Doesn’t it say that it pleased God to crush Jesus? Wasn’t He stricken and smitten by God? We will look at these questions today in part five of this special Easter series.
We’ve been tackling some of our assumptions that we have about the atonement. My intention is not to be provocative but to help us take an honest look at some of the conflicts that our popular theory of atonement have created..
It’s been my position that the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) theory that dominates Western Christianity has created serious conflicts our view of our heavenly Father–the Source of all Love. I simply offer this as an alternative view for your consideration.
Everyone agrees that Isaiah 53 is a prophetic description of Christ’s atoning death on the cross. There’s really no disagreement on most of the passage except for a couple of verses. We will focus on those verses because they seem to point to the PSA position and are often used as a proof-text that Jesus was punished by God for our sakes.
The first controversial part I want to look at is Isaiah 53:3-4. These verses, we are told, show that Jesus was stricken and smitten by God. I will use bold-type to highlight who’s doing what here:
“He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.” (NKJV)
I’ve highlighted that the idea that Jesus was being stricken and smitten by God was our perspective of what was happening, not necessarily what was actually happening.
We know from the gospel accounts about those who wondered why this One who claimed to be the Messiah didn’t come down off the cross to save Himself (Matt.27:42). They had the wrong perspective.
WE are the ones who turned our faces away from Him, we are the one who esteemed Him stricken by God. Ironically, as I’ve shown in my last post, we were the ones striking Him!
The irony of this reminds me of two toddlers playing in a sandbox. One bonks the other one on the head with a toy dump truck and then gets upset because the kid he hit is crying!
Hopefully, this one’s fairly easy to see without further explanation. These verses don’t prove that God was the one doing the bonking here at all.
Of course, if you’ve studied this passage, you will certainly now ask, “Well, what about verse 10?” Good question! Let’s look at it.
We briefly looked at the word “ransom” in part three and saw how the apostles and early church might’ve understood the word. We will take a similar approach here, turning again to the Septuagint (LXX). First, here’s a translation we’re familiar with (bold-type added):
“But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.” (NASB)
The Hebrew word for “crush” is דָּכָא (dâkâ’): it means “to crush, be crushed, be contrite, broken.”
Pretty straight-forward, right? Again, not so fast. Let’s now look at how the apostle’s Bible (LXX) rendered this verse. I will use two different English LXX translations for comparison, highlighting the same words as in the Hebrew translation (bold-type added):
(L.C.L. Brenton) “The Lord also is pleased to purge him from his stroke.
If ye can give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived seed”
(NETS) “And the Lord desires to cleanse him from his blow.
If you give an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived offspring.”
The Greek word that the Hebrew text rendered “crush” is καθαρίσαι (katharisai) in the LXX. This is where we get the English word, “cauterize” (like to cauterize a wound).
We find variations of the word katharisai in the New Testament. It means “to cleanse, render pure, purify.”
For instance, we find this same Greek word in Matthew 8:2 (bold-type added and words in brackets added):
“A leper came up to him, knelt down, and said, “Lord, if you are willing,
you can make me clean“ [katharisai | καθαρίσαι]
What a difference a word makes! What the Greek Septuagint is basically telling us is that it pleased the Father to heal Jesus of His wounds that we inflicted! As Jesus took our disease and healed us, the Father cleansed the Son of His Love.
Why is there such a difference in translations? One theory is that the Hebrew Masoretic text was put together through the interpretative lens of rabbinical scholars, almost a millennium after the Temple’s destruction and being driven out of Israel, who had long-since interpreted Isaiah 53 as describing Israel’s sufferings instead of being a Messianic prophecy. This is pure speculation but it would explain a lot. Of course, in our PSA-dominated world of scholars and translators, they would not be motivated to question this wording since it fits nicely with their assumptions. The Easter Orthodox Church never held these assumptions.
One last point. Even if we go with the Hebrew version of Isaiah 53:10, could it be that the Father was not doing the crushing but was pleased in what our crushing of Him would accomplish? The same Blood we spilled becomes our cleansing.
This would be like James telling us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” because it produces patience which has its perfect work (James 1:2-5). We don’t rejoice because of the trials, but in what enduring them produces.
No matter how we look at this, we cannot conclusively say that the Father was the one punishing Jesus. My interpretative “glasses” see a loving Father, healing His beloved Son of the wounds and strokes we put on Him. This is what love looks like in the Father’s embrace.
We will take a look at the word “propitiation” next time.