But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; Isaiah 53:5 NASB
For – “Don’t get me started.” Someone should have restrained me when I began to investigate the idea of sacrifice in the Hebrew text. Not only have I discovered that there is a connection between blood sacrifice and Egyptian pagan rituals (see my article), I am now forced to take a very deep look at this famous passage in Isaiah. What I find is disturbing. It appears that the translators of the text have selectively altered the Hebrew to support a Messianic view. Before you go crazy, just read a bit more.
The Hebrew words translated “transgressions” and “iniquities” are mipshaenoo and meavonoteinoo, respectively. Hebrew doesn’t work like English. It constructs words that combine elements into a single form where English separates these elements. Both of these words attach prepositional prefixes and possessive suffixes. In other words, the root words (pesha and ‘awon) are like the center of a series of building blocks. Each word adds min to the beginning of the word and noo to the end of the word. Noo is the particle that means “our” (the possessive adjective) and min is the prepositional particle that is translated “for” in the NASB. But this is a problem. Min usually indicates spatial separation (like “from, out of, away from”) or connection (“part of”) or a temporal indicator (a certain day or time) or the cause of something. In this verse, Jewish translation would render “because of,” not “for.”
That’s the problem. Translating min as “for” implies purpose. It orients the verse toward the future. Translating the verse as “because of” implies cause. It orients the verse toward the past. The implications of this subtle alteration are enormous. If the verse is about cause, then it does not seem to apply to a future Messiah. It is about the contemporary situation of Israel, a people who have been punished because of their past transgressions. This is one of the central themes of Isaiah and all the prophets. God is punishing Israel through the actions of the Gentiles because Israel has been disobedient. When Christian translators change the min to “for,” they shift the statement away from its contemporary application in the time of Isaiah toward a Messianic prophecy. The question is whether or not they are justified in doing this based on the text.
Christians might be perfectly correct to read the text in this way, but that is not because this is what the text actually says. Christian interpretation of this text follows the direction established by the New Testament. There is no doubt that John, Matthew, Luke, Paul and Peter all apply the Isaiah 53 text to Yeshua, but does that give us warrant for claiming that the Isaiah passage was Messianic from its inception? Given the typical midrashic application of Scripture by authors of the New Testament, one could argue that these men found an application to the Messiah by re-reading the text to fit their belief. This is the way they used other Scriptures. That means it would have been perfectly appropriate for Jews to read Isaiah 53 claiming Israel as the suffering servant until the New Testament authors presented an alternative view. And if this is the case, then the passage in Isaiah should not be altered to fit the midrash of the New Testament even if it can be interpreted this way.
The mixture of theological presuppositions and biblical interpretation can’t be avoided. The more we look, the more complicated it becomes. Of course, none of this means that Isaiah’s proclamation can’t be about the Messiah. The early followers of the Way certainly thought it could be applied to the Messiah. But what we must realize is that this is a creative application, not a textual requirement. Now perhaps we can understand why contemporary Jews read Isaiah 53 and don’t come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah. Paradigm shapes the reading.
Those who have discovered truth in the words of Yeshua and the declarations of the apostles will read Isaiah 53 as a Messianic confirmation. Those who have yet to see the truth of Yeshua will not be so inclined. That means we who apply the midrash have much more to do than simply point to the text. We will have to “provoke to jealousy” by our lives, regardless of the actual meaning of the preposition min. We will have to become the preposition of transition. “Because of you, I am able to see Yeshua in Isaiah.”
Topical Index: min, because of, Isaiah 53:5