Sunday, March 16, 2014

Isaiah 53 - Does it really say God "crushed" Jesus? (More Problems with Penal Substitution)

Whenever I challenge a Protestant to show where the Bible teaches that God the Father poured out His wrath upon Jesus, one of their go-to verses is Isaiah 53:10 where it says: It was the will of the Lord to crush him. At first appearance, this does come off as suggesting the Father actively inflicted punishment upon Jesus, but it turns out that there are two versions of this text, one of which uses a very different word than "crush".

For those who don't know, the Septuagint (popularly known as the LXX) is a very important edition of the Old Testament. It is important for a few reasons, the main two reasons being: (1) the LXX is the official Greek edition of the OT, and it is hundreds of years older than the oldest Hebrew Old Testament manuscript we have (known as the Masoretic Text, aka MT, created 400 years after the Apostles); and (2) the LXX was written hundreds of years prior to the time of Jesus and was the primary edition of Scripture for much of the world, including the primary edition of Scripture the Apostles used and quoted from. So Christians should not discount the LXX at all, and indeed was the official edition for the earliest Church Fathers and it is still the official OT for the Greek speaking Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

The LXX rendering of Isaiah 53 is largely the same as the MT version, but there are some noteworthy differences, and one such significant differences being in 53:10, which says: The Lord also is pleased to purge him from his stroke. (LXX, Brenton*) As you can see, the LXX version says something (seemingly) very different than the MT version. In the LXX version it says God is pleased to "purge" the Suffering Servant from his pains. The term "purge" here in Greek is better translated as "purified" or "cleansed," which is the way it's consistently used throughout the Bible. Also note the term "stroke" here is the Greek term that's better translated into modern English as "beatings" or "stripes", while the term "pleased" here is the Greek word for "planned." So, all in all, what's being said is something along the lines of: The Lord willed to cleanse the Messiah of his wounds
The LXX version comes off a lot less sounding like the Father was punishing Jesus, which doesn't bode well for Protestants who advocate Penal Substitution. And that's not all: I've looked this text up in the Early Church Fathers, and from what I was able to find, they confirmed this reading of Isaiah 53:10. Here are some quotes where they are speaking on Isaiah 53 and directly quote this verse:
Clement of Rome: And the Lord is pleased to purify Him by stripes.
(Epistle to the Corinthians, Sec. 16
Justin Martyr: And the Lord is pleased to cleanse Him from the stripe.
(First Apology, Ch 51)

Justin Martyr: And the Lord wills to purify Him from affliction.

Augustine: The Lord is pleased to purge Him from misfortune.

Augustine: The Lord is pleased to clear [Purgare] Him in regard to His stroke. 

John Chrysostom: it pleaseth the Lord to cleanse Him from His wound
So it seems this "version" of Isaiah 53:10 was generally well known and accepted. Why there are seemingly different ideas being expressed here, I'm not sure, but I would venture to say that it's possible that the "crush" being spoken of possibly refers to chastisement, i.e. the kind of 'beating' that loving fathers do to their sons to keep them on the right path (See Hebrews 12:5-11). In fact, in both the LXX and the MT, the text says in Isaiah 53:5, Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace. Some English translations rightly translate the word as "chastisement," but a few translate it as as "punishment," but that gives a very distorted picture. The Greek and Hebrew word here is unquestionably a term consistently used (throughout the Bible) referring to fatherly correction of a child and not some legal punishment a judge puts upon you. 

I would even argue that since Jesus is truly God's Son, then the principle of Hebrews 12:5-11 must also hold true, which means the only way God could "punish" Jesus was in the form of chastisement, ruling out the possibility of any sort of judicial punishment (i.e. that type which Protestant Penal Substitution view requires).
I also want to take a brief look at Isaiah 53:6, The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. In the past I wrote a post showing that in the Bible the notion of "bearing iniquity" refers to putting the burden of making atonement upon the Priest. It has nothing to do with imputing guilt to a sacrificial animal, because that's simply not how it's used in the Bible. However, in the LXX this same verse reads: the Lord gave him up for our sins. This reading is confirmed in the same Church Father passages mentioned earlier. So this LXX rendering likewise puts a different 'spin' on how the MT version is commonly interpreted, which again 'softens' the notion God the Father was directly inflicting harm upon Jesus (see Romans 8:32). In my opinion, the two renderings are perfectly compatible when the Biblical notion of "bearing iniquity" is properly understood.

As you can see, the LXX version of Isaiah 53 is very valuable to a better understanding of what the Bible intended to convey regarding the sufferings of Our Lord. I don't see any way a Protestant could really deny the conclusions I've come to, especially since they'd be forced to simply deny the oldest and most reliable edition of the Bible we have available, and that doesn't really bode well for their Sola Scriptura approach to theology.
*English translations of the LXX are very difficult to find online, and the only one that's really available is the Brenton translation from 1851, which is full of old English that makes it hard to read. Someone really needs to step up and get us a new modern English translation online.


nannykim said...

This is an interesting post you have given here. I do notice that the Isaiah passage was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and this dates around 100 BC. In one of these it did say crush according to this site[} which gives several different text including a translation of one of the Dead Sea ones. I was wondering how old our oldest copy of the Septuagint is?

Insight said...

Jesus was chastised/corrected by God as a Father does to a child.

Why? What was he doing that warranted this?

Nick said...

Hello Kim,

Thank you for your post. I don't know how old our oldest copy of the Septuagint is, but from what I've read it predates Jesus. What is valuable about the Early Church Fathers like Clement in AD90 is that it shows this LXX rendering is what he knew.

And though I didn't make it abundantly clear, if you read my post you will see that "crush" isn't *automatically* wrong, since it could refer to God "purging" Jesus by stripes. The point is that "crush" doesn't mean "damned" the way some Protestants read it.
For example, John Piper recently came out saying Jesus was "damned in our place" (Piper's actual words). Hopefully you agree with me, that's blasphemy.

Nick said...

The John Piper link is:

Nick said...

Mr Insight,

You asked how could it be said that Jesus was chastised by the Father.

That's a very good question and that has to be properly understood, because it can give people the wrong impression.

First of all, Isaiah 53:5 says Jesus was "chastised" (that's the word used), so in some sense Jesus was chastised.

The way I believe this is to be understood is the way it's described in Hebrews 5:

"7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,"

In verse 8 when it says Jesus "learned obedience through what he suffered," this isn't to say Jesus didn't know everything in virtue of being Divine, but rather that Jesus actually experienced suffering and thus actually felt suffering as a human, and this caused a spiritual 'maturity' in Jesus' humanity that couldn't come any other way.

There's been two ways Catholics have understood Jesus' suffering: (a) Humanity was suffering, decaying and dying due to Adam's sin, and this chastisement is what Jesus endured. (b) Our sins required some degree of chastisement from God, and Jesus endured the chastisement we deserved in some sense of sharing/participating in them. And since these aren't judicial punishments, then we don't need to say Jesus endured hellfire or even that our sins (guilt) were imputed to him, since both of those are false.

Insight said...

That's a great answer, thanks for taking the time, Nick.

Berhane Selassie said...

You must not be familiar with NET translation

You have to follow their little registration to get the free LXX English translation, but its modern, though some of the word choice is strange.

nannykim said...

Thanks, Nick. Yes I saw what you were saying about crush. Thanks also for the comment on chastisement. Ps. For a while your comments were not working---and the link to your email does not work....just wanted to let you know.

Michael Taylor said...


I agree that the LXX and the church fathers who relied on it, seem to have "softened" the underlying Hebrew preserved in the MT. But the key word here is "seem."" In reality, they have not.

Now it is true that the LXX can sometimes preserve the more original reading than the MT. That could be the case here, but I doubt it given that most modern English versions go with "crush" or "bruise."

I even checked Spanish versions which are even more graphic: "quebrantarlo" is the most common rendering and that means "smash him."

So here we seem to have a see of disagreement against the LXX. What to make of it?

The easy answer is to say the LXX is probably wrong and the modern versions are probably right. But it's a bit more complicated than that:

To see why, consider the issue of "chastisement" that you raise in your post. The English word "chastise" in modern usage sounds less severe than punishment (at least to my ears). But it derives from the same Latin word that the Spanish "castigar" does (castigare in Latin) and castigar has no such nuance--it simply means "to punish."

Originally, "to castigate" literally meant to purify, hence the LXX translation you mention in your post.

But here is what you're not seeing. In English, the word "purify" does not immediately suggest punishment. But in Latin it does, and so too in the LXX.

The solution to the apparent problem between the LXX and the MT ("purify/cleanse" vs. "crush) is to see punishment/chastisement as the *means by which* purification is made and hence there is no real contradiction between ancient versions.

So back to "chastisement." It does not mean what you think it means. This word is in older English translations conveys the idea of purifying punishments.

Unfortunately, this got lost when the word "chasten" and "chaste" (which derive from the same roots) came upon us, for we think of "chaste virgin" as being pure, and not someone who has been punished.

Today, the word "chastise" seems to have the connotation of a "slap on the wrist" or "light discipline" as in correcting a wayward child.

Bet that as it may, "chastisement" (English) and "castigo" (Spanish) are rooted in a much more severe concept of purifying punishment.

If you check BDB, you'll see that Isaiah 53:5 is listed under meaning 2 of the Hebrew, yasar. BDB even uses the words "more severely" to distinguish it from the first meaning, which is more along the lines of instructional discipline.

Link to Brown, Driver, Briggs:

Joey Henry said...


Several points:
1. The LXX is a translation of the Hebrew Bible. Thus, it should be understood based on what the Hebrew original convey. Your methodology seems to reverse this process.

2. The MT was collated later than the LXX. But, it should be noted that we have the Great Isaiah Scroll (GIS) from the Dead Sea Scroll which pre dates the LXX. In the GIS, the MT rendering is vindicated. It should be noted that there is a variant between the GIS and the MT on the word "crushed". In the GIS, the word "crushed" is rendered "pierced" or "profaned". Thus, in the GIS, it is translated, "He (God) pierced/profaned him".

3. The LXX rendition of Isaiah 53 seems to alter the story line of the death, burial and resurrection (merely alluded in the GIS and MT while in the LXX, totally absent) of the Suffering Servant.In the LXX, it seems that the Lord desires for the servant not to suffer contrary to the Hebrew original (MT and GIS). See v 11.

4. As a Roman Catholic, the most authoritative rendition of the Bible is the Latin Vulgate (per the canons of Trent). The Vulgate clearly corrects the LXX rendition. It says, Et Dominus voluit conterere eum in infirmitate (v 10). The word conterere is the present active infinitive of contero which means to break into pieces, grind or crush.

Thus, the LXX (mis)translation should be corrected and translated in light of the Hebrew original.

Joey Henry

Nick said...


I actually agree with most of what you've said and I believe I've tried to convey those same thoughts in my original post. In my original post I actually sought to try to understand how both the LXX and MT could be saying the same thing but using different words. The main thing I would say is that the punishments of hell are not of the nature of chastisement, no matter how severe.


My goal is not to put the MT against the LXX. From my understanding, they both have advantages and disadvantages. The MT did have some obvious tampering, but not necessarily at Isaiah 53. Older doesn't automatically mean truer and neither does newer. But it is worth noting that "purged" is what the earliest Church Fathers record when quoting Isaiah 53.

My conclusion was to try to read both the LXX and MT as saying the same thing, which would get me out of the bind of simply having to pick one over the other.

If the GIS has a textual variant saying "pierced/profaned," then I still believe it fits with my original conclusion.

Joey Henry said...


Obviously the GIS and MT versus the LXX is not saying the same thing on 10a and 11a. Even though these verses are not saying the same thing, the penal substitionary atonement is still evident in the LXX in vv 5-6, 8-9 and 12.

I think the conclusion of your article is very defective at several fronts. (1) Protestants do not gloss over the LXX. Several scholars have studied it and I even read several peered reviewed materials before responding to you regarding the LXX of Isaiah 53. (2) The LXX we have now is not the oldest, most reliable edition of the Bible. The LXX we have is but a copy of what our Lord and the Apostles possessed. At several points, the citations of the Apostles differed from from the LXX we have today. (3) The of the MT is still the most reliable source of the Hebrew original. The copying process of the Jewish scribes is far more stricter than the than the translated version. This is confirmed when the MT is compared with the dead sea scroll finds. (4) Protestant commitment regarding Sola Scriptura especially in the area of going back to the source autographa as the final authority in all matter of doctrines and practice is upheld in every point of the study of the materials, i.e. LXX, MT, GIS.


Michael Taylor said...


You said: I actually agree with most of what you've said and I believe I've tried to convey those same thoughts in my original post. In my original post I actually sought to try to understand how both the LXX and MT could be saying the same thing but using different words. The main thing I would say is that the punishments of hell are not of the nature of chastisement, no matter how severe.

That's fine. But the claim is not that Jesus went to hell to suffer there in the first place. I realize that many say that Jesus suffered "hell" on our behalf or that he was "damned" in our place, etc. But here I would counsel caution: First, no doubt there are many who have a faulty notion of the nature of Christ's sufferings and insofar as they really think Jesus suffered damnation itself, I would disagree with them as much as you would. But sometimes you have to allow for a bit of poetic license. If you were to question some who use that language, my suspicion is that they would make all the necessary qualifications and distinctions between what Christ suffered and what the damned suffer. Clearly there are differences. But there are similarities too and because there are, I think in certain contexts one can generically use "damned in our place" language.

Consider what Aquinas says in ST 3:46:5, c.o. Here, Thomas is answering the question of whether or not Christ endured all suffering. He answers in the negative, but with certain qualifications. Observe:

"I answer that, Human sufferings may be considered under two aspects. First of all, specifically, and in this way it was not necessary for Christ to endure them all, since many are mutually exclusive, as burning and drowning; for we are dealing now with sufferings inflicted from without, since it was not beseeming for Him to endure those arising from within, such as bodily ailments, as already stated (14, 4). But, speaking generically, He did endure every human suffering. This admits of a threefold acceptance. First of all, on the part of men: for He endured something from Gentiles and from Jews; from men and from women, as is clear from the women servants who accused Peter. He suffered from the rulers, from their servants and from the mob, according to Psalm 2:1-2: "Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord and against His Christ." He suffered from friends and acquaintances, as is manifest from Judas betraying and Peter denying Him" (my bold).

So what is going on here? On the one hand, he is stating the obvious: Jesus was crucified. He didn't drown. Nor were his legs broken, which could have happened but didn't. In another sense, however, he did endure all suffering.

By way of analogy, then, when informed Protestants say Jesus was "damned" in our place or that the suffered "hell" on our behalf, they are most likely speaking "generically" (Thomas' word) about those aspects of his suffering that are like the pains of the damned: things like spiritual torment, existential separation, the weight of sin, etc.

I agree with you, however, that it isn't precise to say he was literally damned in our place. In fact, I would go so far as to say that what he suffered exceeded the suffering of the damned. Here is one reason why: Any damned soul could only ever suffer for his/her own sin. Jesus, however, suffered for the sins of "the many." That's gotta be both quantitatively and qualitatively greater than any single soul would suffer in hell.

So in some ways, "damned in our place" language is wrong, not because it overstates his suffering, but rather because it understates it. What say you to that?

Michael Taylor said...


I want to amend the previous post. I should say most today would not say Jesus suffered in hell. I think, in light of the creed, "he descended into hell," that some of the Reformers did say he suffered there.

Michael Taylor said...


Just realized I'm way off topic here. Sorry, posted in wrong thread.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Nick!

That is not a good translation of LXX for your native tongue? I speak Portuguese as mother tongue, but I think it is a good work:

Jeff McKearney said...

Nick, if Jesus did not bear the full weight of the wrath of God for our sin on the cross, please explain to me how abuse from Roman soldiers can take away sin? Silly!!!

Nick said...


Here's a post that explains that:

Mark Sherring said...

Thank you Nick for addressing this critical text, as also your other pages relating to atonement (PenSub), which have been enlightening and very helpful (thanks). Unfortunately, from reading all the comments on this page it is clear that a-priori theological bias still informs some comments regardless of the evidence(s), sad to say. As a clear example, I point to J.Henry's comment that "As a Roman Catholic, the most authoritative rendition of the Bible is the Latin Vulgate (per the canons of Trent). The Vulgate clearly corrects the LXX rendition."....and that therefore "the LXX (mis)translation should be corrected and translated in light of the Hebrew original." This is like putting the cart before the horse.(March 30)
The claim is also made in the same comment (at Point 2.) that " should be noted that we have the Great Isaiah Scroll (GIS) from the Dead Sea Scroll which pre dates the LXX." This ambit claim both misleads and glosses certain aspects of the dating of Great Isaiah and the LXX, and is not helpful. Instead, for the LXX we have carbon-dating (4 times) giving various dates from 335-324 to 202-107BC, with paleographic & scribal studies indicating 150-100BC for Gt.Isaiah, while the LXX was apparently produced during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247BC) & definitely before 132BC.
Further, the claim that "protestants do not gloss over the LXX" is also misleading and not in accord with the bigger picture - while some protestant scholars do deal with it, the entire move of PenSub atonement theory does bypass/ ignore the LXX text & so effectivley 'glossing' past it (as it were) - but then Joey already knows this.
There are some sections of broader protestantism, you probably know, that do teach that Christ suffered damnation for us - the Word-Faith movement advocates this. However, that approach cannot be sustained with the understanding(s) of 'chastisement' that is supported by the LXX and not by the MT either when taken in the full context of Is.53 itself - which orients to a 'healing' metaphor for atonement and not to a 'punishment' metaphor.
Regarding LXX & MT quotes in the New Testament, Archer and Chirichigno list 340 citations of the Septuagint and 33 MT citations. If the LXX cannot be relied upon (even with its variations), are we then to replace the LXX with the MT in all cases for the sake of an alleged greater reliability of the MT ? This not a realistic approach and does violence to the LXX tradition. The relative merits of the variations within & between the LXX & MT would be a large study of course, and would be the way to go in order to have a properly defendable position.
The LXX versus MT argument will of course persist, but it is usually forgotten in the debates that there is a whole other branch of Christendom - the Eastern Orthodox - that is living witness to the value and place of the LXX and which ought not be sidelined because of a-priori theological biases.
Thanks again Nick for your work, I hope to be reading more on your site in 2014. Cheers, Mark.

G.E. Hoostal said...

Berhane Selassie said, ‘You must not be familiar with NET translation,’ but I think the one with the abbreviation ‘NET’ is not the ABP but this one: .

The ABP, very strangely, includes only the Protocanon, saying only this about the omission & its apparently dual basis of Greek language & Masoretic canon: ‘The books of The Apostolic Bible correspond to the Hebrew Canon and the current Authorized Version, as far as book order and names. The most notable difference in book names are 1,2 Samuel, and 1,2 Kings, which in the Orthodox canon are named 1,2,3,4 Kings. The Orthodox Canon, along with the Roman Canon also contains books which do not appear in the Hebrew Canon, nor the current Authorized Version of the English Bible, such as the books of Baruch and Maccabees, commonly called the “Apocrypha.” The Apostolic Bible follows the book order of the current Authorized Version of the English Bible…The development of the Holy Scriptures of the early church readily adhered to the all-Greek Scriptures of both Old and New Testaments, rather than a Hebrew Old Testament-Greek New Testament structure which is prevalent today in the English Bible. This all-Greek mode was the norm in Western Churches for hundreds of years during the development of the Latin, Syriac and Coptic Scriptures. The Greek Fathers, Clement, Eusebius, and many others, all writing in Greek, quoted the Greek Old and New Testaments extensively,’ & the early church used the Deuterocanon, the all-Greek mode the norm in the West included the Deuterocanon, all the Fathers, whether writing in Greek or Latin, quoted the entire O.T. of the time, which included the Deuterocanon. Thus I have no idea why some books were excluded. Still, the Strong’s #s are really useful. Maybe somebody will make an #ed interlinear Deuterocanon to go with it. Sorry I can’t do it myself, since I don’t know Greek yet. Anyway, the ABP is very much word-for-word, & has the Greek right there, so although it was done by a Protestant, I think what there is of it is probably pretty trustworthy for non-Protestants, particularly those who have some familiarity with Greek. (continued)

G.E. Hoostal said...

…I, being Orthodox, consider the NETS problematic, at least for these reasons:

1. Its introduction says it’s a ‘a translation in the present-day literary language, so as to communicate to the well-educated constituency’, as opposed to one that ’will reflect the traditional usage and be used in the churches, largely for liturgical purposes (this may be called an “ecclesiastical translation”)’, but because of lex orandi lex credendi, the Orthodox don’t have the Bible as a mere literary work, & so the latter is the only type we use.

2. It’s based on a translation of the MT, as if the Hebrew of it were the ancient, lost Hebrew, & as if we knew what the vowels of the oral Tradition were. But we don’t know those things & Masoretic Hebrew is not Christian. More on the Orthodox understanding here: .

3. The translation of the MT is from the NRSV, which has ‘gender-neutral’ language instead of being a direct translation (so who knows with what else liberties were taken!), & which was done by the NCC, a group that calls various denominations together ‘the Church’, calls them to ‘be[ing] and act[ing] together’, promotes left-wing political action too, while the Orthodox believe (like the Catholics), their own communion is the One True Church—i.e. it will never change & if others want to be in the Church & act with Her, they are welcome to convert—which does not dirty Herself with worldly politics (& most of those political things I think are anti-Christian, e.g. promoting atheistic schooling). So the perspective is very heterodox.

4. It was done at least mostly by Protestants & it’s not interlinear.

There is a free 100% Orthodox translation of the entire LXX anyway. It can be downloaded here: in separate books. I don’t know how long it will be until it is in print, though. It has the blessing of (the Russian Orthodox) Archbishop Mark of Berlin, Germany and of Great Britain. The translator has authorized me to compile all the files into 1 file with bookmarks for a table of contents, & to distribute it, given that the file is accompanied by credits. If anyone wants one, you can ask me at greta dot elisif at gmail dot com.

Anonymous said...

The Vulgate preserves the "crush him" rendering, which begs the question if this rendering was good enough for the Catholic Church for more than 1,000 years, why has it become so important to revise it?

guy fawkes said...

Eu falo (mal ) Portuguese tambem.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the Ethiopian eunuch quotes the LXX version of Is 53.

Nick said...

Interesting update: It turns out that in Romans 4:25 and 8:32 Paul speaks of Jesus as being "handed over" ("delivered up") for our sins, but the only place the OT ever speaks of being handed over for sins is in the Septuagint (LXX) of Isaiah 53:6,12 (same Greek term in Paul and Is53LXX). This is a non-controversial point that basically any scholar, including conservative Reformed and Lutheran will readily affirm. But this means that Paul most certainly had the LXX version of Isaiah 53 in mind when he wrote Romans and his views on the Cross. In fact, the language of "handing over" strongly suggests that the Father was not pouring out His Wrath upon Jesus, but rather leaving Jesus in the hands of sinners to Crucify Him.

This is not to say there is actual conflict/contradiction between the Masoretic and the Septuagint, but rather that the Hebrew often has idioms and such that were better understood by the Septuagint translators, who captured the essence of what the Hebrew was getting at.