Formal equivalence comparison #1: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV – Isaiah 53:5

This comparison between formal translations of the Tyndale tradition will begin with the passage of Isaiah 53:5.

The Hebrew word for שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace”) is traditionally rendered as peace. The ESV uses the word peace, the NASB uses well-being, and the NRSV use whole. However, all three are also correct. It might also be translated as completeness, soundness, welfare, or health. Peace is the traditional rendering of the word shalom. The KJV used peace, as well as, T/NIV and HCSB. Chastisement for our peace (ESV), or results in peace, is different from chastisement of our peace. Chastisement that makes one whole (NRSV) is also different from chastening for our well-being (NASB). Whether the original intent of the writer in using shalom to refer to peace, or to wholeness, or to wellbeing, may be indeterminable.

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed

I think the NRSV incorrectly chose to use punishment instead of chastisement (ESV, RSV) or chastening (NASB). The lexicon defines the Hebrew word muwcar as discipline, chastening, nurture, correction, instruction, rebuker. The word for punishment is not muwcar but avon or chattah. Although punishment and chastisement are related, they seem to have slightly different connotations. Punishment has a stronger and firmer feel of discipline than chastisement. When God chooses to discipline his children because he loves them; that is chastisement to me, and not so much punishment. The words discipline and correction might also be possibilities but they may not necessarily convey the idea of a more pain-filled chastisement that the despised, rejected, and suffering one experienced. The choice of words seems to be debatable, but personally, I prefer chastisement (ESV) or chastening (NASB).

In v.5b, the NASB chose to use scourging instead of bruises (NRSV), and stripes (ESV). The T/NIV and HCSB both used wounds. I prefer wounds or scourging because we do not know exactly what kind of wounds were inflicted, i.e, stripes or bruises? If we read Christ into this Isaiah passage, stripes from the whipping would seem to make sense. But do we want to read Christ into Isaiah? Did the NRSV intentionally use bruises in order to avoid conjuring the image that the suffering one necessarily received stripes? I think it might be a stretch that one could also view bruises as the same as stripes from whipping. I would prefer to leave it more generic with wounds or scourging. But I will tend toward prefering scourging (NASB) because it may also imply a generic form of whipping.

In v.5a, the use of pierced may also be reading Christ into this Isaiah passage because it conjures the image that Jesus Christ was pierced by the Roman soldier at the cross. The ESV and N/RSV may have intentionally, and even unnecessarily, steered away from reading Christ into this passage. The NASB’s rendering of pierced (as also T/NIV and HCSB) but the ESV and NRSV went the safe route with wounded. However, pierced may also be just as accurate as wounded. Another possibility is to be wounded (fatally). Again, the original intent of the writer is indeterminable. I prefer the ESV and NRSV’s rendering of wounded.

In this verse of Isaiah 53:5, there is no clear winner and cannot be based on only one verse. The comparison will continue.

8 thoughts on “Formal equivalence comparison #1: NASB vs ESV vs NRSV – Isaiah 53:5

  1. Jesse, thanks for your comments. What I meant about reading Christ into the Isaiah passage was not meant to be a critical remark. I do not think there is anything wrong about reading Christ “within” the OT passage. But what should be avoided by translators is reading Christ “into” the passage when it is not necessarily speaking about him, and then making further interpretations concerning him (which would make it erroneous). Making personal interpretations about a passage can cause more error. I agree with you that Acts 8:35 is clearly speaking about Jesus.

    That’s a good point you brought up about punishment and discipline. I don’t like the word “discipline” but “chastening” is better. I think I understand your argument and I think it all depends on perspective. It is clear that the fruit of chastisement was for humanity’s benefit. But the question is: was the physical chastening itself inflicted for humanity or for Jesus? It depends upon perspective. The ESV and NRSV’s “upon him” tends to point in the direction of “for Christ”. This is why I saw this as the chastisement inflicted “for Jesus”, and not so much as “for us”. But your point of Christ’s “atoning sacrifice” is an interesting point. But since the Hebrew word of muwcar was used, I don’t know how else it could work, given the available definitions of muwcar. Since appeasement for our sin offering is not was not denoted in the word muwcar, I would stick with “chastisement” to be on the safe side. To use another word to denote appeasement would be over-interpretation.


  2. I see two issues here Kevin:

    1. You may not mean something wrong by it, I am not assuming that here, but you stated twice that given a certain translation, we may be “read/ing Christ into this Isaiah passage.” Philip explicitly states that this passage contains “the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8.35). Although the Jews may have been confused, certainly the Eunuch was, due in part to the numerous “Servant” passages in Isaiah, this passage is talking about the Christ. I do agree however that scourging or wounds should be used because of the damage that was inflicted upon the Christ. Even so, I just wanted to comment on what may be a confusing statement.

    2. I think what Kevin most recently posted about discipline is quite interesting. Was Christ disciplined? Or was he punished? Should we view the atoning sacrifice in the OT in either way? Certainly Christ became that atoning sacrifice (1 John 2.2; 4.10). The word helosmos is used in the LXX for the atoning sacrifice and it simply means appeasement. The depth of that word is very deep, don’t get me wrong, but it is for all practical purposes a sin-offering. God’s wrath and the consequences of sin are appeased (brought to a state of peace; satisfied). We are not longer guilty (granted we obey the Gospel). Neither discipline nor punishment seem to be in focus (unless of course the lamb was receiving punishment on our behalf [death]). 2 Corinthians 5.21 explains that Christ became sin on our behalf. He certainly suffered for it, otherwise we would be punished for our sin in Hell. You could argue that.

    Given the Messianic fulfillment of this passage, chastisement doesn’t seem to work, since Christ was certainly not disciplined.

    What do you guys think?


  3. Peter, to go with discipline might also conjure the image that Jesus needed to be disciplined for doing something wrong. In other words, did Jesus need correction? This leads me to a question: Would it be more appropriate to portray the image of a more pain-filled infliction upon the suffering and despised One? or to portray a disciplinary-corrective one?


  4. I agree (even against my usually favoured TNIV) in rejecting “punishment” here. To say that the servant received “punishment” has profound theological implications and so this rendering should be used only if it is unambiguous that this is the author’s intention. And it is not.

    The problem with “chastisement” or “chastening” is that these words are not in regular modern English use. Perhaps “discipline” would be a better choice, or “he was disciplined so that we could have peace” for this line.


  5. TC, as you point out, even the LXX have it as disciplines so I really don’t know why the NRSV and TNIV would translate it as punishment. Thanks for looking up the LXX on Peter’s quote.Thanks for looking up Peter’s quote. It’s interesting that the LXX’s rendering doesn’t always seem to be the same as in Greek. I guess it sounds more personal with “you (pl.) are healed.”

    Nathan, it looks like the NRSV doesn’t always have it right, as some may claim.


  6. I also agree in that I dislike using punishment here, chastisement seems to fit better (I prefer discipline). Also, I like how the ESV uses the word peace for shalom. The NRSV if pretty good here but I prefer the ESV for this verse.


  7. Kevin, I agree that the NRSV as well as the TNIV are incorrect in rendering Muwcar “punishment.”

    “Chastisement” is a better choice. The LXX uses παιδεία, the common Greek word for “discipline.”

    Peter quotes from Isa 53:

    οὗ τῷ μώλωπι ἰάθητε (1 Pet 2:24).

    But check out the LXX at Isa 53:5:τῷ μώλωπι αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς ἰάθημεν. Peter changes ἰάθημεν to ἰάθητε for the sake of his readers.


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