In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah. Part 2/2

I. Summary of Defence of the Isaianic authorship by Gleason Archer
[Gleason Archer, the legendary professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Chicago (he modestly told me in 1984 that he only knew 28 languages although rumours were that he knew many more), wrote the following discussion as a supplement to his rebuttal of the critical arguments for source division of Isaiah 1-39 and Isaiah 40-66 based on “Alleged Differences in Theme and Subject Matter,” and “Alleged Differences in Language and Style.”]

Additional Proofs of the Genuineness of Isaiah 40–66

1. First of all it should be noted that Jesus ben Sirach (48:22–25) clearly assumes that Isaiah wrote chapters 40–66 of the book of Isaiah. E. J. Young notes, “The tradition of Isaianic authorship appears as early as Ecclesiasticus.

2. The New Testament writers clearly regard the author of Isaiah I and Isaiah II to be one and the same. Many of the New Testament quotations could be interpreted as referring to the book merely according to its traditional title, but there are other references which clearly imply the personality of the historic Isaiah himself.
Matthew 12:17–18 quotes Isa. 42:1 as “that which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet.”
Matthew 3:3 quotes Isa. 40:3 as “spoken of by the prophet Isaiah.”
Luke 3:4 quotes Isa. 40:3–5 as “in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet.”
Acts 8:28 states that the Ethiopian eunuch was “reading Isaiah the prophet,” specifically, Isa. 53:7–8. In his conversation with Philip (Acts 8:34) he inquired, “Of whom speaketh the prophet [Isaiah] this, of himself, or of some other man?”
Romans 10:16 quotes Isa. 53:1, stating: “Isaiah saith—”
Romans 10:20 quotes Isa. 65:1, stating: “Isaiah is very bold, and saith—”
The most conclusive New Testament citation is John 12:38–41. Verse 38 quotes Isa. 53:1; verse 40 quotes Isa. 6:9–10…If it was not the same author who composed both chapter 6 and chapter 53 (and advocates of the Deutero-Isaiah theory stoutly affirm that it was not), then the inspired apostle himself must have been in error. It therefore follows that advocates of the two-Isaiah theory must by implication concede the existence of errors in the New Testament, even in so vital a matter as the authorship of inspired books of the Old Testament.

3. A most formidable difficulty is presented to the Deutero-Isaiah theory by the fact that the author’s name was not preserved. It is quite inconceivable that his name should have been forgotten had he been some individual other than the eighth-century Isaiah himself. By the admission of the Dissectionist Critics themselves, no sublimer passages of prophecy are to be found in the entire Old Testament than are contained in Isaiah II. It is commonly conceded that the author of these passages must be regarded as the greatest of all the Old Testament prophets. How could it have come about that such a preeminent genius should have diminished so rapidly in stature that by the third century B.C. when the Septuagint was translated, his name should have been completely forgotten?…It is scarcely conceivable that the pupil could have so far surpassed his master and yet remained anonymous. But this is the incredible assumption, hardly to be paralleled in the rest of the world literature, to which the advocates of this divisive theory are driven.

It should be observed in this connection that an almost invariable rule followed by the ancient Hebrews in regard to prophetic writings was that the name of the prophet was essential for the acceptance of any prophetic utterance. This is emphasized by the fact that even so brief a composition as the prophecy of Obadiah bore the name of the author. The Hebrews regarded the identity of the prophet as of utmost importance if his message was to be received as an authoritative declaration of a true spokesman of the Lord. As E. J. Young points out (IOT, p. 205), it is altogether contrary to the genius of biblical teaching to postulate the existence of anonymous writing prophets. And if the shortest, least-gifted of the Minor Prophets was remembered by name in connection with his written messages, it surely follows that the sublimest prophet the nation ever produced should have left his name to posterity. We must therefore conclude that the name of the author of Isa. 40–66 has indeed been preserved and that it was the eighth-century prophet himself.

4. The linguistic evidence is altogether adverse to the composition of Isaiah II in Babylon during the sixth century. In the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah, who came from the region of Babylon or from Susa (if not from the Persian centers of Ecbatana and Persepolis), we have a fair sample of the type of Hebrew spoken by Jews who returned from the Exile to Palestine and settled in their homeland during the fifth century. These writings show a certain amount of linguistic intrusion from Aramaic and are sprinkled with Babylonian terms. But there is complete absence of such influence in the language of Isaiah II. It is written in perfectly pure Hebrew, free from any postexilic characteristics and closely resembles the Hebrew of Isaiah I…

5. Isaiah 13:1 furnishes serious embarrassment to the theory of an exilic Deutero–Isaiah. Chapter 13 contains a burden of divine judgment upon the city of Babylon, which in Isaiah’s day was a mere subject province under the Assyrian empire. Nevertheless, this opening verse states: “The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see.” This constitutes the clearest affirmation possible that the eighth-century Isaiah foresaw the coming importance of Babylon, her devastation of Palestine, and her ultimate downfall before the onslaughts of the Medes (cf. v. 17). In view of the often repeated argument that Isaiah’s name does not appear in chapters 40–66 and that therefore he is not to be regarded as the author of predictions involving a knowledge of sixth-century events, it is interesting to observe that his name is expressly affixed to this earlier chapter in which such a knowledge is most clearly implied.

6. Last, we come to the relationship between Isaiah II and the seventh-century pre-exilic prophets. Zephaniah, Nahum, and Jeremiah contain verses which are so similar to Isaiah II as to point to a possible borrowing by one from the other [e.g. Zeph 2:15 // Isa. 47:8; Nahum 1:15 // Isa.52:7; //Jeremiah 31:35 // Isa. 51:15]… There can be no other reasonable conclusion to draw but that Jeremiah did the borrowing and that the Isaiah passage must have been written at an earlier time than his own.

In view of all the foregoing evidence, it may fairly be said that it requires a far greater exercise of credulity to believe that Isa. 40–66 was not written by the historical eighth-century Isaiah than to believe that it was. Judging from the internal evidence alone, even apart from the authority of the New Testament authors, a fair handling of the evidence can only lead to the conclusion that the same author was responsible for both sections and that no part of it was composed as late as the Exile.

Source: Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction 4ed. (Moody, 2007), pp, 310-331.

II. Summary of Defence of the The Authorship of Isaiah by E.J. Young

That the eighth-century Isaiah was the author of the entire prophecy bearing his name appears from the following considerations:

(1) The only name that has ever been attached to the book of Isaiah, either to the whole book or to any part thereof, is the name of Isaiah the son of Amoz. An almost unanimous tradition has supported the claim of this heading…

(2) The earliest appearance of this tradition of Isaianic authorship is found in Ecclesiasticus, from the second century B.C. The manner in which the writer uses the book of Isaiah makes clear that the tradition of Isaianic authorship was well established long before his time.

(3) The evidence of the first Qumran Scroll is of supreme importance. This manuscript comes from about 125 B.C. and is a clear witness to the unity of the prophecy. In this manuscript, chapter 39, concludes just one line from the bottom of the column, leaving a space for about seven letters. Chapter 40 begins on the last line of the column and without any special indentation. There was no thought of any break at this point. Furthermore, it is evident to any careful student that this manuscript was copied from an earlier one. Taking together, therefore, the evidence both of Ecclesiasticus and the Qumran Scroll, we are on safe ground if we assert that in the third century B.C. the tradition of Isaianic authorship was well established, and the book of Isaiah existed in that century in the form in which we have it today.

(4) If then the tradition of Isaianic authorship is so early, we may legitimately ask what happened to the identity of the supposed “second” Isaiah. How did all trace of him come to be lost in so short a period of time? This question is particularly significant, inasmuch as we are told that the author of chapters 40–55 was the greatest of all Israel’s prophets, a man who towered high above others. From these chapters themselves, however, we can learn nothing about the personality of this particular “author.” How are we to explain this phenomenon? Literary criticism has been remarkably silent with respect to this question.

(5) Not only is it impossible to explain the complete oblivion both of the author’s personality and of his history, but we must furthermore explain, if these latter chapters are not the work of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, how Isaiah’s name came to be attached to them. For the eighth-century Isaiah is not regarded by the negative critics as one of the greatest of the prophets. Certainly, if we are to believe “criticism” he is not to be compared with the great “second” Isaiah of the exile. How then did it come about that all trace of this greater prophet was completely lost and the name of Isaiah came to be attached to the entire prophecy? It is sometimes argued that the name of Isaiah is not found in the latter part of the book. That is true, but neither is the name of anyone else found there as author.
(6) The tradition of Isaianic authorship comes to its strongest and most noble expression in the inerrant and infallible New Testament, which is the very Word of the living God. If the New Testament ascribes Isaianic authorship to the book, the question is settled. And as to the attitude of the New Testament there can be no question. For the most part the New Testament, rather than speaking about a book, stresses the activity of the individual prophet himself. This fact nullifies, the idea that the New Testament is not concerned to identify the author of the prophecy. It is a grossly mistaken notion that in ancient times the question of authorship was of no concern. Let the reader, therefore, carefully consider the following New Testament passages: Matthew 3:3; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14; 15:7; Mark 1:2; 7:6; Luke 3:4; 4:17; John 1:23; 12:38, 39, 41; Acts 8:28, 30, 32, 33; 28:25; Romans 9:27, 29 (note the many allusions to Isaiah in both Romans 9 and 10); 10:16, 20.

(7) That the tradition of Isaianic authorship is correct and that the book is a unit may be seen from a brief survey of its theme…[chapter] 1–39 have prepared, stage by stage, for the message of 40–66; and in turn 40–66 are the unfolding of and answer to the questions raised in 1–39. This fact is a strong argument for the unity of the entire book. Separate 40–66 from the preceding, and we are really in entire ignorance concerning its origin and nature…

(8) As may be seen from section (7), the position of chapters 36–39 is of particular significance, in that they point back to the Assyrian period and also forward to the exile. They thus effectively tie together the two parts of the prophecy…

(9) The prophecy concerning Cyrus is the basic stumbling block for acceptance of Isaiah’s authorship. How, it is asked, could a prophet have predicted the name of an individual who would live some hundred and sixty years after his time? For those who believe in predictive prophecy, there is no problem…Were it [Cyrus prophecy] uttered by a contemporary, it is difficult to understand; were it uttered by someone living long before, it fits in beautifully with the whole picture of Isaiah’s thought.

(10) As may be seen from section (7), the second part of the prophecy, chapters 40–66, was in a state of continual formation during the writing of chapters 1–39. In these earlier chapters the prophet, step by step, was preparing for the great thoughts to which he was to give such eloquent expression in the later chapters. In this connection one may note, for example, the development of the idea of the captivity. In the earlier chapters the captivity was first presented in very general terms, then it became clear that an army would take the people captive. This army was headed by Assyria; and finally, Babylon herself appears as the power that will take the people into exile. Thus we are brought to the very threshold of chapters 40–66.

(11) In connection with the thought that an integral relationship is sustained between chapters 40–66 on the one hand and the earlier chapters on the other, we may note that the references to Babylon in the earlier prophecies form a preparation for 40–66. If Isaiah could speak of Babylon in these earlier messages, why could he not do so later? …

(12) There are reflections upon Isaiah 40–66 in later prophecies [example, Jeremiah], a fact that conclusively demonstrates that these chapters cannot come from the time of the exile…

(13) A word should be said concerning the style in the two portions of Isaiah. It is true that there are divergences. The grand majesty of the sweeping style of chapters 40–49 is almost unique, but for this there is a reason. The subject matter requires such a style. If Isaiah as an old man wrote these chapters, we can well understand how over the years, as he had matured and his insight into divine revelation had grown, so also would his manner of expression change. With age there would come depth of understanding, breadth of vision, and an ability to express oneself in various ways. Surely the presence of a divergence of style in itself does not demand diversity of authorship. If it does, then we cannot believe that Sennacherib wrote his own accounts of his campaigns and also the building inscription that is found at their conclusion. On the other hand it is not justifiable to magnify the divergences of style that appear in Isaiah. That the same hand is at work throughout is seen from the following considerations.

The vocabulary of the book is obviously that which belongs to one writer. This has been demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt in the excellent work of Mrs. Rachel Margalioth (The Indivisible Isaiah, New York, 1964), which contains an almost exhaustive study of Isaiah’s vocabulary. In the previous exposition we have often called attention to the manner in which a word in the first part of Isaiah is also found in the second. Not only, however, are similar words found in both sections of the prophecy, but also these words often appear in certain combinations that are peculiar to Isaiah. This phenomenon occurs so often that its force is overpowering. Let anyone who questions the Isaianic authorship of the entire prophecy work through Mrs. Margalioth’s volume; he will be amazed at the strength of the evidence.

The above considerations, however, far outweigh the few points that have been urged in opposition to the Isaianic authorship. It must be remembered that such points are based upon a certain view of the Old Testament prophecy, a view we are unable to accept. Belief in the unity of authorship is usually bound up with belief that the prophecy is a supernatural revelation from God, a fact that can be explained upon the basis of the witness of the New Testament. The position that the prophecy is the work of more than one author flies counter to the express teaching of the New Testament. This in itself is sufficient to reject it. And when this New Testament witness is supported by an immense amount of secondary cumulative witness, the case for the Isaianic authorship of the prophecy seems unanswerable.

Source: E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah vol. 3. Chap. 40-66 (Eerdmans, 1972), pp. 538-549.

Additional Reading: Alec Motyer concluded after his analysis based on literary style, geography, history, prophecy and theology that “the simplest explanation-that the whole literature [of the Book of Isaiah] is the product of Isaiah of Jerusalem.” [The Prophecy of Isaiah (IVP, 1993), pp. 23-30]

Related Post: In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah. Part 1/2

One thought on “In Defence of Prophetic Authorship and Unity of the Book of Isaiah. Part 2/2”

  1. these two articles are good. back when i was doing my MDiv i examined the question of Isaiah’s authorship in one of my OT assignments. my conclusion was very similar to what Dr. Leong has written here.

    I wrote, “Taking all this data into consideration, this essay takes the position that everything written in Isaiah can be traced back to the 8th-century BCE prophet of the same name. This is not to say that his words are quoted verbatim, nor to deny the important role of redactors in the shaping of the book. However, all the important points, major themes, essential concepts, and predictive prophecies stemmed from him.”

    my OT lecturer did not agree with me, but he gave me a reasonable grade… =)

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