Two Isaiahs ?
So accurate have many of Isaiah's prophecies been that sceptics have tried to argue that Isaiah was actually written after the predicted events. In other words, they have tried to claim that the author of Isaiah is a fraud who merely wrote about history as if it were still future. However, the evidence that the book of Isaiah long predates many of these prophesied events is so overwhelming that sceptics have been forced to create what is now called the "Deutero-Isaiah" theory. This theory admits that a book of Isaiah existed in antiquity and that much of what we have in our Bibles was indeed written by Isaiah, but they then claim that centuries later the book of Isaiah was altered and new material, by a much later author, was introduced to provide the prophetic element which sceptics deny.
Thus, these "two" Isaiahs were then said to be merged together to form the book we have today. "First Isaiah" is the "authentic" book of Isaiah and "Second Isaiah" is that "new" material added to Isaiah. This theory is still quite popular among some more left wing seminaries and, of course, among Bible critics. Nevertheless, it has no legitimate basis for its claims other than the assumption that no man can know the future. Still, since this theory is popularly accepted in some circles, and the reader may often hear the phrase "second Isaiah" utilized in sermons or class lectures, it is necessary to refute this argument.
The "Deutero-Isaiah" theory is part of what is called "Higher Criticism" which became popular in the nineteenth century. Its advocates claim that "all people of discernment" accept "Higher Criticism" as superior to all other forms of criticism, but what is "Higher Criticism"? Sir Robert Anderson, Knight Commander of Britain, former chief inspector of Scotland Yard, and renowned evangelical Bible scholar, defines Higher Criticism as "a rationalistic and anti-Christian crusade. The end and aim of this movement is to eliminate God from the Bible." By "rationalistic" he refers to the eighteenth century "enlightenment" thought which assumed that mircales do not and cannot occur. In short, "Higher Criticism" begins with its own conclusions. They assume that miracles and prophecy cannot occur, and thus they attempt to "demythologize" the Bible by removing anything from the Bible which is either prophetic or miraculous. The facts, however, disprove the critics whose desperate attempts to eliminate prophecy illustrate the failure of their assumptions.
According to the "Deutero-Isaiah" theory, "first Isaiah" consist of chapters 1-39 (which the conservative will point out contains many prophecies of the distant future which critics ignore), while "Second Isaiah" consist of the rest of Isaiah, which has been called "post-phecy" (as opposed to "pro-phecy"). Some critics, however, believe in a "Trito-Isaiah" theory which maintains that chapters 40-55 had a different author than 56-66, hence there were three authors. In fact, some critics claim that Isaiah had as many as sixteen different authors! The critics themselves cannot come to any uniform agreement other than their attempt to divide Isaiah into two or more seperate books.
Their evidence for this division and dual authorship is subjective. Aside from the assumption that prophecy cannot occur, they argue that the first forty chapters of Isaiah have an entirely different "theme" from the last chapters and that the "style" and "vocabulary" differ. These "facts" alone represent their evidence, but a close examination will show the "facts" flawed.
The first of these arguments suggest that that the theme of judgment in the first forty chapters of Isaiah is incompatible with the theme of salvation depicted in the last chapters of Isaiah. Such an argument is clearly based on assumption. To begin with judgment can be found throughout Isaiah, not just in the first forty chapters (c.f. Isaiah 63:1-64:12). Likewise, salvation is promised from the early chapters of Isaiah (c.f. Isaiah 2:1-11, 4:2-6, 7:1-17, 9:6-7, 11:1-12:6, 32:1-20, 40:1-31). The difference is in the progression of history seen in Isaiah. As judgment crushes the wicked nations of the earth, salvation blossoms. The themes are perfectly consistent.
The second argument is even weaker because it is highly subjective. The style is perfectly consistent throughout Isaiah. Only the Bible critic seems to feel that they are different, and that is because he wants to believe it. Vocabulary is even more tenuous for the subject matter often dictates what vocabulary is used. Take, for example, the vast vocabulary differences between the gospel of John and Johns book of Revelation! Obviously the difference is on account of the subject matter which critics admit is expanded to discuss more fully the theme of salvation.
Now one might expect that if the critic is going to claim that parts of Isaiah were written in the 5th or 6th century B.C., rather than the 8th century, they should have some textual evidence to support this. One might expect that the Dead Sea Scrolls would have an Isaiah whose form and structure differ from our current editions or the place of Isaiah in the canon might have been brought into question at some point in Jewish history, but neither is the case. On the contrary, the oldest known copy of the Bible is the Greek Septugaint and yet Isaiah appears as a part of the canon in the same form it now exist. I will discuss the evidences for the antiquity of the books of the Hebrew canon at length in the section on Daniel (which critics also claim to have been written centuries after the fact). Here it will suffice to say that not a single ancient copy of the text of Isaiah shows any hint of alteration of the centuries. In fact, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain a complete copy of Isaiah, dating a thousand years older than any other Hebrew copies known to exist! Again, the book is the same as that in existence today.
Gleason Archer has also shown that the facts and circumstances in the book of Isaiah would not be consistent with a forgery written in post-exilic Babylon. For example, idolatry had ceased by that time and yet much of Isaiahs final chapters deals with idolatry in Israel. He also points out that references to Cedar trees and other Palestinian flora would not be realistic if the author had lived in the desert of Babylon, for he would be unfamiliar with most of these things.
The final proof is that the critics own assumptions fail the test. They insist that parts of Isaiah were written centuries later because they deny that prophecy can occur, but, as the former Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard put it, if the 64th chapter of Isaiah was necessarily written after the captivity, the 53rd chapter of Isaiah was necessarily written after the crucifixion. Moreover, it is not only the last twenty six chapters that correctly prophecy the future but many passages in the first forty. Gleason Archer points out that the first prophecy of Babylons fall occurs in chater six, in the thirteenth verse!
In short, the Deutero-Isaiah theory is an attempt to eliminate the supernatural elements from the Bible, but it offers no independant proof; only arguments forged by the very assumptions they hope to prove. Sir Robert Anderson, whose detective mind worked so well for many decades at Scotland Yard, sarcastically notes that I owe much to the Higher Critics for settling my faith in Scripture. After all, if the critics can offer noting more substantial then the believer truly has no reason to doubt the authenticity of Isaiah in its entirety.
Note : Endnotes were removed for space but can be found in my forthcoming book, Controversies in the Prophets.
Copyright = David Criswell = 2005 = All rights reserved
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