Critiquing the "Suffering Servant Prophecy"

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Jagella
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Critiquing the "Suffering Servant Prophecy"

Post by Jagella »

Many Christian apologists would have us believe that Jesus was prophesied centuries before the time he is believed to have lived and died. These supposed prophecies appear in many passages scattered about the Jewish scriptures and are quoted in the New Testament. Matthew, for example, is full of allusions to Old-Testament stories that the writer believed are predictions of the coming Messiah, Jesus. If these Old-Testament passages predicted the coming of Jesus, then we have virtual proof that Jesus is the Messiah and proof that the Christian god exists.

One such "prediction" I'd like to discuss is that of the "suffering servant" appearing in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Apologists Frank Turek and Norman Geisler call this passage "...perhaps the clearest and most complete prophecy of the coming Messiah." (1) They also tells us: "Just a casual reading of the passage should leave little doubt that the Suffering Servant is Jesus." (2)

Question for Debate: Is the "suffering servant" passage in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 a prophecy of the coming of Jesus?

Contrary to what Turek and Geisler claim, there is much doubt that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 truly predicts Jesus. For one thing, this "suffering servant" is referred to in the past tense implying that he was a man who had already lived when Isaiah wrote of him. In addition, Isaiah's suffering servant in 53:10 was "crushed by God," something that never happened to Jesus as far as we know. We are also told in 53:7 "...he did not open his mouth..." which cannot refer to Jesus because he opened his mouth wide all the time! Finally, if Isaiah 52:13-53:12 predicts Jesus, then why does it nowhere mention Jesus? You would think that if the Christian god wanted to predict Jesus, then he would mention Jesus' name!

Agree? Disagree?

(1) Frank Turek and Norman Geisler, I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Page 330
(2) Ibid. Page 333

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Re: Critiquing the "Suffering Servant Prophecy"

Post by 1213 »

Jagella wrote: ...
Contrary to what Turek and Geisler claim, there is much doubt that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 truly predicts Jesus. For one thing, this "suffering servant" is referred to in the past tense implying that he was a man who had already lived when Isaiah wrote of him. In addition, Isaiah's suffering servant in 53:10 was "crushed by God," ...
Who else it would be?

I think it is clearly about Jesus. And Jesus was crushed, because he was tortured, and Jesus thought God had rejected him.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lima sabachthani?" That is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Mat. 27:46

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Re: Critiquing the "Suffering Servant Prophecy"

Post by Jagella »

1213 wrote:Who else it would be?
Well, I asked you first. I assume your answer to the question for debate is that yes, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is a prophecy of the coming of Jesus.

Who else could it be? I don't know, and I think that goes for everybody who examines the passage in Isaiah. Isaiah doesn't tell us who this "suffering servant" might be. I don't see how it could be Jesus because as I explain in the OP, the suffering servant is a man who had already lived.

But many Jewish scholars argue that this "man" in Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel. According to one source, Who is God’s Suffering Servant? The Rabbinic Interpretation of Isaiah 53:
Despite strong objections from conservative Christian apologists, the prevailing rabbinic interpretation of Isaiah 53 ascribes the “servant� to the nation of Israel who silently endured unimaginable suffering at the hands of its gentile oppressors.
So we are told by Jewish scholars (and who would know better than they?) that the suffering servant is the nation of Israel and not Jesus. And note that the "gentile oppressors" mentioned in this quotation are largely Christians.
I think it is clearly about Jesus.
I would agree with you if the passage from Isaiah bothered to mention Jesus, but it does not mention him or anything he supposedly did.
And Jesus was crushed, because he was tortured, and Jesus thought God had rejected him.
I think it's a stretch to say that Jesus was "crushed" if he was tortured. Why doesn't Isaiah say that he was flogged, crowned with thorns, or crucified if he was writing about Jesus?

So I think that Christian apologists are deliberately misleading people into believing that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is a prophecy about Jesus, dishonesty that does not surprise me one bit.

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Re: Critiquing the "Suffering Servant Prophecy"

Post by Jagella »

1213 wrote:Who else it would be?
Well, I asked you first. I assume your answer to the question for debate is that yes, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is a prophecy of the coming of Jesus.

Who else could it be? I don't know, and I think that goes for everybody who examines the passage in Isaiah. Isaiah doesn't tell us who this "suffering servant" might be. I don't see how it could be Jesus because as I explain in the OP, the suffering servant is a man who had already lived.

But many Jewish scholars argue that this "man" in Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel. According to one source, Who is God’s Suffering Servant? The Rabbinic Interpretation of Isaiah 53:
Despite strong objections from conservative Christian apologists, the prevailing rabbinic interpretation of Isaiah 53 ascribes the “servant� to the nation of Israel who silently endured unimaginable suffering at the hands of its gentile oppressors.
So we are told by Jewish scholars (and who would know better than they?) that the suffering servant is the nation of Israel and not Jesus. And note that the "gentile oppressors" mentioned in this quotation are largely Christians.
I think it is clearly about Jesus.
I would agree with you if the passage from Isaiah bothered to mention Jesus, but it does not mention him or anything he supposedly did.
And Jesus was crushed, because he was tortured, and Jesus thought God had rejected him.
I think it's a stretch to say that Jesus was "crushed" if he was tortured. Why doesn't Isaiah say that he was flogged, crowned with thorns, or crucified if he was writing about Jesus?

So I think that Christian apologists are deliberately misleading people into believing that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is a prophecy about Jesus, dishonesty that does not surprise me one bit.

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Re: Critiquing the "Suffering Servant Prophecy"

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Jagella wrote: So we are told by Jewish scholars (and who would know better than they?)
Christian scholars? Secular scholars? The assumption that folk belonging to one particular ideological camp must be better-informed than folk belonging to other camps is notoriously illogical, but it seems that critics of Christianity are frequently happy to indulge such a notion whenever it suits their agenda. When it comes to the murky waters of translation it's certainly important to compare both Christian and Jewish translations to mitigate potential biases on that score, and likewise to objectively consider all perspectives on interpretation: But the view which says or implies that these modern folk are Jews and therefore they must have a better understanding of iron-age writings than modern folk who are Christians is laughably irrational.

There is some merit to the Jewish interpretation; there is also some merit to the Christian interpretation. I think that anyone reading it through would recognize that deutero-Isaiah is a rather confusing work.

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Jagella wrote: So I think that Christian apologists are deliberately misleading people into believing that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is a prophecy about Jesus, dishonesty that does not surprise me one bit.
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Re: Critiquing the "Suffering Servant Prophecy"

Post by 1213 »

Jagella wrote: …. I don't see how it could be Jesus because as I explain in the OP, the suffering servant is a man who had already lived.

But many Jewish scholars argue that this "man" in Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel. …
It is interesting how it can be interpret to mean nation, if even you think it means man who had already lived. However, in Biblical point of view, Jesus has been right from the beginning. Jesus was the one who was used by God in creation, if we believe what the Bible tells:

in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins; who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him were all things created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him.
Colossians 1:14-16

That is why “man who had already lived� fits well to Jesus.
Jagella wrote:…So we are told by Jewish scholars (and who would know better than they?) that the suffering servant is the nation of Israel and not Jesus. And note that the "gentile oppressors" mentioned in this quotation are largely Christians….
It would be nice to know how “gentile oppressors� are largely Christians. I find it difficult to believe that. Also, the interpretation that suffering man is Israel, seems quite farfetched, all though I agree that Israel has suffered a lot and unfortunately it seems they will have to suffer even more. And it is really sad, if there is Christians who oppress, it is totally wrong, if they do so and I hope Christians would have enough wisdom and understanding not to do so.
Jagella wrote:…So I think that Christian apologists are deliberately misleading people into believing that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is a prophecy about Jesus, dishonesty that does not surprise me one bit.
I personally don’t think it is important to claim Isaiah is about Jesus. But I think the connection is strong and therefore in my opinion saying that it is about Jesus is not dishonest. Yet, maybe it would be better, if Christians just say, “I believe it is about Jesus, because the description fits well to Jesus�.

Also, all other options are in my opinion even further from the description Isaiah has. But I would have no problem, if it would be about some other, it just would need to be reasonable claim and explanation.

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Re: Critiquing the "Suffering Servant Prophecy"

Post by Jagella »

1213 wrote:It is interesting how it can be interpret to mean nation, if even you think it means man who had already lived.
I was wrong by interpreting the passage in Isaiah as referring to a man. I read the link in my post 3, and now I see that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is referring to Israel. Did you read Who is God’s Suffering Servant? The Rabbinic Interpretation of Isaiah 53? It explains:
The stimulus for the world’s baffled response contained in this famed cluster of chapters at the end of the Book of Isaiah is the unexpected salvation of Israel. The redemption of God’s people is the central theme in the preceding verse (52:12) where the “you� signifies the Jewish people who are sheltered and delivered by God. Moreover, the “afflicted barren woman� in the following chapter is protected and saved by God, and is also universally recognized as the nation of Israel2 (54:1).
Why do you ignore this evidence that Isaiah was speaking of the nation of Israel?
... in Biblical point of view, Jesus has been right from the beginning. Jesus was the one who was used by God in creation...That is why “man who had already lived� fits well to Jesus.
Jesus never suffered from "the beginning" but was to suffer only when he came to the earth from the sky. So when Isaiah wrote of this suffering servant, somebody who had clearly already suffered, Jesus had not yet been born and had not yet suffered. So again, Isaiah could not have been speaking of Jesus.
It would be nice to know how “gentile oppressors� are largely Christians.
I'd strongly recommend you study the history of anti-Jewish hatred. Many Christians have persecuted Jews for almost 2,000 years. These anti-Jewish sentiments are rooted in the New Testament.
I personally don’t think it is important to claim Isaiah is about Jesus.
I'm responding to the apologetic made by Turek and Geisler. If any apologist wishes to claim like they do that the Jewish scriptures predict Jesus, then they need to realize that not everybody will believe them.

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Re: Critiquing the "Suffering Servant Prophecy"

Post by 1213 »

Jagella wrote: I was wrong by interpreting the passage in Isaiah as referring to a man. I read the link in my post 3, and now I see that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is referring to Israel. Did you read Who is God’s Suffering Servant? The Rabbinic Interpretation of Isaiah 53? It explains:
The stimulus for the world’s baffled response contained in this famed cluster of chapters at the end of the Book of Isaiah is the unexpected salvation of Israel. The redemption of God’s people is the central theme in the preceding verse (52:12) where the “you� signifies the Jewish people who are sheltered and delivered by God. Moreover, the “afflicted barren woman� in the following chapter is protected and saved by God, and is also universally recognized as the nation of Israel2 (54:1).
Why do you ignore this evidence that Isaiah was speaking of the nation of Israel?
Isaiah 53 speaks of a man, for example:

He was despised, and rejected by men; a man of suffering, and acquainted with disease: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we didn't respect him.
Isaiah 53:3

Normally, when Bible speaks of nation, or nation of Israel, it uses female, not male form, like for example here:

Again will I build you, and you shall be built, O virgin of Israel: again shall you be adorned with your tambourines, and shall go forth in the dances of those who make merry… … How long will you go here and there, you backsliding daughter? …
Jeremiah 31:4,22

Nations are in the Bible usually females, not males. That is one reason why I think Isaiah is not about the nation of Israel. Even though I respect Jewish scholars, I rather believe what the Bible tells. If one reads the whole Isaiah 53, it is really difficult to see how it would mean the whole nation of Israel. Like for example Isaiah 53:8-9, I would like to see the explanation that fits it to the nation. I can understand if person doesn’t accept Jesus as the man in Isaiah 53, but claiming it is the nation of Israel is in my opinion baseless and absurd.
Jagella wrote:Jesus never suffered from "the beginning" but was to suffer only when he came to the earth from the sky. So when Isaiah wrote of this suffering servant, somebody who had clearly already suffered, Jesus had not yet been born and had not yet suffered. So again, Isaiah could not have been speaking of Jesus.
But where was it said “suffered from the beginning�? And what is the beginning?
Jagella wrote:...These anti-Jewish sentiments are rooted in the New Testament.
I think that is also not true. One cannot show even one anti-Jewish sentiment in the New Testament. New Testament is against hypocrites and people who do wrongly, but not anti-Jewish. After all, disciples of Jesus (“Christians�) are counted Jews in the New Testament.

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Re: Critiquing the "Suffering Servant Prophecy"

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1213 wrote: Normally, when Bible speaks of nation, or nation of Israel, it uses female, not male form, like for example here:
Good point. And that includes the very next chapter of Isaiah (even according to Jagella's link):
  • Isaiah 54:1 Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
    burst into song and shout,
    you who have not been in labor!
    For the children of the desolate woman will be more
    than the children of her that is married, says the Lord. . . .

    5 For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
    the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.
    6 For the Lord has called you
    like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
    like the wife of a man’s youth when she is cast off,
    says your God.
    7 For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with great compassion I will gather you.
It's also worth noting that probably the most famous 'kingly' messianic passage is the one from Isaiah 11 (the iron will lie down with the lamp and all that); but the servant songs seem to reflect that passage in many respects (the servant being endowed with God's spirit, being a light for the nations and so on) and the opening to chapter 53 seems to be a particularly clear mirroring of it:
  • Isaiah 11:1 (Jewish translation) And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a twig shall grow forth out of his roots. . . .
    v10 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the root of Jesse, that standeth for an ensign of the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek; and his resting-place shall be glorious.

    Isaiah 53:1 'Who would have believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of HaShem been revealed?
    v2 For he shot up right forth as a sapling, and as a root out of a dry ground; he had no form nor comeliness, that we should look upon him, nor beauty that we should delight in him.

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