Tuesday, March 29, 2022

A New Series on the Text of Isaiah 53


The Text and Canon Institute has launched a new series of articles on several of the crucial textual problems in Isaiah's Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13–53:12). The series will focus on the problems that affect translation such as the following:
  1. Does the servant startle the nations because he is disfigured or sprinkle them after being anointed? (Isa. 52:14–15; by Peter Gentry)
  2. Is the servant stricken to death for the people’s rebellion, or are they? (Isa. 53:8; by John Meade)
  3. Is the servant’s death or his tomb with the rich? (Isa. 53:9; by Peter Gentry)
  4. Who and what does the servant intercede for? (Isa. 53:12; by John Meade)
  5. Is the resurrection of the servant anticipated in what he sees? (Isa. 53:11; by Anthony Ferguson)
Peter Gentry, co-blogger Anthony Ferguson, and myself have written up the articles on these problems in an accessible way to put them back on the radar of commentators and Bible translators as well as guide the interested layperson who has probably heard that their translation contains mistakes (and maybe their translation does). You can read the Introduction article here and follow the unfolding of the series over the next few weeks until Easter.


  1. Dr. Meade,
    Thanks, I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

    1. Thanks, Tim. First article drops tomorrow morning.

    2. Dr. M.,
      Read it today, I found the ‘link’ with Hebrews especially compelling. Reading the original article by Dr. Gentry now.

  2. I don't understand the third part about Isaiah 53:9. The article mentions four verses with two different spellings of words that it uses to show that the word can mean "tomb", but none of the verses mention a tomb. Isaiah 14:14, 58:14, 16:12, and 36:17 all mention high places or heights, so I don't understand why the word is translated as "tomb." I understand that Isaiah 22:16 mentions a tomb that is in a high place, using a different word for high place, but I don't see how you can say any of those verses prove that Isaiah 53:9 mentions a tomb.

    Also, I don't understand if the tomb in the NT was on a high place or not because I don't know the geography of the location of the tomb. Also, I am not sure the article explained if the tomb was empty or not because Isaiah 53:9 mentions the grave having wicked people too. Where were the wicked people in the tomb in the NT?

    1. Hi Kenneth,
      I'm not sure I can answer your queries, but here goes.
      1) The point is not that the word bometh means "tomb" in each case but that it refers to the "back," "mountain ridge" > "height," "funerary mound." The gloss "tomb" comes from the context as well as the distinct spellings of the key terms in question. Isa. 53:9a has "grave" so v.9b's "height" or "ridge" would be best understood as a tomb cut into the face of the hill. Does this make sense?

      2) An answer to the second question requires more context from Isa 53. The work of the servant in stanza 53:7-9 is explained in the following stanza in 53:10-12. Among other things, we learn that the servant is numbered among the rebels. If we read the verses together, all 53:9a is saying is that his grave was assigned with the wicked, that is, he was buried as a criminal. I do wonder if the passage in Matthew 26, where Joseph is said to have been a disciple of Jesus was also meant to indicate that because he was part of Jesus' band, a criminal outfit in the eyes of the authorities. Thus Joseph was a rich man and a rebel, and therefore a perfect fulfillment of the prediction in 53:9.

  3. Kenneth,
    I can see your confusion as to the burial with wicked people if you rely on standard translations. I think the article points out the answer to your question. The New English Translation (NET Bible), translates 53:9 this way:
    They intended to bury him with criminals,

    but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb

    because he had committed no violent deeds,

    nor had he spoken deceitfully.
    I think that this is similar to the article.

  4. Dr. Meade,
    I think I understand what you are saying. There are 4 quotes that have words that mean "height" or "high place." Two of them are spelled in an unusual way that matches the spelling of the word in Isaiah 53:9, which also mentions a grave, so you are saying that that could show that the word with this unusual spelling might have been a tomb in a high place and not just a high place. Still, those other two quotes with the unusual spelling are not about tombs. I am sure that people were buried in tombs in high up places, so that word in Isaiah 53:9 could mean "a tomb" or just a high place that happens to have a tomb dug into it. I don't think it really matters, but I guess it sounds funny to say they gave with evil people his grave and with a rich man his high place. Maybe people in those days understood that a grave could be in a high place, so the word meant "high place" or "height" and depending on the context, they knew if it was for a tomb or for some other purpose.

    I would assume that a prophet who mentions evildoers would really mean evil people and not from the point of view of Rome. That explanation is surprising to me. I don't want to argue with you. I just expected a more literal explanation. That's all.

    1. Hi Kenneth, glad you see the answer to the first question.
      Regarding the second, no need to debate, but ponder the meaning of Luke 22:37-38 (cf. Isa 53:12). These are rebels in two senses: failed Israel and the swords associate them with a rebel band. Joseph in Matt 26 as a Jewish follower of Jesus is part of failed Israel that needs his king to save him but he was likely viewed as an enemy of the state or at least thought following Jesus would have that consequence. So I think the “wicked” “rebels” theme in Isa 53 works on a couple levels in its fulfillment in the gospels. I’m not sure we need to splice what’s “literal” here or not. Thanks again.

  5. In Part 5, the article says that Job 33:28 and 30 are about being resurrected from death. It seems to be more about being saved from dying ang going into the pit and continuing to see the ight of life, and not about being dead and being brought back from the pit to see the light of life again.