Translation commentary on Isaiah 53:5

This verse underlines the theme of the servant suffering for those (or with those) who had rejected him.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: These two lines are parallel and synonymous in meaning. But renders the common Hebrew conjunction, which is literally “And.” Most of the versions consulted render it as a contrastive conjunction here. However, it may be translated “And,” since this verse continues to describe the servant’s suffering referred to in the previous verse. The Hebrew passive participles rendered wounded and bruised refer to his physical suffering. The verb for wounded comes from the same Hebrew root as the noun for “grief” in verses 3-4. It can also mean “pierced” (New International Version, Revised English Bible, New American Bible). The verb translated bruised carries the sense of something being “crushed” (New International Version, Revised English Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh). It suggests great suffering.

The Hebrew preposition min rendered for twice in these two lines is a key to understanding the nature of the servant’s suffering. The view that his suffering was vicarious depends on its interpretation. The preposition min normally points to a separation (rendered “from”), but it does have a wide semantic range. However, it rarely has the sense of “on behalf of.” The Hebrew preposition with that sense would be be, which can denote some kind of exchange. So it is probably best to view the preposition min here as meaning “because of” (Good News Translation), indicating that the servant suffered as a result of the people’s sins. New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh reflects this sense by rendering these two lines as “But he was wounded because of our sins, Crushed because of our iniquities.”

The Hebrew word for transgressions refers to deliberate rebellion against God (see the comments on 43.25). For iniquities see 1.4.

Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole is literally “The chastisement/punishment of our peace [was] on him.” This means the servant’s suffering resulted in bringing the well-being of those who rejected him. The Hebrew word for chastisement refers to discipline or correction, so it has a positive purpose. Here it leads to the wholeness of the people. Good News Translation, New International Version, and Bible en français courant use the term “punishment.” Made us whole renders the Hebrew word shalom. For this word see the comments on 26.12.

And with his stripes we are healed is parallel and synonymous in meaning with the previous line. His stripes refers to the marks left on the servant’s body after he was beaten. The Hebrew term rendered stripes refers to a blow or hit and is used here to speak of the servant’s physical suffering. Instead of stripes, New Revised Standard Version, New Jerusalem Bible, and New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh use “bruises.” Good News Translation and Bible en français courant say “blows,” while New International Version and Revised English Bible have “wounds.” We are healed is a poetic way of describing restoration, the return to a state of well-being (see also 57.18-19). This expression is similar in meaning to made us whole. Both these figurative expressions are taken from the medical world. If they are rendered literally, they should not give the impression that the people needed some medical treatment and that by beating the servant they were healed. If there is such a risk, the verb healed may be rendered “restored.” For both expressions Revised English Bible has “restored us to health” and “we are healed”; Good News Translation uses “We are healed” and “made whole”; and New International Version translates “brought us peace” and “we are healed.” Possible renderings that replace the medical imagery are “made us good/strong … we are set right” and “took care of us … we are [fully] helped/sustained/supported.”

Some languages may prefer active forms for the passive verbs in this verse. There is not any claim here that God was the agent for the healing. The third translation example below uses active forms, without mentioning an agent.

For the translation of this verse consider the following examples:

• But he was pierced because of our rebellion,
crushed because of our sins.
He suffered to make us whole again,
and by his bruises we are healed.

• Our rebellion caused him to be pierced,
our sins led to his being crushed.
He suffered so that we might be made whole,
his bruises gave us healing.

• Our disobedience led to his suffering,
our sins caused his pain.
He suffered so that we could become whole again,
his bruises restored us to full health.

Quoted with permission from Ogden, Graham S. and Sterk, Jan. A Handbook on Isaiah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2011. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

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