking of someone who has already existed and interacted with humanity. In Isaiah's time, Jesus was still more than 700 years in the future. To interpret references expressed in the PAST tense as predictions of a future that is centuries away requires stretching poetic license to its limit:

(note: Unless otherwise stated, all verses quoted in this hub are verbatim from the King James version. Where there is significant conflict with the original source material represented in the Isaiah scroll, changes have been noted. All emphasis is mine):

52:14 -- "...many WERE astonied (sic) at thee; his visage WAS so marred..."

53:2 (Isaiah scroll) -- "...he SHOT up right forth as a sapling...he HAD no form nor comliness, that we should look upon him..."

53:3 (Isaiah scroll) -- "He WAS despised...he WAS despised, and we ESTEEMED him not."

53:4 -- "...he HATH borne our griefs, and CARRIED our sorrows: yet we DID esteem him stricken..."

53:5 -- "...he WAS wounded for our transgressions, he WAS bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace WAS upon him..."

53:6 -- "...the Lord HATH laid on him the iniquity of us all."

53:7 -- "He WAS oppressed, though he HUMBLED himself and OPENED not his mouth...yea, he OPENED not his mouth."

53:8 -- "He WAS taken...he WAS cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people WAS he stricken."

53:9 -- "...he MADE his grave...he HAD DONE no violence, neither WAS any deceit in his mouth."

53:10 -- " PLEASED the Lord to bruise him; he HATH put him to grief..."

Other Problems...

There are other specifics within the text of the prophecy that are incompatible with the notion of Jesus. For example, in the beginning and end of the narrative, Yahweh (the Jewish/Christian god) refers to "my servant":

52:13 -- " servant shall deal prudently..."

53:11 -- " his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many..."

However, nowhere in the Bible is Jesus referred to by name as "my servant" -- by Yahweh or by anyone else (Jesus makes one such reference to himself in Matthew 12, but he is actually quoting Isaiah!).

There is another verse from Isaiah's narrative that directly contradicts the full New Testament account of Jesus' crucifiction:

53:7 -- "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth."

Twice, Isaiah declares that the "afflicted" person "opened not his mouth." However, only in the book of Mark is Jesus completely silent during his trial and punishment (in Matthew, he speaks only two words). In Luke, he speaks multiple verses to the weeping crowd following him to Calvary. And in John, Jesus has TWO conversations with Pilate (including the "My kingdom is not of this world" speech). If the books of Luke and John are true, Jesus certainly DID "open his mouth," repeatedly.

Another segment that is incompatible with Jesus is near the end of the narrative:

53:10 -- "...he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand."

This clearly refers to someone who will both have children and live a long life. Obviously, Jesus had neither children nor a long life.

The end of the prophecy is also problematic with regard to Jesus:

53:12 -- "Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong..."

It is repeatedly made clear in the New Testament that, in the end, Jesus will be the lord of ALL. There will be no "portion" nor "spoil" divided with anyone.

It should also be noted that, in verse 5 of the King James version, there is a mistranslation that lends itself more to the notion of Jesus: "...he was wounded FOR our transgressions..." However, the original Hebrew reads: "...he was wounded BECAUSE of our transgressions..."

The KJV interpretation is more compatible with the notion of redemption -- that Jesus was wounded for ALL sins: past, present and future. However, the original version merely suggests a cause and effect relationship, in which a person was punished AS THE RESULT of someone else's specific transgressions.

In the end, we have a prophecy that never mentions Jesus by name, but instead repeats a reference ("servant") that is NEVER used with regard to Jesus. It is 'fulfilled' by New Testament authors hundreds of years later, who had free reign to compose their story to match any Old Testament quote they chose. It clearly describes events that have already happened (yet in the case of Jesus are supposed to occur far in the future). Finally, it directly contradicts -- in detail -- the New Testament account of Jesus' trial, death and lack of progeny.

So, if Jesus is not the subject of Isaiah's prophecy in chapters 52 and 53, to whom is he actually referring? I'm still exploring a number of possibilities, and I'll be very interested to see what theories others may propose...


Submit a Comment

  • Joseph O Polanco profile image

    Joseph O Polanco 3 years ago

    Ok, ok. I'll keep my comments to a reasonable length so you have time to go through them with care :)

  • Paladin_ profile image

    Paladin_ 3 years ago from Michigan, USA

    It's not so much the capacity that concerns me, but the time involved! :-D

  • Joseph O Polanco profile image

    Joseph O Polanco 3 years ago

    Not with our limitless capacity to learn :)

  • Paladin_ profile image

    Paladin_ 3 years ago from Michigan, USA

    Hehe. ;-D

    I know that you and I are probably the only two people who will ever read most of what we post on these hubs, but there has to be a reasonable limit, don't you think?

  • Joseph O Polanco profile image

    Joseph O Polanco 3 years ago

    I'm sorry, I didn't know this was Twitter ...


  • Paladin_ profile image

    Paladin_ 3 years ago from Michigan, USA

    Actually, I censored your post because of its VOLUME, not it's content.

    Your "spam" post COULDN'T have struck a nerve, because I only skimmed it, reading just a few words and lines -- just enough to recognize its duplicative nature, and to locate the source of your copying and pasting.

    So all that spam you posted hasn't been read by ANYONE, including me!

    Hehe. Nice try, though.

  • Joseph O Polanco profile image

    Joseph O Polanco 3 years ago

    And yet, for whatever reason, this last post struck a nerve with you such that you felt compelled to censor it. Actions speak louder than words, didn't you know? :)

  • Paladin_ profile image

    Paladin_ 3 years ago from Michigan, USA

    That's fine, Joseph. Feel free to post links to your external work. I do it as well with my own work, and have no problem with it. Still, I'd prefer if you addressed my points in this hub individually and specifically instead of just carpet-bombing with spam.

    What I DO have a problem with is your ridiculous accusation that I'm "terrified" that I could be wrong -- presumably based upon my rejection of your 4,000+ word spamming attempt.

    So, tell me, Joseph -- would a person who's that afraid of being wrong allow someone to post thousands of words of apologetics in multiple hubs over months of time?

    Mostly to satisfy my own curiosity, and to address the issue you've introduced, I took some time to go back through those of my hubs you've visited and added up all the words in the comments you've left. Would you care to take a guess as to how many there are, as of this moment?










    All told, you've posted nearly 31,000 words on my various hubs! (though a significant portion of it is repetition) And that's not even counting the thousands more words on websites to which you've linked (nor the 4,000 you tried post here).

    For someone who's supposedly "terrified" of being wrong, I've certainly allowed someone with an opposing point of view to post a LOT of comments on my hubs! Just in case you're curious as well, here's the breakdown:

    "God Is Dead...And I Killed Him" -- 16,081

    "Ten Reasons To Not Believe In God" -- 8,397

    "Ten Clues Your Religion Might Be BS" -- 2,833

    "The Missing Messiah" -- 1,996

    "Immanuel CAN'T -- Another Bogus Biblical Prophecy" -- 1,353

    "Isaiah 53: It's Not Who You Think" -- 304

    For a total of 30,964 words. As usual, you're talking nonsense.

  • Joseph O Polanco profile image

    Joseph O Polanco 3 years ago

    For the benefit of those visiting hereafter, Paladin is referring to the verse-by-verse explication of Isaiah 53 from this page:

  • Joseph O Polanco profile image

    Joseph O Polanco 3 years ago

    Like I said, you commit the fallacy of Ignoratio elenchi. You evaluate an argument based on the body of facts and information presented, not its provenance.

    You're sooooo terrified that you could be wrong and God actually does exist that you'll clutch at anything that'll keep you from having to actually deal with just how fatuous your whole outlook on life really is, even if it is cognitive dissonance ...

  • Paladin_ profile image

    Paladin_ 3 years ago from Michigan, USA

    Joseph, you should really give up apologetics and try your hand at comedy. You really do have a way of making reasonable people laugh! :-D

    As I said, if you genuinely wish to make an argument based upon your supposed "body of facts," feel free to do so. But don't spam us with copied and pasted text from another website (so obviously pasted you didn't even bother to remove the paragraph numbers).

    You guys can get away with that "data" dump nonsense in creationist/evolution debates (a notorious and dishonest tactic well known as the "Gish-gallop"). But here -- at least in my hubs -- you have to try to make your arguments on your own, and in a reasonable manner.

    Actually, your comments regarding my supposed "fear" are somewhat encouraging to me. Lately, I've been drifting toward the conclusion that you may be so steeped in the apologist delusion -- that you're immersed so deeply in the necessary patterns of dishonesty and denial -- that nothing anyone else says could ever break through to you.

    However, in my years as an antitheist, engaging apologist and creationists, I've become acutely aware that one of the most routine personal characteristics of apologetics is projection -- the unconscious transferrence of one's own behavior onto others (usually those who represent a contradictory position or point of view). This suggests to me that, with your mentioning of my supposed "fear," you're actually subconsciously announcing your OWN fear to me.

    Of course, what that fear may be specifically, it's impossible for me to discern. Still, there exists the possibility that you may actually fear (if only subconsciously) that some of the counterarguments and corrections you've read over the last few months may be finally breaking through your wall of denial (or may eventually break through).

    This is encouraging, even as a mere possibility! :-)

  • Joseph O Polanco profile image

    Joseph O Polanco 3 years ago

    ... Exactly ...

    Rather than face the body of facts and information I shared you chose to dismiss it out of hand out of pure capriciousness ...

  • Joseph O Polanco profile image

    Joseph O Polanco 3 years ago

    Ignoratio elenchi. You evaluate an argument based on the body of facts and information presented, not its provenance.

    I smell your fear ...

  • Paladin_ profile image

    Paladin_ 3 years ago from Michigan, USA

    Joseph, you've just posted well over 4,000 words of spam -- copied and pasted from the Jehovah's Witness library. This appears to be some sort of game with you, and I will no longer tolerate it.

    Thus, I've officially marked your last four comments as "spam" -- which means that, while they're still there (for future reference), nobody but me can see them any longer. After much consideration, I've decided that this will be my policy each and every time you do this in the future.

    If you're willing to actually discuss theological or philosophical issues in a reasonable manner, I'm perfectly willing to engage you. But I'm no longer going to tolerate your spamming.

  • Paladin_ profile image

    Paladin_ 4 years ago from Michigan, USA

    Joseph, as I stated in the hub, the translations that I used are direct translations from the Isaiah Scrolls -- the closest thing we have to original source material (unless the King James Version didn't significantly disagree with it, then I used the KJV for simplicity's sake).

    Targums, on the other hand, are personal interpretations of early Biblical material. Furthermore, any English translation of Targum Jonathan is unavoidably a DOUBLE translation -- from ancient Hebrew to Aramaic, then from Aramaic to English.

    A single, direct translation (like the one provided for the Isaiah scrolls by the Israel Museum) is more reliable:

    As for your reference to the chapter in Acts, it makes perfect sense that the authors of this New Testament book would have Philip interpret Isaiah's prophecy as referring to Jesus. The NT also has JESUS interpreting it the same way. So what?

    As I already suggested in the hub, the New Testament authors and compilers had every incentive to try to make their stories correlate to Old Testament prophecies. But as my analysis in the hub shows, there are far too many other aspects of the New Testament story that DON'T correlate (with regard to Jesus) to the prophecy in Isaiah 53.

    I suppose that's what happens when you have multiple authors trying to rig a new story to agree with an old story (that was also written and compiled by multiple authors). It's a mess, and it certainly doesn't add up to a prophecy fulfilled.

  • Joseph O Polanco profile image

    Joseph O Polanco 4 years ago

    In its rendering of Isaiah 52 :13 , the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel ( first century C .E . ) , as translated by J . F . Stenning , states : “Behold , my servant , the Anointed One ( or , the Messiah ) , shall prosper .” In similar fashion , the Babylonian Talmud ( c . third century C .E . ) says : “The Messiah—what is his name ? . . . ; those of the house of Rabbi say , The sick one , as it is said , ‘Surely he hath borne our sicknesses .’”—Sanhedrin 98b ; Isaiah 53 :4 .

    More importantly , the book of Acts records that when the Ethiopian eunuch revealed that he did not recognize the personal identity of the Servant of Isaiah’s prediction , Philip “declared to him the good news about Jesus .” ( Acts 8 :26-40 ; Isaiah 53 :7 , 8 )

  • k12rswow profile image

    k12rswow 4 years ago from New England

    gargantuan stretch - that is the gap between you and me. I simply believe in Jesus. You've decided not too.

    Ok, so here we are; two gentile, out of culture (middle east) men; whom are discussing watered down masoretic (anti Jeshua) based english translations. We can play attack and defend all day.

    Two things in scripture mention us in this great battle for souls:

    ME - I undertook the great commission, to go out and tell people about Jesus.

    YOU - In the last days there will be scoffers.

  • Paladin_ profile image

    Paladin_ 4 years ago from Michigan, USA

    Thank you for reading, K. Regarding your comments, above:

    Why is my comment regarding the timing of the New Testament writing "too ridiculous to engage?" Obviously, because they were written so long after the "fact," those who wrote and assembled the New Testament had free reign to compose whatever they wished.

    Suppose, for example, that you lived in the 8th century BCE and wrote your autobiography. More than seven centuries later, I decide to write volume 2 of your biography. With no corroborating or contradictory documentation, and all of your relatives and acquaintances long gone (as well as generations of their descendants), who and what is to prevent me from fabricating whatever I wish -- especially if I have an ulterior motive to fashion your volume 2 in a particular manner?

    I'll say it plain: The composers of the New Testament were free to lie, and I believe they did -- repeatedly.

    As for Jesus never being mentioned by name in the Old Testament, you quote Isaiah, who is referring to YAHWEH. Surely you realize that is God's name, not Jesus.' In your comments in another hub, you mentioned that you give sermons (so I'm assuming you're at least a lay preacher), so I'm a bit flabbergasted you don't recognize this.

    As for Jesus never being referred to as "my servant," the example you provided doesn't contradict that in the least. In fact, the verse you quote from Luke doesn't even refer to Jesus. If you examine the preceding verse, it is clear that it is a comparative reference to people who serve a human 'lord':

    36: "And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately."

    I'm not sure I understand your disagreement with my analysis of the reference to Jesus "opening his mouth" during his (supposed) sacrifice. Whether or not Pilate was a shearer makes no difference. My point is that, if this part of Isaiah's prophecy is going to applied to Jesus, it is done so in error, for Jesus certainly "opened his mouth" repeatedly before he was killed.

    I must admit that your comments regarding Jesus' ''seed" have made me somewhat suspicious. Isaiah's prophecy clearly refers to someone who shall have "seed" (which is repeatedly, and uneqivocally, used in the Bible to refer to progeny). Your reply is a couple of quotes that Jesus "formed" or "made" Adam. Surely even you realize that it is a gargantuan stretch to claim that Jesus "forming" or "making" Adam means that Adam is his "seed" or his progeny. I suspect you don't even believe that one.

    As for your suggestion that I "pray to Jesus," my short reply to that is "Been there. Done that." I used to be a believer, until my sense of reason and love of truth could no longer allow me to maintain the delusion.

    I'm hoping that I (and others) can eventually lead you in the same direction. Reading some of your comments above, I suspect that you must also have doubts. You seem like an intelligent, articulate and reasonable person, so I'm betting there's a part of you (if even deep down) that abhors being forced to conjure up the convoluted arguments necessary to defend against analyses like mine.

    Even as you were researching and typing your comments above, I'm fairly certain there was a tiny part of you that was saying -- at least once or twice -- "this is BS." THAT is the part of you that I want to encourage with hubs and comments like this. It's my sincere hope that someday, like me, you'll no longer be able to maintain the delusion.

  • k12rswow profile image

    k12rswow 4 years ago from New England

    Other (Paladin) problems

    """""First, one must downplay the reality that the New Testament was composed and compiled hundreds of years after the Old Testament,""""

    Too ridiculous to engage this one...

    """""Second, one must ignore that Jesus is never referred to by name ANYWHERE in the Old Testament. """""

    Isaiah 47:4 Our Redeemer—the LORD ( YAHWEH) of hosts is his name

    the Holy One of Israel.

    """""However, nowhere in the Bible is Jesus referred to by name as "my servant""""

    LUKE 12:37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will DRESS HIMSELF FOR SERVICE and have them recline at table, and he will come and SERVE them.

    """"""so he openeth not his mouth."""""""

    Pilate was not a shearer, he washed his hands of Jesus

    """"Jesus had neither children nor a long life.""""

    Jesus formed Adam - John 1:3

    Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

    Psalms 42:2

    My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

    I see you have dove into scriptures. I would ask next time pray to Jesus, and ask him to reveal himself to you through scriptures. Instead of an blanket attack address to the masses, challenge Jesus himself.

    Blessings K


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