“By His Stripes We Are Healed” -- By: Bruce R. Reichenbach

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 41:4 (Dec 1998)
Article: “By His Stripes We Are Healed”
Author: Bruce R. Reichenbach


“By His Stripes We Are Healed”

Bruce R. Reichenbach*

* Bruce Reichenbach is professor of philosophy at Augsburg College, 731 21st Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55454.

The doctrine of atonement looms rich with imagery over the theological landscape. Through the centuries Christian theologians have employed diverse motifs—the economics of ransom (Origen, Gregory of Nyssa), judicial proceedings (Anselm), warfare and conquest (Aulen), educational training by example (Socinius, Abelard), and sacrificial rites—to interpret the complexity of the atonement. To these Isaiah adds another: healing through the suffering of another. Though this motif is at times alluded to, I have yet to find it carefully elaborated. In what follows I will explore the healing motif, develop how it might assist our understanding of the atonement, and assess it in light of a serious critique of the atonement itself. My intent is not to replace or supersede the other motifs but to further enrich them.

The fourth Servant song (Isa 52:13–53:12) is central for developing this motif. It describes the human predicament—whether individual or corporate, religious or political—of a life of infirmities and pains, of transgressions and iniquities. One thing immediately striking about this passage is the author’s connection of sickness and sin. He moves easily between the two: In 53:4 the Servant is seen as bearing our1 diseases and sorrows, while in v. 5 the Servant is pierced, crushed, and punished for our sins. If sin and sickness are conceptually connected, the model of healing provides an appropriate way to address the human predicament.

I. Sickness And Sin In Scripture

OT thought frequently links sickness, suffering and sin. Humans freely sin, and sin leads to punishment, which culminates appropriately in suffering. In the Genesis story of the fall the writer traces both the excruciating pain of childbearing and the man’s painful toil in tilling the soil for a living to human disobedience of God’s command regarding the central tree of the Garden (Gen 3:16–19). God punishes Miriam with leprosy when she complains about Moses’ recent marriage and his failure to share power (Num 12:1–16), while those who gave a false report about Canaan die from a plague (14:33–38). Elisha’s servant Gehazi greedily pursues Naaman’s offer of payment for services rendered and is punished with leprosy (

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