Rethinking Isaiah 53:5 and Our Physical Healing

Because of the recent events in Lakeland, Florida, I was forced to rethink my position on Isaiah 53:5. You see, over the years, many of my brothers and sisters—especially among the Pentecostals—have turned to Isaiah 53:5 to claim physical healing in their lives. 

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
       he was crushed for our iniquities;
       the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
       and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5, TNIV, emphasis added)

Here’s the grind: before I could even read and formulate my own position on Isaiah 53:5, I was taught that “by his wounds we are healed” was all about spiritual healing, and not physical.  And over the years biblical commenters have only reaffirmed that position.  For example in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, we find this:

Ironically His wounds, inflicted by the soldiers’ scourging and which were followed by His death, are the means of healing believers’ spiritual wounds in salvation.” (p. 1108, emphasis added).

It is true that the Hebrew word behind “healed,” râphâ, could be taken either figuratively or literally.  But when we find Peter—a New Testament writer—applying Isaiah 53:5 figuratively in reference to the death of Christ on the cross (1 Peter 2:24), we know exactly how the prophet Isaiah wished for us to understand “by his wounds we are healed.”

But this understanding of Isaiah 53:5 in no way denies physical healing in our lives today.

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31 Responses to Rethinking Isaiah 53:5 and Our Physical Healing

  1. Richard says:

    I agree that Isaiah 53:5 has nothing to do with physical healing whatsoever.

  2. I’m with Richard as far as this life is concerned. Of course, there will be no sickness in the life to come.

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    I’m not sure that 1 Peter 2:24 says what you think it does on this matter. What the cross teaches us is that Jesus’ wounds were physical, and if the wounds were physical then surely so was the healing. We see clearly that Jesus was able to heal, presumably prospectively by his own wounds, and that his servants are able to heal in his name. The Greek word iaomai “heal” used in 1 Peter 2:24 is used in the NT overwhelmingly of physical healing; the only clear counter-example is in Hebrews 12:13 which is part of a metaphor. So it seems likely that Peter understood this verse in Isaiah in terms of physical healing.

  4. Martin says:

    TC,

    I agree, Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:21-25 deal with spiritual healing and not physical healing.

    What did we “need” healing from? Physical sickness? No. What we needed healing from was our sin problem. To solve our problem the Lord Jesus Christ “was pierced through for our transgressions” and “He was crushed for our iniquities”. We had all “gone astray” and on the cross He bore “the iniquity of us all”. The healing that the Lord Jesus Christ provided on the cross was much better than a mere physical healing from a temporary physical sickness. The healing He provided on the cross was eternal healing. While the Lord does sometimes heal physical disease, the focus of these passages is salvation.

    In Christ,
    Martin.

    • HDH says:

      Right on Martin,If context means anything,And it does, any thinking person will see we cannot insert physical healing in the middle of Is. 53:5 without going off on some tangent elsewhere. Of course saved people are invited to ask for physical healing,and we should take most any avenue open to us to bring about our physical healing.We should not be consumed with. Preserving life what we are warned is brief, But be more concerned of what is eternal And that is why Jesus came came and became sin for us not only for Israel,,but for the ventricles as well,Because both are Winsock.

  5. tc robinson says:

    Richard and Stan, I’ve always heard it used in connection to physical healing but was taught differently about the matter.

    Peter, the fact that we find a metaphoric use of iaomai only goes to show that its metaphoric understanding in 1 Pet 2:24 is quite solid.

    The object of healing on the cross according to Isaiah prophecy is not Jesus himself but humanity, so I don’t understand the point that you’re making

    Jesus did not die for his own physical healing. I find no Scripture to support that assertion.

    I have to agree with Martin, at this point on the importance of humanity’s spiritual condition and the healing needed.

  6. Nick Norelli says:

    TC: I don’t think that the author of 1Peter used it figuratively at all. I’m with Peter (Kirk) here, a lone example of a metaphoric use is the exception, not the rule, so I wouldn’t say that “the fact that we find a metaphoric use of iaomai only goes to show that its metaphoric understanding in 1 Pet 2:24 is quite solid.” I think such an interpretation is quite flimsy.

    Also, I think you might have missed what Peter said. He said that, We see clearly that Jesus was able to heal, presumably prospectively BY his own wounds, and that his servants are able to heal in his name.” So he wasn’t saying that Jesus died for his own physical healing.

    And let’s not overlook that there is precedent in the NT for understanding Isaiah 53 with regard to physical healing in Matthew 8:16-17.

    Martin: But the Bible describes people as being “dead in sin” (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13), in need of new life. It doesn’t describe them as being “sick with sin” in need of spiritual healing.

    I’d recommend Michael Brown’s Israel’s Divine Healer for more on this.

  7. tc robinson says:

    Nick, I did miss Peter point about Christ healing prospectively. Thanks for highlighting that. But this prospective idea is only a conjecture by Peter.

    Nick, I was hoping that someone would have turned to Matt 8 on this one. Yes, we do find a quotation from Isaiah 53 in a physical healing context, but it’s not our verse in question.

    Peter’s use of Isaiah 53:5 seems to be metaphoric to me. Consider the context. It has to do with “dying to sin and living for righteousness,” and then the Isaiah quotation comes as an application. That’s the natural reading of the text I see.

  8. Nick Norelli says:

    TC: It’s funny how what seems natural to one personal seems far from it to another. As I see it, Peter is highlighting the point I made, that sin is viewed as something that causes death, not sickness, and it is through Christ’s sacrifice that “we can be dead to sin and live for what’s right” (NLT) Peter then continues by highlighting that the full extent of the atonement is not only spiritual renewal, but also physical healing. I think it’s wrong to frame this as an either/or issue when as far as I can tell, Peter sees it as a both/and.

    I’d also note that we can’t divorce Isaiah 53:4 from Isaiah 53:5. My point was that there is a NT precedent for seeing Isaiah 53 (the entirety of it) as having reference to physical healing.

  9. Peter Kirk says:

    TC, I am certainly not suggesting that Jesus died for his own physical healing. No, as the text makes clear he died for our physical healing, according to the regular meaning of the Greek verb.

    Nick, thanks for the support and for answering TC’s point about the metaphor just as I would have done, also for mentioning Matthew 8:16-17.

    TC, do you then accept that Isaiah 53:4, as quoted in Matthew 8:17, is about physical healing? In that case surely, as Nick also pointed out, the subject is continued in the next verse. There is perhaps a chiasmus in 53:4-5: healing – punishment – sins – punishment – healing.

  10. tc robinson says:

    Nick, the context of 1 Peter 2:24 is one of spiritual healing from sins. Note the number of references to the sin-condition: “He himself bore our sins,” “we might die to sins,” and “you were like sheep going astray.” I think it is safe to conclude that Peter is making a spiritual application of Isaiah 53:5.

    Nick, what hermeneutical principle dictates that we have to understand Isaiah 53:4 and 53:5 together?

    Peter, I hate to misrepresent others, so I’m sure glad we got that straightened out.

    Yes, I see Matt 8:16-17 as having to deal with physical healing. The context makes that abundantly clear. I don’t think I can overturn that one. 😉

    Peter, now you have me rethinking the matter on your appeal to the chiasmus. It’s not fair. 🙂

    But the chiasmus has “sins” as its focus, but then we find Isaiah 53:4 being applied to physical healing. Hmm…

  11. Kevin Sam says:

    I have to agree with Nick. I believe that Isa. 53:5 refers to both physical and spiritual and even emotional. Where does the text isolate healing only to the spiritual?

    I like Peter’s use of Matt. 8:17. Moreover, Jesus’ afflictions from Matt. 8:17 were not just spiritual–it was physical, spiritual, and emotional pain that was inflicted upon Jesus. So I see Jesus’ redemption for all of our afflictions. Though this doesn’t make sense to some, this seems to make much more sense to me.

  12. Peter Kirk says:

    TC, you asked Nick “what hermeneutical principle dictates that we have to understand Isaiah 53:4 and 53:5 together?” If the answer isn’t obvious, and even if my chiasmus doesn’t apply, we are talking about adjacent parts of a single discourse, with no indication of a section break or change of subject between them. So there should be a presumption that they are about more or less the same thing. Now maybe “sins” is the focus of the chiasmus, that doesn’t mean that the outer part of it can be ignored.

    Kevin, you are right to note that no separation is made between physical, spiritual and emotional suffering for Jesus or healing for us.

  13. tc robinson says:

    Kevin, if we can establish physical healing from Isaiah 53:5, then I think it would be holistic indeed.

    Peter, I must admit that a continuous thought is present from 53:4 to 53:5. But two NT writers apply the verses differently.

    Regarding the “outer part of the chaismus,” it’s there as part of the whole, pointing to the central point.

  14. Peter Kirk says:

    TC, there are cases of different NT writers, or even the same one, applying the same OT verse in different ways. That is because the meaning of an OT verse is not exhausted by the particular application of it in the NT, nor is its meaning redefined by how an NT writer uses it. Was Isaiah 6:9-10 written to the people of Galilee in Jesus’ time (Matthew 13:14-15) or to the ancestors of the Jewish leaders in Rome (Acts 28:26-27)? How would you explain Matthew 23:39 if the meaning of Psalm 118:26 was exhausted when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey? So Isaiah 53:4,5 can be holistically about both physical and spiritual healing, and applied by NT writers to both.

  15. tc robinson says:

    Peter, you have argued your points quite well, but I noticed a few problems: 1. Isaiah 6:9-10 as used in the NT is referring to a type of people in both cases, so that one meaning is being carried.

    2. While line one of Psalm 118:26 is fulfilled in one setting and line two in another, I don’t think you wished to apply the same to Isaiah 53:4 and then 53:5.

    I see 53:4 as used Jesus in a physical healing setting but 53:5 in a spiritual setting. The question then becomes, Can we reverse 53:5 to refer to a physical healing and 53:4 to a spiritual healing?

    Still another question, Are we to understand Isaiah 53:4, 5 to refer to holistic healing?

  16. Brian says:

    I agree it is a both/and situation in Isa 53:5 – but then again I am biased as a pentecostal (pentecostals can sit at the table but are more often seen and not heard). I still think one can be exegetically honest and argue for a both and situation.

    Jesus healed before his resurrection, why not after? Is he not the same yesterday, today and forever?

  17. tc robinson says:

    Brian, I’m in no way denying healing for today. I’m just contending for a “better” understanding of Isaiah 53:5.

    Since we find a NT writer’s application of the text in question, I find it difficult to argue for another.

  18. Hello all

    If physical healing is really found in the atonement, then should not we be able to claim physical healing in this life without any qualifications?

    But the fact is that physical healing is not guaranteed to the children of God in this life– we see this by experience (not all believers are healed from all maladies in response to prayer) and we see this by the testimony of Scripture.

    When referring to Isaiah 53, 1 Peter 2:24 clearly refers to spiritual healing of our souls and Matthew 8:17 tells us that the healing ministry of Jesus on earth (not the cross) was a fulfillment of Messianic prophecy.

    Bentley, like others who the espouse Word-Faith/Pentecostal views on healing, has built his foundation for healing on something that is simply not there. If healing for the body was a provision of the atonement would not Paul have taught the church to claim it?

    By the way, there is an interesting and similar debate/discussion going on at this blog: http://ceruleansanctum.com/2008/08/cleansing-the-charismatic-crackup-final-thoughts.html.

    Blessings,

    Alex

  19. Peter Kirk says:

    Yes, TC, Isaiah 53:4-5 is all holistic, making no separation between physical and spiritual healing. For that matter the NT doesn’t make a distinction. Look at how sozo is used, and translated “heal” where the context is about physical healing and “save” where it is not. That is us imposing modern western categories on an ancient eastern text.

  20. Lance says:

    Oh my…what are you afraid of? Having what God wants for you? God wants you well! I accepted healing October 9th, 2008 and I would never put limits on God such as He wants us spiritually well, but not physically well. I’d like to refer you all to Andrew Wommack Ministries at awmi.net . Or listen to him on The Gospel Truth on TV! His teaching is clear and comes right out of what the bible does say, not what it does not say! Praise God!

    • Osmo Joronen says:

      We humans seem to take what is so simple and direct and twist it and turn it and analyze it to death and spit out a wrong conclusion. Garbage in, garbage out. We make wrong assumptions to begin with regarding the passage, crunch the numbers in our minds and out comes the answer – Isaiah 53:5 must mean spiritual healing. What nonsense. The word for healing used in the Hebrew means physical healing, and it is used that way many times before the verse in question. Then suddenly the word healing transforms to spiritual healing. Check Keith Moore’s God’s Will to heal, Atonement 25:00 and he will explain it to all you who just can’t believe that the Atonement was for our sins and for our illnesses, plus deliverance. Andrew Wommack says much the same thing in his 35 days of half hour teachings on God Wants You Well. Why on earth would a loving God, your father, not provide for your healing? He is your father. Jesus is your shepherd. Does a shepherd let his sheep get all sick and die, or does he take care of that sickness? If not, what kind of a father, what kind of a good shepherd is He? God wants You Well. What Jesus did for us was 1) He shed His blood – which takes care of the sin problem forever, and 2) His body took a beating – that was for our sicknesses. That is the truth. Both are for our redemption. God said He sent His word and healed them. Jesus is the word made flesh who God sent. Are you guys saying that God did not provide for our healing? If so, read your Bible again. It is full of healing and even prosperity. Believing otherwise will put doubt that God wants you well, and that is the prime reason traditional religion is notorious for having little or no healing in their churches.

  21. tc robinson says:

    Yes, TC, Isaiah 53:4-5 is all holistic, making no separation between physical and spiritual healing. For that matter the NT doesn’t make a distinction. Look at how sozo is used, and translated “heal” where the context is about physical healing and “save” where it is not. That is us imposing modern western categories on an ancient eastern text.

    Fair enough! I guess I see your point now—holistic it is then.

    Lance, thanks for sharing.

  22. Peter Kirk says:

    Alexander, why do you write “would not Paul have taught the church to claim it” when in fact James (5:14-16) has taught just this? Does Paul have greater authority or inspiration than James? Anyway Paul clearly believed in and practised Christian healing (see Acts 14:9-10, 19:11-12, 28:8-9, 1 Corinthians 12:9,28,30), even if he didn’t explicitly teach about it.

  23. tc robinson says:

    Alexander, sorry I missed your comment. Thanks for stopping by.

    I want to add a question to those asked by Peter: Is there a holistic possibility in Isa 53:5?

  24. Robert says:

    Hey TC,

    I have to agree with Nick, and Kevin. That seems to be what is being implied. I’ll let the Hebrew experts provide further meaning into the word.

    But the reading seems clear “we are healed by His wounds”, the previous verses all state the Jesus bore our sickness, carried our pains so I would think that the statement “..we are healed” is making reference back those verses?

    Anyhow, curious how this post develops.

  25. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » The Exchange Made at the Cross

  26. Carol says:

    I’ve been studying Is. 53:4-5 and the scriptures that goes along with the concept of healing in the New Testament. I concluded that this passage refers without a doubt to both: the healing in our soul and the healing in our body. Our LORD Jesus Christ not only broke the power of sin but all the consequences of it that could be manifested in our soul and body, these include: illness and death. We will always have a choice to make, we can take possession of all the benefits of the cross 100% or not. It is up to us.
    Also, about Lakeland. Personally I’ve experienced supernatural movement of the Spirit and there has been other times that I have seen some things that are overreactions. Praise the LORD we have the Holy Spirit that gives testimony in our spirit of what is the Truth. It is a pitty what took place on Lakeland, it is my prayer that all the believers set our eyes on Jesus and not on man. Even though the leader in Lakeland apparently was a deceiver, I can believe the LORD honored the ones that had true faith in Jesus and without a doubt there were some truthful testimonies about the ressurection power that works in all who believe.

  27. tc robinson says:

    Carol, thanks for your input on Isaiah 53:5. I believe you’re correct about the applications.

    I quit doubting people’s experiences despite the circumstances. They have to know before their God.

  28. blondell greene says:

    I have the understanding that it was by his death on the cross that we are spiritual healed if we accept it. if it is by his stripes we were healed, then what was the purpose of the death?

  29. Ryan says:

    OK…I’m late on this, but why don’t we just look at EVERY use of Isaiah 53 in the New Testament? Matthew 8:14-17 says that Jesus healed the sick in fulfillment of Isaiah 53. I don’t entirely understand how this plays out and I DON’T think this means we are guaranteed to be healed if we have faith, but it does mean that physical healing is somehow included in the death of Christ. Check itout for yourself. I am NOT a health, wealth, prosperity type at all, but let’s seek to be biblical at all times.

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