Evaluating the Attack on Isaiah

One who would understand the attack upon the Old Testament which is being carried on today must consider the book of Isaiah. It is at this point that modern criticism appears to have come to its fullest expression. The Book of Isaiah well serves as a testing ground. Here one may see clearly the issues which are raised by modern criticism. In a word these issues may be stated as follows. Are the Scriptures in their express statements to be regarded as the authoritative Word of God or are they not? What are we to think regarding the claims which the Scriptures makes. Are those claims to be believed or are they not? By a consideration of the attack which has been leveled against the book of Isaiah, one can see the problem in clear focus. Hence, it will be our purpose in the next few articles to concentrate our attention upon what modern criticism would era with the prophecy of Isaiah.



Isaiah the Prophet

It will be well to begin by some thoughts upon the question of authorship. Who wrote the book of Isaiah? And before we proceed further, it is well to ask ourselves at the outset whether we intend to be guided by what the Bible itself has to say upon this subject. The present writer believes that the only possible consistent Christian position is to allow the Bible to speak for itself and then to obey what the Bible says. In other words, if the Bible has something to say upon the question of the authorship of the prophecy, then we should heed what the Bible says. In fact, the matter is then settled, for Scripture has spoken. Does the Scripture then speak upon this question?

When we turn to the first verse at the prophecy we find a heading, “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” It is obvious that this heading is intended to introduce the entire book. We may note that each of the prophetical books, with the exception of Jonah, has a heading. These headings vary somewhat in their form, but they each serve to introduce the book to which they are attached. It seems, therefore, that the first verse is intended to serve as a heading to the entire book. Otherwise, the book is without a heading, and simply begins without identifying itself. Here then is a claim that the prophecy to follow is a vision, and that it is a vision which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.

Now this Isaiah the son of Amoz (his father is not of course the prophet Amos) was a prophet who lived in the eighth century B.C. and who exercised his ministry in the land of Judah. Within the prophecy itself he is mentioned. He was a man who had easy access to the kings themselves, and a man who spoke with deep earnestness and conviction. According to the heading of the book, it was this Isaiah who wrote the entire work.

This same position is maintained in the New Testament. We may look by way of example at the Gospel of John. In the twelfth chapter John relates the hard heartedness of the people. Christ had done many miracles among them, he says, and nevertheless, they did not believe. What was the reason for their unbelief? It was in order that the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, namely, “Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?” John here quotes from the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah and definitely attributes the words to Isaiah the prophet. It is interesting to discover that he speaks not of the “prophecy” of Isaiah but of Isaiah the prophet. In other words he is conscious not of quoting so much from a book as from a man. These words are the words of Isaiah the prophet.

Furthermore, continues John, the people not only did not believe; they could not believe, because Isaiah said again, “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, add be converted, and I should heal them.” This quotation is taken from the sixth chapter of Isaiah, and is very consciously attributed to the eighth century prophet. Thus, in one breath, as it were, John quotes a passage from the second part of Isaiah, and another from the first part and attributes them both to the same man, namely Isaiah the prophet.

John then says, “These things said Isaiah, when he saw his glory, and spake of him” (John 12:41). This statement almost seems to have been written with modern criticism in mind. When John speaks of these things he has in mind both the quotations from Isaiah; that is, the quotation from the second part of the book and the one from the first part. Both of these, he tells us, were spoken by Isaiah. Not only that, however. Not only does John tell us that hath quotations were spoken by Isaiah, he even tells the circumstances under which Isaiah spoke. He spoke, according to John, and therefore, according to the Spirit of God, when he saw Christ’s glory. In other words, the prophet Isaiah, who lived in the eighth century B.C. actually saw the glory of Christ, and when he saw the glory of Christ, he spoke about Christ. There is indeed a remarkable statement. The modern school of criticism is always looking for the life situation which gave rise to the utterance of the prophecies. Well, here it is. The situation which gave rise to the utterance of these prophecies was when Isaiah saw Christ’s glory.

The above passage from the Gospel of John is ‘ very rewarding, for it shows so clearly how the evangelist regarded the prophecy as the work of Isaiah. When we couple with this the remaining evidence taken from the New Testament (The reader is referred to the writer’s Introduction to the Old Testament, where he will find the entire evidence marshaled) we are compelled to conclude that the New Testament looks upon the entire prophecy of Isaiah as the work of the eighth century prophet.

The Isaiah Scroll

In the year 1917 a remarkable discovery was made at a cave in Ain Feshka near the upper end of the Dead Sea in Jordan. Here was found a scroll of the Book of Isaiah, which without doubt is. the earliest copy of any biblical book extant. It is difficult to determine upon a precise date for this remarkable scroll, and scholars have differed rather widely as to the date which they are willing to assign to it. The present writer is inclined to look upon the second century A.D. as possibly the dat.e for the manuscript, but he is in no way certain and is conscious of the difficulties which this view entails. What is of importance for us is to note the antiquity of this manuscript. Is there anything in this scroll of Isaiah which would indicate that the New Testament evidence which we have just considered is not to be relied upon? This question must be answered in the negative. Of particular interest is the page on which the thirty-ninth chapter of the book closes. It closes near the bottom of the page, and the fortieth chapter begins immediately with nothing more than the ordinary chapter break. Certainly at the time of the composition of this ancient scroll, whenever that time may have been, there was nothing whatever to indicate that people believed in two Isaiahs, one beginning at chapter forty,

The Content of the Prophecy The content of the prophecy well agrees with unity of authorship. In the remainder of this brief article we shall simply make some remarks upon the content of the prophecy in relationship to the question of authorship, It will then be necessary, in the next article, to examine the history of criticism, and then to turn our attention to the arguments in favor of the Isaiahic authorship of the book,

It is, of course true that at the beginning of chapter forty we find ourselves in a somewhat different atmosphere from that which has prevailed hitherto. That, in itself, however, does not indicate change of author. One man can write in different styles. It is the subject matter which determines very largely the style employed, And we may note that it is the subject matter which is introduced at the fortieth chapter which is responsible for the change of style that appears here, However, we should also note that there has been a preparation for this change, and it is this fact which is overlooked by all too many scholars.

The prophecy of Isaiah begins with the remarkable sermon in the first chapter, in which the sins of the nation are pictured. This theme is developed and repeated until the call in the sixth chapter. This is followed by a little section of Messianic prophecies, and this in turn is followed by prophecies regarding the heathen nations. ‘What is most striking is that the first of these heathen nations to be the object of a prophecy is none other than Babylon, and we find the strange heading “The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see” (Isaiah 13:1). Then the prophet reverts to the Assyrian age, the age in which he himself is living, However, again he soars’ far beyond this to present an apocalyptic picture. Then he comes back to a stage of transition, the historical narrative of Sennacherib’s invasion, and this brief section he closes with a reference to the Babylonian envoys of Merodach-baladan, Thus, throughout the first part of the prophecy Isaiah, although speaking to men living in the Assyrian age, has nevertheless given us glimpses of an age to come.

With the fortieth chapter the prophet sees the people of God in bondage. It is true that there is reference to the exile here, al though that reference is not nearly so great as some critics would have us believe, And also, it is true that the prophet pictures Cyrus as the deliverer from this bondage. However, and this is the point that is all too often overlooked, the basic bondage—if we may use such terms—is the bondage of sin, and from this deliverance can be obtained only by the Servant of the Lord, Thus, these latter chapters do have somewhat of a desultory character. At the same time they are prophetic visions which set forth different aspects of the fortunes of the people of God.

In a future article we shall plan to discuss more in detail the meaning of these passages, Suffice it to say, here, however, that there is a plan to the book, and that the book cannot lightly be chopped up into confetti and each piece attributed to a different author. This true unity is appreciated the more one reads straight through the prophecy, The present writer has employed the practice of reading through the book of Isaiah and finds that it is a wonderful corrective to some of the modern theories. In this prophecy we are dealing with the work of one man, and that man was Isaiah the son of Amoz.