Today is Maundy Thursday. Isaiah 53 is often read by Christians on this day. Many Christians view Isaiah 53 as describing a suffering messiah. Jewish scholars typically do not share this exegesis. But this difference in exegesis is not the concern of this post.
Instead, in this post I want to discuss a translation issue concerning Isaiah 53:3. It has to do with how to translate the Hebrew phrase אִישׁ מַכְאֹבוֹת to English.
English translations in the Tyndale-KJV tradition usually translate אִישׁ מַכְאֹבוֹת as “a man of sorrows.” So do the NIV, GW (God’s Word), and ISV. The NRSV, HCSB, and NIV2011, however, have “a man of suffering.” So does the Jewish translation, NJPS. Its predecessor, the JPS of 1917, has “a man of pain.” Among Catholic versions, Douay-Rheims and the NJB have “a man of sorrows,” while the NAB has “a man of suffering.”
First, I think that “pain” and “suffering” are probably more accurate translations of מַכְאֹבוֹת than “sorrow,” although the Hebrew word has a semantic range that includes ‘sorrow’ and ‘grief’.
Second, my observation, as someone who keenly observes how people speak and write, is that native English speakers today do not normally say (or write) “a man of sorrows/suffering/pain.”
The question I always ask after there is some consensus about the meaning of a language unit (word, phrase, clause, sentence, etc.) is:
How do native English speakers typically express that meaning?
So, how do native English speakers, when speaking or writing as native speakers of English, typically express the meaning of אִישׁ מַכְאֹבוֹת in English?