Most people know that the difference between Judaism and Christianity, is Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament, but Jews reject this claim, as well as any divinity or supernatural relationship between the man Jesus and God. Many Jews and Rabbinic scholars have written extensively as to the many reasons why Jesus cannot possibly be the Messiah, yet even more Christians have written extensively as to why Jesus must be the Messiah. The most widely Christian-referenced scripture used as evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, is Isaiah 53, the "suffering servant". But if we critically examine this text, what we find should be incredibly disturbing to any Christian.
First, a little Bible 101. The "Bible" as most know it today, is actually a collection of writings that span over a thousand years, compiled over hundreds of years, by very human processes. The Old Testament, or the first 39 "books" of the Christian Bible, is a variation of the Jewish Bible, or Tanakh. The Tanakh, including Isaiah 53, was written in ancient Hebrew. This means, all the English versions of this text are translations from the Hebrew. So the question is, when the translation of words are vague and ambiguous, could one's dogma influence the translation? The answer becomes quite clear when one understand that the Christian-English translations of Isaiah 53 contain significant differences that change the meaning of the text substantially from the Jewish translations. As you would imagine, the Christian translation points to strong evidence of Jesus, whereas the Jewish translation not only provides evidence against this "suffering servant" being Jesus, but demonstrates definitively that this cannot possibly be Jesus, as we will see a bit later.
So it is simply a matter of Jewish scholar against Christian scholar? For example, virtually all Jewish scholars will insist that ‘almâh means "young woman", yet Christian scholars will insist that it means "virgin". Given that we cannot go back 2500 years to the place where the text was first written and ask the locals what the words mean, can we ever know which translation is more accurate? If you are willing to accept that we can "know" something based on probabilities, then yes, we can -- thanks to contextual comparison, or seeing how the same word was use in other writings in the same general period.
Let's have a look at some of these quick, shocking differences. But before we do, a setup to Isaiah 53. This one part of a four part song about how the Jewish people will be vindicated after the coming of the Messiah. The "we" used in this chapter refers to the Gentiles/kings/world leaders of the time. The "suffering servant", or "he", is the Jewish people, referred to as Israel, and commonly referred to in the singular throughout the Old Testament (Christian and Jewish). The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this article, but if interested, see this source for a thorough explanation. Of course, Christians will deny this interpretation by Jewish scholars (what do they know anyway about ancient Hebrew). Regardless, the mis-translations should be enough for any reasonable person to see how unyielding dogma has altered the meaning of this text.
Christian Bible says: a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief
Jewish Bible says: a man of pains and accustomed to sickness/illness
Of course, we can't have Jesus being a sickly man. Now unfortunately, the word for "sorrows/pains" appears just that one time in the Bible, so that is not much help. But, the second word appears five times in the Bible, and wouldn't you know it, all other times it means "sickness" -- at least in the modern translations which corrected many of the errors from the old King James translation. From concordances.org.
Christian Bible says: But he was wounded for our transgressions he was bruised for our iniquities
Jewish Bible says: He was wounded as a result of our transgressions, and crushed as a result of our iniquities
Huge difference. We are no longer talking about a servant suffering by choice, but as a result of/because of something done -- more like torture.
Christian Bible says: for the transgression of my people was he stricken
Jewish Bible says: because of my people's sin they were afflicted
If the plural is being used here, in no way can this refer to Jesus. Even Trinitarians will admit that God or the Holy Spirit couldn't have been stricken or afflicted with anything. The Hebrew for "they were" is lamoh which in Biblical context, is claimed by many Jewish scholars to always refer to a group of people. This should be easily verifiable, but unfortunately it's not.
Whoops! Conveniently left undefined at Biblos.com. This makes it impossible to cross reference and look up other instances in the Bible, so let's just move on.
Christian Bible says: Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
Jewish Bible says: God desired to oppress him and He afflicted him. If his soul would acknowledge guilt, he would see offspring and live long days, and God’s purpose would succeed in his hand.
The Hebrew word for offspring (zera) occurs 57 times in the Old Testament, and each and every time it refers to sperm, or biological decedents -- NEVER "spiritual" ones. Jesus never had kids, according to Christianity. Furthermore, he lived far from "long days" and a prolonged life, especially compared to Noah. If we pretend that Isaiah is talking about God here (Jesus), it makes even less sense to have God prolonging God's days -- which is already supposed to be infinite. You can say that "prolonged days" means a little extra time on earth, but this is not how this phrase is used elsewhere in the Bible.
Some logical questions that must be asked.
If Isaiah identified the "servant" as Jacob and Israel (the Jewish People) many times in the twelve chapters preceding chapters 41-49, does it make sense that he would switch the servant to the Messiah?
- “You are My servant, O Israel” (41:8)
- "But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen." (44:1)
- "Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen" (44:2)
- "Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel" (44:21)
- "For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen" (45:4)
- "The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob." (48:20)
- “You are My servant, Israel” (49:3)
Can a servant be his own master? If Jesus is God, we get into a strange paradoxical situation where Jesus is the servant and the master.
Deuteronomy 24:16 specifically rejects the idea of vicarious redemption. "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin." So how is it that Jesus could die for our sins?
Isaiah 53:12 states that this suffering servant will be rewarded for his actions. "Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong..." So God is rewarding himself?
It is really disturbing to think that any religious group would purposely deceive people to justify their belief system. Both Jews and Christians can't be right. But given the ancient Hebrew text is in question, I have to give the benefit of the doubt to the Jewish scholars, not the Christian ones. Plus, given the other evidence discussed above, the probability of Isaiah 53 being about Jesus is very slim.