The Unity of Isaiah

Initially, I planned to distill the concept of the unity of the book of Isaiah in Peter Gentry’s “How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets.” He, however, presents this material in several places so that the full explication is not laid out very conveniently or discretely in his book. I do not fault him in the least since the object of his work was teaching others to understand a body of literature: the Biblical Prophets. Of course the issue of credibility and reliability of the writings such as the book of Isaiah is part of what Gentry seeks to establish which he finds in the internal evidences of the works themselves.

What I propose to highlight in this post are his statements and rationale for holding Isaiah as a unity and invite the reader to further explore his work. I want to also post a book review where I may add other evidences from Gentry as to why Isaiah is best viewed as, and, demands a unity.

Firstly, Gentry notes that most scholars today do not hold to the unity of Isaiah and gives the reason: Enlightenment thinking which is rationalistic. He laments that this approach offers no big picture of the prophet’s overall message. He identifies the lexical analysis of words and phrases as faulty since the analysts have never asked what were the original intentions of the biblical authors in constructing their work.

Gentry sees the reason for the divided structure of Isaiah by the prophet (or God) was to first established the prophet’s ministry upon the immediate needs of the community (calling them back to the covenant) along with immediate prophecy and fulfillment before future visionary prophecy is written. This is the normal way of building one’s reputation and is more persuasive than a person stating claims without prior attestation from God. Also, Dt. 18.21-22 gives guidelines for whether to trust a prophet: And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him (NIV). Isaiah’s dramatic predictions of Sennacherib’s failure to capture Jerusalem and destruction of his army gives the reader the confidence that the future visions will be fulfilled.

He next identifies a feature of Hebrew Biblical composition as being repetitive and recursive. Recursive writing or speech takes up a topic from a certain perspective, making the point, and concluding. Next, the same topic is presented from a different vantage and in a progressive manner often including one or more items. Gentry notes that this type of speech and writing sounds monotonous to western ears and even boring. This is of course misapprehension of the message and the historic scene. This method of repetition Gentry maintains is multidimensional like the different channels in a stereo system. The inherent message is the same but comes from slightly different perspectives.

Isaiah, Gentry says, has a central theme divided into seven separate sections which deal with the same topic from different angles and thus similar to viewing a kaleidoscope since the same elements are presented in different arrangements. He notes that the structure of each prophetic book holds the interpretive key to its message. In Chart 3.1 he lists his theme and outline for Isaiah:

The Central theme of Isaiah: From Zion in the Old Creation to Zion in the New

  1. The Judgment and Transformation of Zion Part 1 (1.2-2.4)
  2. The Judgment and Transformation of Zion Part 2 (2.5-4.6)
  3. The Judgment of the Vineyard and the Coming King (5.1-12.6)
  4. The City of Man vs. The City of God (13.1-27.13)
  5. Trusting the Nations vs. Trusting in the word of YHWH (28.1-37.38)
  6. Comfort and Redemption for Zion and the World (38.1-55.13)
  7. The Servants of YHWH and the New Creation (56.1-66.24)


The Big Picture of God’s Disclosure

The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. (Is. 48.3) ESV

Since the judgment scene in the Garden of Eden recorded in Gen. 3.15 as the sentence upon the serpent, we humans have known of the promise of the Lord who will come from the seed of a woman. Subsequent revelation tells us that God decreed redemption through Christ and human election before the creation week of Gen. 1 (see Heb. 4.4-the context clearly speaks of redemptive work). Additionally, we read in Rom. 5.14 that Adam was created as a type which anticipates another. Therefore, the creation of Adam and the Fall all look forward to mercy in Christ.

Since God already decreed the outcome and disclosed it to us, can we find the reason as to why God is involved in this sort of activity? An obvious answer could be His love, and I would agree that God’s outworking displays His attributes and brings Him glory. There seems to be more however and in typical fashion Jesus reveals to His friends in the scriptures what He is doing.

From the text we know that God is Spirit while the creation is apart from Him conceptually. However, Jn. 1.14 tells us that “He became flesh”, and therefore God has taken an additional property previously not counted as belonging inherently to Him. Also, the promise toward the Christian of having a “spiritual body” like Jesus’ speaks to the redemption of the physical universe. Notice how Paul gives the big picture explanation to the Romans in 8.19-21:

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (NIV)
This speaks of nothing less than the spiritualization of matter in the resurrected body of Jesus and the eventual freeing and glory of creation including us believers. So reading Gen. 1.1-2 in this light  can possibly direct us to the bigger picture of redemption. Though God created everything good initially, at some point the creation became topsy turvy though God’s Spirit ultimately governed the totality of the created order (Gen. 1.2). This resulted in the separation of light (revelation and goodness?) and darkness in Gen. 1.4 and the needed eventual cleansing of the heavens and earth spoken about throughout the bible.  We can conclude by saying: the incarnation of Jesus tells a greater story than we first imagined.