Matthew Quotes from Isaiah – (part 1)

There are nine references used as quotes from Isaiah in Matthew. Four of the quotes are referenced as being made by Jesus and used as part of various teachings. The remaining five are from the writer of Matthew, using these references trying to prove his messianic agenda.


The book of Isaiah has been viewed in a couple of perspectives. One is the concept that Isaiah has one author and the entire book was written by Isaiah. An alternate view is that chapters 1 to 39 was written by Isaiah with some commentary by others and chapters 40 to 66 was written after the exile, about two centuries later. The traditional view (and mine) is that Isaiah was written by one man – Isaiah, and that time period was possibly between 619 BCE and 533 BCE. During the reign’s of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. When King Manasseh took the throne, he had Isaiah murdered. Isaiah was a prophet to Judah the Southern Kingdom while Hosea his contemporary was the prophet to Israel the Northern Kingdom.

Nine Quotes/Misquotes

I have divided these nine quotes into three groups:

1. 6:9, 7:14, 9:1-2

2. 29:13, 40:3, 42:1-4 Click here for part 2

3. 53:4, 56:7, 66:1. Click here for part 3

To keep the articles from becoming to lengthly, each group will be addressed as parts 1,2,& 3.

The writer of Matthew records Jesus referring to Isaiah 6:9 as to why he teaches in parables, he refers to 7:14 as a prophecy pertaining to a virgin birth, and then chapter 9 verses 1 and 2 he makes the claim that this is a prophecy saying that the messiah is to dwell in Zebulum and Naphtali.

Eyes and Ears (Teaching using Parables):

The setting for the 6th chapter of Isaiah is a vision of Isaiah before the throne of God. He sees the glory of God and says:

Then said I:

Woe is me! for I am undone;

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;

For mine eyes have seen the King,

The LORD of hosts.

Isaiah 6:5 (JPS)

A seraphim touched his lips with a coal and then announced to him that his iniquities were forgiven and atoned. He then heard the Lord say:

Whom shall I send,

And who will go for us?

Then I said: ‘Here am I; send me.’

Isaiah 6:8 (JPS)

God replies back:

Go, and tell this people:

Hear ye indeed, but understand not;

And see ye indeed, but perceive not.

Make the heart of this people fat,

And make their ears heavy,

And shut their eyes;

Lest they, seeing with their eyes,

And hearing with their ears,

And understanding with their heart,

Return, and be healed.’

Isaiah 6:9-10 (JPS)

Isaiah wants to know for how long, and God answers:

Then said I: ‘Lord, how long?’ And He answered:

Until cities be waste without inhabitant,

And houses without man,

And the land become utterly waste,

And the LORD have removed men far away,

And the forsaken places be many in the midst of the land.

And if there be yet a tenth in it, it shall again be eaten up;

as a terebinth, and as an oak, whose stock remaineth,

when they cast their leaves,

so the holy seed shall be the stock thereof.’

Isaiah 6:11-13 (JPS)

These verses in chapter 6 are viewed by many as where Isaiah becomes a Prophet of God to Judah.

In verse 5 Isaiah says to God that he comes from a people with “unclean lips”. God replies with, “who shall I send, who will go for us?” If we were having this conversation, it would feel like something is missing. But this is a vision, and keep in mind that God is surrounded with His messengers; the seraphim. God is not alone, He has His court, consisting of His angles or messengers. So when He says “us” He would be speaking of those around Him – the angles. Isaiah volunteers to go, “Here am I, send me”.

Here is the message God gives him to deliver to Judah, using a highlighter to illustrate the inter-textual parallel:

You hear, but you never understand; And you see, but never perceive.

the heart of this people has become fat,
their ears has become dull,
their eyes have closed;
Otherwise they would
see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their heart,

Return, and be healed.’

Isaiah’s mission is to deliver this message, for the people of Judah to open their eyes, tune in with their hearing, and get rid of the fat around their hearts. So that they will be able to see with their eyes, hear again, and have understanding with their hearts, and become healed. Isaiah asked – how long. God’s answer was; until the land would become utterly desolate and with out inhabitants. My understanding is that there has always been a Jewish presence in Israel, even after the invasion in 70 ACE, and the Jewish slaves were exiled and many taken to Egypt.

Jesus is asked an interesting question by his disciples:

“Why do you speak to them in parables?”

Matthew 13:10 (NKJ)

His reply was, “that it has been given to them (his disciples) to know the mysteries (or hidden truths) of the “kingdom of heaven”, but to them (those that are not his disciples) it hasn’t been given”. He then goes on to say, “that whoever has – more will be given. But for those who do not have (the non disciples) – what they do have will be taken away”. This is because they do not see, hear or understand, so he speaks to them in parables. The writer of Matthew has him then give a version of the quote from Isaiah:

Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.’

Matthew 13:14-15 NKJ)

Comparing the two: (words added by Matthew are in bold)

Matt: Hearing, you will hear and shall not understand

JPS: Hear ye indeed, but understand not;

HEB: hear to hear but never you understand

Matt: And seeing, you will see and not perceive;

JPS: And see ye indeed, but perceive not.

HEB: and see to see but never you perceive

Matt: For the hearts of this people have grown dull.

JPS: Make the heart of this people fat,

HEB: made calloused heart of the people the this

Matt: Their ears are hard of hearing,

JPS: And make their ears heavy

HEB: and ears of him made dull

Matt: And their eyes they have closed,

JPS: And shut their eyes;

HEB: and eyes of him close

Matt: Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,

JPS: Lest they, seeing with their eyes, And hearing with their ears,

HEB: otherwise he might see with eyes of him and ears of him he might hear

Matt: Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,

JPS: And understanding with their heart,

HEB: and heart of him he might understand

Matt: So that I should heal them.’

JPS: Return, and be healed.’

HEB: and he might turn and he might heal to him

  • Matthew has the first two stanzas saying “will hear” and “will see” respectively, implying a future tense.1 However, the Hebrew does not say nor imply anything indicating the future, in fact the vision Isaiah is having is about the present. He says shemaoo (hear), shmoa (to-hear), and orao (and see), rao (see). The people are not making any effort to see or hear!
  • The sixth stanza of Matthew’s version of the quote adds the word should, making the phrase read, “lest should see with their eyes”.2 The Hebrew reads, “otherwise he might see with eyes of him”. There is a difference between somebody who “should” do something and one who “might” do something. The two words are closely related, yet different. Should implies that perhaps I know what I need to do, but I may be reluctant or hesitant to do it. Might implies that I could go either way, I may or may not do something. I am not held back by a hesitancy, or necessarily reluctant, I just need to decide. An example could be: “I might take you to the ballgame” verses “I should take you to the ballgame”. The Hebrew implies that it’s a decision that the people need to make. It isn’t a matter of what a person should do it becomes a decision of what that person will do.
  • The seventh stanza is the same.
  • The eighth stanza Matthew reads, “so that I should heal them”3, with “turn”4 in the previous stanza, whereas the Hebrew reads a little different, implying that the turning or repentance brings healing.

I conclude with some options.

  1. Did the answer Jesus gave to his disciples actually take place with him misquoting Isaiah implying that he was fulfilling a prophecy,
  2. or did the writer of Matthew add this to his account of Jesus with the intention of enhancing his story,
  3. or because this story of Jesus took place around 30 ACE and Matthew was written around 80 ACE. What he actually said and how he said it could be inaccurate.

I find it hard to believe that Jesus as someone who would be equivalent to an Orthodox Jew and a Torah teacher, would misquote the Prophets. I do believe that someone with an agenda could write about him and alter what he taught to fulfill that agenda

A virgin birth????

King Ahaz, the King of Judah, was at war, and under a great deal of stress. The Lord spoke to the Prophet Isaiah to go to King Ahaz with his son and meet with him.

The Lord spoke to Isaiah to tell King Ahaz:

Keep calm, and be quiet; fear not, neither let thy heart be faint, because of these two tails of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram, and of the son of Remaliah. Because Aram hath counselled evil against thee, Ephraim also, and the son of Remaliah, saying: Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set up a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeel;

Isaiah 7:4-6 (JPS)

He continues with:

Thus saith the Lord GOD: It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Aram is Damascus, And the head of Damascus is Rezin; And within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people; and the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not have faith, surely ye shall not be established.’

Isaiah 7:7-9 (JPS)

God tells King Ahaz through the Prophet Isaiah that it is all under control. And then He continues:

And the LORD spoke again unto Ahaz, saying: ‘Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God: ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.’

Isaiah 7:10-11

And then the Lord says to King Ahaz to ask for a sign – any sign. But the King is reluctant to do that:

But Ahaz said: ‘I will not ask, neither will I try the LORD.’

Isaiah 7:12

He is reluctant because he feels that it would be trying the Lord. But then the prophet Isaiah replies back with a prophecy from the Lord:

And he said: ‘Hear ye now, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to weary men, that ye will weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Curd and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. Yea, before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou hast a horror of shall be forsaken. The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.’ (the prophecy continues to the end of the chapter)

Isaiah 7:13-17 (JPS)

To reassure King Ahaz the Lord gives him a sign to look for. A sign must be able to be seen. It does not need to be miraculous. The Lord tells King Ahaz that the young woman will conceive and have a son whose name will be Immanuel. This preliminary statement is followed with the sign. When a person knows to refuse evil and to choose good, implies maturity. The prophecy goes on with before he matures, the land who has two kings5 that King Ahaz has a horror of, will be forsaken. This is the sign King Ahaz is to look for, that before Immanuel reaches maturity (13 years old) the land will be forsaken.

Matthew’s Miss-quote:

The writer of Matthew presents an entirely different presentation of this prophecy. He uses it as a prophecy of a virgin giving birth to a child that will become the messiah. He presents that the virgin giving birth is the sign spoken of in the prophecy. The prophecy given in Matthew is:

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Matthew 1:22-23 (NKJ)

The Hebrew translation compared to Matthew is:

Hebrew translation: “behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Matthew: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,”

There are three differences between these two translations of the Hebrew. A transliteration of the Hebrew is:

  1. The Hebrew says “young woman” and not “virgin”. The Hebrew word is “halmah”. The “h” denotes “the”. A person who is almah is a young woman. A virgin in Hebrew is “betulah”. In all other instances if the writer in the Hebrew Bible is describing a “virgin” they use “betulah”, and likewise for a “young woman” they use “almah”. A woman who is almah can be betulah, but if a person wants to express that the person is a virgin, they would not express that they are almah, they would say that the person is betulah.
  2. The Hebrew says “harah” meaning “to conceive” and not “be with child”. There is a difference between to conceive and be with child (being pregnant). To conceive or conception is the act of a sperm and an egg joining together to form an entity. A woman who is pregnant has already conceived and now is pregnant with a child. The Hebrew text says that she will or shall “conceive”. It does not say that she will miraculously become pregnant.
  3. The Hebrew says “and she will call”, and not “and they will call”. The Hebrew is: “vafrat”, meaning and “named” or “to be called”, second person, singular feminine. The Hebrew could be translated as “she will call or name”, not “they will call”. In other words it says that his mother will name him Immanuel. Mary and Joseph named their son Yeshua.

It becomes evident that the writer of Matthew was trying to use this prophecy in Isaiah to portray a message that it was not intended for. It had nothing to do with a virgin or someone being born several hundred years later.

Zebulum and Naphtali

I have subdivided the Isaiah prophecy recorded in chapter 8 verses 11 to 23 (of the Hebrew Bible), with respective headings. I started with verse 11 to bring context, and ended with 23 because it’s the end of the chapter; and then chapter 9 of the Hebrew Bible begins a new topic. Reading it this way makes it easier to understand and comprehend.

  • Gods word to Isaiah for Judah:

For the LORD spoke thus to me with a strong hand, admonishing me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying:

‘Say ye not: A conspiracy, concerning all whereof this people do say: A conspiracy; neither fear ye their fear, nor account it dreadful. The LORD of hosts, Him shall ye sanctify; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.’

  • God charges Judah to seal in His instruction:

‘Bind up the testimony, seal the instruction among My disciples.’ And I will wait for the LORD, that hideth His face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him. Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me shall be for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwelleth in mount Zion.

  • A warning:

And when they shall say unto you:

‘Seek unto the ghosts and the familiar spirits, that chirp and that mutter; should not a people seek unto their God, on behalf of the living unto the dead for instruction and for testimony?’ Surely they will speak according to this word, wherein there is no light. And they shall pass this way that are sore bestead and hungry;

  • The consequence if you don’t follow the warning:

and it shall come to pass that, when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse by their king and by their God, and, whether they turn their faces upward, or look unto the earth, behold distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish, and outspread thick darkness. For is there no gloom to her that was steadfast?

  • Final word:

Now the former hath lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but the latter hath dealt a more grievous blow by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in the district of the nations.

Isaiah 8:11-23 (JPS)
  • New Topic:

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”

Isaiah 9:1 (JPS)

The prophecy is a warning, and an encouragement to draw close to God. It warns that many will be caught up in the snare, but remain steadfast and don’t be drawn in. Verse 23 of the Hebrew Bible says that the former has lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. It’s saying that Zebulun and Naphtali have been lightly afflicted by this, but the land beyond the Jordan by the way of the sea in the district of the nations (Gentiles) is much worse.

The writer of Matthew…

…uses the end of this prophecy and the beginning of the next chapter to portray a prophecy that Jesus was to live in the area of Zubulum and Naphtali.

Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned.”

Matthew 4:12-16 (NKJ)

Matthew’s presentation of this prophecy renders a view that Isaiah is prophesying that the people in this area of Galilee in Zebulun and Naphtali, who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, see a great light, because a light has dawned. This light is the presence of Jesus. With Jesus living in Capernaum, he becomes that “great light”. He may have been a light around those he lived with in Capernaum, but I cannot see a connection to the prophecy in Isaiah.

The writer of Matthew accomplishes this connection, by pulling the last verse of the previous chapter out of context, and adding it to the beginning of a new chapter, using it to create a new meaning to a prophecy that does not exist.

This is one of those cases where the Christian translators change their chapter breaks from the Hebrew in order for it to blend with the New Testament writing. Note that the translator places a colon at the end of Matthew 4:12, colons are not used in the Hebrew. Matthew 4:12 is reflective of Isaiah 9:1 (Christian Bible) and Isaiah 8:23 Hebrew Bible. The prophecy from Isaiah 8:11 ends with 8:23 (Hebrew Bible) or 9:1 (Christian Bible).

With Isaiah 9:1 (Hebrew Bible) or 9:2 (Christian Bible) starts a new passage. Isaiah 9:1-6 (Hebrew Bible) or 9:2-7 (Christian Bible) is a break in the prophecies, to give God the glory for the future salvation of Jerusalem. In verse 6 he describes the child of Ahaz, – King Hezekiah,6

“whom God, the Wondrous Advisor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, called him “Prince of Peace” (Sar -Shalom)”.

by Jim Behnke

1 The Greek says the same. My copy of “The Englishman’s New Testament” translates the Greek as “ye shall” implying something in the future.

2 The Greek again reads the same, translating to the English as “should”.

3 ibid

4 The Englishman’s New Testament translates from the Greek as “converted”.

5 The Kingdom of Syria (Aram) – King Retsin, and The Kingdom of Israel – King Pekah

6 It is said that King Hezekiah of Judah was extraordinarily righteous, and according to the Talmud he was worthy of being the messiah. He also started one of the greatest school systems in Judah, that permeated from the most northern part of the country to the most southern.

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