There are a couple of differences between Jesus’s quotation of Isaiah 61:1 in Luke 4:18 and the normal translation of Isaiah 61 based on the Hebrew Bible. For one, Jesus omits “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” (something present in the Greek text as well). He also prefers the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament, LXX) to the Masoretic text (Hebrew manuscript) when He cites “recovery of sight to the blind.” There is still one more change, one we will notice tomorrow. See if you can find it in Luke 4:18!
As usual, we’ll take a look at the words used in the Greek and Hebrew and see how the word “blind” is used throughout Luke’s gospel account.
[By the way, here is Isaiah 61:1 in the LXX for you so that you can compare it to your Old Testament and Jesus’s citation of it: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, on account of which he has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to heal those who are crushed in heart, to announce release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind…” (Isaiah 61:1).]
Blind, Freedom, Recovery
So, the big question is why did the translators of the LXX and Jesus talk about the blind receiving their sight when the Hebrew is focused on freedom for the prisoners? Well, I don’t know the answer to that question, but I have a guess. It has to do with the word “freedom.”
While this is the only occurrence of this Hebrew word in the Hebrew Bible, the root of the word is found thirty-seven times. Besides a couple of names, this root word is used to talk about people’s eyes and ears being opened, except, of course, in Isaiah 61:1 where it is translated “freedom.” The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew lexicon suggests that this term is used in Isaiah 61:1 to talk about prisoners being released from a dark prison.
I think that when we look at how Jesus used the term “blind” in Luke, this change will make sense.
The word translated blind is found seven times in the gospel account. In six of those times, the text is referring to physically blind people. In one, however, found in Luke 6, a passage we have gone to several times for assistance in understanding Luke 4:18, Jesus said, “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39).
Like in the previous articles, there are two things at play here: the miracles Jesus performed pointed to greater spiritual realities. Jesus healed those who were blind, but He also helped to open people’s eyes to what the kingdom of God really is.
Like with Nicodemus, He urged people to be born again so that they could “see” the kingdom of God. In this way, He released them from a prison of physical blindness, but He also rescued them from the kingdom of darkness.
We might not be able to cause the blind to receive their sight in the same spectacular way Jesus did, but we can help people out in other, creative ways. Our church, for example, recently hosted a free vision screening for members of the community. But we can also help people recover from spiritual blindness. Misconceptions of who God is abound. These misunderstandings cause individuals to not see God for who He really is. This leads to spiritual stress, anxiety, and it can even tear families apart. Even more dangerous, though, are the ways these misconceptions cause people to act (or not act) towards their neighbors and enemies.
These are kinds of blindness that we should endeavor to eradicate. Perhaps the only way to do that is to let our light shine. This, of course, is a dangerous path in that the people who take it tend to, like Jesus and Stephen, not have very long lifespans, or, perhaps, their lives aren’t always the most pleasant from the outside looking in. But as we witness the life of Paul and the other disciples in the New Testament, there is no other life worth living than a life that is set on the radical transformation of everyone and everything around us.