Reconciling Isaiah 65:20 with “No more death”

I have had a really hard time trying to understand Isaiah 65.20, because the way it reads it flatly contradicts Revelation 21:4’s “no more death”.  The King James reads:

Isaiah 65:20 There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.

The problem I have understanding this verse has to do with death for the righteous existing after the resurrection. The context of Isaiah 65:20 is after the resurrection, for it is in the context of the new earth.  Verse 17 says, “Isaiah 65:17 ¶For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.”  Well, we know that when Jesus returns, He will restore all things (Acts 3:21), raise the dead (1Th 4:16), and make all things new (Rev 21:5).  Since the time of no death is in the time of the new heavens and the new earth (Rev 21:1, 4), then the righteous cannot die in the time of the new heavens and the new earth, but Isaiah says they will.  In contract Revelation 21:4 plainly says, “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away”.  How does one reconcile “the child shall die an hundred years old” with “there shall be no more death”?  The various modern translations are of no help.  All of the modern translations of Isaiah 65:20 read pretty much the same.  Here are some examples:

NIV: he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth
ASV: for the child shall die a hundred years old
NASU: For the youth will die at the age of one hundred
YLT: For the youth a hundred years old dieth
WEB: for the child shall die one hundred years old

Of course there are many more versions, but I have not found one that circumvents the problem of having death at a time when the Bible plainly says there will be none.  This has been an insurmountable problem for me.  I even looked at online translations of the Greek Septuagint in hopes that the ancient Greek version might help.  No luck.  It is pretty much the same.  It wasn’t until I found a translation of Justin Martyr’s Dialog with Trypho (Chapter LXXXI) that I finally found a solution to the problem.  Justin Martyr was born around the end of the First Century and wrote from about AD 160. He is about the earliest Christian apologist whose writings have survived down to our time.  In his Dialog with Trypho he quoted extensively from Isaiah 65 and included verse 20.  Those early Christians used the Septuagint as their Bible, and Justin Martyr’s Bible at Isaiah 65:20 read:
“And there shall be no more there a person of immature years, or an old man who shall not fulfil his days. For the young man shall be an hundred years old; but the sinner who dies an hundred years old, he shall be accursed.”

Justin Martyr’s Bible did not have the young man dying at a hundred.  To paraphrase it, his Bible said of the time when the new heavens and the new earth have come that a 100 year old man would be considered young.  It says nothing about that youth dying when he was 100.

Justin Martyr’s translation helps, but it just peels back the onion one more layer, because the next phrase reads, “but the sinner who dies an hundred years old, he shall be accursed”.  “Death” still appears in that phrase.  How can we harmonize the sinner dying at 100 with the promise of no more death in the time of the new heavens and the earth?

My explanation of Justin Martyr’s version is that Isaiah is contrasting the state of the sinner with the state of the righteous in the new heavens and the new earth.  The righteous people that are born in the new earth and have lived 100 years will be considered young, a mere youth.  In contrast, the sinner that lived to the ripe old age of 100 during this life and was seemingly blessed by having had a long life, will find the situation dramatically changed in the new earth.  The righteous will live forever, but the long-lived wicked will experience the second death (Rev 21:8).  So, even though the wicked man may have prospered on this earth for 100 years, he being 100 years old will suffer the second death in the world to come.  While the righteous live forever, the wicked will suffer the second death where “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever” (Rev 14:11) in full view of all at Jerusalem that choose to see it (Isa 66:22-24).

If you compare Justin Martyr’s version of Isaiah 65:20 with the modern versions, you will find the world “thanatos” (death) has migrated to a new location in the text.  In the modern text “death” is associated with the “youth”

NIV: he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth
Justin Martyr: For the young man shall be an hundred years old;

But the modern text does not have “death” in the next phrase:

NIV: he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.
Justin Martyr: but the sinner who dies an hundred years old, he shall be accursed.

It is clear that a textual problem has crept into the text that causes “death” to be associated with the wrong phrase.  Justin Martyr’s reading can be harmonized with the rest of the scriptures, but the modern reading of Isaiah 65:20 results in a direct contradiction.  My vote is for the First Century reading in Justin Martyr’s Bible.

One might ask how such an egregious error crept into the text at such a late date as after the time of Justin Martyr (i.e. the Second Century).  Justin Martyr’s Bible was the Septuagint, and it was translated from Hebrew between 300-200 BC. By the time of Justin Martyr, the Greek OT text of the Septuagint had been around for over 400 years and was well established.  One solution is suggested by the early church fathers. Justin Martyr, again in Dialog With Trypho (LXXI-LXXIII), accused the Jewish leaders of deliberately cutting passages out of the Bible as an underhanded means of fighting Christian evangelism.  Also Tertullian (c. AD 198) wrote, “[The Book of Enoch] may now seem to have been rejected by the Jews for that very reason—just like nearly all the other portions [of Scripture] that speak of Christ.  Nor, of course, is this fact surprising:  that they did not receive some Scriptures that spoke of Him whom they did not receive.  For they did not receive Him even when He was here in person, speaking in their presence.” Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol 4:16.

By the end of the First Century the Jews were hardened against Christ.  A consequence of this was a series of rancorous conferences from AD 90-125 at the Jewish academy at Jaffa in Israel.  During this series of conferences the Jews excised various scriptures from their collection of accepted writings (they never had a formal canon before then) and mutilated some works that they retained.  Isaiah 65:20 may well have come under the scribal knife during those conferences in order to make Isaiah appear completely incompatible with the Christian book of Revelation that appeared about AD 96.

I believe the text in Isaiah 65:20 was deliberately altered to make it contradict Revelation 21:4’s “no more death”.  I believe the problem with the text lies with the Jews that desired to eradicate support for Jesus being the Christ from their sacred writings.  Justin Martyr shows how the text read before the Jews tampered with it, and the original reading is harmonious with the rest of the scriptures.

About James Johnson

Bible student for 60 years. Preacher of the gospel for over 40 years. Author of commentary on Revelation, All Power to the Lamb. Married with children. Worked in aerospace and computer engineering for over 40 years.
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4 Responses to Reconciling Isaiah 65:20 with “No more death”

  1. Renee Roll says:

    Thank you so much for your research and for your eternal-thought-provoking article. I too wrestled to reconcile this verse with the surrounding paragraph and Revelation’s description of the new heavens and new earth. Revelation explicitly states that death will be nonexistant in the new heavens and new earth, and it also says “No longer will there be any curse” (22:3) which also seemingly contradicts the last clause Isaiah 65:20. I think the reason you propose for this seeing discrepancy has a lot of explanatory power and is very plausible, but a few questions came to mind, maybe you could help answer them. If the Jews deliberately altered 65:20 to do damage to the eschatalogical parallels with John’s recent writing in Revelation, why did they not do the same with the Messianic prophecies that so stunningly paint a picture of Christ such as Isaiah 52:13-53? The Dead Sea Scrolls date back much further than the first century AD, actually they’re pre-Christ, and thus precede the Jaffa canonical conferences you described, and they align extremely closely with the Masoretic text our Bibles are interpreted from. Do the Dead Sea scrolls agree with the standard modern translations or with the Justin Martyr and the Early Church’s version?

    • Renee, from what I have found, I think the Jews eliminated as much as they could that had strong Messianic content. The books of Enoch, 2 Esdras, 2 Baruch, the Ascension of Isaiah, and Testimony of the Twelve Patriarchs in my opinion were deleted from the informal Jewish canon during the time from 90 AD to 120 AD. I think they altered only a little of Isaiah in what they thought were relatively unimportant pieces to Judaism. They could not delete Isaiah without cause a major furor. They could delete some of the secret books that were available mainly to the rabbis. I have not made a study of the DSS regarding this verse. Some of the DSS scrolls align closely with the Masoretic text and some align with the Septuagint. You have a good suggestion to check Isaiah 65:20 with the DSS.

  2. Nadine Ward says:

    The more spiritual we become by asking The Holy Spirit to “Come” through an invitation of prayer before we read, we then receive spiritual understanding.
    As a spiritual understanding it makes more sense.
    The babes in Christ will no longer die when a few days old.

    • Since Augustine in the Fourth Century the “spiritual understanding” approach to interpreting scripture has been the majority view. Unfortunately, it differs only in scope from the mystical approach used in paganism. “Spiritual understanding” (mysticism limited to the genre of Christianity) makes man the arbiter of truth since the “understanding” proffered cannot be objectively verified. “Spiritual understanding” is arbitrary and capricious, because two believers adopting this methodology often arrive at wildly different conclusions regarding the same scripture.
      Like any text we read, the Bible should be taken at face value unless it clearly indicates the text is a symbol (for example, the 7 stars in Revelation 1:20) or a parable (for example, the fig tree in Matthew 24:32). If the text tells us something in the text is a symbol or a parable, then we must find the interpretation of the symbol or parable in the scriptures and not just make up something. For example, the Bible interprets the 7 stars in Revelation 1:16 as the angels of the seven churches of Asia. There are commentaries on Revelation that apply “spiritual understanding” to the inspired meaning of the seven stars (they are the angels of the seven churches, Rev 1:20) and make the angels of the churches into symbols that actually mean something else! If we are willing to hear, we objectively know what is the meaning of the seven stars, because the Bible says so. It is the same with the “great red dragon” (Rev 12:3). We know the dragon is a symbol because the Bible says the dragon is the Devil and Satan (Rev 12:9).
      In the same way we know the meaning of symbols we know the parabolic meaning of the fig tree in the parable of the fig tree is “the nation of Israel”, because the Bible tells us it is in Joel 1:7. If God is going to tell us something, the words must be governed by rules of rational grammar, otherwise, we have an uncertain trumpet (1 Cor 14:8), and nobody will have any confidence that anything it says is as it appears. Scriptures will become a minefield of uncertainty with “meaning” that appears and disappears like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland.
      Disagreement among believers is common on unfulfilled scripture, because prophecy is often intentionally vague in order that the enemy may not know what God plans to do, but, like it was in the case of Christ’s resurrection, the meaning will be evident after the event happens. Because God intends for some things in the scripture to be vague, we should leave it at that, and let it be vague (1 Co 14:38) unless we get more revelation, and then we must be prepared to back up the revelation with evidence more than just “this is what I think” (compare Mark 16:20). If we can’t confirm what we think about a text with a second witness, then we should either say we don’t know or remain silent, because the “spiritual understanding/mysticism” approach destroys God’s meaning and denies us true understanding. Just because a text defies logic or common sense the way it literally appears does not give us license to reject the literal meaning. God can work miracles, and new technology can make possible things that were once impossible. What is considered impossible now may be very possible in 20 years thus making things like fire breathing horses (Rev 9:17-18) a literal reality. The “necessity” generated by our inability to imagine that a statement could ever be literal can be overcome by events where God or advanced technology make the impossible possible and prove our “need” to spiritualize text to be unnecessary and false.

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