In this series of papers we shall be investigating all manner of absurdities that have been accepted by believers who seem more disposed to accept words, sentences, and traditions, quite apart from using their own critical faculties, and certainly without due regard to logic. We have found very few writers with the courage to undermine such absurdities, but would mention with pleasure the names of C.S.Lewis, George MacDonald, Francis Schaeffer, and Kathryn Lindskoog in this respect.
Our present investigation focuses on that well-known verse in Isaiah 53, where the Suffering Servant of Jehovah is depicted. Because the Authorised Version speaks about God “having pleasure” in bruising His Son, this idea has been perpetuated through the centuries. Before making any further comment, let’s have a look at a number of Bible Versions, to see how translators have handled the Hebrew Text.
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. (Authorised Version)
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; [margin, made him sick] when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; (Revised Standard Version)
10 And Jehovah hath delighted to bruise him, He hath made him sick, If his soul doth make an offering for guilt, He seeth seed–he prolongeth days, And the pleasure of Jehovah in his hand doth prosper. (Young’s Literal Translation)
10 Yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise him; he hath subjected him to suffering. When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see a seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand. (J.N.Derby)
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. (New King James Version)
10 Yet Yahweh purposed to bruise him; He laid on him sickness; If his soul become an offering for guilt, He shall see a seed, He shall prolong his days, and the purpose of Yahweh in his hand shall prosper. (Rotherham’s Emphasised Bible)
10 Yet the Lord took thought for his tortured servant and healed him who had made himself a sacrifice for sin; so shall he enjoy long life and see his children’s children, and in his hand the Lord’s cause shall prosper. (New English Bible)
10 But the Eternal chose to vindicate his servant, rescuing his servant from anguish; he let him prosper to the full, in a posterity with life prolonged. (Moffatt)
10 Yet it was the Lord’s good plan to bruise him and fill him with grief, but when his soul has been made an offering for sin, then he shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again [margin – he shall prolong his days] and God’s programme shall prosper in his hands. (Living Bible)
10 But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. (New American Standard Bible)
10 The Lord says, “It was my will that he should suffer, his death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness, and so he will see his descendants; he will live a long life, and through him my purpose shall succeed.” (Good News Bible)
It was not considered burdensome to quote from so many Bibles, simply because of the huge variety of expression in translation. It is obvious that some translators have been troubled by the apparent assertion that God the Father could “take pleasure” in watching the agony of His beloved Son being crucified. Hence they have changed the word “pleasure” to “will” or “purpose”.
Were they justified? What is the Hebrew word? It is CHAPHETZ, and the basic meaning obtained from the Lexicons is “to bend, to incline, to will, to desire, to delight in, have pleasure in.” My Hebrew Concordance shows that in a good many places the idea of “delight” or “have pleasure” is quite correct, but is derived from the basic meaning of “to bend, to incline.” Therefore it is a matter of exegesis to decide which of these meanings is most appropriate to each context.
To assign the meaning of “delight” or “pleasure” in this verse in Isaiah 53 is to our mind grotesque. What earthly father could take pleasure in watching his only son being tortured to death? Would it not cause him the utmost grief to stand by, impotent to rescue him from the hands of wicked men? Only the most perverted of fathers could find pleasure in such an event. Why therefore did so many translators slavishly use the word “pleasure” in this verse, when it would have been quite proper to use the word “will” or “purpose” instead?
The trouble is that Bible translators have had before them tasks of monumental proportions, and to ask them to get everything correct is beyond the capability of committees of human scholars, and therefore we must not rub their noses in the dust over every mistaken emphasis found in their works. We therefore cast off any critical spirit, and ask our readers to consider the matter in hand objectively.
Yes, it was the will and purpose of God to allow His Son to be afflicted unto death, and the Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane proves it beyond doubt. But the New Testament gives us something to ponder when we learn that there was darkness over the whole land for the last three hours of His ordeal, thereby to prevent human eyes from taking “pleasure” in the sight. Furthermore, our Lord cried out, saying, “My God, why have You forsaken me?” It was as though His Father could not bear the sight, and turned away in bitterness of heart. To our way of thinking, this is far more reasonable, far more logical, far more acceptable to those who have learned even a little of the amazing character of God’s love. God is not some heartless tyrant. The intensity of His lovingkindness is above and beyond anything witnessed on earth amongst human beings.
Some scholars have been so offended by the idea of God’s “pleasure” at the death of His Son, that they have rejected the so-called “Doctrine of the Atonement” altogether. Hosea Ballou, the “father of American Universalism” was one such, and there have been others. What a shame that the translations available to such men should have caused them such offence, when the original contained no such sentiment. George MacDonald was one to be deeply aggrieved by the hardness of Scottish Calvinism in 19th century Britain. His writings show his feelings, and in no better context than the conversation between Ian and his mother in “What’s Mine’s Mine”, the novel published in 1886. We shall quote from this conversation here because it conveys perhaps better than anything else the problem MacDonald had with the teachings of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. It might be construed that he allowed the pendulum to swing a little too far in the opposite direction, but his feelings are betrayed clearly enough in this passage. [Chapter XV Page 150]
[Please note that MacDonald continued to use the word Atonement, even though he understood the essential difference between the O.T. sacrifices and the death of Christ, as explained in the previous article.]
” We are saved by faith.”
” I do not doubt it,” answered Ian
” You rejoice my heart. But faith in what? ”
” Faith in God, mother.”
” That will not save you.”
” N0, but God will.”
” The devils believe in God, and tremble.”
” I believe in the father of Jesus Christ, and do not tremble.”
” You ought to tremble before an unreconciled God.”
” Like the devils, mother? ”
” Like a sinful child of Adam. Whatever your fancies, Ian, God will not hear you, except you pray to him in the name of his Son.”
” Mother, would you take my God from me? Would you blot him out of the deeps of the universe? ”
” Ian! are you mad ? What frightful things you would lay to my charge! ”
” Mother, I would gladly- oh how gladly! perish for ever, to save God from being the kind of God you would have me believe him. I love God, and will not think him other than good. Rather than believe he does not hear every creature that cries to him, whether he knows Jesus Christ or not, I would believe there was no God, and go mourning to my grave.”
” That is not the doctrine of the gospel.”
” It is, mother. Jesus himself says, Every one that hath heard and learned of the Father, cometh unto me,”
” Why then do you not come to him, Ian? ”
” I do come to him; I come to him every day. I believe in nobody but him. He only makes the universe worth being, or any life worth living ”
” Ian, I can not understand you I If you believe like that about him, ”
” I don’t believe about him, mother! I believe in him. He is my life.”
” We will not dispute about words! The question is, do you place your faith for salvation in the sufferings of Christ for you? ”
” I do not, mother. My faith is in Jesus himself, not in his sufferings.”
” Then the anger of God is not turned away from you.”
” Mother, I say again -I love God, and will not believe such things of him as you say. I love him so that I would rather lose him than believe so of him.”
” Then you do not accept the Bible as your guide? ”
” I do, mother, for it tells me of Jesus Christ. There is no such teaching as you say in the Bible.”
” How little you know your New Testament.”
” I don’t know my New Testament! It is the only book I do know. I read it constantly. It is the only thing I could not live without. N0, I do not mean that. I could do without my Testament. Christ would be all the same.”
“O Ian! Ian! and yet you will not give Christ the glory of satisfying divine justice by his suffering for your sins! ”
” Mother, to say that the justice of God is satisfied with suffering, is a piece of the darkness of hell; God is willing to suffer, ready to inflict suffering to save from sin, but suffering is no satisfaction to him or his justice.”
” What do you mean by his justice then? ”
” That he gives you and me and everybody fair play.”
The homeliness of the phrase offended the moral ear of the mother.
” How dare you speak lightly of him in my hearing! ” she cried.
” Because I will speak for God even to the face of my mother! ” answered Ian. ” He is more to me than you, mother -ten times more.”
” You speak against God, Ian,” she rejoined, calmed by the feeling she had roused,
” No, mother. He speaks against God who says he does things that are not good. It does not make a thing good to call it good. I speak for him when I say he cannot but give fair play. He knows he put me where I was sure to sin; he will not condemn me because I have sinned; he leaves me to do that myself. He will condemn me only if I do not turn away from sin, for he has made me able to turn from it, and I do.”
” He will forgive sin only for Christ’s sake.”
” He forgives it for his own name’s sake, his own love’s sake. There is no such word as for Christ’s sakein the New Testament -except where Paul prays us for Christ’s sake to be reconciled to God. It is in the English New Testament, but not in the Greek.”
” Then you do not believe that the justice of God demands the satisfaction of the sinner’s endless punishment? ”
” I do not. Nothing can satisfy the justice of God but justice in his creature. The justice of God is the love of what is right, and the doing of what is right. Eternal misery in the name of justice could satisfy none but a demon whose bad laws had been broken.”
“I grant you that no amount of suffering on the part of the wicked could satisfy justice; but it is the Holy One who suffers for our sins! ”
“O, mother! Justice do wrong for its own satisfaction! Did Jesus deserve punishment? If not, then to punish him was to wrong him! ”
” But he was willing; he consented.”
” He yielded to injustice -but the injustice was man’s not God’s. If Justice insisted on punishment, it would at least insist on the guilty, not the innocent, being punished! It would revolt from the idea of the innocent being punished for the guilty! Mind, I say being punished, not suffering: that is another thing altogether. It is an eternal satisfaction to love to suffer for the guilty, but not to justice that innocence should be punished for the guilty. The whole idea of such atonement is the merest subterfuge, a figment of the paltry human intellect to reconcile difficulties of its own invention. Once my father said whenAlister had done something wrong, ‘He must be punished, except some one will be punished for him!’ I offered to take his place partly that it seemed expected of me, partly that I was moved by vanity, and partly that I foresaw what would follow.”
” And what did follow? ” asked the mother, to whom the least word out of the past concerning her husband, was like news from the world beyond. At the same time it seemed almost an offence that one of his sons should know anything about him she did not know.
” He scarcely touched me, mother,” answered Ian. ” The thing taught me something very different from what he had meant to teach by it. That he failed to carry out his idea of justice helped me afterwards to see that God could not have done it either for that it was not justice. Some perception of this must have lain at the root of the heresy that Jesus did not suffer, but a cloud phantom took his place on the cross. Wherever people speculate instead of obeying, they fall into endless error.”
” You graceless boy! Do you dare to say your father speculated instead of obeying? ” the mother cried, hot with indignation.
” No, mother. It was not my father who invented that way of accounting for the death of our Lord.”
” He believed it! ”
” He accepted it, saturated with the tradition of the elders before he could think for himself. He does not believe it now.”
” But why then should Christ have suffered?”
” It is the one fact that explains to me everything,” said Ian. ” But I am not going to talk about it. So long as your theory satisfies you, mother, why should I show you mine? When it no longer satisfies you, when it troubles you as it has troubled me, and as I pray God it may trouble you, when you feel it stand between you and the best love you could give God, then I will share my very soul with you -tell you thoughts which seem to sublimate my very being in adoration.”
” I do not see what other meaning you can put upon the statement that he was a sacrifice for our sins! ”
” There is no question about that, mother! Had we not sinned he would never have died; and he died to deliver us from our sins. He against whom was the sin, became the sacrifice for it; the Father suffered in the Son, for they are one. But if I could see no other explanation than yours, I would not, could not accept it-for God’s sake I would not.”
” How you can say you believe in Christ, when you do not believe in the atonement! ”
” It is not so, mother. I do not believe what you mean by the atonement; what God means by it, I desire to accept. But we are never told to believe in the atonement; we are told to believe in Christ- and, mother, in the name of the great Father who hears me speak, I do believe in him.”
” How can you, when you do not believe what God says about him? ”
” I do. God does not say those things about him you think he says. They are mere traditions, not the teaching of those who understood him. But I might believe all about him quite correctly, yet not believe in him.”
” What do you call believing in him then? ”
” Obeying him, mother -to say it as shortly as I can. I try to obey him in the smallest things he says-only there are no small things he says-and so does Alister. I strive to be what he would have me, nor do I hold anything else worth my care. Let a man trust in his atonement to absolute assurance for a man to trust in it, if he does not do the things he tells him -the very things he said -he does not believe in him. He may be a good man, but he has not yet heard enough and learned enough of the Father to be sent to Jesus to learn more.”