BEST Evidence for a Unified Isaiah

Last week we talked about 3 of the reasons why modern critics think that Isaiah was not the author of the entire book of Isaiah. For some, it is too much of a stretch to believe that Isaiah in the 7th century BCE could have predicted the specific name (Cyrus) of the king who would commission the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem in the 5th century BCE.  For others, the style differences between Isaiah 1-39 and 40-66 imply different authors.  For still others, it does not make sense that a 7th century prophet prophesied about the 5th century to a 7th century audience.

Last week we looked at 3 mitigating arguments:

1. Predictive prophecy about the rebuilding of Jerusalem is found in Isaiah chapter six, which even the modern critics ascribe to Isaiah, though the name Cyrus is not given.  And elsewhere is the Bible, very specific prophecies of a similar nature were fulfilled.

2. There are many commonalities of style between the first part of the book of Isaiah and the second part – for example 26 of the 32 times that “Holy One of Israel” is used in the OT, it is used in Isaiah, and those times are almost evenly divided between chapters 1-39 and chapters 40-66.

3. It is arbitrary to require a quality, in this case “applies to immediate listeners,” of the book of Isaiah that is not universally recognized as a standard of prophecy. Many prophecies in the Bible have a distant future fulfillment.

This week let’s look at the strongest evidence for the unity of the book of Isaiah.

1.  Dead Sea Scrolls

First, we have the amazing discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, copied in the 2nd century BCE from even earlier manuscripts. Modern critics say Isaiah only wrote the first 39 chapters, and chapter 40 switches to another author. Look at a screen shot of the oldest copy of Isaiah that we have:

This 2nd century copy of Isaiah changes from chapter 39 to chapter 40 in the middle of a column in the middle of a line [note the white rectangle] – with no mention of a change in authorship. Our oldest Isaiah manuscript treats Isaiah as one book.

2.  New Testament quotes

In chapter 12 of the gospel of John we see that Isaiah is quoted twice:

36 “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.

In John 12:38 “the word spoken by Isaiah the prophet” is found in Isaiah 53:1.  In John 12:40 the quote from Isaiah 6:10 is prefaced by John’s attribution, “again Isaiah said.”  Clearly, the apostle John attributes the contents of words from both sections of Isaiah as being spoken by Isaiah.

The New Testament contains 21 quotes from the book of Isaiah attributing the quotes to Isaiah.  Ten of those are quotes from chapters 1-39 of Isaiah; eleven of those are quotes from chapters 40-66.  So New Testament authors, living long before the development of modern criticism, viewed Isaiah as a unified book.

3. Extra-Biblical confirmation

In his work The Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus says that Cyrus learned of his destiny by reading the book of Isaiah. Josephus records:

“This was known [his destiny to free the Jews] to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies… This [the prophecy] was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the Divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written…”  (11.12.)

Ecclesiasticus, one of the books of the Apocrypha written around 180 BCE holds to single authorship in this clear reference to Isaiah 61:3:

“By the spirit of might he [Isaiah] saw the last things, and comforted those who mourned in Zion” (Ecclus 48:24). 

4.  No new evidence
It is interesting to note that no new evidence or new discoveries triggered modern critics to come up with their position that Isaiah did not author the whole book of Isaiah.  Rather, it was a change in their thinking – a philosophical change to a disbelief in miracles – including predictive prophecy. No new evidence led to a the discovery of style differences in the parts of Isaiah.  Those style differences were there back when the Dead Sea Scrolls copyist carefully copied the book of Isaiah into the Isaiah scroll. Those style differences were there back when New Testament authors attributed quotes from all parts of the book to Isaiah. And no new evidence led to the requirement of “Sitz im Leben,” an insistence that prophecy speak with complete relevancy to the audience. New positions about the authorship of Isaiah were formed 25 centuries after the original writing of the book of Isaiah with no new evidence.
Based on the ancient evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Ecclesiasticus, and the 1st century (A.D.) evidence of New Testament authors and Josephus, it seems the soundest position to take, until new evidence or discoveries show us otherwise, is that Isaiah is a unified prophecy attributed to one author.
~ Betsy McPeak


1 comment to BEST Evidence for a Unified Isaiah

  • The quotation of Isaiah 2:16 by 2 Nephi 12:16 , “And upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures” is sometimes used as evidence of an ancient source for the Book of Mormon. The KJV contains only half the phrase, while the Septuagint contains the other half. Some Book of Mormon scholars conclude that an ancient text contained the phrase intact, which the Book of Mormon used as a source, while the Septuagint and the KJV each lost a different half. However, modern scholarship suggests that Isaiah 2:16 is part of a poetic section and is a rhyming couplet; the Book of Mormon contains three phrases at this section where the meter dictates there should be only two, though which of the two is still debated.

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