Friday, May 2, 2014

Bible Critics and their Lack of Evidence: Case of Isaiah

Skeptical critics claim that Isaiah chapters 1-39 were written pre-exilicly (before Judah went into captivity prior to 586 BC), while chapters 40-66 were written post-Babylonian-exile (after 538 BC) by another “Isaiah” (or by a school of “Isaiahs”) in Babylon. Why are they so dogmatic about this?  It appears evident that they have an anti-prophetic bias!

The Book of Isaiah had identified the Persian King Cyrus by name (cir. 700 BC) as God’s chosen person to liberate His people from Babylon:

  • Who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be built,’ and to the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.'” Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held - to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut. (Isaiah 44:28 – 45:1)

It even seems that Cyrus might have been influenced by Isaiah’s prophecy:

  • Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: “All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!” (2 Chron. 36:23; also Ezra 1:2)

In any event, an archeological find, the Cyrus Cylinder, verifies that Cyrus allowed various peoples to return to their ancestral lands, to their “sanctuaries,” so that all of their gods would pray for him.

Since many critics reject the supernatural and therefore predictive prophecy, they are compelled to find a natural explanation for what seems to have been a prophecy about Cyrus uttered almost 130 years before his birth. Since necessity is the mother of invention, they were able to produce a theory that would account for this prophecy. Consequently, at least part of the Book of Isaiah (chapters 40-66) must have been written by a later “Isaiah.”

The absence of any hard evidence is seldom a deterrent to the broad acceptance of baseless theories. The fact that there are no scrolls – no Dead Sea scrolls or Septuagint scrolls – that give the slightest evidence of a second Isaiah or of two separate sections or books of Isaiah, does not seem to daunt them in the least.

Nor is there any internal biblical evidence for such conjecture. What then do they use to support their conjecture? They claim that there is both linguistic and stylistic evidence that distinguishes these “two” books. However, even if these distinctions exist, there are many possible explanations for this. Perhaps Isaiah had been compiled by theme. Or perhaps Isaiah’s style changed over the years. (It seems that Isaiah had a prophetic ministry of 60 years). Perhaps instead, God’s revelations to Isaiah underwent growth over the years.
Nor is there any basis for such a radical conclusion in the New Testament. In fact, the NT provides evidence for only a single Isaiah. For instance, John quotes from “both parts” of Isaiah together, without any indication that they might be separate books:

  • That the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?" [quoting from Isaiah 53:1] Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them." [quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10] These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. (John 12:38-41)

Paul also treated the entirety of Isaiah as one book, referring to it together as “Isaiah”:

  • Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved. For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, because the LORD will make a short work upon the earth." [quoting from Isaiah 10:22-23] And as Isaiah said before: "Unless the LORD of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah." [quoting from Isaiah 1:9]… As it is written: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." [quoting from Isaiah 8:14; 28:16] (Romans 9:27-33)…. But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our report?" [quoting from Isaiah 53:1]… But Isaiah is very bold and says: "I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me." [quoting from Isaiah 65:1-2] (Romans 10:16, 20)

Paul had quoted from both alleged sections of Isaiah as if they were one book.

The critics also claim that the first section (1-39) reveals a pre-exilic focus on the power of that day – Assyria, while the second section (40-66) focuses on Judah’s Babylonian conquerors in Babylon, thereby proving that there must have been two Isaiahs.

However, the evidence will not agree with them. Several of Israel’s pre-exilic prophets either mirror or actually quote from Isaiah 40-66, indicating that this latter section of Isaiah must have predated them:

                  This is the rejoicing city that dwelt securely, that said in her heart, "I am it, and there is none besides me." (Zeph. 2:15 seemingly quoting Isaiah 47:8)

                  Nahum 1:15 Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! (quoting Isaiah 52:7)

                  Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar. The LORD of hosts is His name. (Jeremiah 31:35 seemingly quotes Isaiah 51:15)

In fact, there is no evidence of an alleged background distinction between these two parts of Isaiah. According to the late Old Testament scholar, Gleason Archer, Babylon is mentioned nine times in chapters 1-39, while only four times in 40-66 – the opposite of what the critics would expect! For instance Isaiah 13:17 reads, “Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them” [Babylon], before Babylon was even an independent nation! This goes directly against the two-Isaiah theory.

Rather than Isaiah 40-66 reflecting a Babylonian setting, it reflects a Judean setting:

                  “O Zion, you who bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, you who bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, "’Behold your God!’" (Isaiah 40:9)

                  “I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the LORD, do not keep silent.” (Isaiah 62:6)

                  "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were written post-exilicly – after the Jews returned to their Promised Land. Consequently, these books contain Aramaisms from the native language that had been spoken in Babylon. However, no Aramaisms are found anywhere in the Book of Isaiah. However, if Isaiah 40-66 had been written after Israel’s exile in Babylonian, we should expect to find the influence of the Aramaic language, but we don’t.

In addition to these problems, Archer also observes:

                  “Conservative scholars have pointed out at least forty or fifty sentences or phrases which appear in both parts of Isaiah, and indicate common authorship.”

Here are some examples of this:

                  “For the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it” (1:20; 40:5; 58:14)
                  “I act and who can reverse it” (43:13; 14:27)
                  “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads” (35:10; 51:11)

Archer concludes:
                  “There is no doctrine set forth in 40-66 which is not already contained, in germ form at least, in 1-39.” (Survey of Old Testament Introductions)

Why then does this doctrine of two or more Isaiah’s remain alive in the liberal seminaries? Perhaps as a testament to the power of will over evidence!

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