(Garth D. Wiebe, Jan 2015, added additional “‘Aorist’…” paragraph May 2015)
Entire sermons have been delivered, usually by preachers in the “word of faith” movement, on a fallacy about 1 Peter 2:24 that comes from an ambiguity in the English language.
Peter did not misquote Isa 53:5, strategically changing the tense from present to past tense, as some claim. And I will prove it here without a doubt.
The verb in 1 Pet 2:24 is not spelled
ιασθε = “iasthe” = “you(plural) have been healed (Perfect passive)
The verb in 1 Pet 2:24 is spelled
ιαθητε = “iathete” = “you(plural) are healed” (Aorist passive, emphasis mine)
This matches Isaiah 53:5 in the Septuagint translation:
ιαθημεν = “iathemen” =”we are healed” (Aorist passive, emphasis mine)
The only difference between those last two words is the 2nd vs. 3rd person (“you” vs. “we”) conjugation of the verb.
This corresponds to Isaiah 53:5 in the Hebrew text:
נִרְפָּא־ לָֽנוּ׃ = “lnu -nrpha” = “he-has-been-healed (niphal, perfect) to/toward-us”
The Greek indefinite, aorist verb tense specifies state, not action, fact rather than act, what timelessly just “is” rather than something happening in time. We don’t have an explicit way of writing that verb tense in English, either with verb endings (-s, -ed, -ing, etc.) or with helper verbs (has-, will-, etc.) So we can’t translate it very easily, or at least not unambiguously. But it conveys that healing applies to us. It is a “done deal.” Just like you see that Isaiah 53:5 says in the Hebrew (which also makes for awkward English).
“Aorist” was the ancient Greeks’ definition for the verb tense, and not a modern scholar’s definition (see LSJ “ἀόριστος” definition II.3.). The word “aorist” is from Greek “α-οριστος” = “a-oristos,” where “a” = “without,” and “oristos” = “defined boundary.” Strong’s G3724 (“οριζω”) is the verb form used in “α-οριζω” = “a-[h]orizo.” We get the English transliteration “horizon” from this Greek word (without the “a-“). A “horizon” is a fixed boundary that can be viewed a reference point. “A-orist” has no reference point. It is indefinite.
If I were to say “I play the piano,” then according to the rules of English grammar, that would be a simple present tense. But if I tell you “I play the piano” while sitting at the computer typing at a computer keyboard, you would implicitly understand it as aorist, that “I am a piano player,” as a matter of fact, not action on a time line. See this post for more detailed discussion of this.
Many translators use the English present perfect (“have been ___-ed”) or past tense (“were ___-ed”), because that conveys the sense of something having been accomplished. And although it is true that the price for healing was paid, completed in time, in an event that occurred, past tense, 2000 years ago, that’s not what either Isa 53:5 or 1 Pet 2:24 actually recite. Both recite the fact of it as it applies to us, which is timeless.
Note that the Greek Septuagint (LXX), which was the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures in use in Biblical times, uses the same aorist tense. This proves that it cannot be translated as “past tense” or “perfect tense,” because Isaiah 53 was a prophecy that was yet to be fulfilled at the time the prophecy was written! The tense of the Greek Septuagint (LXX) Old Testament matches the tense of the Greek New Testament! However you render it in the New Testament Greek you would need to render the same way in an Old Testament Greek translation. The verb tense in Isaiah certainly can’t be “past tense”!
Hebrew has no “aorist” tense, either. But notice how it is expressed. The Hebrew “נִרְפָּא־” = “nrpha” is perfect tense, 3rd person singular (“he-has-been-healed”), combined with “לָֽנוּ” = “lnu” = “to/toward-us,” which is 1st person plural. Since the Hebrew combines 3rd person singular (“he,” as in Jesus) with 1st person plural (“we,” as in us), it is a timeless proposition, when the prophecy was made by Isaiah. At the time of Isaiah, Jesus “has been healed” (i.e. it has been accomplished) as applying to “us,” where “us” would be the audience reading the book of Isaiah, hundreds of years before the time of the cross! So, you see that the Hebrew shows the same sense of accomplishment as 1 Pet 2:24.
In Matt 8:17, translations often read, referring to the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4 (one verse before verse 5),
“he took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.”
But this was before the cross, when Jesus was walking around healing the sick during his earthly ministry, not yet having atoned for sicknesses. How can this be?
It is the same issue. It is not past tense.
“ελαβεν” = “elaben” = aorist “take”
“εβαστασεν” = “ebastasen” = aorist “bear”
Therefore, it is more appropriate to translate Matt 8:17
“he takes our infirmities and bears our sicknesses”
In other words, this can be paraphrased,
“by him our infirmities are taken and our sicknesses are carried“
This resolves how Matt 8:17 can say that Jesus, by healing people, was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah even before he went to the cross! Jesus believed that Isaiah’s statement about him was true and simply applied as fact, and that the future fulfillment in the atonement was certain, without any doubt in his mind!
The fact of healing just “is,” if you believe the word of God. If you don’t believe it, then it does not apply; you nullify the word of God by whatever tradition you throw in to hinder it, exempt yourself from it, and “healing” does not apply to you. You either believe and “are healed,” or don’t believe and are not.
If we can all get a hold of this, I think it will help immensely. We proclaim healing over someone, according to the truth of the word of God, and declare it to apply, 100%, fact. Period. It is not “will be healed” (English future verb tense) or “will be being healed” (English future progressive verb tense). It is not “were healed” (English past tense) or “have been healed” (English present perfect tense); the person was not previously in a “healed” state, because of ignorance or unbelief. On the timeline, they were afflicted, not “healed.” When we put healing on the timeline, we are adding a hindrance or condition to what the word of God declares as simple truth.
“Healed” is truth, which we accept by faith, and then it just applies.
Now, for the case of the commonplace teaching that says that Peter changed Isaiah 53:5 from present to past tense, on the face of it, this cannot be, either, because if 1 Peter 2:24 was supposed to be in the past tense, looking back at the cross, then Isaiah 53:5 ought to be translated in the future tense, looking forward to the cross! Yet it is not.
This is a matter of “truth,” not temporal circumstances. We declare “truth” and expect the temporal circumstances to change to line up with the Word of God.
This may seem a little complicated at first, but when you understand it, it actually simplifies things immensely. You can proclaim “healed” with integrity, without having to fuss with all of the timeline objections to your proclamation by worldly-thinking people who look with their physical (instead of spiritual) eyes at circumstances in the here-and-now, judging based on what their eyes see, instead of what the Word of God declares.
OriginOld English bēon, an irregular and defective verb, whose full conjugation derives from several originally distinct verbs. The forms am and is are from an Indo-European root shared by Latin sum and est . The forms was and were are from an Indo-European root meaning ‘remain’. The forms be and been are from an Indo-European root shared by Latin fui ‘I was’, fio ‘I become’, and Greek phuein ‘bring forth, cause to grow’. The origin of are is uncertain.
It’s not past tense like we were taught. Always dig deeper in the word. We may be misinterpreting many scriptures not understanding what they mean.