Interpreting the Prophets

By James Luther Mays; Paul J. Achtemeier | Go to book overview
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Isaiah in
Old Testament Theology


Isaiah's recurring emphasis on God's plan gave impetus to the concep-
tion of an overarching divine plan for history, a conception the New
Testament found useful for interpreting the meaning of Jesus Christ.

It has become traditional to treat the theological message of Isaiah in terms of the distinct theologies of First Isaiah, Second Isaiah, Third Isaiah, and “Other” Isaiahs.1 Outside very conservative circles there has been little concern to treat the theology of the book as a unified whole, though recently Brevard Childs has forcefully reminded the scholarly guild that it was as a single book that Isaiah was received into the Christian canon.2 Yet it remains a very serious question whether one can describe “the” theology of the Book of Isaiah without sacrificing many of the important exegetical and theological insights of several generations of scholars. A simple return to precritical scholarship implicitly demands a sacrifice of the intellect that is unacceptable. Nor can this writer agree with Childs's assessment of the degree to which the “canonical editors” stripped Second Isaiah of its original historical context.3

An adequate treatment of the place of the Book of Isaiah in Old Testament theology cannot simply ignore the evidence of different historical settings preserved in the book. Nor can one simply read the book in its present literary sequence as though there were no evidence for that sequence being the result of a rather haphazard use of the catchword principle of arrangement. To do so would be to engage in an elaborate pretense that we know far less about the book than we actually do.

On the other hand, there is a certain inner consistency in the growth of the

1. This formulation comes from William L. Holladay, Isaiah': Scroll of a Prophetic Heritage
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1978).

2. Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress
Press, 1979), pp. 311-38.

3. Ibid., p. 325. See the trenchant critique of Sean E. McEvenue, “The Old Testament:
Scripture or Theology?” Int 35:229-42 (1981) 234.


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Interpreting the Prophets


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