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Isaiah 53 prophecy. Is it about Jesus?

Discussion in 'Christian Apologetics' started by Athée, Apr 10, 2018.

  1. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    Me neither. But in trying to understand the Bible, I don't like to assume either a firmly skeptical, or an extremely credulous posture toward Scripture any more than is necessary. But in handling the Bible, we do want to start somewhere with the idea that we need to "think hard" on an existential level without importing too many preconceived notions about what we think God would do, could do, or should have done but didn't, since most of us haven't actually had a nice sit-down, face-to-face dinner with Him at the local diner. At least I haven't ...
     
  2. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    Ok. So as it is at the moment, do you still feel confused about the literary reference that is contended between both religious, non-Christian Jews on the one side, and Christians (even Jewish ones surprisingly), on the other side?

    Or, are you saying you're still confused, but from a more befuddled 3rd position, that of the Skeptic who can't make his mind up as to whether there really is something of cosmic import going on in Is. 52:13-53:12, one way or the other, and that it doesn't appear to you that either the Traditional Jewish or the nuanced Christian interpretation could be valid?
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2018
  3. John 1720

    John 1720 Harvest Worker Supporter

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    Hi LoAmmi,
    We diverge, of course, but I've always sort of liked chasing rabbits down the bunny hole myself - so maybe I have a bit of Jewish rabbi background in my DNA somewhere. ;)
    However, I believe there is a key to the Bible that ties it all together and I find its start in Genesis 12:1-3

    In Christ, Patrick
     
  4. peepnklown

    peepnklown rabbi peepnklown

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    Do I beat the dead horse or do I leave the dead horse in peace?
     
  5. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    ........sure, you can beat it. But just make certain the horse actually is dead before commencing, otherwise if it has an owner, he might not take a liking to the beating you think you're about to dish out.
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2018
  6. Yekcidmij

    Yekcidmij Polymath

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    I don't think there's a one-to-one mapping between Isaiah 53 and Jesus. Isaiah 40-66, also called "Deutero-Isaiah" or "2nd Isaiah" was probably written around the time of the return from exile or shortly after. Given that the chapters explicitly identify the servant as "Israel" numerous times (41:8, 44:1-2,...among others) , I would venture to guess that the servant is indeed Israel.

    There is one complication though, and that's that the servant (ie, Israel) is often described as a failure (42:18-24; 43:22-28; 46:12-13; 48:1). And then there are other times where the servant seems to be individualized and possibly even have a mission to Israel (42:6; 49:1-13; 50:4-11). There seems to be a constant tension in the text; a back and forth between a servant who has failed and a servant who will not only succeed, but restore the failed servant.

    I think the text has two servants. One is Israel who has failed and whose failure was realized in the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles. Then there's another, ideal Israel, who is to restore the failed Israel and that restoration would be realized in the return from the exile. One servant failed, the other succeeds.

    But this still won't answer the question as to whether or not the ideal servant is a metonymy for collective "Israel" or an individual who is representative of Israel. I think this idealized Israel is an individual, but I will try to explain.

    We can see elsewhere in the OT where the king and Israel were spoken of as being the same - the king represented his people; the two were identified together. So there is nothing that would rule outright against an individual and the nation being identified together in the servant passages. Also, it could be that the servant in Isaiah is a collective Israel, but that would seem to mean that Israel had a mission to itself, which doesn't make sense to me leading me to think that the idealized servant/Israel was really an individual who represented the people.

    One thought is that the ideal servant is Cyrus, since he's also explicitly mentioned by name as being God's chosen one, and this would fit well with the themes in the book of the defeat of Babylon and return from exile. But this wouldn't go well to explaining how the servant seemingly suffers, nor would it seem consistent with the idea that the servant was a representative of his people as Cyrus wasn't an Israelite.

    I think another possibility is that the ideal servant is an individual - Zerubbabel. This would seem to fit well with some other things in Haggai and Zechariah where Zerubbabel and Joshua undertook the building of the temple. It even seems that Haggai (and probably Zechariah as well) was ready to make him king and Zerubbabel is further explicitly called God's "servant" (Hag 2:23; Zech 4:6-14). As to the suffering of the servant, the evidence is a little more flimsy since we don't have direct evidence of Zerubbabel's suffering. Instead, Zerubbabel just strangely disappears from history. At one moment, Haggai and Zechariah are seemingly ready to make him king, but instead he disappears completely from history.

    I think his disappearance is no coincidence - I think something probably happened to Zerubbabel, though it's hard to specify exactly what that is. What we do know elsewhere from history is that in Zerubbabel's time, there were numerous revolts against Darius I of Persia. I'm speculating here, but it could be that at the instigation of Haggai and Zechariah (and maybe Joshua), Zerubbabel was enthroned as king of Israel in a restored monarchy. But this didn't sit well with Darius I who, dealing with rebellions, saw this is another attempt at revolt from his subjects (and perhaps it was, as Isiah 53 may suggest!), so he crushes it and executes Zerubbabel. This execution is what we see in the suffering servant passages of Deutero-Isaiah.

    Zerubbabel, like the servant in Isaiah, had a mission to Israel. He was the one who was to lead them out of, and restore them from, exile. The suffering of the servant in Isaiah is Zerubbabel's suffering on behalf of Israel in an attempt to end the exile by finishing the temple and being crowned king in a restoration of the Davidic Dynasty. Their failure at restoration was probably seen as God's continued judgment on Israel's sins, of which Zerubbabel bore himself.

    This may also explain why there seems to be two returns from exile: the first under Ezra and the second under Nehemiah. Ezra's return and subsequent temple building were followed by the brief enthronement of Zerubbabel and then a swift defeat by the Persians who viewed this as a revolt. Then, Nehemiah hears of the [new] destruction of Jerusalem (Neh 1:3) and leads the next return from exile.

    But this is speculative since we have no solid historical record of what happened to Zerubbabel and the records we do have in Ezra and Nehemiah are more complicated than I've suggested here. But I think if there's a historical source for the suffering servant as an individual, Zerubbabel is a good candidate. One thing this wouldn't explain though is why in Isaiah 53 the servant seems to survive death (53:10-12).

    In any case, this may be the passages where Jesus went to find his own mission. He would be the servant who carried out a mission to end the exile, restore Israel, and yet had to suffer to the point of death on their behalf.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2018
  7. John 1720

    John 1720 Harvest Worker Supporter

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    Hi Sir,
    Do you think that Phillip was out of context with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 then?
    Christ Is Preached to an Ethiopian
    (cf. Is. 53:7, 8 )

    26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”
    30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?
    31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:
    “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
    33 In His humiliation His
    justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” [Isaiah 53]
    34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.

    In Christ, Patrick
     
  8. Athée

    Athée Well-Known Member

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    Where I am at right now is that the Jewish reading of Israel as a nation is vastly more compelling than the view that this is about Jesus. Moreover the idea that this could have some sort of evidentiary value to an apologist as a fulfilled prophecy of Jesus seems very weak, considering that the story of Jesus was written after the fact by people who would have known the Isaiah passage, this prophecy idea just never gets off the ground for me.
    Do I think the Jews are right and that there will be a godly messiah who comes back...no.
    I think the most likely explanation is human desire combined with creativity but I can't prove that to a certainty of course.
     
  9. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    Ok. That's an honest answer, but I'd love to hear how Jewish interpretation handles the entire contextual complex of the whole book of Isaiah, particularly where Isaiah 48:1-22 is concerned, even as it may be informed by Deuteronomy 9:1-29 and Deuteronomy 31:1-30. Are you really and truly going to trust that the Jews were entrusted by God as the sole proprietors of the interpretation of the Oracles of God over and above their possession and stewardship? ....I don't trust that notion in the least. I don't see anywhere in the O.T. indicating that the Jews as a whole were meant to be God's only intended confidants forevermore. So, again, those overlapping contexts, likes waves from the oceans, should be lapping at your heels, Athée; that is, unless you're not standing on the same existential beach that I am. :cool:
     
  10. jesus316

    jesus316 All Truth is in Jesus Supporter

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    There were Jewish rabbis who taught that Isaiah 53 referred to a special person who would one day come on the scene.
     
  11. Athée

    Athée Well-Known Member

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    Yes I have been corrected on this :) There was an early rabbinic tradition that read this as being about the Messiah. There was of course disagreement about that view and we should note that Peter doesn't seem to know that reading at first (although later he cites that tradition). Thanks for your thoughts!
     
  12. Athée

    Athée Well-Known Member

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    Maybe you could help me understand why the issue of the Jews as the only covenant people is at play here. I don't see that there is a logical contradiction in the idea that if their God exists he would chose them as his only people but I also don't see how it relates to the reading of the chapters under consideration. I'm sure you are connecting your reading to a larger context but I'm wondering what these extra linkages provide to our understanding of these passages.
    It seems like you are highlighting sections that show Israel is unfaithful and turns away from righteousness and God and o agree thier story has that theme, but this doesn't seem to entail that other groups have to be let in on that action as it were.
     
  13. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    Yes, but if you read Isaiah 48, there are some additional epistemological implications about it all ... implications that the Jews, however blessed of God they have been, can't just waive away and which infer that there is more than meets the human eye in all that God is doing and saying in His Word.

    Sure, I understand that because they've been beat upon by numerous persons from outside opposing cultures during much of their existence as they have remained a somewhat homogeneous, cultured people, they have tended to maintain a defensive posture. However, this shouldn't mean by any necessity that the O.T. also is and means ONLY what they say it is and means. The fact that Isaiah 48 says what it says, even as a precursor to Isaiah 53, seems to stretch the implications we may need to consider, and those implications seem to go beyond just what a quick and cursory reading of Isaiah would infer. If we do this, I think we can see that the implications fit nicely in with the corollary epistemic implications Jesus talks about that are involved in having faith and in "understanding" God.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2018
  14. Athée

    Athée Well-Known Member

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    I understand you to be saying that, even by their own book, any interpretive authority claimed by virtue of being Jewish is problematic at best.
    If so, I agree. But I would add that this doesn't seem to necessitate that anyone outside that group is required or even sanctioned to speak on behalf of their god.
     
  15. Athée

    Athée Well-Known Member

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    Hi all,

    I found this Jewish reading that sums up the Jewish reading pretty well and brings up a bunch of the translation issues by way of explaining why it simply can't be about Jesus.
    I don't agree with everything in here but it seems like a helpful summary if anyone is looking for one

    Isaiah 53: The Suffering Servant
     
  16. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    If you noticed, back up in post #41, I already provided an article of this sort, just to show that I was aware of this issue and willing to make fair consideration. In fact, your article partly draws from the article I posted.

    Isaiah 53 prophecy. Is it about Jesus?

    And it really sounds to me like you're leaning toward running roughshod over the possibility that Christians of any sort, in any age, just might have known something about of which they were speaking, and hence you end up just shoving to the side any and all Christian hermeneutical application and study. For the life of me, I don't understand that. That's something I've noticed about you, Athée. You seem to start down a certain direction to "investigate," but you never get to the end and you abandon jump ship before getting to either the end of the project or to a conclusion.

    But, if you think the Jews can be trusted to give you the "full picture of the Scriptures as it is and as it was ever meant to be," then I can't stop you. But if you're going to get into Jewish Hermenuetics, you need to go the whole way and do some actual study about the history of the exegetical, rabbinical interpretive enterprise. As in Christianity, it's not as if it's monolithic and consistent, 'cuz it ain't.

    Hey. Wait a minute! Jesus was a Jew. Paul was a Jew. Peter and the rest of the gang were Jews. Oh, but they don't count, right?
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2018
  17. LoAmmi

    LoAmmi Dispassionate

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    For myself, I don't think the Christian argument makes no sense or anything like that. I just disagree with it the same way you disagree with ours.
    Plenty of wrong Jews in the world.
     
  18. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    No, it's not really the same way. You know why, right?

    ...and who just happen to be the "right" Jews, pray tell? :rolleyes:
     
  19. LoAmmi

    LoAmmi Dispassionate

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    Not really, no.

    Me. I'm right. Always. :)
     
  20. Athée

    Athée Well-Known Member

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    Yes, I didn't mean to imply that you were unaware of these issues. I don't think I have ever met anyone (believer or not) who is as willing as you are to go and read the very best of what the other side is arguing. It is a real testament to your character and your intellectual honesty and it (along with your delightfully left of center epistemology and quirky wit) is the main reason I enjoy hearing what you have to say on any topic. The article I posted was just one I came across while doing some reading and I thought it might be helpful :)

    Next up, do I start investigating and then end up not going the whole way. To an extent I think this is a fair criticism (in the constructive sense). The internal consistency of an interpretation in the area of Biblical studies, is a hobby interest of mine, born out of my former involvement with the faith as a very dedicated believer. It is an odd thing to be in a position where it is so clearly documented that i have updated my priors and changed my beliefs. There is a great episode on this subject on a fascinating podcast called "You are not so Smart" where the host talks with some of the researchers in that field. In any case, sometimes I pick at a thread of what seems like inconsistency within a certain version of Christianity because I am curious how a believer makes sense of it. Some of the time there are really good explanations that once they are shown to me I just have to agree that they are consistent. Sometimes the proposed reading strikes me as inconsistent no matter how fervently the believer makes the case. But where I think my approach to these topics might be frustrating to some, is that I don't see any reason to believe that the stories at the foundation of the beliefs are true, that there really is a God and that therefore what we are discussing is of the utmost importance. As such, when it appears to me that a thread has found its way into the weeds and gone about as far as it can, then I thank everyone for their thoughtfulness and taking the time to share their perspectives and I move on.

    In this particular thread my issue is not that I want to run roughshod over any Christian interpretation of the text, or that I trust the Jewish reading to give me the truth of the matter. Rather its that I don't find the Christian approach to the text to be convincing. If I were to accept that your god exists and that the New Testament is a reliable transmission of his thoughts and desires, then I would of course accept your reading, but without swallowing that particular view hook, line and sinker, the use of these chapters as a proof of god just seems deeply flawed.

    So far my two main objections seem to be unanswered.
    1. To look in the New Testament and read about the life of Jesus and then to look back to Isaiah and say it was a prophecy predicting the events in the life and death of Jesus, is to overlook the problem that the accounts of Jesus were written long afterwards and by people who not only would have been familiar with the Isaiah passages but also had motivation to write their own stories to resonate with the Jewish scriptures. The simple explanation for why the details of Jesus' life seem to align with some of the details in Isaiah is that the writers of the Jesus stories were intentionally shaping the stories that way...no supernatural foreknowledge and inspired texts needed.

    2. To read this passage as being about Jesus one would have to overcome the numerous objections raised in that article that seem to me, at this point, to be pretty compelling in showing that even if this passage was about the Messiah, rather than about the messianic age, it couldn't be talking about Jesus. Granted some of the objections are stronger than others but taken together the objections to the Jesus interpretation seem to be carrying the day.


    On a more general note, I am deeply suspicious of the hermenutics that are being suggested as ways of understanding these texts. We read all these passages about the Jewish people being unreliable (and I agree that the texts do show that) but this doesn't do anything to help the interpretation that this is about Jesus. At best they show that we should be cautious about accepting Jewish readings of the text, to which I say, fair enough. So now that the door is open, now that we might have reason to believe that other interpretations could be valid, its time to demonstrate that they are in fact coherent and make the best sense of the text. Maybe now is the time to make that clear case, why is it that this passage must actually be about Jesus. Clear away the ruble of my 2 main objections and build us a foundation that supports the belief that this is all about Jesus. Show us that this is really and truly a divine prophecy of the future, rather than the result of Christians gong back into the text with an agenda, trying to find their Jesus and snatching at any pieces that seem to fit. Set aside the ad hoc rational about types and shadows, about resonances or at least give a good reason to think that these are valid ways of supporting your conclusions. Obviously I am asking for a lot here, but the claim that the best explanation for the existence of the texts in Isaiah and the texts in the New Testament must be the result of divine foreknowledge and intervention is a big claim.

    To be transparent, I have a clear bias against accepting such a reading. If it really is the case that there are truly good and compelling reasons to see this as divine prophecy, that would go a long way towards me believing in a God. Like all humans my brain is happy in its current beliefs and will actively fight to maintain the status quo, but as far as I am aware, I am willing to be corrected and willing to believe. If divine prophecy is a real thing, I want to know about it, and these chapters in Isaiah are often cited as the very best examples of a prophecy about Jesus.

    Peace my friend
     
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