The Nature of the Atonement: How Should One View the Cross? – Part 4

By: Dr. Steve Sullivan; ©2000
Wrapping up his series on the Word of Faith Movement, Dr. Sullivan looks at Isaiah 53:9 and the misinterpretations that have been make from it.


The Word of Faith Movement (WFM) represented by Kenneth Hagin, Sr. and Kenneth Copeland believe that the nature of Jesus on the cross changed from divine to demonic. They believe that our redemption is not secured solely by the physical death of Jesus on the cross, but by the combination of His physical death on the cross and His spiritual death in hell. The torture of Jesus by the demons of hell was the ransom God paid for our sins, and it gained access for God back to the earth from which He, in a major way, had been banished. Many of the WFM teachers believe that Jesus was born again the third day by the Spirit of God in hell and was resurrected physically from the grave.

In my last article I briefly critiqued the Word of Faith Movement’s understanding of the atonement of Christ from 1 Peter 3:18-20 and Ephesians 4:7-10. In my final article I will critique their understanding of Isaiah 53:9, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (NASB).

The phrase “in His death” in Isaiah 53:9 can be literally translated “in His deaths.” The WFM teachers have used the translation “in His deaths” to teach that Jesus died two deaths, physically and spiritually.

Scholars in Old Testament Hebrew would disagree with Mr. Copeland in his interpretation of the word “deaths” in Isaiah 53:9. The standard advance Hebrew grammar, Kautzsch and Coweley’s Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (1910), said this about plurals in Hebrew:

The plural is by no means used in Hebrew solely to express a number of individuals or separate objects, but may also denote them collectively. This use of the plural expresses either (a) a combination of various external constituent parts (plurals of local extension), or (b) a more or less intensive focusing of the characteristics inherent in the idea of the stem (abstract plurals, usually rendered in English by forms in -hood, -ness, -ship). A variety of the plurals described under (b), in which the secondary idea of intensity or of an internal multiplication of the idea of the stem may be clearly seen, is (c) the pluralis excellentiae or pluralis majestatis. (pp. 396-97)

Another Hebrew grammar by Waltke and O’Connor (1990), Biblical Hebrew Syntax, gave the following categories for Hebrew plurals: (1) more than one—countable noun, (2) the plural of a singular collective noun can indicate composition—the collective is broken apart, (3) plurals of extension—i.e. “face”, (4) abstract noun expressed by plural manifest­ing a quality, a state, or condition, (5) a plural can designate a repeated series of actions or a habitual behavior, and (6) plural of extension and of abstract reference—sometimes called the plural majestatis (pp. 118-24).

The classification number four in Waltke & O’Connor’s grammar (abstract noun ex‑pressed by plural manifesting a quality, a state, or condition) or possibly classification “b” in Gesenius, Kautzsch, Coweley’s grammar (a more or less intensive focusing of the characteristics inherent in the idea of the stem), is the best grammatical explanation for under­standing the translation “in His deaths” in Isaiah 53:9. It has nothing to do with Christ expe­riencing two deaths, physically and spiritually.

David Baron (1978) in his book, Servant of Jehovah, commented on the word “deaths” in Isaiah 53:9:

The word for death is in the plural, and some have argued that it should be rendered, “in His deaths,” and have adduced it as yet another proof that the subject of the prophecy is a collective one. But there is no basis for this assertion, for first, if a plurality of persons were intended, it is the plural suffix which would be required, and this is here expressed by the singular. “There is no ground,” as Pusey correctly observes, “to lay any emphasis on the plural in methim ‘death,’ than, chayyim ‘life’ (in the preceding verse), which is also in the plural—the singular for ‘life’ not being used in Hebrew. Many nouns in Hebrew are used in the plural where we Westerns could hardly account for it. The plural is used of a condition as a period of life, or a condition of body. There is then no reason why ‘deaths,’ if there is any stress on the plural, should not mean ‘the state of death,’ as chayyim (the plural for ‘life,’ the state of life”. (p. 113, footnote, 1)

Arden Autry, former professor of Theology and Missions at Oral Roberts University in his paper, The Spiritual Dimension of Jesus’ Death, summarized the overall flaw in the WFM’s view of Christ’s atonement:

[T]he scenario [WFM’s atonement] as a whole suffers one very significant flaw: it lacks any direct evidence in the Bible. To some extent, the scenario draws on traditional beliefs about Jesus going into the abode of the dead after his physical death and bringing others out with him—based on a possible (but not necessarily correct) understanding of 1 Peter 3:18-22 and Ephesians 4:9. If we say that Jesus visited or invaded or conquered the realm of the dead, we will at least be within the lines of responsible exegesis of the NT. If we say that Jesus suffered in hell, we are going beyond anything that can be read in the NT and we should not claim that the Bible teaches this. Even more seriously, we will be putting the emphasis where the Bible does not put it if we assign saving significance in any way to the time between Jesus’ physical death and his resurrection. (p. 3)

What can we conclude about the atonement of the WFM from my four articles? We conclude that it is seriously flawed consisting of a combination of a Ransom-to-Satan and Recapitulation views of the atonement. A correct view of the atonement of Christ can be reviewed in my November 1999 article, “Substitution.”


1. Kenneth Copeland, in a fax to Watchman Fellowship, Inc., Oct. 30, 1992, said the follow­ing:

Before He [Jesus] could redeem us, He had to die spiritually which took Him into the regions of the damned. Read Isaiah 53 and you will see that it pleased God to lay upon Him all our punishment—sin, sickness, poverty, etc. He bore them all. The price for that sin was death. This was a great mystery to Satan; for had he known it, he would have never crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:7-8).
Jesus went into hell to free mankind from the penalty of Adam’s high treason. Isaiah 53:9 says, “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death…” The Hebrew word used for “death” here literally means “deaths.” Jesus died two deaths. He died physically and He died spiritually. When Jesus was made to be sin; He was separated from God. This is the reason while hanging on the cross,
Jesus cried with a loud voice, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He had finished the Abrahamic Covenant by becoming the last sacrifice to ever be offered. Jesus spent three horrible days and nights in the bowels of this earth getting back for you and me our rights with God (Matthew 12:40). (Watchman Fellowship, Inc., personal files, 1992)

He also uses Mt. 27:46 as evidence that Jesus died spiritually and Mt. 27:50 as evi­dence that Jesus died physically.

2. F. Delitzsch (1973) in Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament stated that death “is a plur. exaggerativus here, as in Ezek.xxviii. 10 (compare memothe in Ezek. xxviii. 8 and Jer. xvi. 4); it is applied to a violent death, the very pain of which makes it like dying again and again” (p. 329).

Edward J. Young (1972) in his NICOT commentary on Isaiah 53:9 commented that death “is an intensive plural; ‘in the condition of death’ in contrast with ‘in life’” (p. 353, footnote, 35).

3. Autry (n.d.) continues his summary:

Read for yourself the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Read all four Gospels. Do you see the inspired writers make even a single reference to what Jesus was doing (in the spirit) while his body lay dead in the tomb?…. [W]hy is there not even a mention of what Jesus was doing between the cross and the resurrection? If these Gospels tell us how we are redeemed, why do they not tell us that “meanwhile, Jesus was dying again, in a spiritual death, in hell”? Why is there no mention of what he was doing at all? Will we claim to know more or to knew [sic] better than the Gospel writers about what was really happening?
The Gospels’ emphasis on the cross and resurrection is consistent with the testimony of the rest of the NT. While we cannot possibly look here at all the texts….notice how clearly they emphasize the adequacy of what Jesus suffered bodily on the cross (not spiritually after the cross). (pp. 3-4)



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