Expanded study on the “Healed” of Isaiah 53:5

Preamble: The following study focuses on the word “healed” from Isaiah 53. This is the Hebrew word Rapha’. The following is not an exhaustive study on healing, in and of itself. The focus is Isaiah’s prophecy and how that prophecy should be viewed in the light of scripture.

Healing is one of those topics that seems to run the full gamut in the church. There are those who believe that God heals no one with no exception. For these, the healings in the New Testament were solely for the purpose of showing that Christ was the true savior and those healings ended once the New Testament was written and the church was established. There are others who believe that without question, in this very life, everyone is to be healed without fail. There are those who preach that healing power rests in God and that God is completely sovereign, and there are those who say that whether or not healing occurs is a matter of our faith that we grow and we administer. If we can just be tenacious enough, and be careful not to say anything to negate our faith, faith will do whatever we set it out to do. If we aren’t being healed, then we must dig in harder because it is us who has done something incorrectly.

In reference to Isaiah 53:4-5, the former group, which says that no one is healed today, often points to Matthew 8:16-17, showing that the healing prophesied in Isaiah 53 was fulfilled and therefore, is done with:

When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses.” (NKJV)

The latter group, believing that healing will always come if we have done things correctly often point to verses such as Isaiah 53:5, stating that healing is a part of the covenant which provides our salvation (for spirit, soul, and body); and Luke 17:6, which says “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (here, the “if you have faith” is often stressed). This camp often uses the examples of Jesus as examples perfectly set for today’s world because (as it is said), Jesus is “perfect theology.” While this sounds good, you sure do have to throw out large portions of the Bible if Jesus (as only seen in the New Testament stories about him and in what he said) is the full and perfect theology of God. I would argue that the Bible as a whole is the perfect theology of God. Interestingly, John chapter 1 would say that Jesus is the full Word of God (Bible) as well (“and the Word became flesh”) – so in that since, I would agree that Jesus is the perfect theology of God, but this is not what is meant when you typically hear that phrase.

The above extremes are not the only positions you’ll find in churches today. There are many opinions and teachings between the diverse teachings. I’ve wrestled in this continuum for years. I certainly don’t believe the former. I’ve been healed and I’ve seen many healings. God does heal today! Cessationist theology is easily shown incorrect with scripture. And while I may have at one time been closer to the latter camp which states that everyone is always healed today, more and more of that camp’s teachings have begun to sit off with me. I’ve realized I’d have to ignore numerous parts of the Bible for their points to work. Also, simple observation has to make you question. Many people of great faith simply aren’t healed, despite prayer, prophecies, and promises. The word of faith movement has very questionable beginnings (a history I encourage everyone to study) and preaches a “truth” that is not practiced by the preachers themselves. I’ve known people who refuse to go to doctors as they see it as a lack of faith; I’ve heard preachers preach that trusting in a physician shows a lack of faith, yet these very preachers, when faced with a difficult physical challenge, typically go to doctors themselves. When researched, this too is an interesting study which reveals that the word of faith preachers themselves often don’t trust in the very words they preach. And let’s face it, if what they preach and show on their personal TV shows were completely real, we’d see similar happenings more often outside of those very TV shows.

For this study, I want to look at Isaiah 53:5 and the word “healed.”  Looking at the New King James, verse 5 is the only verse in this chapter which contains the word “healed.” The verse reads:

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.

This verse is the most common verse I’ve heard regarding “proof” that physical healing is guaranteed to all Christians today. It is said that the verse speaks to our sin and the guilt for that sin (transgressions and iniquities – our spiritual healing), our peace (mental healing) and in the last line, our physical healing, which occurs because of “His stripes.” I know I’ve preached this myself.

The word for “healed” in this verse is translated from Strongs H7495: rapha’. In this instance, it is in the perfect tense, suggesting a completed action. It could therefore be read, “And by His stripes we are already healed.” It is also of the Niphal stem, which here represents the passive voice. The healing is something that is done to us, not something we do to ourselves (compare “we healed” {as in our healing others} to “we were healed” {by someone else}).

From this we can say that our healing (however we will define it) is something that was already done to us.

So what does “healed” (rapha’ – H7495) mean? Strongs Concordance gives this definition: a primitive root; properly, to mend (by stitching), i.e. (figuratively) to cure:—cure, (cause to) heal, physician, repair, × (This symbol denotes a rendering that results from an idiom peculiar to the Hebrew) thoroughly, make whole.

The Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon adds the following: (Qal tense) Rapha’ means (1) properly, to sew together, to mend. This root imitates the sound of a person sewing rapidly (thus the definition to mend by stitching). (2). To heal (a wound, a wounded person – which is done by sewing up the wound). (2a). God is said to heal a person, a people, a land, i.e. to restore to pristine felicity (sometimes from the calamities He inflicted). (2b). To pardon. (2c). Rapha’ is also used for “to comfort”. The passive voice (Niphal tense) of (1) above would be “be made whole again.” The passive of (2) can be “to be healed,” whether a disease or a sick person himself. Isaiah 53:5 could be stated, “there was healing to us,” i.e., God pardoned us. Bitter water can also be healed. The active form of the verb (Piel tense) could be stated as (1) to mend, to repair (as in a broken alter), (2), to heal, as a wound, the sick, water, and can also mean “to comfort.” (3) In the transitive sense, it can mean “to cause to be healed, to take the charge of healing.” In the reflexive Hithpael tense, it would mean “to cause oneself to be healed.”

The word “rapha'” is used only 67 times in the old testament. To get a better sense of how this word is used, all 67 occurrences are listed below by scripture reference with a brief commentary as to what the healing was.

Genesis 20:17 – opening up of the wombs that the Lord himself had previously closed.

Genesis 50:2 – referencing physicians (used as a noun in English) who would embalm Joseph’s father. Here it is the active participle verb form and might be translated, “the ones who do healing.”

Exodus 15:26 – this is the great “I AM” declaration of God being Jehovah Rapha, the “Lord who heals you.” It is interesting that in this verse God heals us by not putting diseases on us as he had on the Egyptians (if we diligently heed the voice of the Lord our God and do what is right in his site, giving ear to his commandments and keeping all his statutes).

Exodus 21:19 – refers to physical healing, provided by doctors, at the expense of the one who caused the injury.

Leviticus 13:18 – refers to bodily healing of a boil.

Leviticus 13:37 – refers to bodily healing of a scale on the skin.

Leviticus 14:3 – refers to leprosy being healed.

Leviticus  14:48 – refers to a plague on a house (think black mold) being healed (by facet of the plastering of the house to fix the problem).

Numbers 12:13 – refers to Moses asking God to heal Miriam of leprosy.

Deuteronomy 28:27 and 28:35 – refers to the not healing of skin conditions given by the Lord (from which you cannot be healed).

Deuteronomy 32:39 – refers to God as the one who wounds and heals (along with kills and makes alive).

1 Samuel 6:3 – refers to the hoped removing of the plague from the Philistines who were cursed by God for having the Ark of God.

1 Kings 18:30 – refers to Elijah’s repairing the alter of the LORD which had been broken.

2 Kings 2:21-22 – refers to the healing of water which was bad

2 Kings 8:29 and 9:15 – refers to recovering from physical wounds received in battle.

2 Kings 20:5, 8 – refers to God’s healing Hezekiah of a malady (after God initially said he would die).

2 Chronicles 7:14 – refers to God healing the land of the lack of rain and pestilence that He had previously sent, if His people would humble themselves, pray, seek his face, and turn from their wicked ways.

2 Chronicles 16:12 – refers to physical healing sought via physicians without seeking the Lord (not seeking the Lord for being Lord – this does not condemn Asa for not seeking the Lord for his healing, but as a whole)

2 Chronicles 22:6 – refers to recovering from wounds received in battle.

2 Chronicles 30:20 – refers to God giving purification to people who had not correctly purified themselves according to the Jewish rules laid down by Moses. This is a spiritual healing/cleansing.

Job 5:18 – Job is crediting God as being the one who “makes whole” after God has wounded (Job did not have the behind the scenes view we do to know that in this case, Satan was doing the wounding with God’s permission).

Job 13:4 – referring to physicians.

Psalm 6:2 – This Psalm of David refers to David asking God to give healing from the emotional and physical anguish caused by David’s sin.

Psalm 30:2 – refers to healing brought by God when David cried to him. From the other verses, this is likely the healing of salvation (from God’s anger and from enemies)

Psalm 41:4 – David is asking for healing of his soul as he has sinned against God

Psalm 60:2 – refers to the healing of the earth which has been broken and made to tremble by God.

Psalm 103:3 – refers to the healing of diseases (listed as a benefit of God along with forgiving of all sins).

Psalm 107:20 – refers to the healing of those in distress because of their sin when they cried out to God (the distress is specified in vs. 17-18: “Fools, because of their transgression, And because of their iniquities, were afflicted. Their soul abhorred all manner of food, And they drew near to the gates of death.”)

Psalm 147:3 – refers to the healing of the brokenhearted, the outcasts of Israel.

Ecclesiastes 3:3 – there is a season for everything (A time to kill, a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up).

Approximately 9% of the uses of rapha‘ are found in Isaiah, from where our source scripture originates. It is noted that no use of rapha’ by Isaiah clearly and plainly points to physical healing alone. Isaiah always seems to be talking about a spiritual healing (from sins/backsliding/etc.) though in some verses, a physical healing could also be assumed to be included with the spiritual healing. The primary, though, is always spiritual when used in Isaiah.

Isaiah 6:10 – refers to a spiritual healing and understanding for a dull people (not a physical healing).

Isaiah 19:22 – refers to the healing of Egypt who God will strike; they will return to the Lord as the Lord will send them a savior and a mighty one (not a physical healing).

Isaiah 30:26 – a prophecy of future healing of his people/land/nature from the effects of sin. It would seem this is still to come.

Isaiah 53:5 – referring to us as a people (those who have accepted Christ) and the healing that acceptance will bring. This most certainly refers to a spiritual healing as seen in context of the entire chapter, but there is no reason in the verse itself not to find application for physical healing. The main purpose, though, in light of Isaiah 53, is the spiritual healing bought for us by Christ’s sufferings. This will be discussed more below.

Isaiah 57:18 and 19 – refers to a spiritual healing of a people. Physical healing could be included here as well, but the primary message is of spiritual healing. The healing is a return from backslidings.

Over 16% of the times rapha‘ is used is in Jeremiah. Very much like the first major prophet, Isaiah, all instances of healing in Jeremiah refer to healing in a spiritual sense. While there are a small number of verses that could possibly be interpreted as referring to physical healing, in no instance is such healing the primary mode of healing being discussed in the verse.

Jeremiah 3:22 – refers to healing of backsliding.

Jeremiah 6:14 and 8:11 – referring to the false healing of false prophets who say “peace peace” when there is no peace.

Jeremiah 8:22 – referring to a spiritual physician needed for a broken people.

Jeremiah 15:18 – referring to a wound that won’t be healed… the wound seems to be the pain of being isolated and persecuted for following God.

Jeremiah 17:14 – “Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved…” (this seems to refer to a general saving and healing; not necessarily physical, but not denying the physical either).

Jeremiah 19:11 – here, made whole would refer to restoration to a people and city which have been broken by God as one breaks a potter’s vessel.

Jeremiah 30:17 – while this could refer to physical healing, when read in context of the chapter, this is primarily about God’s restoration of his people.

Jeremiah 33:6 – here the healing is for a city (not physical healing for the people – but healing for the city itself).

Jeremiah 51:8-9 – refers to the healing of Babylon (the healing of a city, similar to 33:6 above).

All the uses of rapha‘ in Lamentations, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Zechariah refer to spiritual healing.

Lamentations 2:13 – refers to spiritual healing.

Ezekiel 33:4 – refers to spiritual and possibly physical healing that was the responsibility of the shepherds of God who were self-seeking. This would be similar to the type of healing that would be the responsibility of a pastor or caretaker of a people.

Ezekiel 47:8-9, 11 – refers to healing waters in Ezekiel’s vision. Vs. 11 refers to marshes and swamps that will not be healed.

Hosea 5:13 – this speaks to a physical healing, but the sickness and healing are clearly only representative of the spiritual state of God’s people.

Hosea 6:1 – refers to healing of wounds the Lord has inflicted (“Come, and let us return to the LORD; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.”). This is using a physical condition to refer to a spiritual state.

Hosea 7:1, 11:3, and 14:4 – refers to spiritual healing of a people, even from their apostasy (14:4).

Zechariah 11:16 – Similar to Ezekiel 33:4, this refers to the healing that should come via the shepherds of God.

In reviewing all of the uses of rapha‘ above, less than 25% of the passages speak solely to a physical healing. Often, the malady being healed was actually a malady directly related to the sin of the people.  Several of the instances referring to physical healing are from Leviticus and the laws concerning leprosy or other skin conditions.

Most instances of rapha‘ refer to spiritual healing, which at times may have a physical component. Spiritual healing, though, is the primary use of this word – especially when used in the prophetic books. The prophecies regarding the future church is that God would draw us back in, bringing spiritual healing. The prophecies using rapha’ do not focus on physical healing though they may use physical healing as a component of – or representation of spiritual healing. Spiritual healing is the goal, but physical healing may be manifest in the fulfillment of that goal.

When viewed this way the claim that Isaiah 53:5 (“and with his stripes we are healed.”) speaks specifically to physical healing in and of itself is poorly supported. If this is the case, then the word is used in a contrary manner and with a unique meaning to how it is otherwise exclusively used not only by Isaiah, but by all of the prophets. If we let scripture interpret scripture, we would not likely come to this popular conclusion regarding Isaiah 53:5. I don’t say this to disprove that God heals. I’ve already stated I believe God heals. But to study the Bible honestly, I find it weak ground to say that per Isaiah 53:5, current physical healing is the primary intent of the prophecy. In looking at all of Isaiah 53, it does become clear that Jesus did indeed bear our sin, sickness, mental anguish and everything else that results from our being fallen creatures. Ultimately, we will be delivered from all these things because of what Jesus accomplished at the cross, but as we shall see, we are not necessarily delivered of all these things in this life. The simple fact is, if we were delivered of all the effects of sin in this life because of the cross, we would be a perfect people and we would never die physically upon becoming a Christian.

Some use Isaiah 53:5 to say that all Christians everywhere should be perfectly healed, just as we are perfectly forgiven. Interestingly, some use Isaiah 53:4-5 to show that healing is no longer relevant today as the Isaiah prophecies were fulfilled in Matthew 8. As mentioned previously, some cessationists  will point to Matthew 8:16-17 as being the ultimate and complete fulfillment of the prophecy of healing found in Isaiah 53. This is clearly not a logical interpretation of these verses, as healing is completely entwined with the forgiveness of sin. If the prophecies in Isaiah 53 were completed in this one incident, then all of us would be in sad shape, as the prophecy as a whole would no longer be relevant to us and we would no longer have forgiveness of sins. What Matthew likely meant in his writing was that one had come who was the fulfillment of the prophecies and who would ultimately fulfill the prophecies (at the cross). With this interpretation, the prophecy of salvation is available for all who believe through all of time. With this interpretation, we can also know that it was indeed Jesus who bore every aspect of the consequences of sin (including sickness) and ultimately, we will see the deliverance bought for us because of this (at the end of this age, and in parts, before). Further, because healing of sickness is shown to occur because of the Isaiah 53 prophecies, we are negated from attempting to claim that physical healing is not included in what Jesus did for us (this greatly weakens the incorrect cessationist argument).

To support this last point, we must remember that Isaiah 53:4’s “griefs” is the Hebrew word choliy (Strongs H2483). This word literally means “disease/sickness.” It is interesting that Matthew took care to not allow this word to be “spiritualized” in his writing. The Greek Septuagint (the Greek rendering of the original Hebrew Old Testament) uses the word odynaō (Strongs G3600 ὀδυνάω) to translate the Hebrew choliy.  Odynaō means sorrow or torment – a rather vague term for the purpose of this discussion. Matthew instead chose not to quote from the Greek Septuagint. Rather, when Matthew quoted Isaiah, he wrote: “He Himself took our infirmities (Strongs G769) And bore our sicknesses (Strongs G3554)”

Strongs G769 is astheneia, and this word is best translated as infirmities, weakness, disease and sickness.

Strongs G3554 is nosos, and this word is best translated as disease, infirmity, or sickness –  all physical ailments. In fact, Strongs specifies that this word is not used figuratively or of moral disability. An overview of biblical usage confirms this word speaks to the physical.

While the “healed” of Isaiah 53:5 may not speak specifically to the physical, Matthew leaves no question with his quoting Isaiah 53:4 that Jesus did take on our physical ailments, just as he took on every other aspect of our fallen state.

The Greek of “healed” from Isaiah 53:5, as translated in the Septuagint is Strong’s 2390 (iaomai). This is also the word Peter uses in 1 Peter 2:24 when he quotes Isaiah 53:5 from the Old Testament. Iaomai, much like the Hebrew rapha’, speaks both to physical and spiritual healing. Only used 30 times in the New Testament, the word typically speaks to physical healing in individualized situations (such as in Matthew 8:8, 13 and Luke 8:47) and it speaks to spiritual healing when referencing prophetic passages and passages speaking to God healing a people (rather than a person) (such as in Matthew 13:15/Acts 28:27 and  John 12:40).

Knowing that Isaiah 53:5’s “healed” speaks most directly to spiritual healing of a people (and this is likely how God ultimately sees our healing – as spiritual, for he sees us as spiritual beings and he is most interested in our eternal salvation), we need to consider what Jesus took upon himself to purchase that healing for us. We just saw that Matthew confirmed physical sickness was a part of this, but we must consider everything. Looking at Isaiah 53: 3-5, we have:

He is despised and rejected by men, (Jesus took on rejection by the world) 
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. (Jesus took on sorrow and grief – grief is literally disease/sickness – Strongs H2483, choliy)
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; (rejection from his own people)
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (hatred and lack of consideration for who he really was)

Surely He has borne our griefs (confirmation he took on OUR disease/sickness) 
And carried our sorrows; (OUR mental and physical pain, sorrow – Strongs H4341)
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. (in our foolishness, people thought God was punishing Jesus for his own sins)

But He was wounded for our transgressions, (the correction to the above – he was not wounded for his sins, but for ours)
He was bruised for our iniquities; (he took on the punishment for our sin)
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, (He took on OUR guilt born because of sin)

And by His stripes we are healed. – This is the first verse that speaks of us rather than of him. For the previous three verses, the scripture lists the many aspects of what Jesus went through for our healing. He took upon himself undeserved rejection (from strangers and his own people), our grief, sorrow, our disease, our sickness, our sin, the punishment for our sin, and the lack of peace that comes from having sin. And finally, at the end of verse 5, we see that because of all that he took upon himself, by his stripes – representing the very physical demonstration of everything above – we are healed. It is only logical that this is therefore a complete spiritual healing.

So what about physical healing? If Isaiah 53:4-5 speaks to the ultimate spiritual healing that was to be purchased for us and uses words that speak to physical aspects of healing, and if Matthew 8 and the Greek iaomai, astheneia, and nosos also link that healing with the physical, we must ask, what is a Biblical view of how we should see physical healing play out in our lives today?

Seeing as Jesus took on all these things for our ultimate spiritual healing, then how our physical healing plays out should be similar to how everything else plays out. Jesus took on our pain and disease. Jesus took on our sin. Jesus took on our lack of peace. Jesus took on rejection from all people (friends and foes). Jesus took on all these things to ultimately remove them from us – to give us true healing. But we know we don’t see the perfect manifestation of any of these things in this world. We know we can’t expect such perfection in this world – the Bible simply doesn’t paint that picture. So if we don’t see perfection regarding sin or peace, then why do we separately think we should see perfection regarding physical health? I don’t think we should.

Regarding sin, Paul spoke of struggling to not do what he knew he shouldn’t and struggling to do what he knew he should because he was still trapped in a carnal body (See Romans 7). Jesus said if they rejected him they would reject us (See Luke 10:16 and John 15:18). Paul had to live with his thorn, which was a messenger of Satan who buffeted him – clearly causing issues with his peace. Paul says in Galatians 4:13 “You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first” which shows Paul dealt with sickness – and further, it was because of this sickness that Paul preached the gospel to the Galatians! Also, Paul gives examples of others who dealt with sickness during their walk as Christians (see Philippians 2:25-30, 2 Timothy 4:20). Finally, John implies in Revelation 21:4 and 22:3 that it is in Heaven at the end of the age where there will be no more death, sorrow, crying, pain, tears, and curse (sickness is part of the curse). If these things will ultimately be wiped away at the end of things, then these things are still here now. And to avoid a misinterpretation, we must remember John is talking to believers here – this does not refer to the removal of those who do not know God and therefore they are the ones who died, sorrowed, cried, had pain, tears, etc. and it is through their removal that these things are removed. That is not what these scripture are saying.

The logical conclusion is that yes, healing is included in the atonement. Sickness and disease are part of what Jesus took upon himself at the cross so that we could be fully healed. However, the fulfillment of that is not yet seen and we, on earth, still struggle with all the things that Jesus took upon himself for us. Does this mean that we should not expect to be healed? Not at all. We should expect healing. We should expect a reduction of sinful living. We should expect an increase in peace. But to say we should expect perfection in these things in this life just isn’t biblical when the fullness of scripture is considered. It is interesting that we should expect rejection, even though Jesus suffered rejection as part of the atonement. Even so, many of those who preach perfect health also preach that we should be perfectly esteemed by others, given promotions, and be liked by everyone – an idea not supported in scripture.

While it would be nice to be able to point to the “with his stripes we are healed” of Isaiah 53:5 to say that in all instances, we should receive perfect physical healing in this life, this interpretation of this verse is not consistent with the meaning of healed as used by all of the Old Testament prophets nor is it in line with the overall interpretation of the Greek rendering of the same word in the New Testament. Yes, this word can refer to healings – in the Bible this is typically shown in isolated incidents. When applied specifically to God’s people as a whole, it points to a spiritual healing. Additionally, we have seen that this verse is the culmination of what is given to us because of what Jesus took upon himself. He took every aspect of sin’s consequences upon himself, yet for all of those, we still struggle in this life, eagerly awaiting the final redemption. Romans 8:18-25 makes it clear – we are waiting in perseverance for what is to ultimately come because of what Jesus did at the cross. Our best life is not now. On this side of eternity, we see and experience only in part (see 1 Corinthians 13:9-12) and we look forward in hope for what has not yet fully come. Yes, God heals, and he is sovereign to do so and he does heal today. We should seek him for healing – he purchased it for us, but in those instances when it doesn’t happen, we need to realize that we are not alone, our circumstance is not unbiblical, and it may not be an issue of our faith or lack thereof. We need to remember, and even be encouraged, that God used Paul’s “physical infirmity” to spread the gospel (Galatians 4:13 – the Greek, dia (Strongs 1223) shows that it was because of, by, or for the sake of the physical infirmity that Paul preached – it was the channel of Paul’s preaching). We need to remember that others in the New Testament times were not healed. We need to keep moving forward, trusting that God’s grace is sufficient, no matter the apparent outcome of our prayers, not giving up or blaming ourselves, but looking forward in hope for that final redemption of our bodies which has not yet come, but which is coming (see Romans 8:22-25). As Romans 8:23 says, we have the first fruits, but at this time we do not have the fullness.

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