14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. 16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:14-21, ESV

The Word reading the Word.

Could you imagine Jesus being invited to teach the Scriptures in your small place of worship? Luke tells us that Jesus began teaching and working miracles throughout Galilee’s region after His decisive victory over the satanic temptations. Jesus’ popularity grew quickly. Of course, why wouldn’t it when He is healing the sick, cleansing the leper, giving sight to the blind, making the lame to walk, restoring deaf ears, and casting out demons? His public persona is taking shape, and his teaching is in high demand. However, His teaching credentials are at least unorthodox and boarder unqualified. How could Jesus be unqualified to teach? Of course, He is qualified, but the two sects of Judaism were slightly skeptical of a teacher who was never taught at one of their theological schools. The Pharisees and Sadducees did not yet intervene against this popular teacher, but they would be listening with keen ears. In Jesus’ home town of Nazareth, He was invited to teach at the Synagogue on a particular Sabbath day. I can imagine the buzz of the town talking about Nazareth’s most famous son is coming home. Jesus is quickly becoming a household name, and He is here in Nazareth to teach in their little synagogue.

The congregation must have been excited to hear what the teacher would say as the ruler of the synagogue handed Him the scroll of Isaiah. Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, and read the first few lines. There is something that sticks out like a sore thumb in Jesus’ reading. Jesus stopped reading in the middle of a sentence. Compare Jesus’ reading to the actual text of Isaiah.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

Isaiah 61:1-2, ESV

 18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

Luke 4:18-19, ESV

Slightly Different?

There are two differences that I want us to look at briefly. First, the wording is slightly different in Isaiah than what Jesus read. Why is that? Jesus read from a hand-copied scroll, so why was Jesus’ reading slightly different than what I read in my English translation? To get a fuller picture and better understand the apparent problem, we need to briefly discuss the difference between original manuscripts, copies, the process of transmission, and translation.

The term “original manuscripts” is self-explanatory. The original manuscript was when Isaiah put pen to paper, as it were, and originally wrote his prophetic book. Our English Bibles, therefore, are not original manuscripts. But, did Jesus have the original manuscript of Isaiah? No. The original manuscript of Isaiah was written about seven hundred years before Christ. Jesus was in the synagogue of Nazareth reading from a handwritten copy. 

If he was reading a handwritten copy of Isaiah, why did his reading not perfectly align with Isaiah’s book that I read in my English Bible? Great question. Jesus was reading a handwritten copy of a translation. Let’s make sure we are on the same page. A translation is when a manuscript in Hebrew, for example, is studied and rewritten in another language like Greek or English. The purpose of translation is to make the content of a Hebrew manuscript, for example, readable for people who read Greek or English. In Jesus’ case, He was reading a handwritten copy of Isaiah’s scroll that was translated from the original language of Hebrew to the Greek language (and possibly translated back into Hebrew).  

The transmission process begins with the original manuscript being copied by hand to make two identical books. Because Isaiah’s book was a holy book, the copyists were exceedingly careful in handling Isaiah’s prophetic work. Scribes were a class of men who were especially dedicated to preserving the Words of God and endured great pains to make sure they copied those words accurately. Eventually, Isaiah’s book needed to be translated into foreign languages, like Greek, to enable dispersed Jews to learn and live by God’s Word. The Greek translation that Jesus and the Apostles were most commonly in contact with is often called the Septuagint. The Septuagint was a translation from the Hebrew language into the Greek language by Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, around 300 B.C. In translating any text from one language to another, there are language barriers and other problems that force translators to make decisions. There is not a perfect one to one translation from any language into another. However, we can and should trust Bible translations. 

Hopefully, that simplistic and brief introduction was helpful. I hope it sheds light upon why Jesus’ reading in Luke 4 does not perfectly align with your English Bible translation of Isaiah 61. Jesus’ copy of Isaiah’s scroll did not perfectly match the Hebrew copies that our English Bibles were translated from, but is that a problem? It shouldn’t be. The simplest answer to why I should have no problem with the difference between the original language reading and the translated reading is because Jesus and the Apostles used Greek translations without a second thought. If the Greek Septuagint was good enough for Jesus, then it ought to be good enough for us. 

For the curious reader, let me recommend this article to you.

I Am your Messiah.

The second difference that I want us to pay attention to is the place where Jesus stops reading. Look closely and notice that Jesus stopped in the middle of a sentence. Jesus didn’t stop reading because His copy of Isaiah’s scroll had left out the phrase, “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus stopped in the middle of that sentence because Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The mission of Christ’s first advent was salvation. The mission of Christ’s second advent is judgment. In Isaiah’s prophetic writing, he did not distinguish between Jesus’ first coming and second coming. Jesus was now interpreting Isaiah 61 in a way no other Rabbi had ever done before. 

Can you imagine the minds of those orthodox Jews racing? Who does Joseph’s son think he is? What gives Jesus the right to interpret differently than every previous Rabbi? Jesus answers that question that must have been upon the minds of his first audience. Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What is the significance of that statement? Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the long-awaited Messiah. He stopped his reading short because His work as Messiah in His first-century context was for salvation and not judgment. 

46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

-John 12:46-48, ESV