Examining Isaiah 53:5
In the first and second articles, I explained a teaching that added sickness and shortage of finances to the atonement. In other words, Jesus died in order that some may be saved from their sins, healed from their sicknesses, and brought out of poverty into financial abundance. I also explained a potential danger that arises from such belief in an attempt to express the importance of dealing with this doctrine.
Three key passages were brought up in order to argue the belief that healing and financial prosperity are made available in the atonement. They are Isaiah 53:5, John 10:10, and 1 John 3:8. At this moment, I’ll focus my attention on the first one.
Isaiah 53:5 reads, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
The argument says that the literal interpretation of this verse requires us to believe that Jesus suffered physically so that we can be healed physically. In other words, the word “healed” is interpreted with its most strict meaning and not figurative or metaphorical. It literally means, “to make healthy and whole.”
In the common use of the word today, we might find the word to be restricted to physical wholeness. However, in and of itself, the meaning of the word does not require physicality. In fact, an English dictionary gives one meaning as “to free from evil” which pays mind to matter. This is true especially when there is no object declared in the context as is the case here in Isaiah 53:5.
The writer does not tell us what is healed. Otherwise, we would not be discussing this now. The object of healing is not mentioned, but is implied. And, in my opinion, it is clear.
Nevertheless, the real issue is not over the English word heal but over the Hebrew word rapah. It is used in Isaiah six other times (Is. 6:10; 19:22; 30:26; 57:18-19) and in over half of these occurrences it refers to spiritual repair. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the word is used the same way. Jeremiah 3:22 reads, “Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness.” And, Psalm 107:20 says, “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.”
So, to begin with, the word translated into “we are healed” in Isaiah 53:5 is not restricted to physical repair only. To take the word at its most strict sense does not require it to refer to physical healing. Rather, it only requires the making whole of some thing.
The question is then, what is the thing that is healed? What is the object of the healing that we have because of the stripes that Jesus suffered? Without investigating the surrounding text, we have reason to believe that it is either physical healing or spiritual healing based on how the word is used in other passages.
When we study the context of Isaiah 53, I think that we discover a spiritual theme. It is dealing with Christ’s intercessory work between God and man. It is about He paying the physical price for our spiritual well-being. In fact, Peter interpreted verse 5 in this way, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (1 Pet. 2:24).
Notice the pattern that Isaiah provides in our text. He parallels the affliction of Christ with the redemption of man. He was “wounded” for our “transgression.” He was “crushed” for our “iniquities.” His “chastisement” brought us “peace.” And lastly, His “stripes” made us whole. He healed our souls.
It is important to note that all of this is translated into the past tense. The Hebrew verb forms here indicate that these are actions that are done once and not ongoing. So it is inappropriate to say that “by His stripes we are being healed” as would make sense if it were meant to be understood as physical healing. Rather, Jesus suffered the afflictions, died on the cross, and healed us once for all – spiritually. This is healing is actual and real. It is not coming and going.
If it were meant to be physical healing and meant to be coming and going then we must also understand our status before God the same way. Our peace derived from eternal hope will come and go. So will our salvation from sin. Physical healing brutally changes the meaning of the passage.
Still, this is not to say that physical healing is never experienced. It is safe for us to argue that the healing noted in this passage extends from the spiritual over into the physical in some ways. For example, knowing that we are once for all delivered from the guilt of sin, we can rest our anxieties because of our eternal hope. We can be emotionally and mentally sound no matter what our physical experience might be. But, to be fully healed in every sense of the word will not be a reality until we are resurrected. Therefore, healing is a benefit of the atonement, never an irrevocable gift.
Still, the fact remains that Isaiah 53:5 is not giving us any guarantee that we can experience physical healing this side of heaven. To say otherwise brings about all kinds of damage to the text and to our faith.