The difficulty in the Book of Isaiah (History Part 2) Part 3

This is a continuation of the history of the interpretation of Isaiah.

As the church progressed, different men sought to further investigate the difficulties with Isaiah. Some chose just to ignore the differences. Justin saw Isaiah as such an important book that in his Dialogue he includes no fewer than fourteen points he tied directly to passages in Isaiah.[1] Yet one thing that is missing: Justin never considers any of the textual difficulties other authors have focused on. He accepted Isaiah as the work of one author with no redaction.

Another church father who chose not to focus on the textual differences between the Hebrew and Septuagint was John of Chrysostom. He was not interested in the variant readings coming from the different documents. He used the condemnatory nature of Isaiah to point out the sins of his generation and times. Childs points out the great homiletic abilities of John of Chrysostom:

In sum, Chrysostom did not engage in lengthy theological discussions on the authority of scripture, nor did he break new hermeneutical ground in his exegesis. However, he did what he did with homiletical excellence matched only by Augustine among the Fathers. He used scripture in such a way as to confront his audience with a power and clarity commensurate with scripture’s claim to be the direct voice of God. As such, his work as a preacher of the gospel remains a model for every successive generation in rendering the scriptures faithfully and with inspired imagination.[2]

 

            Thomas Aquinas is one of the most prominent theologians of the Middle Age church. There are understandably points that twenty-first century interpreters would disagree on. He still has a great deal to offer, particularly concerning Isaiah, and specifically, Isaiah chapters forty through sixty-six. Aquinas was one of the first theologians to set aside Isaiah forty through sixty-six as the second half of the book. He did not see it as written by another but was another phase in the revelation of God to Isaiah.[3] He used both the literal sense of the Scriptures and also typology in his exegesis. Aquinas saw the passages concerning Cyrus be speaking both to the literal King Cyrus and to Abraham, one who came from the east.

            John Calvin is, considered by many, to be one of the most influential reformed theologian of the sixteenth century. Any time one speaks concerning Calvin, one must focus on his great work, Christianae Religionis Institutio. Of the many contributions of this document, the overarching idea of the connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament stands out. Childs gives his support to this position, “In my opinion, Calvin is fully right in formulating a biblical theology of both testaments in which there is an overarching unity between the two. In a real sense, the formation of a Christian canon provides the theological warrant for exploring the underlying themes that unite the scriptures of the church.”[4] Calvin focused on the literary devices of Isaiah, preferring to accept many of the translations of Jerome. Indicative of his time, he had very little positive comments to make concerning rabbinical traditions and viewpoints.

            One of the contributions concerning Calvin’s hermeneutical methodology, considered by many to be a water-shed moment, was his insistence on the strong rejection of allegory. The return to the simple truth of the Scriptures was a major turning point in how theologians chose to view the Scriptures, in particular Isaiah.[5]

[1] Ibid., p. 41-42.

 [2] Ibid., p. 114.

 [3] Ibid., 172.

[4] Ibid., p. 227.

[5] Ibid., p. 230.

 

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