Higher Criticism and Isaiah

Cecil Willis
Akron, Ohio

For many years the critics have concerned themselves with new theories concerning the development of the books of the Old Testament, rather than accepting the Biblical view of the divine issuance of them by God. Those holding these higher critical views are often referred to as Modernists, Liberalists, Radicals, Neoorthodox, and even conservatives. One usually thinks of a conservative as not holding these liberal positions but many who support the higher critical views still refer to themselves as conservatives. And so some new term had to be created to differentiate liberals from those who were Biblical. Most writers have come to refer to those holding the Biblical view of inspiration as fundamentalists. We might say that we mean by fundamentalists, those who believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, Isaiah wrote Isaiah, Daniel wrote Daniel, and that the Scriptures are inerrant in the original writings.

One might feel that there is very little need to write on these so-called higher critical problems in a paper such as Truth Magazine. One might even think that there are none in the church who hold these liberalistic views. And it is true that there are but few who now hold the views of destructive criticism. But a few brethren do now endorse these liberal positions. Others are indifferent toward them, declaring, it makes no difference whether one believes Isaiah wrote the book of Isaiah or not. To be indifferent is no better than to endorse the liberal position. There are others who know nothing about these liberal theories.

It is my opinion that after the controversy now raging in the church has subsided a little, that within a few years such topics as the one about which we are going to write in this article will find more vocal adherents in the church. Since the liberal views are constantly being drilled into young gospel preachers who are getting their education in liberal denominational seminaries, who can believe that none of the liberalism will soak in? Too, virtually all of the "fundamentalist" sectarian churches are now having trouble on these matters. Will the Lord's church alone escape any disturbance over these higher critical views? Most of our past and current troubles have come from rubbing shoulders with the sectarian churches. The attitude of mary toward the Bible and the Biblical view of inspiration is going to undergo a change as a result of too close assoclation with sectarian teachers. There are some preaching brethren who have already accepted the liberal views we are studying in this article. So you need to know something about them.

The higher critics have decided that Isaiah the son of Amoz did not write all of the book that bears his name. They admit Isaiah the son of Amoz wrote parts of the first thirty-nine chapters somewhere around 740-700 B.C. But they declare he could not have authored the last section of Isaiah, chapter 40-66, These chapters are dated much later and are attributed by the critics to some great unknown, post-exilic prophet called "Second-Isaiah," or "Deutero-Isaiah." Some of the liberals quote from "Second-Isaiah" as calmly and as assuredly as if they had personal acquaintance with


We might, on first thought, think it insignificant whether we admit Isaiah the son of Amoz wrote the sixty-six chapters of Isaiah, or whether we attribute part of the book to another prophet or to other prophets. But we will see that this position is held to eliminate the miraculous element of prophecy. The brethren who have accepted this view as well as those who may later advocate it likely will not admit they do so to eliminate the element of prophecy. But we are going to show that is why denominational "scholars" hold this view. The brethren likely have accepted and will accept the view because they think its acceptance is a guarantee of personal scholarship. The liberals consider those of us who reject the theory as ignoramuses.

In this article we will only try to state more specifically the position of the liberals, as well as showing that it is a brand new doctrine. Until relatively recently everyone admitted that Isaiah wrote the book that bears his name. While I am conscious of the fact that tradition and history argue but cumulatively in favor of the unity of the book, still we must not underestimate their value. A.B. Robinson was somewhat of a mediating critic. Yet he admits that tradition is unanimous in favor of the unity of the book of Isaiah. In his book, Old Testainent Prophery, pg. 244, Robinson says:

"For about twenty-five centuries, no one dreamt of doubting that Isaiah the son of Amoz was the author of every part of the book that goes under his name; and those who still maintain the unity of authorship are accustomed to point, with satisfaction, to the unanimity of the Christian church on the matter, till a few German scholars arose, about a century ago, and called in question the unity of this book."

The period of modern destructive criticism begins with 1780, twenty-seven years after the appearance of Astrue's book. A German writer, J.B. Koppe, in that year, in the German edition of Lowth's commentary, suggested that the fiftieth chapter of Isaiah was of doubtful origin, perhaps written by Ezekiel or someone else who lived at the time of exile. This was the beginning of what appears to be an endless disection of this great book.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, pg.1505, gives a good statement of the current conditions on these Isaiah problems.

"The present state of the Isaiah-question is, to say the least, confusing. Those who deny the integrity of the book may be divided into two groups, which we may call moderates and radicals. Among the moderates may be included Drs. Driver, G.A. Smith, Skinner, Kirkpatrick, Koenig, A.B. Davidson, Barnes and Whitehouse. These all practically agree that the following chapters and verses are not Isaiah's: 11:10-16; 12; 12:1-14:23; 15:116:12, 21:1-10; 24-27; 35, 36; 36-39; 40-66. That is to say, some 44 chapters out of the whole number, 66 were not written by Isaiah; or approximately 800 out of 1,292 verses are not genuine. Among the radicals are Drs. Cheyne, Duhm, Hackmann, Guthe, Marti, Kennett and Gray. These all reject approximately 1,030 verses out of the total 1,292 verses, retaining the following only as the genuine product of Isaiah and his age: 1:2-26; verses 29-31; 2:6-19; 3:1, 5, 8, 9, 12-17; 4:1; 5:1-14, 17-29; 6; 7:1-8, 22; 9:8-10:9; 10:13, 14, 27-32; 17:1-14; 18; 20; 22:1-22; 28:1-4, 7-22; 29:1-6; 9, 10, 13-15; 30:1-17; 31: 1-4. That is, only about 262 verses out of the total of 1,292 are allowed to be genuine. This is, we believe, a fair statement of the Isaiah-question as it exists in the hands of divisive critics today."

In fact, by the time each individual critic files his contention there is but little Ieft th;it Isaiah the son of Amoz might have written.

Oswald T. Allis, in a very good book dealing with this problem, The Unity of Isaiah, pg. 44, restates the critic's positions:

"The portions of the book of Isaiah which have been denied to be Isaiah's are these: first, the whole of the great prophecy of the restoration, chs. 40-66, and second, many sections of the first 39 chapters, such as 13:14:23; 21:1-10: Chap. 23, 24-27; 34, 35; and 36-39. The parts admitted to be genuine are chapters 1-12; 15-20; part of 21; 22; 28-33, and in all, about 26 or 27 chapters out of a total of 66."

One can readily see that there is in no sense unity even among the critics as to what was written by Isaiah, the son of Amoz, and just what part was written by the great unknown prophet, "Second-Isaiah."

While during the past two or three centuries much good has been accomplished in the field of literary criticism, one must not forget that much of the work is very inaccurate, and that many of the conclusions are but speculative. The problem of determining just what part of the book was written by Isaiah, and what part was written by some other prophets, as the critics undertake to do, is an acute problem indeed. According to most scholars (fundamental), the whole of Isaiah's prophecy, was written approximately during the eighth century B.C. That makes the book of Isaiah at least twenty-six hundred years old. Then some man sits down more than two millenniums later and proceeds to determine just what chapters and verses were written by Isaiah, and which were not written by him. The attempt at all is practically incredible. History records a very good test case of literary criticism, and a very good test which should be much more accurate, since the men were much nearer, in point of time, the event and writing they were testing.

"Prof. E. J. Wolf of Gettysburg Theological Seminary calls attention, in a recent number of the Independent, to a case of literary criticism which illustrates very aptly the reliability of such criticism when applied to the books of the Bible. When President Cleveland's message on Hawaiian affairs was published, the question was raised, whether it was written by him, or by his Secretary of State, Mr. Gresham. Mr. McPherson, editor of the Gettysburg Star and Sentinel, of whom Professor Wolf says, 'There is probably no man in this country more conversant with political writers and speakers, and therefore, more competent to pronounce judgment on the authorship or literary quality of a public document,' passed this judgment in his paper: 'As a matter of style it is a great improvement on any other of Mr. Cleveland's messages, having evidently been prepared by Mr. Secrtary Gresharn.'

"On the other hand, Mr. Dana, of the New York Sun, 'whose primacy in literature' says the Professor, "is challenged only by his rank as a political writer and critic, and whose capacity to judge of the literary authorship of an official document will be questioned by no American,' bluntly declares: 'Five-sixths of the message is a restatement in Mr. Cleveland's own language of the argument for the policy of infamy.'

"On this conflict of opinion between the experts, the Professor comments as follows:

'This flat contradiction of each other by a brace of expert critics is something of a stunner to the simple and plain people who have been taught by the higher critics that even in the writings which were published some two or three thousand years since in a language now dead, it is perfectly easy to tell what part Moses wrote . . . how much of the book of Isaiah was written by Isaiah, and where the style changes so unmistakably that obviously another Isaiah must be the author of the later chapters. And like Messrs. McPherson and Dana, they are all cocksure about it. There can be no mistake'." (McGarvey, Biblical Criticism, pp. 94, 95.)

So literary criticism is not an infallible field, and we must put its conclusion to the test just as in any other field.

The problem of the authorship of Isaiah continues to become more and more confusing to the critics. For a while only chapters 40-66 were denied to be the work of Isaiah, and these were attributed to "Second-Isaiah." But now critics contend that chapters 40-66 were not even a united writing, and that "Second Isaiah" only wrote Chs. 40-55, and then not even the majestic servant passages. They have since decided that chs. 55-66 were the work of another "Isaiah," which Bernhard Duhm designates "Trito-Isaiah," or "Third-Isaiah." Others contend that many men had a part in the writing of the book, and that it was assimilated in its present form by a final redactor who probably lived about the first century B.C.

So you can see men have not been willing to accept the book of Isaiah just as the Bible gives it. The reason for their rejection has been basically a break-down of their faith in God and His work. In the next article we will show why these critics say they reject the unity of Isaiah, as well as showing some of the reasons why we do accept the entire book as the work of Isaiah the son of Amoz.

Truth Magazine III:8, pp. 9-11
May 1959