Why do different translations render Isaiah 53:8 differently in English:

מֵעֹצֶר וּמִמִּשְׁפָּט לֻקָּח וְאֶת דּוֹרוֹ מִי יְשׂוֹחֵחַ כִּי נִגְזַר מֵאֶרֶץ חַיִּים מִפֶּשַׁע עַמִּי נֶגַע לָמוֹ.

One translation says that the plague would befall the people:

From imprisonment and from judgment he is taken, and his generation who shall tell? For he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the transgression of my people, a plague befell them. (Isaiah 53:8 Judaica Press Complete Tanach)

And another says it will befall the "suffering servant":

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. (Isaiah 53:8 NIV)

Which is it? Will the people as a whole or the individual suffer?

  • Obviously the suffering servant - can "my people" be distinct from the people of Israel? Feb 12 '20 at 22:00
  • No the suffering servant has been established in previous verses as Israel time and time again. Feb 13 '20 at 16:23

Identifying the Servant Israel in Isa. 49:3

The suffering servant in Isa. 49:3 cannot be the nation of Israel. It is certainly true that the prophet Isaiah identified the servant in Isa. 49:3 by the name “Israel” when he wrote,

3 And He said to me, “You are my servant, O’ Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

וַיֹּאמֶר לִי עַבְדִּי אָתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר בְּךָ אֶתְפָּאָר

However, notice what the prophet Isaiah wrote just a few verses later, writing the words of the servant:

5 And now said Yahveh who formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, and Israel shall be gathered to Him, and I shall be glorious in the eyes of Yahveh, and my God shall be my strength— 6 And He said, “It is a small thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel. I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, so that you may be My salvation unto the end of the earth.”

וְעַתָּה אָמַר יַהְוֶה יֹצְרִי מִבֶּטֶן לְעֶבֶד לוֹ לְשֹׁובֵב יַֽעֲקֹב אֵלָיו וְיִשְׂרָאֵל לא יֵאָסֵף וְאֶכָּבֵד בְּעֵינֵי יַהְוֶה וֵאלֹהַי הָיָה עֻזִּי וַיֹּאמֶר נָקֵל מִֽהְיוֹתְךָ לִי עֶבֶד לְהָקִים אֶת שִׁבְטֵי יַעֲקֹב ונצירי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְהָשִׁיב וּנְתַתִּיךָ לְאוֹר גּוֹיִם לִֽהיוֹת יְשׁוּעָתִי עַד קְצֵה הָאָֽרֶץ

Notice that the servant named Israel in Isa. 49:3 is responsible:

  • “to bring back Jacob to Him” (Isa. 49:5)
  • “to raise up the tribes of Jacob” (Isa. 49:6)
  • “to restore the preserved of Israel” (Isa. 49:6)

If the servant named Israel in Isa. 49:3 refers to the nation of Israel, how then can the nation of Israel bring itself back to Yahveh, raise itself up, gather itself, and restore itself? Clearly, the servant Israel and the nation of Jacob/Israel are two distinct entities.

It is well attested in scripture that the son of David (i.e., the Messiah) would be responsible for gathering the dispersed of Israel and bringing them back to the holy land,1 the same tasks assigned to the servant Israel in Isa. 49:5–6.

The manner in which the prophet Isaiah names the servant Israel and then proceeds to mention another Israel whom the same servant Israel is supposed to bring back, raise up, gather, and restore, clearly indicates that the servant Israel is not same as the other Israel who is brought back; they are two distinct entities.

If the servant Israel is not the nation of Israel, then who is it? It’s easy to understand why someone would think the servant Israel in Isa. 49:3 is the nation of Israel. After all, the majority of the Tanakh focuses on the experiences of the nation of Israel. However, the name Israel originally belongs to the patriarch Israel.2 That being said, it is common for the King Messiah to be alluded to in scripture by the names of his ancestors. For example, in Jer. 30:9, we see that the Messiah is named “David.”3

In the same manner, the Messiah is named “Israel” in Isa. 49:3, after the patriarch Israel, his ancestor. We know this must be the case because of the manner in which the prophet Isaiah speaks of the servant Israel bringing back, raising up, gathering, and restoring another entity named “Jacob/Israel” which is evidently distinct from the servant Israel himself.

That the servant Israel in Isa. 49:3 referred to Christ was asserted by the New Testament authors4 as well as the early Church fathers.5

Exegesis of Isa. 53:8

Hebrew Text:

מֵעֹצֶר וּמִמִּשְׁפָּט לֻקָּח
וְאֶת דּוֹרוֹ מִי יְשׂוֹחֵחַ
כִּי נִגְזַר מֵאֶרֶץ חַיִּים
מִפֶּשַׁע עַמִּי
ֹנֶגַע לָמו

English Translation:

From imprisonment and judgment he was taken,
And his generation, who shall consider?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
Because of the transgression of my people,
A plague was to him.

Debate involving this verse primarily concerns two matters:

  • the Hebrew word לָמוֹ (lamo), translated as “to him” or “to them”
  • the prefixed preposition מ in the word מִפֶּשַׁע (mipesha), altogether translated as “for the transgression” or “because of the transgression.”

First, the prefixed preposition מ. Some argue that this preposition should not be translated as “for” as it is in the King James Version. However, this translation is not impossible since the prefixed preposition מ is sometimes used in the sense of “for,” “because of,” “on account of.”6 Thus, the Hebrew phrase מִפֶּשַׁע means “for the transgression” or “because of the transgression.”

Next, the Hebrew word לָמוֹ. This is a unique word which consists of the preposition ל which is usually translated as “for,” combined with a rare pronominal suffix מו-. Some (most Jewish translations) translate this word as “for them,” indicating a plural object. Others (most Christian translations) translate this word as “for him,” indicating a singular object.

Jewish rabbi David Kimchi (רד"ק) was one of the first Jewish commentators to argue that the Christian translation as “for them” was a corruption of the actual meaning of the word לָמוֹ.

In his commentary on Psa. 2:12, he wrote,7

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והנוצרים שמפרשים אותו על ישו...
ואמ' נגע למו היה לו לומר לו כי למו הוא כמו להם לשון רבים

And the Christians who explain it about Yeshuʿa...and [the prophet] said, “A plague was ‘to them’ (למו), but [if it was about Yeshuʿa] he should have said ‘to him’ (לו), for למו is like להם, a plural expression.”

Kimchi argues that if the Christian translation as “to him” was correct, the word would have been לו, “to him,” rather than למו, which he asserts is equivalent to the plural להם, “to them.” However, Kimchi is incorrect as the pronominal suffix is not always understood as plural. In fact—and this is most noteworthy—Kimchi contradicts his own opinion. In his grammatical treatise entitled Sefer Mikhlol,8 he specifically wrote concerning the pronominal suffix מו:

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מוֹ הוא בנוי הנסתרים בהתחבר עם הפעלים והשמות ומלים… ויש מוֹ בנוי היחיד המסתר: כִּי יִסְכּוֹן עָלֵימוֹ, וְיַמְטֵר עָלֵימוֹ בִּלְחוּמוֹ. כי המ"ם והו"ו כמו שכתבנו יש בו סימן רבים וסימן יחיד. כי המ"ם סימן הרבים הנסתרים והו"ו סימן היחיד הנסתר. לפיכך יבוא על הרבים ועל היחיד.

מוֹ is a 3rd person, masculine number, plural number suffix when joined with verbs, nouns, and words… מוֹ is also a 3rd person, masculine gender, singular number suffix: (Job 22:2) הַלְאֵל יִסְכָּן גָּבֶר כִּי יִסְכֹּן עָלֵימֹו מַשְׂכִּיל; (Job 20:23) וְיַמְטֵר עָלֵימוֹ בִּלְחוּמוֹ. For the מ and the ו (i.e., מוֹ), just as we wrote, contains the indication of the masculine gender, plural number and the indication of the masculine gender, singular number. For the מ is the indication of the 3rd person, masculine gender, plural number, and the ו is the indication of the 3rd person, masculine gender, singular number. Therefore, it (i.e., מוֹ) occurs for the [3rd person,] masculine gender, plural number and for the [3rd person,] masculine gender, singular number.


1 cf. Isa. 11:12
2 cf. Gen. 32:28
3 Consider the following commentaries or translations of Jer. 30:9:

  • David Kimchi’s commentary on Jer. 30:9:

אפשר שאמר זה על דוד המלך שיקימנו מעפרו בעת תחיית המתים, ואפשר שיאמר על המשיח בנו ויקרא שמו דוד.

“It is possible that it said this about King David who will be raised from the dust at the time of the resurrection of the dead. And, it is possible that it says this about the Messiah, his son, and it called his name ‘David.’”

  • Targum Yonatan on Jer. 30:9:

וְיִפלְחוּן קְֹדָם יוי אֲלָהֲהוֹן וְיִשתַמעוּן לִמשִיחָא בַר דָוִיד מַלכְהוֹן דַאֲקִים לְהוֹן׃

And they shall serve Yahveh their God and listen to the Messiah the son of David their king whom I shall raise for them.

  • Metzudat David commentary on Jer. 30:9:

זהו מלך המשיח הבא מזרע דוד

This is the King Messiah who comes from the seed of David.

4 Luke 2:32 cf. Isa. 49:3, 49:6; Matt. 2:15 cf. Exo. 4:22; Hos. 11:1
5 Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. Ch. C, CXIV, CXXVI
6 cf. Joel 3:19; also, see Gesenius, on מִּן, p. 482–3, 2. e.
7 Kimchi’s commentary on Psalms was one of many Jewish works in which Christian censors deleted passages deemed offensive to Christianity. However, a few manuscripts of his commentary on Psalms did survive with the relevant passages intact. The first image is from Schiller-Szinessy’s The First Book of the Psalms according to the Text of the Cambridge MS. Bible Add. 465 with the Longer Commentary of R. David Qimchi, critically edited from nineteen manuscripts and early edition, p. 11. The second image is from Edward Pococke’s Porta Mosis, Vol. 1, p. 244–245, wherein he cites another edition of Kimchi’s commentary on Psa. 2:12.
8 Folio רסו—(p. 266)


Driver, Samuel Rolles; Neubauer, Adolf Abraham. The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters. Vol. 1. Oxford: Parker, 1876.

Driver, Samuel Rolles; Neubauer, Adolf Abraham. The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah according to the Jewish Interpreters. Vol. 2. Oxford: Parker, 1876.

Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Trans. Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux. London: Bagster, 1860.

Kimchi, David (דוד קמחי). Sefer Mikhlol (ספר מכלול). Venice: Bomberg, 1545.

Pococke, Edward. The Theological Works of the Learned Dr. Pocock. Trans. Twells, Leonard. Vol. 1. London: Mitre and Crown, 1740.

The First Book of the Psalms according to the Text of the Cambridge MS. Bible add. 465. Ed. Schiller-Szinessy, Salomon Marcus. Cambridge: Deighton, 1883.


Let's start off by examining the word in question lamow in Hebrew in different verses.

  1. https://biblehub.com/text/deuteronomy/33-2.htm
  2. https://biblehub.com/text/job/24-17.htm
  3. https://biblehub.com/text/psalms/44-3.htm
  4. https://biblehub.com/text/psalms/55-19.htm
  5. https://biblehub.com/text/psalms/66-7.htm
  6. https://biblehub.com/text/psalms/73-18.htm
  7. https://biblehub.com/text/isaiah/16-4.htm
  8. https://biblehub.com/text/isaiah/30-5.htm
  9. https://biblehub.com/text/isaiah/48-21.htm
  10. https://biblehub.com/text/lamentations/1-19.htm
  11. https://biblehub.com/text/lamentations/1-22.htm
  12. https://biblehub.com/text/lamentations/4-10.htm
  13. https://biblehub.com/text/lamentations/4-15.htm

In all those verses mentioned above from a Christian website the translation of the world lamow is equal to? Third person masculine PLURAL "they, or them". The translators of the Christian version of the Bible had to go in and change the actual word so it could be a messianic prophecy pointing to "the messiah" who will suffer.

Now one would imagine is there a form of lamow that would translate to a form of "He" in some type of form similar which there is not.

Lamow is merely a poetic synonym of "lahem", where the 'suffix', "-mo", replaces the "-hem".

There isn’t a single case in the Hebrew where the poetic suffix ־מוֹ (-mō) has a singular meaning and, from a purely morphological point of view, the mĕm in lamō is directly linked to the mĕm in lahĕm; the singular form is לוֹ lō (“to him”), which has no mĕm.

Now the next question always posed by people is, how then can the nation of Israel bring itself back to God, raise itself up, gather itself, and restore itself?

Easily, by following the commandments given to Israel from God. All over the Hebrew scriptures we see God saying this and the prophets.

Nowhere does it say or any of the prophets say we have to worship the messiah.

  • Hi Gustavo, welcome to BHSE. This is a great first answer - looking forward to seeing more of your contributions. Please do take the Site Tour when you get a chance. I'd be careful not to import too many assumptions into answers - how did you decide that this approach to translating the passage wasn't pre-Christian?
    – Steve Taylor
    Feb 19 '20 at 10:42
  • It wasn't pre christian because the word lamow is a 3rd Person Masculine Plural. When a jewish bible translates it to "he" it's already knows that the reader has read the chapters before it, that "he" in question is the Nation of Israel as stated many times over in chapters before this. Feb 20 '20 at 11:16
  • Christians weren't the first people to translate the Tanakh out of Hebrew, though. Due to variances in different Hebrew text traditions, scholars use other early witnesses (particularly the LXX) to help inform our understanding of the original texts. In cases like this where the LXX (earlier text, wrong language) and the Masoretic (later text, right language) diverge, it can be hard to know for sure which way to go - which is more faithful to the original text? Either way, it doesn't look like Christians were the source of this divergence, though they are obviously favouring it today.
    – Steve Taylor
    Feb 20 '20 at 11:32
  • The thing is there is no divergence. the word lamow always means they/them 3pmp. There is no form of the word lamow that translates to singular. Feb 21 '20 at 17:40
  • We have no divergence specifically thanks to the Masoretes, who developed techniques for astoundingly accurate copying. However, that only fixed the text tradition by the 7th Century at the earliest, and were based on texts that themselves had been edited in some places. So we have to weigh up evidence from earlier translations and consider the possibility the Masoretic won't always be the most accurate source. Either way, you're arguing against a pre-Christian tradition, right?
    – Steve Taylor
    Feb 22 '20 at 8:29

Who will suffer plague/punishment in Isaiah 53:8?

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. (Isaiah 53:8 NIV)

"He " refers to the "Messiah" and the prophesy of Isaiah refers to the suffering and humiliation of Jesus, when he wrote:

Isaiah 53:8 (NET Bible)

8 "He was led away after an unjust trial, but who even cared? Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded."

Jesus was taken away after an unjust trial by his oppossers, he was humiliated by his enemies, because they did not conduct a fair treatment to which even a common criminal was entitled. The trial was a mockery.

1/ The trial should have been carried out during the day time at the Sanhedrin, and not at the house of the high priest during the evening.

2/ No trials could be held during the Sabbath or festival.

3/ The religious leaders resorted to bribery (Luke 22:2-6)

Deuteronomy 16:19 (NET Bible)

19 "You must not pervert justice or show favor. Do not take a bribe, for bribes blind the eyes of the wise and distort[a] the words of the righteous."

4/ They paid attention to false witness.

Mark 14:55 (NASB)

5/" Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any."

  • The question is why does the text in the JPS say "they" and Christian bibles say "he". That is because the christian translators had to change the meaning of the word. In no way shape or form is the word in hebrew EVER translated into He in any other of its appearances. Feb 12 '20 at 22:34
  • gustavoanalytics : Noted , thanks. Translation and Interpretation are not absolutely separable. I do not know Hebrew grammar, the NET Bible gives excellent comments on the Hebrew grammar in its footnotes. Feb 13 '20 at 19:45
  • Ozzie, If you scroll above I have included where you can find the word "he" and it is a third person masculine plural. Just because one interprets something and literally changes what a word mean is incorrect. You don't need to speak hebrew to see the word is "they" it's just a matching game. 13 times lamow is translated as "they/them" interesting enough only in that verse it translates to "He" and it still correctly keeps the 3rd person masculine plural. If the word "He" was supposed to be used they have a hebrew word for that. Feb 20 '20 at 11:14

I think ‘User862’ have well explained how the “suffering servant” of Isa 49 cannot be the nation of Israel.

As regards Isa 53:8, the reading of למו [LMU] as ‘to them’ or ‘to him’, I'm obliged to remark that – in this instance - the Masoretic diacritical system is totally useless, because the Masoretes ‘vocalized’ this term in the same manner (לָמוֹ), either if it did mean ‘to them’ (Deu 32:32, 35; 33:2; Job 3:14; Isa 16:4; 23:1; 26:14, 16; 30:5; 43:8; 44:7), or, ‘to him’ (Gen 9:26-27; Isa 44:15 [note the parallelism with אל, ‘God’])! [by the way, the ‘Rav’ Meir Halevi Letteris, in his Sefer Torah Nevi’im u-Khetuvim (about 1871) translated “for the trasgressions of my people the plague was laid on him”, so differentiating between the ‘people’ and the individual ‘him’]

However, another explanation – not mentioned in the previous posts, as I can see – it seems to me more convincing. I let Adam Clarke himself explain it (the bold is mine):

“The Septuagint read למות lemaveth, εις θανατον, ‘to death’. And so the Coptic and Saidic Versions, from the Septuagint; MSS. St. Germain de Prez. ‘Origen’, (Contra Celsum, lib. 1 p. 370, edit. 1733), after having quoted at large this prophecy concerning the Messiah, ‘tells us, that having once made use of this passage in a dispute against some that were accounted wise among the Jews, one of them replied, that the words did not mean one man, but one people, the Jews, who were smitten of God and dispersed among the Gentiles for their conversion; that he then urged many parts of this prophecy to show the absurdity of this interpretation, and that he seemed to press them the hardest by this sentence, απο των ανομιων του λαου μον ηχθη εις θανατον, ‘for the iniquity of my people was he smitten to death.’ Now as Origen, the author of the Hexapla, must have understood Hebrew, we cannot suppose that he would have urged this last quotation as so decisive if the Greek Version had not agreed here with the Hebrew text; nor that these wise Jews would have been at all distressed by this quotation, unless their Hebrew text had read agreeably to εις θανατον, ‘to death’, on which the argument principally depended; for, by quoting it immediately, they would have triumphed over him, and reprobated his Greek version. This, whenever they could do it, was their constant practice in their disputes with the Christians. Jerome, in his Preface to the Psalms, says, ‘Nuper cum Hebraeo disputans, quaedam pro Domino Salvatore de Psalmis testimonia protulisti: volensque ille te illudere, per sermones fere singulos asserebat, non ita haberi in Hebraeo, ut tu de lxx. opponebas.’ [that is,] “Lately disputing with a Hebrew, - thou advancedst certain passages out of the Psalms which bear testimony to the Lord the Savior; but he, to elude thy reasoning, asserted that almost all thy quotations have an import in the Hebrew text different from what they had in the Greek.” And Origen himself, who laboriously compared the Hebrew text with the Septuagint, has recorded the necessity of arguing with the Jews from such passages only as were in the Septuagint agreeable to the Hebrew: ἱνα προς Ιουδαιοις διαλεγομενοι μη προφερωμεν αυτοι τα μη κειμενα εν τοις αντιγραφοις αυτων, και ἱνα συγχρησωμεθα τοις φερομενοις παρ’ εκεινοις. See Epist. ad African. p. 15, 17. Wherefore as Origen had carefully compared the Greek version of the Septuagint with the Hebrew text, and speaks of the contempt with which the Jews treated all appeals to the Greek version where it differed from their Hebrew text; and as he puzzled and confounded the learned Jews by urging upon them the reading εις θανατον, ‘unto death’, in this place; it seems almost impossible not to conclude, both from Origen’s argument and the silence of his Jewish adversaries, that the Hebrew text at that time actually had למות lemaveth, ‘to death’, agreeably to the version of the Septuagint. - Dr. Kennicott.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible [ad locum])

Also according Gesenius’ (and Kautzsch) Hebrew Grammar [bold is mine] “in Is[a] 53:8 for למו נגע we should read with the LXX למות נגע.” (§103 f [note n. 3])

I’ve found another brief but interesting dissertation from a Jewish-Israeli scholar. Dr. Eitan Bar wrote (in One for Israel, August 3, 2016) [bold is mine]:

“Jewish sages saw Isaiah 53 as speaking of an individual, not plural:

Targum Jonathan interprets Isaiah 53 with reference to the Messiah (singular).

• The Talmud never interprets Isaiah 53 with reference to the nation of Israel (as a whole), but only to individuals within It.

• The Jerusalem Talmud (Tractate Shekalim 5:1) applies 53:12 to Rabbi Akiva (singular), while the Babylonian Talmud applies 53:4 to the Messiah (singular) in Sanhedrin 98b, 53:10 to the righteous in general in Tractate Berakhot 5a, and 53:12 to Moses (singular) in Tractate Sotah 14a.

Midrash Rabbah interprets 53:5 with reference to the Messiah (Ruth Rabbah 2:14).

Yalkut Shimoni applies 52:13 to the Messiah. [Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume Three – Messianic Prophecy Objections (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), pp. 49-57.].”


“Lamo (לָמוֹ) in Isaiah 53 verse 8 Rabbi Daniel Asur claims that according to verse 8, the character described as plural, not in singular, and therefore cannot be talking about the Messiah. He writes (from Hebrew): ‘The word ‘Lamo’ means ‘them’, and instead of the prophet writing ‘for the transgression of my people ‘he’ was punished’, he writes ‘Lamo’, meaning the servant is plural… that is why it is not possible for Jesus to be the Messiah.’ However, there are a few other possible aspects that Asur fails to acknowledge: • ‘Lamo’ can be either plural or singular, as Isaiah elsewhere uses lamo to mean ‘to it’, not ‘to them’, Isaiah 44:15: ‘he makes an idol and bows down to it.’ So, if we take lamo to refer to the servant, it could still mean ‘for him’ as opposed to ‘for them’ [without offending gustavoanalytics and his claim that 'There is no form of the word lamow that translates to singular'...]

• Septuagint (LXX): εἰς θάνατον (לַמָּוֶת) – The translators of the Septuagint saw a taf at the end of ‘lamo’, making it ‘lamavet’ – to death. ‘He was led to death’.

• NJPSV (New Jewish Publication Society Version) understood ‘nega‘ lamo’ as ‘For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due’. The servant receives a stroke for those for whom he is suffering.

So then, we can see that the Messiah can fit perfectly with verse 8 in Isaiah chapter 53.”

[Dr. Eitan Bar, is a native Jewish-Israeli, born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel. Married to Kate (since 2007), raising their son Asaf in Israel. Eitan holds to a B.A. in Biblical Studies (Israel College of the Bible. Jerusalem, 2009). and an MDiv Equiv. He also holds to an M.A. in Theological Studies (Liberty University. 2013). In 2020 Eitan received his Doctorate (DMin, Middle East Studies) from Dallas Theological Seminary].

Sorry for gustavoanalytics with his claims that “the word lamow always means they/them 3pmp. There is no form of the word lamow that translates to singular”. [Feb 21 '20 at 17:40]”, “I’m offering the evidence that the word in question lamow does not mean a 3rd person masculine singular, EVER in the Hebrew as I showed with my examples of the words found in those scriptures. The word lamow never represents a singular person. Out of 13 verses every time the word lamow is used its translated into they/them so you're telling me with all this evidence against it, that its wrong? 100% every time the word means they/them but now for some reason it is renamed as HE but still is the 3rd person masculine plural?” [Feb 23 '20 at 20:59]…

I hope that these information will be useful for you (@user4951).


This is a great question!

Actually, there is a big chance that the Masoretic text we have is corrupted. The obvious problem with the text is the word לָמוֹ which as @gustavoanalytics correctly points out is an archaic form of the word לָהֶם which always means "them" and never "He". Hence the translation of the Judaica Press because of the transgression of my people, a plague befell them, but the problem is who is them in the text referring to? Shouldn't the text rather say a plague befell him, i.e., the servant, since the theme of the entire chapter is that the servant is suffering for the people's sins? The NIV tries to rectify precisely this difficulty, but there is no justification from the hebrew text for their correction, hence the OP's frustration with the different translations for the same text.

That's why I propose we look somewhere else. The answer I believe can be found in the LXX. According to the Brenton Septuagint Translation this is how the end of verse 8 reads:

for his life is taken away from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death.

The NETS also agrees with this translation (The Douay–Rheims however does not agree with this. Although I am no Greek scholar I trust the Brenton and NETS over the Douay–Rheims, the latter which is known for its inaccuracies).

What's actually going on here is that the LXX's text is very different from the MT. This is how the LXX's hebrew text reads:

כִּי נִגְזַר מֵאֶרֶץ חַיִּים מִפֶּשַׁע עַמִּי נִגַשׁ לַמָוֶת

If we juxtapose the LXX with the MT we get this:

נִגַשׁ לַמָוֶת
נֶגַע לָמוֹ

One can easily see how the original text became corrupted and evolved into the MT we have today. The shin of נגש (led) was swapped with an ayin (plauge), and the Taf of למות (to death) was dropped at the end leading to the word למו (them). Thus, we can say with a fair amount of confidence that the original text read like the LXX, i.e., the servant was led to death. The text actually reads very nicely like this:

his life is cut off from the land of the living (thrown into dungeon)
He is led to death (he's sentenced to execution)

The parallels are very clear indeed and complement each other.

What brought about the MT is most probably just a scribal error. Some would love to attach more significance to it and say that the text was deliberately altered to purge the text from Christian undertones, but this is obviously baseless since such fears could only have existed long after the rise Christianity, which at that point the MT was long standardized and canonized. In any case, as I point out in the sidenote, the text itself gives no evidence that servant was actually killed and resurrected, although this interpretation has been very popular with Christian preachers and commentators.

There is another possible reconstruction of the text, if we keep the (לַמָוֶת) from the LXX and introduce the (נגע) from the MT we get this:

נִגַע לַמָוֶת
He was afflicted until death

We just play around with the nekudot, and instead of נֶגַע (affliction/plague) as the masoretes vocalize we change the vocalization to נִגַע (he was afflicted). This actually also fits the context very well.

Sidenote: The text doesn't tell us that the suffering servant actually died contrary to what Christians want the text to say, the text of the LXX clearly describes the servant as being led to death, but in the end he is not actually executed, as is evident from the following verses that promise him a long life and lots of grandchildren (although the beginning of the verse seems to describe his actual death, that may refer to him being thrown into a dungeon which is compared to being "cut off from the land of living" someplace else. Cf. Psalms 88 where the psalmist in v. 7 is clearly describing himself being thrown into a pit). V. 9 also agrees with this reading.

For more on this point see Goulder, M. “Behold My Servant Jehoiachin.” Vetus Testamentum, vol. 52, no. 2, 2002, pp. 175–190. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1585088. Goulder also gives a Christian-independent interpretation and alternative identity to the suffering servant. It is a fascinating and enjoyable read!


For Isaiah 53:8, my understanding is that the Dead Sea scrolls used the singular pronoun “בומתו” -- and that this word was changed to a plural in Jewish texts around 800 A.D.

  • 2
    Can you please identify your source? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    May 9 '18 at 10:21
  • Their statement is clearly conjecture as for since the beginning of time, NO DOCUMENTS have been brought to validate this claim. This blurb is usually passed down because it is something that cannot be proven by any evidence whatsoever and works on the persons biased knowledge of what they have been taught of Jewish people. Feb 12 '20 at 4:58

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