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Does Isaiah 53 Predict Jesus’ Death and Resurrection? Most-Commented Blog Posts: #1

May 1, 2022

Here now is THE post that has received the very most comments in the past ten years – 233 – more than any of the 2,965 OTHER posts.  And as it turns out, it’s on an unusually important topic, for both Christians and those who want to understand Christians:  is Jesus’ death and resurrection predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures?  Read on:



Readers Mailbag: Does Isaiah 53 Predict the Death and Resurrection of Jesus?

May 8, 2020

I would like to get back into the practice of devoting one post a week to answering questions raised by blog members.  I have a fairly long list of good questions I haven’t been able to get to, so why not just go through them week by week?  If you have any pressing questions that are particularly intriguing or perplexing for you about the NT or early Christianity or any related topic, let me know as a comment on a post (any post will do, whether relevant or not).  If it’s not something I can address or that I can answer in a line or two, I’ll let you know.  Otherwise, I can add it to the list!

At the top of my current list is the following.



I wonder if you could talk about Isaiah 53 which I think is also a later insert by the scribes trying to justify what they had done to Jesus.



Ah, now *this* is a passage that students bring up every time I teach a class on the New Testament.  Hundreds of years before Jesus, the prophet Isaiah predicted in detail his crucifixion for the sins of the world, to be followed by his resurrection.  It’s right there in black and white, in Isaiah 53.  Why don’t Jews SEE that??  It’s in their own Bible!   Are they blind?  Can’t they READ????

As it turns out, my students as a rule don’t understand the issues with Isaiah 53; that’s not particularly strange – most people don’t!   The problem is not that the passage was a later insertion into the text of Isaiah; it instead involves what Isaiah was talking about.  I’ve discussed the issue before several times, but it’s one that regularly comes up; here is how I explain it all in my most recent book, Heaven and Hell.



Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is  a passage that has long been cited by Christian interpreters as a virtually infallible prophecy of the death and resurrection of the messiah – i.e., Jesus.  But that is almost certainly a misreading of the passage, at least as the author of Isaiah originally intended it.  The passage deals with the “suffering servant” of the LORD.  But in its original context the servant does not appear to be the future messiah.

Of course Jesus is not named in the passage.  But even more surprising to many Christian readers who learn this for the first time, the word “messiah” never occurs in it either.   There is a good reason for the surprise: it is hard indeed for Christians to read the chapter and not think that it is speaking specifically about Jesus.

He was despised and rejected by others;

A man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity…

He was despised, and we held him of no account

Surely he has borne our infirmities

and carried our diseases…

He was wounded for our transgressions,

crushed for our iniquities.

Upon him was the punishment that made us whole,

and by his bruises we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:3-5)

Not only did this unnamed servant of the LORD suffer because of others, he also is vindicated by God.  Doesn’t this refer to the resurrection of Jesus?

Out of his anguish he shall see light;

He shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.

The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong

because he poured out himself to death,

and was numbered with the transgressors.

Yet he bore the sin of many,

And made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12)

The main reason it is so difficult for Christian readers to see these words and not think “Jesus” is because for many centuries theologians have indeed argued that the passage is a messianic prophecy looking forward to the Christian savior.   Anyone who is first shown this passage and told it is about Jesus will naturally always read it that way.  Of course it’s about Jesus!  Who else could it be about?  This is surely a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection made centuries before the fact.

Still, it is important to note that the passage never uses the term “messiah” or explicitly indicates it is talking about a messiah, but also that we have no evidence that any Jew prior to Christianity ever thought it was about the messiah.  There is a good reason for that:  before the birth of Christianity, no one thought the messiah would be someone who would die and be raised from the dead.

That may seem both weird and counterfactual to many Christian readers today.   But historically it is almost certainly the case:  the idea of a suffering messiah is not found in any Jewish texts prior to Christianity.   The idea that the messiah had to suffer and die for others was first espoused by Christians on the basis of two facts that they “knew” about Jesus:  he was the messiah and he had been crucified.  Their conclusion: the messiah had to suffer and die.

But not in traditional Judaism.  Instead, Jews consistently believed the messiah would be the great and powerful ruler who delivered Israel from its oppressors.  He would be a mighty general, or a powerful cosmic judge come from heaven.  Different Jews had different views of who or what the messiah might be, but all these views had one thing in common: they all thought of the messiah as a future figure of grandeur and might who would rule the nation with justice and power.[1]

And who was Jesus?  An itinerant preacher who got on the wrong side of the law and was arrested by the enemies of Israel, tried, and publicly tortured to death by crucifixion.  This was just the opposite of what the messiah would be.

Christians nonetheless came to believe he was the messiah, and, naturally, started looking for proofs from the Bible that could support the idea — passages that, contrary to what everyone had previously thought, might indicate that the messiah was to suffer and be raised from the dead.[2]  Isaiah 53 was a natural choice.  Christian thinkers picked up the passage, promoted it as a messianic text, and that has influenced its interpretation ever since.

But there are solid reasons for thinking the passage is about something else.   To begin with, it is important to stress the historical context within which the passage was written.  This part of Isaiah was produced after the Babylonian armies had destroyed Jerusalem and taken large numbers of the Jewish people into captivity in Babylon.[3]  These exiles were suffering, and the prophet was writing in order to give them hope.  Those in captivity were suffering for the sins of the people, which had led to God’s punishment of the nation; but they would be returned to their land and good things would come.  These suffering ones are talked about as God’s “servant”: they are serving God’s purposes.

Some readers think the servant has to be a single person since, after all, he is described as an individual, God’s servant.  But it is important to realize that throughout the Hebrew Bible, groups of people could be, and often are, described as individuals.  Nations are named after people.  Thus the Southern nation after the civil war dividing Israel is named “Judah” – after one of the sons of Jacob; it is obviously a group but it is named after a person.  So too with “Gog and Magog” in Ezekiel 38-39 and the fierce “beasts” that Daniel sees as ruling the earth in Daniel 7.  Each is described as an individual animal, but it represents an entire national group.

Another reason for thinking Isaiah 53 does not refer to just one person, the future messiah who would die for sins, is that the passage describes the suffering of the servant as a past event, not future (he was despised and rejected; he has borne our infirmities; he was wounded for our transgressions).   On the other hand – this is a key point – his vindication is described as a future event (He shall see light; he shall find satisfaction; he shall divide the spoil).   The author thus is referring to someone (as a metaphor for a group of people) who has already suffered but will eventually be vindicated.

And who is that someone, that “servant of the LORD”?   The historical context of the author’s writing is obviously an important factor in deciding, but there is a clincher to the argument.  The author of Isaiah explicitly tells us who the servant is.  Most readers don’t notice this because they do not read the passage in its literary context.  But as biblical scholars have long known, there are four distinct passages in Isaiah that talk about this servant.   And they tell us who he is.  This is most clear in Isaiah 49:3, where God directly addresses the servant:  “And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’”  The suffering servant is Israel.

In short, Isaiah 53 is not originally about a future messiah.  It is about the nation of Israel taken into captivity.  Some of the people were suffering horribly because of the sins of others.  But God would restore them, raise them from the dead as it were, bringing them back to the land and allowing them to live again after their national destruction.

[1] For a full discussion see the authoritative account of John Collins, The Scepter and the Star: Jewish Messianism in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2010).

[2] For the factors that led Christians to think Jesus was the messiah, see my book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2015).

[3] See the discussion of Isaiah in Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, pp. 307-21; 379-400.

2022-04-17T20:29:11-04:00May 1st, 2022|Public Forum|

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  1. kenw54 May 1, 2022 at 7:57 am

    1. If there were no eyewitnesses to either the Annunciation or the Virgin Birth, how did they get into the scriptures?
    2. Why does Pilate use the word “Christ” when addressing Jesus? Was Jesus known as “the Christ” or “the Anointed one” during his lifetime on Earth?
    3. Why do you assume that Jesus was an Essene just because he had an apocalyptic viewpoint? I’ve read that the apocalyptic viewpoint was common among Jews who were not Essenes.

    • BDEhrman May 2, 2022 at 12:35 pm

      1. They were important stories for the early Christians (who woud probably point out that Mary was indeed an eyewitness to both!) 2. He of course would not have called Jesus the messiah 3. I don’t think he was an Essene and have never said so!

  2. thomasaaroon May 1, 2022 at 10:49 am

    Judaism is rooted in the tradition of sacrificing people for the good of many. Abraham was the forerunner of this. It is not surprising that Isaiah chapter 53 is compared to their tradition. Accordingly, it is not surprising that the Gospels portray the death of Jesus Christ. The fact that Jesus Christ died for the sins of many is an impact of the Jewish traditional belief.

    • RICHWEN90 May 4, 2022 at 12:47 pm

      But, but, but… God intervened! Abraham’s “sacrifice” wasn’t performed. It was all a test! And the Jews were never, ever, involved in any tradition of human sacrifice. There is simply no evidence for that.

  3. JesusChristDivided May 1, 2022 at 11:06 am

    This explanation is very clear and helpful. I would add that Christians had no choice but to reinterpret Isaiah 53, because the restoration of Israel as a nation had so obviously failed for the second time (at least). Faith required that they transform suffering Israel into the individual Messiah, because the alternative was unacceptable.

  4. RM May 1, 2022 at 5:13 pm

    I think a book for a lay audience going deep into all the Christian misuse of scripture, starting with Paul and pushing through the second century would be awesome. On mythvision Christopher Stanley has a long vid on Paul’s misquoting of Hebrew scripture (with possible hints if not certainties he’s deliberately taking advantage of a respectful audiences illiteracy and reverence for what they assume Hebrew scripture to be.”

  5. OranCombest May 1, 2022 at 5:59 pm

    Christians seem to believe peoples sins could not be forgiven until Jesus gave his life on the cross,
    is this true?

    • BDEhrman May 2, 2022 at 12:40 pm

      It depends which Christian you speak to; that is, of course, the traditional view — but not everyone holds it.

  6. JoshuaBakradze May 1, 2022 at 9:59 pm

    How important and significant would you say Codex Alexandrinus is?

    • BDEhrman May 2, 2022 at 12:42 pm

      It’s one of our very earliest manuscripts of the Bible, dating to around 400 CE. It does not appear to be as high quality of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, but it’s very important.

  7. DoubtingTom May 2, 2022 at 7:06 am

    Who is “the daughter of Babylon” in Isaiah 47? Some Christians believe the United States will be the next Babylon and reference this verse. My best guess is Israel

    • BDEhrman May 3, 2022 at 1:23 pm

      It’s like when the OT refers to the Daughter of Jerusalem or the Daughter of Zion — it refers to the people of the place. So the daugher of Babylon are the Babylonians (or the city itself, comprising its people)

  8. gryan May 2, 2022 at 8:32 am

    Re: “questions that are particularly intriguing or perplexing for you about the NT or early Christianity”

    Who was “Ἰακώβου τοῦ μικροῦ” (Mark 15:40)? What did “τοῦ μικροῦ” mean?

    • BDEhrman May 3, 2022 at 1:26 pm

      James the great was one of the three closest disciples to Jesus (Peter, James, and John), the brother of John, the son of Zebedee. The “lesser” was the other disciple James son of Alphaeus.

  9. petfield May 2, 2022 at 9:10 am

    Mr. Ehrman, this was the most commented on post of yours, but I would like to ask you which one is your favorite overall on this blog. I mean, the piece you wrote here that you think most highly of.
    Personally, I’m waffling between the last one you wrote on Thanksgiving Day and one you wrote about a year ago titled “My Materialist view of the world” – both were just beautiful!

    • BDEhrman May 3, 2022 at 1:27 pm

      I’ve tried to think of one before, and I usually end up thinking that they’re all like you’re children (though luckily I don’t have that many children!): I love them all in their own way! I can’t thin of ONE I really like better than all the rest.

  10. Seeker1952 May 2, 2022 at 1:01 pm

    This may be almost entirely a theological question but just in case a scholar of early Christianity can shed some light on it I’ll ask it anyway.

    What do Christians mean when they say faith is self-validating? Are there significant examples of this in early Christianity?

    Christians might simply mean faith seems true-and consoling-when they firmly believe. I don’t know to distinguish this from wishful thinking.

    It might also mean that Christianity is a hypothesis that can be tested by a prospective believer. Experience might corroborate or falsify this hypothesis.

    Are there other understandings of faith as self-validating?

    • BDEhrman May 3, 2022 at 1:34 pm

      I haven’t heard that in a long time. But I think it means that when you have faith it brings the assurance that it is true and so it validates itself. It’s kind of a wierd idea, at least if someone claims it as “proof” that they are right. Hare Krishnas (and many others) have the same experience.

  11. Tomaha May 2, 2022 at 1:43 pm

    Off topic a bit. I have heard the definition of Yahweh to mean “I Am., but other times “I Am That I Am”. Could you shed some light on that, please.? Thanks.

    • BDEhrman May 3, 2022 at 1:47 pm

      The “I am that I am” is a quotation from Exodus 3. The name Yahweh *probably* relates in some way to the Hebrew word for “to be” (in the first person singular), but not everyone agrees on what it exactly would mean (“the self-existent one”? “the one who brings all things into being”? “the only one who truly is without need of another”?)

  12. JoshuaBakradze May 2, 2022 at 2:45 pm

    Bart, do you believe we can distinguish between historical use of the Bible and liturgical/religious use? For example, even if the Adultery Story was not part of the earliest version of John, could we not still argue that it has edified the church for centuries and thus is inspired?

    • BDEhrman May 3, 2022 at 1:49 pm

      Yes, one is a historical quesiton and the other a theological one. They may be related as fields of inquirey,but they are definitely different, and one does not determine the other.

  13. Stephen May 2, 2022 at 5:38 pm

    Surely one of the KJV translators’ finest hours.

  14. jbhodge May 2, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    Isaiah 53:12’s “Numbered with the Transgressors” is quoted in Lukes account after the last supper when Jesus asks if the disciples had a sword. Luke 22:37. So at time of writing of “Luke” Isaiah 53 was thought to have been a direct reference of Jesus. For sure the Author of Luke was making it a direct reference to Jesus. Possibly even the author of Mark thought so in Mark 15:28, but that verse is not found in all the transcripts.

    • BDEhrman May 3, 2022 at 1:51 pm

      Yes, the earliest Xns did think the passage related to Jesus. They just don’t use it to talk about his atoning death and resurrection.

    • Montyg May 7, 2022 at 2:07 pm

      Dear Dr. Ehrman,

      I have heard different scholars claim that some prophecy is written in a perfect future tense. Would that explain the use of the past and future tense in this passage?

      Monty G

      • BDEhrman May 9, 2022 at 5:56 pm

        Hebrew didn’t have a “perfect future” tense, so I’m not sure what this means. Hebrew uses two tenses, and they don’t work like English. The Hebrew “perfect” tense is used for events that have been completed (they could be referred to as future events that are completed int eh future as well as past events); the “imperfect” tense indicates events that are not completed (whether past, present, or future). So if a passage uses verbs in both the perfect and imperfect tenses, that would normally mean that some of the events have been completed and others not (though it does not necessarily mean that one is past and th eother is future)

  15. kenw54 May 2, 2022 at 8:39 pm

    1. Since Jesus broke Sabbath laws several times [3] by working on the Sabbath or telling other people to work, which was punishable by death {Exodus 31:15], was he guilty in the Court of Public Opinion [Average Jewish citizens], even though he was not specifically tried for it?
    2. Do you think that the term deicide should be replaced by deicide-in-human-form, to remind everyone that neither the Jews nor the Romans could tell that he was God?

    • BDEhrman May 3, 2022 at 1:54 pm

      1. Jesus ever actually breaks the laws of sabbath as outlined in the Torah, only the ways teh laws were interpreted by Pharisees (who did not agree even among themselves). 2. I strongly don’t think the term is appropriate in any way shape or form. It’s a horrible slur against Jews.

    • RICHWEN90 May 4, 2022 at 12:51 pm

      Jesus wasn’t God and never claimed to be God, period.

    • swall May 7, 2022 at 7:52 pm

      Why this vocabulary is poisonous – pogroms every Easter…

  16. jbhodge May 2, 2022 at 8:42 pm


    I believe the “Who and Whom” v1 is the nation of Israel that that you think Isaiah 53 is pointing. Clearly there is a separation between the “who and whom” and that which chapter 53 going on to paint a picture of. Paul in Romans 10:16 quotes Isiah 53:1 linking the rejection of Jesus by the Jews thus the “Who and Whom”. Added with Luke 22:37 that is strong evidence that very early on the Authors (not later theologians) interpreted Isaiah 53 to be about Jesus. Since Paul referes to Jesus as the “Christ”, then he too paints him as the messiah.

  17. curtiswolf69 May 2, 2022 at 9:27 pm

    Do you think that Isaiah 53 at least in part led to the redefining of Jesus’ death from an inglorious failure to the atoning sacrifice that saves the world? I could see some devastated follower of Jesus reading that passage and thinking maybe we got the whole messiah thing all wrong. Surely Jesus did not die in vain. God must have had some purpose for him. Maybe this is it.

    • BDEhrman May 3, 2022 at 1:55 pm

      One would think so, but the very odd thing is that there’s no hard evidence it did. That’s one of the most intersting things about earliest Christian theology: the Christian writers we have believe that Jesus’ atoning death fulfilled Scripture but they never quote Isaiah 53 to show it!

  18. tmcalhoon May 3, 2022 at 3:37 pm

    1. Is the Isaiah 53 passage used for an individual somewhere in the nonbiblical Dead Sea Scrolls? I’ve heard that but have never investigated myself, and I wouldn’t know where to find it.
    2. What entry-level reading would you recommend for the New Testament’s use of Old Testament prophecy? There are certainly some non-literal usages of prophecy, such as the virgin birth prophecy to Ahaz, but I have been told that non-literal usages of prophecy were a valid literary technique used amongst other Jews of the Evangelists’ time. That prophecy was used in ways other than one-to-one predictions seems to be lost on modern people, especially Christians of the more sectarian breed. And besides, adherents of the Old Testament prophecy argument usually assume in advance that every last narrative and minute detail is gospel truth (pun intended) historically speaking rather than working from universally-accepted historical knowledge about Jesus.

    • BDEhrman May 5, 2022 at 12:53 pm

      1. I don’t remember how it appears in the scrolls, but I do know it is never ot refer to someone’s death as predicted in Scripture (let alone atoning level death). 2. I’m not sure what would be a good overview, but if you want to see one explicit treatment to give you some ideas about it, try John Dominic Crossan’s book Who Killed Jesus?

    • Ebion May 19, 2022 at 8:44 am

      Hi tmcalhoon. Here is an excerpt from the Tabletalk Theology blogpost titled “The Dead Sea Scrolls, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, and Early Christian Interpretation” that can answer your question:

      “In the Teacher Hymns, we find evidence that the Teacher of Righteousness identified himself with the Suffering Servant, but it isn’t likely that he was believed to be a messiah. In the targum of Isaiah, the Servant is identified as the messiah, but he is no longer associated with suffering. Instead, he is associated with victory and triumph. The two sources we have looked at—the Dead Sea Scrolls and the targum of Isaiah—suggest that, while there undoubtedly were many beliefs and practices shared by early Christians and other parts of Second Temple Judaism, interpreting Isaiah’s Suffering Servant in a messianic way doesn’t seem to have been one of them.”

  19. kt May 4, 2022 at 10:20 am

    In some esoteric traditions, it seems that Israel has a symbolic meaning and does not necessarily mean “Struggle with the Lord” nor the geographical nation itself. It seems to point to a more spiritual symbolic meaning like in the Gnostic text, The Origin of the World, it says “Israel – which is” the man who sees God “.
    In some jewish esoteric Kabbalistic views Israel seems to point to a more spirital understanding, as an awakening spiritual spark / within ourself. They claim that Israel is derrived from “Yashar-El, namely” Direct to God “.
    If it was written with this in mind, the message may, as some claim, referre “Israel” to a more spiritual symbol.

    In any case, it is theologians who point out that the first Christians were in fact Jesus Christ-believing Jews who were discommunicated by the Orthodox Jews (especially in 88 AD) who tried to find their place in the synagogues. If the 4 Gospels (or sources) were written from around the 7-8th to the 10th century, could it be as John S Spong claimed/believed that the Gospels could have been inspired by the OT, or Isaiah (especially 53) and perhaps Psalm 22 etc?

    Do you think the gospel (or sources) was written with Isaiah “open”, so to speak?

    • BDEhrman May 6, 2022 at 2:22 am

      I don’t think there was any kind of discommunication by orthodox Jews that made Xns a separate religion, although that was a view some people suggested in the 1970s or so (the Council of Jamnia didn’t do that). But no, the Gospels were not written in the middle ages.

      • kt May 6, 2022 at 9:33 am

        No ,,, sorry for my Norwegian-English and for my embarrassing spelling mistake ,,,, not century ,,, I meant “decade”. I know and also beleive that the Gospels/sources were probably written between 70 and possibly 95 AD.

        Bishop Spong points to a struggle between the Christian Jews and the Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem and suggests that the Christian Jews were discommunicated in 88 AD, after a long struggle trying to find their place in the synagogue. Spong suggested that the Gospels may have been written well knowing what the GT said, in a context where the Christian Jews were struggling to find their place in the synagogue, and that the Gospels were written and perhaps influenced by what was said in the GT (like for example Isaiah 53 and psalm 22).

        Do you think there are a chance that the OT was a source/inspiration when they wrote about Jesus in the gospels?

        • BDEhrman May 8, 2022 at 5:39 pm

          Spong is almost certainly basing that view on the notion once popular in the 1970s that the Council of Jamnia created the split between Jews and Christians (as in J. Louis Martyn’s great book History and THeology in the Fourht Gospel). That view hasnow been almost universally discrdited. But yes, most historical interpreters of the Gospels would agree that the passion narratives were inspired by OT texts referring to a righteous person’s death. That means their tellig of the stories were influenced, not that (all) the events themselves were invented to fit the Scriptures — though some may have been (the two robbers, the cry of derelection; burial by Joseph etc.)

  20. DEBourque May 5, 2022 at 7:23 pm

    I find I’m still a little biased when it comes to Isaiah 53. You have mentioned in the past that Jesus was human, to which I agree. But I stand on the idea that he was blessed with the hand of God, as noted by both Matthew and Luke about Mary with child. But had not Isaiah himself prophesied, in 11; 1-5, that a shout shall come out of the stump of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him;…. Is not this the same touch of God that the angel Gabriel stated when he came upon Mary, to inform her that she shall conceive and that the Holy Spirit shall come upon her and the power of the Most High shall overshadow her, therefore he shall be called Son of God, in Luke 1; 30-35?

    • BDEhrman May 6, 2022 at 3:03 am

      I’m afraid that’s a theological question. All I can say as a historian is that the biblical passage you refer to does indeed indicate that Jesus is not merely human. Whether that’s true or not is a religoius question, not a historical one.

  21. DEBourque May 6, 2022 at 2:15 pm

    I was not trying to make a theological approach, for in my view, one can be blessed with the virtues of the Holy Spirit, and still be human. I always felt, referring to him as Son of God, does not necessarily claim him as divine, but more as God’s Son on earth, as man, for Jesus referred to himself as Son of Man, as many as twelve times in John’s Gospel alone. I was on the impression we were thinking on the same lines. Do you concur?

    • BDEhrman May 9, 2022 at 5:39 pm

      I’d say that once you start speaking about the virtuies bestowed by the Holy Spirit you are necessarily being theological. Those are not ideas that historians deal with. The term son of man, btw, is very complicated; it goes back to DAniel 7:13-14 where it is referring to a heavenly (angelic) being rather than a human being.

  22. Teamonger May 6, 2022 at 6:47 pm

    1. Are there any direct or indirect references to “suffering servant” passages in the New Testament? I’m thinking of Mark 8:31 where Jesus says that the Son of Man must suffer.
    2. If that Mark passage is an authentic saying, could that mean Jesus actually saw himself in the role of the “suffering servant”?
    3. Were the “suffering servant” passages a source of some elements of Christian theology? As where Paul says, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3).

    • BDEhrman May 9, 2022 at 5:45 pm

      1. They are never cited explicitly in reference to Jesus’ atoningdeath, no; 2. In Mark Jesus definitely sees himself as the messiah who has to suffer, but does not use the term Servant of the Lord for himself 3. It’s hard to say. One would certainly think so, but it’s odd that they are never quoted to that end, the way other passages are (e.g., Psalm 22); still parts of Isaiah 53 certainly do seem to lie behind the passion narratives at points (Jesus’ silence; being killed between two criminals; buried by a rich man; etc.)

      • Teamonger May 9, 2022 at 9:31 pm

        Thanks Dr. Bart.
        “In Mark Jesus definitely sees himself as the messiah who has to suffer”
        Right, but do you think the *historical* Jesus really saw himself that way? Or did the suffering remark come from stories by later theologians who knew that he had in fact suffered?

        • BDEhrman May 10, 2022 at 4:43 pm

          I decidedly do *not* think Jesus thought of himself that way.

      • Teamonger May 10, 2022 at 6:55 pm

        “One would certainly think so, but it’s odd that they are never quoted to that end, the way other passages are (e.g., Psalm 22); still parts of Isaiah 53 certainly do seem to lie behind the passion narratives…”
        The Wikipedia page for Isaiah 53 notes a number of direct and indirect references in the New Testament, including in Acts, John, Romans and Matthew.

        • BDEhrman May 12, 2022 at 12:18 pm

          Read the references and you’ll see. There are not any direct quotations to show that Jesus’ death was an atoning sacrifice.

          • Teamonger May 12, 2022 at 1:58 pm

            Right, the quotations are not explicitly used in that way, yet they are clearly references to Isaiah 53. Probably it was only a matter of time before “crushed for our iniquities” and “he bore the sin of many” would be interpreted by theologians as the atoning sacrifice.

  23. BuckyBall May 6, 2022 at 8:19 pm

    The role of a prophet in ancient Israel was to be a “mouthpiece” to the people of their OWN DAY, concerning the will of God for THE PEOPLE OF THE TIME. It is a hallmark error of modern Fundamentalism, that what “prophecy” is, is prediction of the future. That is entirely false. Divination and omen reading were forbidden in Deuteronomy, and ancient Israel.

    Deuteronomy 18:10
    “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft,.”

    Does Isaiah “predict’ anything ?
    No. Prediction is “omen reading”.
    Prophecy is not prediction.
    Prophecy is advice to the people of their own day, … of what the will of God was for the people of their own day. “Prediction” is a fundamental error, and ignorance of what prophecy is, and what the role of a prophet was.

    • BuckyBall May 10, 2022 at 10:36 pm

      Forgive me, but I was thinking this begs a number of questions, and requires more explanation. Clearly the writers in the NT thought prophesy *was* foretelling. So when did that happen ?

      Around the turn of the millennium, there was a new view, that certain “hidden meanings” or “pesherim” began to be looked for, in the practice of Midrash. The name for this is called “pesher”, (or seeking a “hidden meaning”), which was not even known to the original speaker/writer, but only “revealed” later to certain believers. Originally, the (plural) “pesherim” were only fully revealed to the Son of Righteousness, (the leader of the Essenes), and the idea was first found and fully understood after scholars read the Dead Sea scrolls, and was a sub category of “Midrash”, (or study of the texts).…15650.html

      • Teamonger May 12, 2022 at 6:00 pm

        Pretty clear that the intention (though not the actuality) of foretelling prophecy was present in the writing of Daniel, 2nd century BC. And the idea was apparently present in Deut 18:22, which describes how to detect a false prophet.

      • dankoh May 13, 2022 at 4:12 am

        For most of Hebrew scripture, prophecy does mean a current warning. Jeremiah did make a future (and inaccurate) prediction that Babylon would rule over Judah for 70 years (it was 49), and there are a few other, mostly hazy, promises of future endtimes. But Daniel is the first and really the only explicit Scriptural use of prophecy as a precise predictor – and an absolute predictor at that – of future events. He was also wrong, but ever since then people have tried to show how really meant some other event. Daniel was also an indicator and an influence on a shift in Jewish and Christian thinking about prophecy.

  24. Montyg May 10, 2022 at 6:03 pm

    Dear Dr. Ehrman,

    Thank you for the answer!



  25. dankoh May 13, 2022 at 4:07 am

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. Isa. 43:10 makes it explicit that servant (singular) means people (plural): “You are my witnesses [aydai], says the LORD, and my servant [‘avdi] whom I have chosen.” Also, the suffering servant will be rewarded with children and long – though not eternal – life: “he will see his offspring and prolong his days” (Isa. 53:10). Does this mean Jesus had children?

    2. The effort to use the suffering servant to convert the Jews continues full force. See Bock, Darrel L. and Mitch Glaser, eds., The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, 145–70. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications (2012), which is a manual on how to do that.

    (Written from Zurich, where I’m just catching up)

  26. altruitypublicationsllc May 14, 2022 at 1:21 pm

    The foundation of today’s Christianity is based on the Apostle Paul’s flawed preaching, perhaps based on Paul’s flawed understanding of Isaiah 53, as somehow connected to Adam’s sin. Paul says Jesus suffered and died for our inherent sinfulness, and he was resurrected because of his sacrifice.
    This flaw was further entrenched into Christian dogma by the Reformation that mistakenly equated the corruption of the sale of indulgences, with faith-based works, and abolished the need for works in favor of the vacuous theory of justification by faith alone.
    Jesus’ ministry on behalf of God was essentially ministering to the poor, the imprisoned, the afflicted, etc, even to the very end on the cross, when he erroneously concluded God had abandoned him. If Jesus was resurrected, it was because of his exemplary life and devotion to God and God’s ministry until the very end, not because Adam ate forbidden fruit.
    Paul already believed in the resurrection of the dead as a Pharisee before Jesus, Act 23:6-10. Moreover, many righteous persons found favor with God before Jesus. Thus, today’s basic Christian theory is badly flawed
    Christianity badly needs a discipleship correction.

  27. Z1345 May 20, 2022 at 4:30 pm

    An interesting counterproposal to the thesis that Isaiah 53 is about Israel comes from Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler’s Isaiah’s Suffering Servant: Before and After Christianity in it they state they think the passage was originally about a specific figure around the time of the Babylonian Exile.

  28. Neurotheologian October 19, 2022 at 8:00 pm

    Does Isaiah 53 Predict Jesus’ Death and Resurrection? Most-Commented Blog Posts: #1:
    I’d like to ressurect this question (pardon the pun), in the light of this interesting video:
    The selected verses below seem to be unequivocally talking about a *human being*, rather than a nation (yes, in the past tense, which prophetic revelations of the future sometimes are)
    52:13 See, my servant ….. will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
    52:14 his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    53: 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
    5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth
    9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

    • BDEhrman October 21, 2022 at 6:59 pm

      Yup. As to lots of other verses in the Old Testament where an individual is clearly a group. (cf. One Like a Son of Man in Daniel 7, who is explicitly identified as the saints of the Most High).

  29. Neurotheologian October 22, 2022 at 11:35 am

    I wasn’t aware of that group interpretation parallel. I think it is clear that JTB & JC and presumably their 2nd temple eschatological contempories, the Essenes (The Scribes 😉 ) and possibly the Pharisees, considered the Bar Enash of Daniel and Enoch to be single individual. All I am arguing is the that some of those same 2nd temple period eschatologists similarly considered The Suffering Servant as a single individual. With all the multiple interpretations of Isaiah among pharisees, surely, bearing in mind the wording of the passage that I highlighted, there must have been at least a minority group that had a single-individual-eschatological interpretation? As you yourself have said, Christianity didn’t start in a vaccum.

    • BDEhrman October 24, 2022 at 6:23 pm

      For Daniel? Yes, 1 Enoch identifies the Son of Man as an individual. (Enoch!)

      • Neurotheologian October 25, 2022 at 7:49 am

        Ha! Yes, in 1 Enoch 60:10, but throughout 1 Enoch, chapters 46-72, *The* Son of Man clearly refers to a future individual, like a man but also like a holy angels (46:1); a chosen one (62:1, chosen “by the Lord of Spirits”); formerly hidden, (62: 7) – both of which evoke Isaiah 52-53; a judge of the all the Kings of the Earth (Putin – watch out!) who will worship him (62:9), and with whom ‘the just and chosen’ will be ‘saved’ and will ‘eat and lie down and rise again with him to all eternity’ (62:13-14). That does seem to form a lot of the basis for Christianity! Certainly it seems to me that “*The* Son of Man was someone anticipated by 2nd Temple eschatological Jewish groups more so then “the Messiah” and it would only have been natural for them to have associated this Enochian Bar Enash with the chosen, not yet revealed Ebed YHVH of Isaiah 49, 52 and 53. Such an association is suggested by the Dead Sea Scrolls ‘self-glorification hymn’. I rest my case 🙂

  30. Neurotheologian October 23, 2022 at 5:30 am

    Having done a word search, I see that the Hebrew word for servant עֶבֶד ebed (H5650) occurs 803 times in 714 verses in the Westminster Leningrad Codex. It is used mutiple times to identify Moses, Joseph and David as the servant of YHWH. In Isaiah, the Servant of YHVH is used to identify Isaiah himself (Isaiah 20:3), David (Isaiah 37:25) and Jacob / the Nation of Israel (chapters 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 48, 49:3). However in Isaiah 49:5-7, the meaning switches unequivocally to an individual man delineated as spearate from the whole nation of Israel, initially seeming to be referring to Isaiah himself again, but in 49:7 and 50:10 is clearly referring to someone else who is despised by the nation of Israel and among the people of Israel. These passages are the most proximate to chapter 52 & 53.

  31. Dhowell November 5, 2023 at 6:03 am

    Could you explain a response to this objection? Thank you!

    “The Servant in Isaiah 53 is sinless, but the Old Testament describes Israel as sinful. For example:

    Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. Ecclesiastes 7:20

    All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6

    Jesus was sinless, therefore he’s the only member of Israel who could fulfill this prophesy. The Servant is Israel, just sinless Israel though, aka Jesus.”

    • BDEhrman November 7, 2023 at 6:03 pm

      Which verse are you thinking of that calls the Servant sinless?

      • Dhowell November 9, 2023 at 10:29 pm

        He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth… he was numbered with the transgressors -Isaiah 53:9,12

        Maybe from verse 9 we could say that the servant is a member of Israel who had done no violence or have deceit no in his mouth, which is pretty rare of a person. It seems unprecedented in Israel’s history.

        “He was numbered with transgressors” I think sounds weird to say if the servant transgressed any law. If he wasn’t sinless the sentence would say: “he [a transgressor] was numbered with transgressors”

        • BDEhrman November 13, 2023 at 7:27 pm

          I don’t think that says that he had never committed any sins. But I see your point. It is, of course, poetic, and in poetry you can’t expect literal descriptions of reality. If I engage in rhapsody about my friend and say he’s a saint I don’t mean that he literally is. 2 Isaish is trying to say that parts of Israel had been disobedient to the Lord and others had to pay a price for it even thought it wasn’t their faut. Or at least that’s how I read it (since it definitively calls the servant Israel twice) disabledupes{e215de2d1d5c62644afc8377b2c4b181}disabledupes

  32. Dhowell November 5, 2023 at 6:23 am

    Sorry for two questions in a row. Could you also reply to this objection?

    “The Servant is Israel, but also separate from Israel at the same time. It says the Servant brings back Jacob… that Israel might be gathered to him:

    And now the LORD says, who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him Isaiah 49:5

    So the Servant in Isaiah 53 can be a special person chosen from Israel to bring back all of Israel. He brings them back by being the unparalleled sinless version of Israel and atoning for their sins by his suffering. This fits the Gospel’s depiction of Jesus and matches Isaiah 53.”

    • BDEhrman November 7, 2023 at 6:05 pm

      I’d say that it’s not unusual to have an individual represent a collective and the collective to represent an individual. Hosea 11:1 — “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”

      • Dhowell November 9, 2023 at 10:34 pm

        I agree with you, it is not unusual in the Old Testament at all. I’m just saying in Isaiah 49 the servant is both:

        1. Israel


        2. A person who brings back Israel and Jacob

        I agree with you the servant can be a group. I’m just saying it’s clearly a “both and” situation in Isaiah 49.

        If that’s the case, why couldn’t Isaiah 53 be saying that the suffering servant is that^ individual come to save Israel? I think that would make sense if he was the sinless person like a spotless lamb sent to atone for Israel’s sins.

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