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