TextPart 4: Who Does the Servant Intercede For? The servant is identified with the many rebels and yet distinct enough from them in order to carry their sins. John D. MeadeIllustration by Peter Gurry. Images from Wikipedia, iStockphoto, and UnsplashApril 13, 2022 ShareFacebookTwitterLinkedInPrint Level With this next problem in Isaiah 53, we come to a couple of textual problems that again touch on the servant’s vicarious death for the many. The problems in the prologue (52:14–15) showed us a servant who is an anointed high priest above others (rather than a disfigured person) and who sprinkles many nations. In 53:8–9, Isaiah describes the servant as one stricken to death and then subsequently assigned a tomb with a rich man. The NIV is representative of our English translations for the final two lines of Isaiah 53:12: For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Is this the correct text and translation? In what follows, we (1) give the manuscript evidence for the word “sin” in the first line and for the phrase “for the transgressors” in the last; (2) summarize the readings and make some observations about them; (3) treat the difficulty in our received Hebrew text or the Masoretic Text; and (4) conclude with my preferred translation and a few points on the relevance of the reading. Witnesses Here, we will list all the witnesses in original language and English translation. The textual problem is indicated in each witness by the use of italics so that one can see the different readings most clearly.1For Theodotion, the reading is found in Armenian translation of a Greek work incorrectly attributed to Chrysostom but presented in Latin translation here. For Aquila, the reading is found in Armenian translation of a Greek work incorrectly attributed to Chrysostom but presented in Latin translation here. Theodoret cites Symmachus and follows with “and so also the Rest [of the translators];” that is, Aquila and Theodotion must have rendered the Hebrew similarly, but he does not give their exact readings. ReadingWitnessTextsin; rebelsMTyet he bore the sin of many and he intercedes for the rebels (?) וְהוּא חֵטְא רַבִּים נָשָׂא וְלַפֹּשְׁעִים יַפְגִּיעַ Latin Vulgateand he carried the sin of the many and interceded for the transgressors et ipse peccatum multorum tulit et pro transgressoribus rogavitsins; rebellions1QIsaayet he bore the sins of many and at their rebellions he intervenes והואה חטאי רבים נשׂא ולפשׁעיהמה יפגע 1QIsabyet] he bore the sins of many and at their rebellions he intervenes והוא חטא]י רבים נשׂא ולפשׁעיהם יפגיע 4QIsadyet he bore the sins of many and at their rebellions [he intervenes] והוא חטאי רבים נשׂא ולפשׁעיה[ם יפגיעLXXand he bore the sins of many and due to their sins he was handed over καὶ αὐτὸς ἁμαρτίας πολλῶν ἀνήνεγκε καὶ διὰ τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν παρεδόθηsins; rebelsTheodotion… and he will torture the wicked ones … et impios torquebit Aquila… and he will resist those mocking him … occurret irridentibus eum Symmachusand he took the sins of the many upon himself and he stood against the traitorsαὐτὸς δὲ ἁμαρτίας πολλῶν ἀνέλαβε καὶ τοῖς ἀθετοῦσιν ἀντέστη Syriac Peshittaand he bore the sins of the many and he attacked the wicked ܘܗܘ ܚ̈ܛܗܐ ܕܣ̈ܓܝܐܐ ܫܩܠ ܘܒܥ̇ܘ̈ܠܐ ܦܓܥ Aramaic Targumyet he will beseech concerning the sins of many, and to the rebels it shall be forgiven for him וְהוּא עַל חוֹבִין סַגִיאִין יִבעֵי וֻלמָרוֹדַיָא יִשׁתְבֵיק לֵיהA survey of witnesses to Isaiah 53:12 Isaiah 53:12 in Codex Leningrad (1008 AD), 1QIsaa (2nd c. BC), and Codex Sinaiticus (4th c. AD). Images from Sefaria, Wikipedia, Codex Sinaiticus Observations From these sources, we can discern two problems, one in each line of the verse. Isaiah 53:12a “he bore the sins of many” 1QIsaa, 1QIsab, 4QIsad, LXX, Symmachus, Peshitta, Targum “he bore the sin of many” MT, Vulgate Isaiah 53:12b “and at their rebellions he intervenes” 1QIsaa, 1QIsab, 4QIsad, LXX “and he intercedes for the rebels” MT, Theodotian, Aquila, Symmachus, Vulgate, Peshitta, Targum What does the servant bear? Regarding the first problem, the testimony for “sins” over “sin” is very strong. The difference between texts regards whether the single letter yod (י) is present or lacking. It’s a small letter and therefore could have easily dropped out accidentally. Another possible explanation is that the MT and Vulgate assimilated their texts to the singular “sin” already mentioned in the singular in 53:6 “iniquity” and 53:8 “transgression, rebellion.” In either case, the singular “sin” should be considered secondary, and we should choose the text containing the plural “sins” along with the best and majority of witnesses. In the second problem, the reading “their rebellions” also enjoys the best external evidence. There is also a clear explanation for how the MT reads “transgressors”: the scribe assimilated his text here to the first instance of “transgressors” earlier in v. 12. In other words, the text containing “for the rebels” can best be explained as a secondary modification of the original “at their rebellions,” while the reverse is more difficult to explain. Related A New Series on Isaiah’s Suffering ServantJohn D. MeadePart 3: The Servant’s Burial according to the ScripturesPeter J. GentryRecovering the Resurrection in Isaiah 53: Textual Criticism and EasterJohn D. Meade In his analysis, Dominque Barthélemy wisely chose to handle the three textual problems in 53:11–12 together because 1QIsaa, b, 4QIsad, all agree with LXX’s Hebrew text against the MT in these three well attested real variants among witnesses. Thus, for these verses, we are dealing with an ancient text type (attested by three Qumran texts and the Hebrew parent text of LXX) from which the MT is different in these three variants. Significantly, 1QIsab only contains notable variants to the MT in these verses and nowhere else. This gives us reason to suspect error in the internal transmission of the MT for these verses.2Dominique Barthélemy, Critique Textuelle de l’Ancien Testament. 2. Isaïe, Jérémie, Lamentations, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 50/2 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986), 405; cf. also Jan de Waard, A Handbook on Isaiah (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1997), 197–8. Therefore, the MT has probably suffered error in these three crucial places. The external evidence for these two problems, as for the one in 53:11, is quite impressive, and we should choose its text. But what about the traditional reading of the MT: “and he will intercede for the transgressors”? We must say a word about the implausibility of this reading. What does he intercede for? Although most English translations have something like “he intercedes for (יַפְגִּיעַ ל) the transgressors,” this syntax is otherwise unattested in MT, and therefore this reading is uncertain. The Hebrew verb paga‘ means “to meet” “come upon” (cf. Exod. 23:4), often in either the sense of entreat (e.g., Gen 23:8) or encounter with hostility (e.g., Exod. 5:3). Thus, in the causative stem, the verb means “to cause x to come upon y” as it does in Isaiah 53:6: “and Yahweh caused the (הִפְגִּיעַ אֵת) iniquity … to come upon (ב) him.” In Jeremiah 36:25, three individuals make entreaty with (הִפְגִּעוּ ב) the king. In each of these cases, the Hebrew beth preposition marks the person with whom the entreaty is or upon whom something is coming. But in the MT of Isaiah 53:12, we encounter the lamed preposition governing a person (i.e. “transgressors”).3Ernst Jenni, Die hebräischen Präpositionen. Band 3: Die Präposition Lamed (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2000), 122, suggests, “to minister to someone,” interpreting the lamed as indicating the relationship between the event of ministering and the entity of the transgressors. All the major Hebrew lexicons (e.g., BDB, HALOT, Gesenius; cf. פָּגַע Hi) render the lamed “for,” i.e., for the benefit of the transgressors. Although our English translations interpret the syntax positively (“intercession for the benefit of the transgressors”), the Hebrew could be read negatively. In fact, very early Jewish translations of this text into Greek (Theodotion, Aquila, Symmachus) plainly render the proto-MT something like, “he will attack the rebels”; that is, he will encounter the wicked with hostility, describing the servant as defeating enemies. Given the MT’s syntax, both readings are possible. But in contrast to the ambiguity of the MT, the reading of the three Dead Sea Scrolls plus the LXX shows that only the servant could intervene at the rebellions of the many. Get new articles and updates in your inbox. Leave this field empty if you're human: Based on the external evidence, there’s a more satisfactory solution for the ending of the song: he intervened at their rebellions. In Isaiah 59:16, another instance of our verb appears without any prepositional phrases: “then he [Yahweh] saw that there was no man and wondered that there was no one who intervened (מַפְגִּיעַ).” This usage is akin to the one in our verse, since its complement is now lamed + impersonal object. That is, the lamed preposition does not mark the relation of an event to a person but rather defines the situation or event at which the servant intervenes, i.e., at the rebellions of the many. Note the LXX’s translation “due to their sins” comes close to this meaning showing that the sins of the many are the cause or situation for the servant’s intervention. The original text changes the way we analyze the grammar of this line. We should also note how the usage in Isaiah 59:16 increases the tension concerning who will intervene for the people. The text claims no man intervenes, but in Isaiah 53:12, the servant does intervene which increases curiosity over his identity. Putting all this together, we should translate the line: “Yet he bore the sins of many and at their rebellions he intervenes.” Why it matters In Isaiah 53:10–12, the song focuses on the relationship between the one and the many. For example, at the end of v. 11, the one servant is described as “righteous,” and he thus declares the many righteous. The many share in the verdict of the one. Also, in the one’s victory, the many are given a portion and with the numerous the victory spoils are divided (cf. Isa. 53:12a). In 53:12b, the servant is numbered with the rebels, and in 53:12c, he intervenes at their rebellions. The one servant is both identified with the many rebels and yet distinct enough from them in order to carry their sins and intervene at their rebellions. Only the king would be in solidarity with the nation’s plight and at the same time distinct from the nation to rescue it from it (cf. Isaiah 49:1–6 which already prepares the reader for this conclusion). Only the king would be in solidarity with the nation’s plight and at the same time distinct from the nation to rescue it from it. One last note on the readings of “sins” and “transgressions / rebellions” in this line. The New Testament authors in many places describe Jesus’ atoning death as “due to our trespasses” (e.g., Rom. 4:25) or “for our sins” (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:3; cf. 1 Pet. 2:24). The reading of Isaiah 53:12 proposed here is right in line with how the apostles interpreted the Messiah’s vicarious death “according to the Scriptures.” John D. Meade John (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Professor of Old Testament and Codirector of the Text & Canon Institute at Phoenix Seminary and a contributor of the Hexapla Project. He is the author (with Ed Gallagher) of The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity and y Scribes and Scripture: The Amazing Story of How We Got the Bible (con Peter Gurry). View all posts Notes1For Theodotion, the reading is found in Armenian translation of a Greek work incorrectly attributed to Chrysostom but presented in Latin translation here. For Aquila, the reading is found in Armenian translation of a Greek work incorrectly attributed to Chrysostom but presented in Latin translation here. Theodoret cites Symmachus and follows with “and so also the Rest [of the translators];” that is, Aquila and Theodotion must have rendered the Hebrew similarly, but he does not give their exact readings.2Dominique Barthélemy, Critique Textuelle de l’Ancien Testament. 2. Isaïe, Jérémie, Lamentations, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 50/2 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986), 405; cf. also Jan de Waard, A Handbook on Isaiah (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1997), 197–8.3Ernst Jenni, Die hebräischen Präpositionen. Band 3: Die Präposition Lamed (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2000), 122, suggests, “to minister to someone,” interpreting the lamed as indicating the relationship between the event of ministering and the entity of the transgressors. All the major Hebrew lexicons (e.g., BDB, HALOT, Gesenius; cf. פָּגַע Hi) render the lamed “for,” i.e., for the benefit of the transgressors.