Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics

By Beall, Todd S. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2018 | Go to article overview

Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics


Beall, Todd S., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics. By Ben Witherington III. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2017, xv + 508 pp., $34.00 paper.

Ben Witherington, professor of NT at Asbury Theological Seminary, has undertaken a prodigious task in what is apparently the first of a series of books exploring the use of the OT in the NT. While there are other works dealing in a more cursory manner with all NT citations of the OT or with the use of Isaiah in select portions of the NT, Witherington's work stands alone in his detailed examination of every major citation of Isaiah in the NT.

The book consists of an introduction, six chapters, and seven appendices. The book is a gold mine both for general principles in dealing with NT citations as well as for specific insights on the NT use of particular Isaianic texts.

In the introductory chapter, Witherington provides key principles that he reiterates throughout the book. First, he states that distant future prophecy tends to be less specific and "more metaphorically poetic in character," and thus "more readily serviceable" for use by later generations (p. 3). Since poetry is "inherently metaphorical, multivalent, more universal in character and content," it is more easily adaptable to a different situation by the NT writers (p. 4). Second, often the Christian interpreter simply "reads backwards" from the NT use of the OT, but never really looks at the OT passage in its original context. Other interpreters simply read the OT in its own terms, not "in light of the Christ event" (p. 9). Instead, Witherington argues, "the Christian must learn to read the Bible both forward and backwards for fuller understanding" (p. 9). Third, Witherington sees the rich poetic text of Isaiah as having both its contextual meaning and the more extended NT meaning all along: "God intended it that way from the outset when he inspired the writing of these oracles in Isaiah" (p. 10). Here he breaks rank with many OT critics, but I think he is right on target.

In chapter 1, appropriately titled "Isaianic Fingerprints Everywhere," Witherington discusses the vast use of Isaiah in the NT: 131 different NT passages that together contain over 400 quotations or allusions from forty-five of the sixty-six chapters of Isaiah. Witherington includes a chart with all direct quotations, partial quotations, and allusions to Isaiah in each NT book.

With chapter 2 ("Early Isaiah-Isaiah 1-12") Witherington begins the heart of his analysis. He helpfully begins each section by providing a translation of both the MT and LXX, as well as the relevant NT citation(s). Here he briefly treats the matter of authorship, holding that Isaiah is responsible for chapters 1-39, but chapters 40-55 are exilic and 56-66 are post-exilic, written by later prophets "following in the footsteps of the historical Isaiah" (p. 44). He then discusses Isaiah 5:1-7; 6:1-10; 7:1-17; 8:11-18; 8:23-9:11; and 11:1-10 together with the relevant NT citations. He concludes that Hezekiah is the immediate fulfillment of both Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6-7, yet he states that "Jesus was the more perfect fulfillment of Isaiah's word about Immanuel. ... A prophet, in a poetic oracle, can certainly say more than he realizes and it be a part of the original meaning of the text, though the prophet may not have realized the full significance of what he said" (p. 79). The child of Isaiah 9 is also Hezekiah, "though even he could not live up to all the campaign promises made about this son (e.g. his dominion did not last forever)" (p. 95). On the contrary, other commentators such as I, view both 7:14 and 9:6-7 as direct prophecies of the Messiah. Hezekiah had already been born at the time of the Isaiah 7 prophecy. Far from being an unfulfilled "campaign promise," Isa 9:6-7 points to the future Messiah whose reign indeed will last forever.

Witherington concludes that Isaiah probably knew that what he was saying wouldn't happen fully in Hezekiah's day, since "only the eschatological king would fully bring peace" (p. …

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