Why is Isaiah 53 written in the past tense?

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Some claim that Isaiah 53 doesn’t point to the future Messiah. They base their assumption on the fact that Isaiah wrote chapter 53 in the past tense. These add that the chapter pointed to the sufferings of another “servant” (Isaiah 52:13). Others claim that Isaiah 53 probably referred to the sufferings of the Jews at the hands of their enemies. Also, they ascribe this chapter to the sad experience of a Jew in Isaiah’s time. Lastly, some have even suggested that Isaiah was referring to his own past experience.

The Hebrew language doesn’t have tenses

The assumption that Isaiah 53 points to the past because it used the past tense is not linguistically correct. This is simply because the old Hebrew language didn’t have a “past tense.” In fact, the Biblical Hebrew is not a “tense” language.  Therefore, what is considered “past tense” in English could be either past, present perfect, or future perfect in the old Hebrew. Modern grammarians consider the old Hebrew an “aspectual” language.  However, modern Hebrew does have tenses.

Biblical Hebrew verbs are conjugated according to completion, in-completion, and in-process. This means that the same form of a verb can be translated as either past, present, or future. The interpretation of the verse relies on the context and different grammatical signs. The most well-known grammatical sign is the “vav-consecutive.” This makes an imperfective verb to point to the past.

Isaiah 53 points to the Messiah

Isaiah 53 clearly points to the Messiah. This is especially true for verse 10 which says, “You make His soul an offering for sin.” No person could have atoned for the sins of humanity except the Son of God. Christ’s death was the only acceptable and worthy atonement for sin. No other sacrifice would have been sufficient to the redemption of man (John 1:29; 17:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24).

Therefore, without a doubt, the story of the Savior’s selfless love and His vicarious sacrifice constitute the theme of chapters 52:13 to 53:12. This is the greatest “good tidings” (Isaiah 52:7) of all time.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

This page is also available in: हिन्दी (Hindi)

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