History And The Isaiah Theories

Cecil Willis
Akron, Ohio

In a preceding article we undertook to show that the modern higher critics look upon the book of Isaiah in a quite different manner than do most of us. They do not believe that Isaiah the son of Amoz wrote the 66 chapters that bear his name. Instead, they believe that Isaiah the son of Amoz wrote only the greater part of the first 39 chapters of the book. Then some of the higher critics believe that another great unknown prophet wrote chapters 60-66. Others of the higher critics dissect the book even more. They believe that "Second Isaiah" wrote only chapters 40-55, and that "Trito-Isaiah" or Third Isaiah wrote the remainder of the book. The higher critics maintain that the book of Isaiah took its present form about the first century B.C. when some unknown redactor, with the different parts of the book in hand, assimilated them into the book as it now is.

We mentioned that there are very few brethren in the church who hold this view at present. However, there have been a few preaching brethren who have accepted the "Deutero-Isaiah theory" about the book. We stated our purpose in writing these articles on this subject to be to show what the liberals teach about the books of the Bible. Then if some brother now or later begins to advocate this theory about Isaiah or some other book of the Bible, you will know where he got it. Of course, he will never admit being a modernist. Modernists never do. But if a man holds some position not taught by the Bible, and that originated with what is called modernism, is he not a modernist?

Reason for Critic's Position

When men take an unorthodox position there must be some reason for their doing so. And the critics' view on Isaiah is not all exception. They have reasons for accepting their view. The main reason for the critic's position on the late date theories and many unknown authors for the books of the Old Testament is because of his commitment to a purely rationalistic explanation of all that happens and of all that there is (including the Bible). His reason for accepting the "deutero-Isaiah" theories and other similar higher critical theories is that he is a rank materialist. He must rule out the supernatural. He therefore undertakes to explain the origin of the Bible by human ability and human accomplishment alone. To show that this is not a misrepresentation of the critic, we quote Prof. North of the University of North Wales in his book, The Suffering Servant in the Deutero-Isaiah: An Historical and Critical Study, pg. 207ff.

"The fundamental objection to the traditional Messianic interpretation is that it is wedded to a too mechanical doctrine of inspiration (My emphasis-CW). This seems to put it out of court as unworthy of serious consideration. The Prophet is a mere amanuensis, and what he writes has no relevance to the circumstances of his own time. Moreover, if this implies that he 'sees' in advance One who was not to come for another five or six centuries (he means if the prophet foretells the coming of Christ as in chs. 7, 9, 11, 53 etc.-CW), it raises the difficult philosophical problem whether there can be an actual prevision of history."

Prof. North further says that even though one must admit that the future was foretold and that Christ is pictured several hundred years before his coming, or if Cyrus is named a century and a half before his birth, one still is not to conclude, that a miraculous prophecy has occurred. For he says there have been many mythological previsions of history. Following is his exact statement.

"Webb is cautious as to 'whether the future can ever be foreseen,' but that does not alter the fact that many myths do relate to the future: the Phaedrus Myth, for example, and the Divina Commedia of Dante; and if Plato had developed Glaucon's prophecy of the fate of the just man, we might have had another myth strikingly similar to Isaiah 53." Op. Cit., pg. 212.

Prof. North says if Isaiah is "inspired" at all, he is "inspired" only in the sense as was Plato. North conclusion is: "If there was to be any anticipation of Calvary in the Old Testament-as, on any showing, there is in Isa. liii-it is difficult to see what form it could take except one analogous to Platonic myth."

Oswald T. Allis, in The Unity of Isaiah, p. 117, quotes Prof. Millar Burrows, then of Yale University to show why he rejects the unity of Isaiah. Burrows feels that the concepts of miracles and prophecy are definite liabilities to Christianity. Read carefully what he says.

"For many events, to be sure, we have abundant evidence of their occurrence in addition to the biblical record, but unless the statement that they had been predicted is accepted on the authority of the Bible itself, there is nothing to prove that the supposed prediction was not written after the event took place. In other cases, where the prophecy was demonstrably written before the event which is traditionally regarded as it fulfilment, the interpretation is open to question, if not obviously false. This is true of the prophecies supposed to be predictions of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as used as such in the New Testament itself, from Mt. 1:22f. on..."

From these statements we see that these liberal writers deny the possibility of prophecy at all, and Millar Burrows says that there is a false implication in the New Testament. For it takes statements from the Old Testament and makes them appear as though they were actually predicting certain events in Christ's life, when the Old Testament writers, according to Burrows, had no intention of fore-shadowing Christ's life. Prof. North says he rejects the idea of a unified Isaiah because it is wedded to a "too mechanical doctrine of inspiration," and he concludes that this view of inspiration alone seems "to put it out of court, as unworthy of serious consideration." He also says that the messianic prophecies of Isaiah 53 are myths strikingly similar to Dante's Divina Commedia.

We see from these quotations why the liberals deny the unity of Isaiah. I doubt that the few brethren who have denied the unity of Isaiah would admit that they accept the deutero-Isaiah theory for the same reasons as do Professors North and Burrows. But none of these brethren has had the courage to tell us just why he does accept the theory. The only reason one can give for accepting the theory and denying the unity of Isaiah is that which North gives: "it (i.e., the idea of prophecy, C.W.) is wedded to a too mechanical doctrine of inspiration."

Historical Arguments For the Unity of Isaiah

We are going to present two types of evidence to show why we believe Isaiah the son of Amoz to be the author of the entire book that bears his name. In the remainder of this article we want to present the first type of evidence we shall offer. This first type of evidence would be called "external'; evidence, and is not the stronger of the two types of evidence we shall present. In a concluding article we will discuss "Internal" evidences for the unity of Isaiah. But we now offer some circumstantial evidence that is not contained in the Bible, but which supports and verifies the evidence we find in the Bible.

The Unanimity of History's Testimony -- G.A. Smith well expressed the argument for the unity of Isaiah from tradition, although he sought to refute the argument. He said:

"Till the end of the last century, it was almost universally accepted tradition, and even still is an opinion retained by some, that Isaiah was carried forward by the Spirit, out of his own age to the standpoint of one hundred and fifty years later; that he was inspired to utter the warning and comfort required by a generation of Jews so very different from his own, and was even enabled to hail by name the redeemer, Cyrus."

He simply declares that until relatively recently, no one ever thought of denying that Isaiah wrote the entire book. Though history is not infallible, yet it may be seen that the weight of scholarship throughout the years has favored the unity of Isaiah. And incidentally, there seems to be a swing back to the unity of the book on the part of many modern higher critics.

Josephus-The second argument for the unity of Isaiah is also from the historical field, and might have been included in the first argument. The Jewish historian, Josephus, saw in the erection of a temple and an altar in Egypt by the high priest, Onias, the fulfillment of "an ancient prediction made by (a prophet) whose, name was Isaiah" (apparently referring to Isa. 19:19-25) "about 600 years before." He also referred directly to the Cyrus prophecy of Isaiah 44, 45 and stated that this prophecy belonged to Isaiah. He also stated that these prophecies were uttered "one hundred and forty years" before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple. These declarations from Josephus are important for two reasons. First, they form a part of the universal tradition for twenty-five centuries, as stated by Davidson and Smith, of believing, that the entirety of the book of Isaiah was written by him. Secondly, these statements are important, for Josephus tells us that these prophesies were made "600 years before," and "one hundred and forty years" (and more) before their fulfillment took place. These historical statements show us that at this time men thought that a prophet might deal with a then non-existent situation, and did not necessarily constrain himself to deal only with the present historical situation, as the modern liberal writers say he must do. These statements further show that Josephus considered the prophecies of many of the writers to have to do with the future, and many with even the remote future.

The Dead Sea Scrolls-To modern archaeological research we go for our third argument for the unity of Isaiah. In the spring of 1948 a Syrian Orthodox priest named Sowmy revealed that he had acquired five ancient manuscripts from a group of Arabs. Sowmy called John C. Trever at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. Trever made photographs of the manuscripts, one of which proved to be a copy of the entire book of Isaiah. The Old Testament scholar, W. F. Albright, and Millar Burrows of Yale, also examined the manuscript, and by comparison with other writings of known date, the approximate date was determined. In the same cave in which the manuscripts (the first of the celebrated Dead Sea Scrolls) were found, there was also found pottery of late Hellenic origin. So the date was established as the first half of the second century B.C. by some, and by others as 125-100 B.C. This manuscript of Isaiah was about a thousand years older than any Hebrew manuscript of the book then existing. Some thought this new found scroll might properly recognize and differentiate the work of Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah, and Trito-Isaiah.

But not so. In the Hebrew language writing begins on the right-hand page first, and then continues on the left-hand page, and reads from right to left, the exact opposite of the way we do in English. With this fact in mind, note this: In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, chapter 40 (the supposed beginning of Deutero-Isaiah's work) begins on the bottom line of the right hand page, and then continues on the left hand page. Would a copyist begin a new book (Deutero-Isaiah's prophecy) on the bottom line of a page, with no indication that he was beginning a new book? Certainly not. This ancient manuscript was probably copied in the first half of the second century B.C., the very time that the Trito-Isaiahists and those who hold to the redactor composition theory, give for the completion of the book. Yet at this time, the entire book was thought to be the writing of one prophet, and not a compilation of many prophet's writings. It was all written on one manuscript, and even the page was completed with a part of the 40th chapter, which all liberal higher critics say had a different author. But this was not the opinion of the writer of the oldest manuscript available to us today.

We see that history at every point is against the critic, and favors the unity of Isaiah. In the next article, we will notice the. stronger type of evidence, the internal evidence, or the evidence from the Bible itself for the unity of the book of Isaiah.

Truth Magazine III:9, pp. 6-8
June 1959