Reasons for Holding the Unity of Isaiah
by Brian Chilton
Isaiah is the theological masterpiece of the Old Testament. It is in Isaiah that one finds the powerful so-called “Servant Songs” which address the future Messiah. Isaiah’s prophecies span the course of several centuries. Due to the timeframe of Isaiah’s prophecies, many textual critics have claimed that Isaiah son of Amoz could not have written or prophesied all of the prophecies contained within the book. This has led some to posit that Isaiah consists of three books written by three authors compiled together under the heading “Isaiah.” Such critics claim that chapters “1-39 were written by ‘Isaiah of Jerusalem’ and 40-66 (or 40-55) by an ‘unknown prophet of the Exile’” (LaSor, et. al., Old Testament Survey, 282). Some divide Isaiah into three books: the so-called proto-Isaiah (1-39) written by Isaiah of Jerusalem; deutero-Isaiah (40-55) written by an unknown prophet; and trito-Isaiah (56-66) written by an exilic prophet. While many critical scholars accept this view, a growing number of scholars are beginning to reject that notion and accept the unity of the book of Isaiah. I, for one, accept the unity of Isaiah for the following reasons.
Unity Seen through Early Acceptance of Isaiah as a Whole
From the earliest times, the book of Isaiah has been accepted as a unified whole. In the Great Scroll of Isaiah, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran (1QIsa) “makes not the slightest break at the end of chapter 39” (LaSor, et. al., Old Testament Survey, 290). Jesus and the early church accepted Isaiah as a unified book as they quoted from the book in several places without giving any reference to multiple authors. If early Jews and early Christians accepted a unified Isaiah, one would need to find overwhelming evidence to the contrary to suggest otherwise, evidence that this writer does not find.
Unified Theological Concepts
Isaiah addresses several major theological concepts which are united within the entire book of Isaiah. LaSor and company denote that “Several dozen parallels in wording, concepts, and literary images have been identified to demonstrate the linkage between the two halves of the book” (LaSor, et. al., Old Testament Survey, 283). Barker and Kohlenberger demonstrate that “Isaiah’s temple vision (ch. 6) of the thrice-holy God deeply influenced his whole prophetic career and his theology” (Barker & Kohlenberger, EBC, 1043). Isaiah notes the grandeur of God as the angels call to one another “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). This theme is seen throughout the book of Isaiah. Barker and Kohlenberger denote that Isaiah “speaks of God as Creator both of the universe (40:26; 42:5; 48:12-13) and of his people, Israel (43:1, 15). He has a vision of the whole earth full of the knowledge of the Lord (11:9) and even of a new heaven and a new earth (65:17; 66:22)” (Barker & Kohlenberger, EBC, 1043). Hope and forgiveness are constantly seen throughout the book of Isaiah, from 1:18-19, 30:18-19, and ultimately through the suffering servant in 52:13-53:12. These theological concepts are not broken but flood the entirety of the book of Isaiah…
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