A reader asks:
In Isaiah we read that ‘by His stripes we are healed’ – what does this statement mean? Does it refer to the physical healing or the spiritual healing?
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This verse is routinely used today to support the idea of divine healing:
Isaiah 53:5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. (NKJV)
NO MATTER WHAT YOUR BELIEF about “divine physical healing”, this verse has absolutely nothing to do with it. Let me repeat myself to be clear. Even if you believe Christians have a right to divine healing upon request, or if you believe the God heals physical sickness and disease today (either through a man, or directly through prayer) – if you believe in routine, divinely originated, physical healing… it is important to understand that ISAIAH 53:5 IS NOT A VERSE THAT SUPPORTS OR ADDRESSES PHYSICAL HEALING.
You certainly would not agree with that statement by listening to popular teaching or the common statements of those who believe in divine physical healing. Isaiah 53:5 is arguably the MOST used verse to promote the idea of healing which is on the one hand puzzling, and the other hand somewhat humorous because physical healing is no where to be found in the context of the passage. It is an example of blatant prooftexting (pulling verses from context to support a meaning that is not present in context).
Let’s take a quick look at the context, then go over some other points. Again, MY ANSWER IS NOT MEANT TO BE A DOCTRINAL STATEMENT ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT DIVINE HEALING IS FOR CHRISTIANS TODAY; MY ANSWER IS ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT ISAIAH 53:5 IS A VERSE THAT SUPPORTS THIS BELIEF.
First, the chapter is an obvious prophecy of Jesus death and suffering on the cross (Isa 53:3-12):
He is despised and rejected by men… He was despised, and we did not esteem Him… Smitten by God, and afflicted… But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him… And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all… He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth… And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth… Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief… By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities… Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.
There is no question that the indisputable purpose of Jesus death on the Cross was for spiritual healing, ie. salvation – to heal us of the eternal condemnation of sin and an eternity in hell was THE reason for the Lord choosing to die willingly on our behalf.
This purpose and meaning is not in question, in fact, it cannot be questioned regardless of one’s belief about physical healing because it is the fulcrum of Christianity.
That the foundational context is about spiritual healing is beyond question. If physical healing is part of these verses, then it must be brought forth from the verses themselves (exegesis) rather than inserted into the meaning (eisegesis) by the reader wanting to prove a point. Let’s take a look verse by verse to see whether physical or spiritual things are in mind:
- 1 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
- 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
- 3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
- 4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. (SPIRITUAL; bore our griefs, carried our sorrows)
- 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. (SPIRITUAL HEALING; trangressions [sin], inquities [sin], “by His stripes we are healed” – healed from what? our sin [trangressions and inquities as stated in the verse])
- 6 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. (SPIRITUAL;”gone astray” [sin], iniquity [sin])
- 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
- 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. (SPIRITUAL; “transgressions” [sin])
- 9 And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
- 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. (SPIRITUAL; offering for sin)
- 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. (SPIRITUAL; justification [making the sinful righteous])
- 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors. (SPIRITUAL;”bore the SIN of many”, “made intercession for trangressors)
There simply is no plain reference to physical healing and you must INJECT, INSERT, IMPLY and ADD the idea of physical divine healing to these verses. Let me state AGAIN… this answer is not about whether or not “God still heals today”. This answer is about whether or not “by His stripes you are healed” is a correct use of Isaiah 53:5 to support a doctrine of physical healing.
It is an important distinction. This verse is used frequently and liberally by millions of Christians, and multitudes of popular Christian personalities to promote the “Christian Doctrine of the Believers Divine Right to Physical Health.” This particular verse IS about healing, but has nothing to do with physical healing.
Even when Peter references this phrase in the New Testament, the context is clearly about sin and spiritual healing, not physical:
- 1 Peter 2:21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: (SPIRITUAL;”follow in his steps” – holiness)
- 22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
- 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; (SPIRITUAL; all comments about righteousness not physical health)
- 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed. (SPIRITUAL;”died to sins”, “live for righteousness” – all spiritual things; no mention of physical health)
- 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (NKJV) (SPIRITUAL;”sheep going astray” refers to salvation, not the sick getting physically well)
Finally, Matt 8:17 makes reference to this passage in Isaiah. Many use this as a “definition” of Isaiah 53:5 to which it obviously refers. Remember, the writers of the New Testament often referred to passages in the Old Testament which they were very familiar with. Though writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they were still writing from their own perspective and experience.
The writer here personally saw and experienced Jesus on a daily basis healing MULTITUDES (thousands upon thousands constantly) of the sick and casting out demons, so much so that the whole world couldn’t contain the books that would document Jesus’ acts (John 21:25).
The verse in Isaiah was a very familiar passage to the Jews at that time who were expecting the Messiah (but for all the wrong reasons). It was very natural to associate the phrasing “by his stripes we are healed” to Jesus while watching Him personally in the act of countless miraculous healings – and keep in mind, these were not the type of healings we see claimed today by highly dubious faith healers. Jesus made limbs reappear, shriveled legs become whole, leprosy vanish and the dead come to life. These types of healing weren’t the EXCEPTIONS, they were the norm, occurring countless times, again, so much so that the whole world could not contain the records of them (John 21:25).
To use Matt 8:17 to DEFINE Isaiah 53:5, rather than as the writer’s own obvious and natural commentary of his personal observations, has a couple of major problems. First, that passage in Matt 8:17 is not presented as doctrinal instruction – in other words, the writer is not declaring “here’s what Isaiah 53:5 means…”. Even if it was, the writer is declaring that Jesus Himself, and the His acts of healing which the writer was observing firsthand, were the fulfillment of the passage as he understood it. There is no doctrine of divine healing for every Christian set forth in these verses. Matthew comments on what Jesus was doing without any extrapolation to either the disciples of that time, or to us today.
Second, if you do use Matt 8:17 to define Isa 53:5, then you must do so consistently. To do so consistently means that the same type, frequency, quality and miraculous nature of healing should be occurring today that were the subject of the comment to begin with. Even the most ardent believer in divine healing today would be hard pressed to support the idea that miraculous, instantaneous and complete healing is occurring today in the same manner it occurred with Jesus who healed multiple thousands upon thousands upon thousands of REAL diseases and infirmities, not just back aches, mysterious pains and psychosomatic symptoms. This quality and frequency of healing would apply to all Christians because “by His stripes we are healed” – there are no conditions place on that.
We hear today that this is just a matter of “faith” – but that is adding a condition on Matt 8:17, Isa 53:5 and on Jesus acts that Scripture does not declare. To add “faith”, or the lack of it, as the reason we do not have healing today on par with how Jesus healed then, is to imply that every single person (thousands upon thousand upon thousands) who was healed by Jesus had the necessary faith to “receive” that healing, and yet, we find even the Apostles themselves struggled with having faith. So it is mind boggling stretch to say that a lack of faith is the only thing that keeps us from our divine perfect health today when 1) the Scripture simply and plainly does not declare this idea (it must be extracted from Scripture by coupling many different verses from different contexts together), and 2) the verses like Isa 53:5 that are used to support this idea make no mention of “faith” as a prerequisite which is a very glaring omission if it is indeed the fact.
Finally, we have a couple of other major problems in using Matt 8:17 as a “definition” of the passage in Isaiah. It is the common human experience starting with the Apostles and Paul himself that all Christians do NOT live in divine health. Sickness is a regular and recurring part of this sin-cursed world and to claim otherwise ignores both reality and the multitudes of Scripture that matter-of-factly assume the same. Lastly, if perfect physical health is a divine right purchased by Jesus death on the Cross, then Jesus, the Apostles and Paul for some reason chose NOT to clearly declare this very important blessing for some reason. We are left to derive this belief by indirect application of verses like Matt 8:17 rather than develop the doctrine of divine healing from clear and plain Scripture that declares it to be so.
Divinely granted healing and physical health, as important as it is to us on a daily basis, would surely be something clearly taught were it indeed something Christians had been granted by Christ’s death. In the same manner that spiritual healing is clearly communicated, physical healing would be just as clear if that was the intended meaning of these verses. But as we have seen, physical healing must be INSERTED into the meaning of Isaiah 53, while spiritually healing is plainly declared.
Finally, consider this. If divine healing is true in the sense that it is presented today, then we would never die. Death is the process by which the body grows increasingly “sick”, and the cells of the body die and degenerate until ultimately, the person themselves die. No matter how “natural” a death may be, the root cause is still from the cells of the body deteriorating (sickness). No one argues that we all will die. If divine healing is a right for all Christians, then should be divinely healed of the very processes that cause death which are most certainly sickness and disease. Every Christian who dies should be raised from the dead and healed if this right of divine healing is applied consistently.
True physical healing will be added to our spiritual healing the day we die and leave this sin-cursed flesh to be forever replaced with our incorruptible glorified bodies. God promised Adam and Eve that on the day they sinned, they “would surely die”. This was both physical and spiritual. Jesus death on the cross purchased spiritual healing immediately for all who believe (just like spiritual death was immediate for Adam and Eve). His death on the cross also secured our ultimate physical restoration later on when we leave this sin-cursed body (just like Adam and Eve didn’t physical die immediately, death came later). The pattern and parallel is obvious.
(Note: am I saying that God does not, or cannot, miraculously heal today? Absolutely not. He most certainly can and does according to His will and pleasure. But God’s ability and choice to heal is not the same as declaring “healing” to be a divine right of every Christian, purchased by Jesus on the Cross, and accessible at will if only the right amount of “faith” is applied.)
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If you believe in divine physical healing AND you are Christian who believes that Bible verses should not be ripped from context to prove a point…. then go ahead and believe in physical healing, BUT DON’T USE ISAIAH 53 TO SUPPORT YOUR BELIEF because it simply does not speak of physical healing.
Hold to your beliefs honestly and through personal effort. Learn not to take Scripture out of context to support them. Be spiritually, theologically, Scripturally and intellectually honest. The Bible is a not a shopping mall or a grab bag. It is the Holy Word of God. Conform your beliefs to God; don’t use His Word to pick out what supports your point disregarding the context.
I will receive many arguments and rebukes for my answer and that is fine; I welcome them. What I ask is that you send YOUR disagreement along with YOUR Scriptural support. Please do not copy and paste arguments from other teachers or websites; or send me the name of a book and tell me that if I would only read it, I would get straightened out.
Each Christian should know what they believe, why they believe it, and give the Scripture to support it. Any belief you simply repeat and cannot defend means that you are trusting man’s opinion and not God’s. So if you disagree, please do so with God’s Word, not your Pastor’s sermon, a Christian TV personality’s book, your personal “feeling” or some experience someone has had.
The Bible is our source of truth and doctrine. Use it accurately and faithfully, rightly dividing God’s Word (2Tim 2.15) which is able to divide soul and spirit (Heb 4.12), is profitable for all teaching and correction (2Tim 3.16-17), and is sufficienct for all things that pertain to life and godliness (2Pet 1.3).
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