Deutero Isaiah?

Around 740 BCE Isaiah had a vision of the throne room filled with six-winged seraphim which he described in Isaiah chapter 6.  The Lord was sitting on His throne and the train of His robe filled the temple.  The six-winged seraphim cried “Holy, Holy, Holy…” Isaiah was purified with a flaming coal and then received his commission as a prophet of God.

God warned Isaiah that the people would not listen, and Isaiah asked for how long. God said “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant…” God went on to tell Isaiah that Jerusalem was like a terebinth tree. The stump would remain even when the tree was cut down.  So early in the book of Isaiah it was foretold that Jerusalem would be destroyed, but its rebuilding was fore-shadowed in the mention of the stump that can produce new shoots, even though it looked like the tree has died.

(The image here is a copy of The Vision of Isaiah by Luke Allsbrook, ca. 2006 found here.)

What does this have to do with apologetics?

A reader of this blog asked:  Were there 2 authors of the book of Isaiah?

Modern critics suppose that chapters 1-39 were written ca. 740-700 BCE by Isaiah prophesying during the Assyrian invasion, that chapters 40-55 were written ca. 600-539 BCE to the exiles in Babylon by another prophet, and that chapters 56-66 were written from 539-500 BCE by yet another prophet to those returned to the land from captivity. The sections are called Proto-Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah, and Trito-Isaiah – I, II, and III Isaiah.

More recent modern critics think that there were just 2 authors, Chapters 1-39 having been written by Isaiah, and chapters 40-66 having been written by another prophet.

Yet other modern critics view the whole book as a collection of many prophecies by many prophets, compiled in the 5th century BCE.

Why does it matter?  What is behind this claim of multiple authors? Is it a sound claim?

Why does it matter?

It matters if the reliability and the nature of Scripture is questioned.

Isaiah’s prophetic ministry to Judah was around 740 – 700 BCE while the temple in Jerusalem was still standing. Isaiah is thought to have been martyred around 687 BCE, during Manasseh’s reign (687-642 BCE). Yet Isaiah prophesies devastation in Jerusalem and finally restoration, which occurred after his lifetime. Isaiah specifically prophesies that Cyrus would commission the rebuilding of the temple, which didn’t occur until 538 BCE. If the entire book of Isaiah was written by one prophet, then that prophet predicted the destruction of the temple and its rebuilding by a future conquerer of Babylon over 150 years before it happened.

The most important aspect of this challenge to Isaiah’s authorship of the whole book of Isaiah is the WHY of the challenge.  So let’s look at the thinking behind the claim that Isaiah did not write the whole book.

What is behind this claim?

I tried to find the strongest form of the argument for multiple authorship, so that I could address it, rather than the weaker forms. What I found was a mind-boggling number of conflicting and continually developing theories. Let’s look at the strongest reasons for multiple authorship of the book of Isaiah.

Modern critics claim that Isaiah did not write the entire book of Isaiah because:

1. Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1 mention Cyrus, a future ruler.

Despite the presentation of the book of Isaiah as a portrayal of the prophet Isaiah ben Amoz, there is a great deal of evidence that much of Isaiah was in fact composed by authors working during the period of the Babylonian exile and beyond. The most telling piece of evidence for this conclusion is the explicit reference to King Cyrus of Persia in Isa. 44:28 and 45:1, who is identified as YHWH’s messiah as well as the one who will rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.

~The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues

In other words, the argument says that a specific prediction could not be accurately made over 150 years prior to the event.

2. There is a significant style change in the latter part of Isaiah.

The first part (Isaiah 1-33) projects judgment and subsequent restoration for Jerusalem, Israel/Judah, and the nations, whereas the second part (Isaiah 34-66) presupposes that judgment has already taken place and that the time for restoration is at hand.

~The Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical Issues

 3. Isaiah’s 7th century audience would not find meaning in 5th century prophecies, so Isaiah obviously was not the author of the latter prophecies. A prophet who spoke in a more relevant way was the author of the latter sections.

In 1917 Biblical critic Hermann Gunkel coined the German phrase “Sitz im Leben,” which means “setting in life.” The position of some Biblical scholars in the 20th century was that a prophecy first of all had to mean something in the lives of the prophet’s immediate audience.

So what are we to think of this multi-faceted claim that Isaiah ben Amoz could not be the author of the book of Isaiah in its entirety?

Is it a sound claim?

1.  First of all, the assumption is that Isaiah could not have prophesied about a ruler who didn’t yet exist coming to the rescue of a situation that hadn’t yet happened. But in the first section of Isaiah (chapter 6 as described and illustrated at the beginning of this blog) which scholars unanimously attribute to Isaiah, the distant future destruction of Jerusalem is also prophesied.  As Old Testament scholar Dr. Gleason Archer says of Isaiah 6: 

Here we have a clear prediction of the total devastation and depopulation of Judah meted out by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC, over 150 years later!

So the multiple author theory does not escape the reality of predictive prophecy.  Chapter 6 clearly speaks of events that haven’t yet happened.

Besides – fulfilled predictive prophecy is God’s own measure of His God-ness.

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:                                                                                        “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.                                                                                                                   Who is like me?…Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.” 

~(Isaiah 44:6-8 ESV) 

Isaiah 53 contains clear prophecies of the suffering Messiah hundreds of years prior to the crucifixion.  Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, prophesies the specific name of the town where the Messiah will be born 700 years in advance, as recorded in Micah 5: 2 – 

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.

Another very specific prophesy is recorded in I Kings 13:2 where it is foretold 300 years prior to the event that a future king of Judah, named Josiah, would burn the bones of occultic priests on Jeroboam’s altar.  The fulfillment is recorded in 2 Kings 23:15-18.

Therefore, NO, it is not a sound claim that the latter part of the book of Isaiah is not authored by Isaiah just because it contains specific, predictive prophecy that Isaiah wouldn’t have known of through first hand experience.

There are many other examples of specific, predictive prophecy in the book of Isaiah and elsewhere in the Bible. It is one of the qualities that God uses to distinguish Himself – that He tells what the future holds through His prophets.  We could also say that the account of Elijah’s altar catching fire miraculously though soaked with water isn’t true because wet altars don’t catch fire spontaneously.  But we would simply be denying (not disproving) what the miracle proved – by our non-miracle position, not by the evidence.

2.  As far as the change in style, although there are differences, there are also similarities and parallel passages.

First, a similarity:

“For example, the title for God, ‘the Holy One of Israel,’ is used 12 times in chapters 1 to 39, and 14 times in chapters 40-66. However, this title is only used six other times in the rest of the Old Testament.” (Ken Carson)

Next, note the common theme of two parallel passages in Isaiah 11:6-9 (allegedly by first Isaiah) and 65:25 (allegedly by second Isaiah):

Isaiah 11:6-9

6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 65:25

25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

NO, it is not a sound claim that Isaiah could not have authored the entire book based on the change in style.  Paul’s epistles often change style: a doctrinal first half and a practical second half, yet Paul authored the whole book. Differences in style can be due to different topics, goals and moods.  Isaiah’s book contains similarities between the sections, as well as some differences. We have given just a couple examples of the similarities in style and content between the first and second parts of Isaiah. The difference in style between different sections of Isaiah do exist in some aspects, yet so do similarities.  Therefore, it is not warranted to say that Isaiah couldn’t have been written by one author.

3.  Regarding relevancy, Gunkel’s Sitz in Leben criteria is not established as a universal standard of authorship. What if we said that the book of Revelation was not written by John if John’s audience did not have immediate understanding of all that he wrote?  There really is no definitive reason why Gunkel’s standard needs to be applied.  That it was not even a criteria until the 20th century does not give it much credibility as a universal standard.

I could decide that prophecies should be applicable only to groups or only to individuals.  I could say that prophecies are only authentic if easily understood. It makes no logical sense to allow Gunkel to require a random quality of prophecy, and then to use that quality as a litmus test of authorship.  There would be some qualities that would not be random – like “written in a language known to the author.”  That would be a necessary quality.  But written to have immediate meaning to the audience is not a necessary quality.

No, it is not a sound claim that prophecy has to be completely relevant or even understandable to the immediate audience.  Some prophecy is hard to understand contemporarily, may apply past the scope of the current audience, and sometimes doesn’t become clear until its fulfillment.  

I hope you can see that there is no strong evidence that the book of Isaiah was written by multiple prophets. But I have actually saved the best evidence for last.

Next week we will look at the strong evidence FOR the unity of the book of Isaiah.

~ Betsy McPeak




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