With the Rich in His Death -- By: Allan A. MacRae

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 06:2 (Spring 1977)
Article: With the Rich in His Death
Author: Allan A. MacRae

With the Rich in His Death

Allan A. MacRae

[Dr. MacRae is president of Biblical School of Theology, Hatfield, Pennsylvania.]

The late Professor James R. Montgomery of the University of Pennsylvania said on several occasions that the translators of the King James Version were so thoroughly trained in biblical languages that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find an equally competent group of translators today.

Their translation into the language of three hundred years ago was certainly one of the finest ever made of any book into any language. Yet, as in any human work, occasionally unfortunate mistakes were made. One relates to a very important prediction concerning Christ.

The first part of Isaiah 53:9 is one of the verses most quoted by Christians to show that the Old Testament predicts in detail the circumstances of the death of Christ. Yet, as translated in the King James Version, the verse seems somewhat vague. It reads: “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death.”

Unfortunately, this is one of the least exact translations anywhere in that excellent version. Its English words introduce ideas not in the original and omit ideas the Hebrew contains.

The phrase “he made his grave” could mean that He himself dug a grave. This is not at all the content of the Hebrew. First, the Hebrew verb used here is not the common word for “make,” but one that is generally translated “give.” This verb is also used to describe establishing a law or appointing a man to a certain position. Twice the word is translated “assign.”

A second cause of misunderstanding in this phrase is the translators’ use of the word “he.” In context, the phrase is clearly indefinite or impersonal, sometimes rendered “one” in modern English but more often by “they” or by use of a passive verb.1 Thus the first part of the verse would be better translated, “they assigned his grave”

or “his grave was assigned.”

The next words, “with the wicked,” likewise do not properly represent the Hebrew, which uses a simple plural adjective without an article and means “wicked ones” or “wicked men.” In modern English, “the wicked” might suggest a large group of wicked men, but the original Hebrew exactly fits the expectation that Christ would be buried with two malefactors.

It was common practice among the Romans to leave crucified criminals unburied or to put them together in a common grave. Therefore...

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