The Theory of Multiple Isaiahs

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Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
Greetings beloved in the Lord, (particularly you people that are a whole lot smarter than me) :)

This morning I started reading a commentary on Nehemiah and the author mentions a "Second Isaiah." I have heard of the theory of two or three Isaiahs but know nothing about it. I am hoping several of you can shed some light on this for us.

Thanks,

Ed Walsh
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Basically, modernist scholars don't think Isaiah could have predicted the future. Any good conservative academic commentary will discuss it. Gleason Archer's survey on Old Testament is the best.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
The main reason for thinking there were at least two writers, writing more than a hundred years apart, is sensible enough that even among believing scholars who do accept predictive prophesy there are those who propose two authors. Even a casual reading of the book makes it clear that the first 39 chapters deal with the period around 700 BC, and we have biblical mentions of Isaiah ministering during that period outside of Isaiah itself (see 2 Kings 19). But chapters 40 and on clearly speak of the period of the exile and the return, and seem directed at people living in exile, which would have been about 150 years later.

I don't think we should assume that a scholar who prefers the multiple-authors theory is necessarily rejecting the possibility of predictive prophesy. He may simply think it's most likely the author(s) spoke first of all to people of his own time and their immediate concerns (an assumption we make readily enough when it comes to other prophetic books), and find the multiple-authors theory compelling for that reason.

I find a single author more likely. If you can put your hands on an ESV Study Bible, its introduction to Isaiah offers a concise (about one page) and compelling defense of that position.
 

smalltown_puritan

Puritan Board Freshman
In addition to these two explanations already offered, the theory of so-called 'multiple Isaiahs' is also rooted in the different styles/themes/language used in the last chapters. The 'Two-Isaiah' view splits the book from chapters 1-39 and then 40-66. The 'Three-Isaiah' view splits the book from chapters 1-39, then 40-55, then 56-66. This alternative explanation is why there would be some men claiming to be evangelical scholars who hold to this view - not on the presupposition of naturalism (that prophecy cannot happen) but based on this kind of form criticism.
 

DecafCoffee

Puritan Board Freshman
Good to see some good nuanced discussion on this topic. I studied this particular issue back in seminary and have read Motyer's commentary where he addresses this issue. We should also account for all of the following things:

Isaiah had a long career (60 years+)
He prophesied many oracles, over many years
Isaiah was not like a typical Pauline epistle, where he wrote it in one sitting, on one parchment, and dictated to one scribe (e.g. Timothy). Isaiah could not have been written like that. It's too long, if anything else.
There were schools of prophets (1 Sam. 19:20, 2 Kgs. 2), who acted like disciples to a major prophet
An authors' literary style is not necessarily static across time and genre

Thus, it's very possible to explain the multiple "sections" of Isaiah by positing that different persons/groups of people (later followers of Isaiah?? cf. Isa. 8: 16) compiled an eclectic set of oracles that all originally trace back to Isaiah as the primary source. Perhaps they could have taken the liberty to update outdated words (as language evolves over time). This could have been done over generations during various contexts. This is a way to explain the differences in literary style and vocabulary while still maintaining Isaianic unity.

I admit I do not know all the details of the arguments, but this is roughly the theory my professor presented to us. And it sounds rather reasonable to me.
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Osward T. Allis wrote a book called "The Unity of Isaiah" which, if you can get your hands on a copy, is a helpful introduction to the problem and a robust defence of single authorship against the sceptics.

Consider, however, that predicting the future of a Persian conquest of Babylon, the release of the Jews from captivity and the rise of King Cyrus is about as problematic as Isaiah's earlier predictions of Messiah occurring hundreds of years after the Jews have returned from Babylon (Isaiah 9:6 etc.).
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
A summary of O.T. Allis' defense of the unity of Isaiah:

1) This view is the traditional one and has been defended for over 2500 years by both Jewish (e.g. Josephus) and Christian scholars.
2) The denial of the unity of Isaiah has nothing to do with new discoveries about the book but rather due to the presuppositions (i.e. anti-prophetical bias) of critical scholars.
3) Like all other OT prophets, Isaiah's book has one name associated with it. In fact, there are no anonymous OT prophetical books.
4) There is no manuscript evidence to show us that the 66 chapters constitute anything other than one book e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls found in 1947 dates a copy of 66 chapters to the second century BC. Allis notes that chapter 40 begins on the last line of the column which contains 38:9-39:8.
5) There is no historical evidence of this anonymous prophet who preached during the days of the post-exilic Jews, though there is evidence for other exilic and post-exilic prophets (e.g. Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah etc.).
6) The NT quotes Isaiah by name 20x, and these prophecies are taken from both parts of the book.
7) Like the shorter ending of Mark, the ending of Isaiah's prophecy at Chapter 39 leaves the reader with an unsatisfying conclusion. The "future which seemed so weighted with disaster" is mollified by the call to consider the comfort of God.
8) Allis points out many inconsistencies and contradictions of the critical view, noting especially that there is not one critical view but many. In fact, some critics assign some earlier chapters & portions to Deutero-Isaiah or even Trito-Isaiah. e.g. Chapter 13 because it predicts the fall of Babylon.
9) He has a detailed analysis of the poetic structure of 44:24-28 which predicts Cyrus, showing it was written from a prophetic or futuristic viewpoint.
 
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VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
I'll add one more tidbit in favor of one Isaiah. His arguments against idolatry in Chapter 41 depend upon predictive prophecy. They would fall flat if written later.

In other words, if some "Isaiah # 2" wrote after the fact, his contemporaries would have howled.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
A summary of O.T. Allis' defense of the unity of Isaiah:

1) This view is the traditional one and has been defended for over 2500 years by both Jewish (e.g. Josephus) and Christian scholars.
2) The denial of the unity of Isaiah has nothing to do with new discoveries about the book but rather due to the presuppositions (i.e. anti-prophetical bias) of critical scholars.
3) Like all other OT prophets, Isaiah's book has one name associated with it. In fact, there are no anonymous OT prophetical books.
4) There is no manuscript evidence to show us that the 66 chapters constitute anything other than one book e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls found in 1947 dates a copy of 66 chapters to the second century BC. Allis notes that chapter 40 begins on the last line of the column which contains 38:9-39:8.
5) There is no historical evidence of this anonymous prophet who preached during the days of the post-exilic Jews, though there is evidence for other exilic and post-exilic prophets (e.g. Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah etc.).
6) The NT quotes Isaiah by name 20x, and these prophecies are taken from both parts of the book.
7) Like the shorter ending of Mark, the ending of Isaiah's prophecy at Chapter 39 leaves the reader with an unsatisfying conclusion. The "future which seemed so weighted with disaster" is mollified by the call to consider the comfort of God.
8) Allis points out many inconsistencies and contradictions of the critical view, noting especially that there is not one critical view but many. In fact, some critics assign some earlier chapters & portions to Deutero-Isaiah or even Trito-Isaiah. e.g. Chapter 13 because it predicts the fall of Babylon.
9) He has a detailed analysis of the poetic structure of 44:24-28 which predicts Cyrus, showing it was written from a prophetic or futuristic viewpoint.

In addition to these good points, Alec Motyer has a very persuasive outline of the book where he shows that the dividing line is not 40-66.
 
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