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Week 2: Authorship, canonicity and chapters 1-16

Authorship of Isaiah

In spite of the lack of concrete evidence that any part of Isaiah ever existed without any other part as far back as the 200’s BC, the dogma of most scholarship today is that two or more individuals authored Isaiah. This perspective arose, most notably in the deistic[1] climate of 18th century Europe. J. C. Doederlein, one of the earliest to argue for a second author,[2] said explicitly that since Isaiah could not have forseen the fall of Jerusalem, the 70 year captivity, the return or Cyrus, Isaiah could not have written those chapters making such claims (e.g. chapters 40-66). Since this time, others have advanced arguments in support of dual or even multiple authorship. Others have argued for one author, Isaiah. These arguments fall into the following categories:

In support of multiple authorship.

Against multiple authorship.

Supernaturalism is preposterous.

  • The Cyrus prophecies tax credibility (c.f. 41:2-5 thru 48:14)

Anti-supernaturalism is entirely apriori

  • This is not the only example of a name prophecy (c.f. Josiah, 3 centuries ahead, 1Ki.13:2; Bethlehem, 7 centuries ahead, Mi.5:2); The Cyrus passages are so many in Isaiah, 2Chr.36:23 and Ezra 1:2 that critics must argue on this basis alone for extensive redaction; why refer to him as a foreign pagan (45:5/46:11) without explaining his nationality, if he was well known to Deutero-Isaiah?
  • The value of Isaiah falls apart for much of it focuses on the greatness and authenticity of Yaweh because, unlike other gods, he can predict the future (41:21-24)
  • This argument proves too much, for if these prophecies are actually contemporary recollections then so are the messianic prophecies in 53, which provably precede Christ by at least 2 centuries; this forces the critic to reject them as messianic prophecies in spite of their specificity and even though NT authors view them as messianic (c.f. Mk.15:28; Lk.22:37; Acts 8:35; 1Pet.2:22)
  • This anti-supernaturalistic bent doesn’t stand up well to the many specific and fulfilled prophecies (e.g. Daniel 9/Ps.22).

Differences in language and style argue for multiple authors.

  • Radday’s The Unity of Isaiah in the Light of Statistical Linguistics. showed that the variations in Isaiah are so strong as to prove multiple authorship








  • There is a radical change of style between chs. 1-39 and 40-66; the latter are much more lyrical and lofty in tone.







  • Other prophets do not address their future audience, yet Isaiah does in chapters 40-55, which are set 150 years after Isaiah’s death, and in chapters 56-66 which are set 200 years after Isaiah’s death


These analyses are subjective.

  • The whole enterprise of linguistic analysis is subjective analysis masking as objective analysis; These methods cannot accommodate variations in an author’s writing over the course of his life, variations due to differing subject matter or variations due to shifts in the authorial perspective; Radday’s analysis divides the text into pieces that are unacceptable to scholars for other reasons (e.g. it places 23-35 with the first part of the book; it combines 49-66 rather than 40-48 as a linguistic unit); other analysts have applied these methods to Isaiah and gotten entirely different results; Radday’s analysis that Genesis had a single author is unacceptable to the same scholars.
  • Remember that Isaiah's perspective changes from times where he will be alive to times where he will be dead; he could have used a secretary, particularly when he was an older man, the topic changes to a conciliatory tone over the judgment of Judah, it's return and the eternal reign of God.
  • If the criteria for subdividing Isaiah is so clear, why is there so little agreement between scholars about how the book should be divided up--one is left with the impression that the criticisms are highly subjective
  • This is rare but not unheard of (Ez.37-48; Dan.7-11; Zech.8-13 and shorter portions of other prophetic books).


The unity of the text argues for an Isaiah school.

  • An Isaiah school must have existed, from which Isaiah II and later an Isaiah III.








The unity of the text argues for a single Palestinian author.

  • The only supposed evidence for this school is the unity of Isaiah but this is what the critics are trying to prove; how can the differences be used to argue for multiple authors and the unity also be used to argue for multiple authors--it’s apparent that many of these arguments are substantially post hoc;
  • The entire book appears to have been written from a Palestinian perspective (40-66 are rocky, mountainous and full of Palestinian flora/fauna, yet Babylon is alleuvial)
  • The use of Holy one of Israel 13 times in chs.1-39, 13 times in 40-66 and only 7 times in the rest of the Bible.; Margalioth has shown many phrases which appear in both parts of the book but only rarely elsewhere;[3] Young has shown numerous concepts that appear throughout Isaiah but rarely elsewhere;[4] the unity of thought can be seen through comprehensive inductive studies[5]
  • All chapters are written in pure Hebrew w/o Aramaisms or Babylonian terms both of which characterize known post-exilic books;
  • Isaiah’s use of the prophetic perfect verb tense is a marked stylistic trait throughout the book (5:13; 8:23; 9:1-7; 10:28-31; 41:25; 45:13; 53:1-12)--future events were essentially accomplished in the purposes of God

The New Testament holds to one author

  • See the appendix, New Testament Citations from Isaiah

Jewish tradition holds for one author.[6]

  • Later prophets (Nahum 1:15--Isa.52:7; Zeph. 2:15--Isa.47:8, 10);
  • see the next section entitled, Canonicity
  • LXX has one heading for the entire book;
  • Josephus holds to one author;
  • silence from the Qumran community about the supposed multiple authorship and
  • rabbinic tradition up to the emergence of rationalistic critical approaches holds to one author.


An Overview of Chapters 1-16

Chapter 1:1

Chapter 6
Why is chapter six where it is? At least two possibilities exist:

  • vv. 11-12 say that Judah will be devastated and depopulated; something that happened over 150 years after Isaiah.
  • v. 13 says literally, "but [there will] still be a tenth-part in it [i.e. the exiled people] and it will return [wesabah] and it will be for burning [i.e. subjected to fiery trials], like a terebinth or like an oak, which in [their] felling [still have] a root-stump in them, a holy seed [shall be] its root-stump."
  • wesabah is held to mean "again" by higher critics meaning, "and it will again be subject to burning" thus eliminating the interpretation "it shall return" from the verb sub "to return"; this dampens the prediction but fails to eliminate it.
  • However, these analysts have failed to translate wesabah properly because three verses later he gives his firstborn son the name "a remnant shall return," which is what Shear-jashub means, a translation that no critic denies; where else would he come up with such a name if not from 6:13? The same verb, sub is used in 6:13 and in 7:3.
  • Thus, vaticinium ex eventu - prophecy after the fulfillment, the driving principle in higher criticism is defeated

Chapter 7:14-17

A Suggested Outline for the Book

  • The author is introduced (1:1)
  • Israel’s Problem (1:2-9)
  • God’s Desire for Israel (1:10-20)
  • God’s Response to Israel’s Rebellion (1:21-31)
  • God’s Predictions about Israel (2:1-5:30)
  • Isaiah’s vision and commission (6:1-13)
  • God will use Assyria to judge yet he should be trusted (7:1-9:6)
  • God’s standards of morality are violated by Israel (9:7-10:4)
  • God has control of his own judgment (10:5-12:6)
  • God judges all peoples when they rebel against him (13:1-18)
  • Babylon (13:19-14:23)
  • Assyria (14:24-27)
  • Philistia (14:28-32)
  • Moab (15:1-16:14)
  • Syria & Ephraim (17:1-11)
  • Reprise: God is the judge of all nations (17:12-18:7)
  • Egypt (19:1-20:6)
  • Reprise: God’s judgment upon Babylon and her allies (21:1-22:25)
  • God is triumphant over the nations (24:1-27:13)
  • So, it is foolish to trust the nations (28:1-34:4)
  • Edom (34:5-35:10)
  • Homework assignment

      1. Explain the Immanuel prophecy, thoroughly. Include references.
      2. List 5 reasons why Chapter 14 is not about Satan?
      3. Consider chapters 1-39. Name 5 qualities of human beings and 5 qualities of God. Include citations of each characteristic.

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    [1]  Deism is quite antagonistic to the notion of supernatural intervention and hence to the idea that Isaiah could have foretold the future. Return to Text

    [2]  This second author was referred to as Deutero-Isaiah. Return to Text

    [3]  The Indivisible Isaiah, New York: Yeshiva University, 1964. Return to Text

    [4]  Who wrote Isaiah?, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958, pp.58-60? Return to Text

    [5]  The Book of Isaiah. Chapters 1-39, John N. Oswalt, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986, pp.17-23; specifically the central theme of the nature and destiny of the people of God; the topic of trusting God; the means by which God will satisfy his covenant promises to Abraham, Moses and David, etc.. Return to Text

    [6]  O.T. Allis, The Unity of Isaiah, Presbyterian Reformed, 1950. Return to Text

    [7]  See the appendix, New Testament Citations from Isaiah. Return to Text