Who Were The Addressees Of Isaiah 40-66? -- By: John N. Oswalt

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 169:673 (Jan 2012)
Article: Who Were The Addressees Of Isaiah 40-66?
Author: John N. Oswalt

Who Were The Addressees Of Isaiah 40-66?

John N. Oswalt

John N. Oswalt is Visiting Distinguished Professor of Old Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky.

At least since the work of J. G. Eichhorn in the latter eighteenth century, many scholars have argued that chapters 40-66 of the book of Isaiah must have been written during the Babylonian exile or later.1 The reason for this argument is that the apparent audience of those chapters is persons who lived at that time. But the book asserts that Isaiah ben Amoz (1:1) was solely responsible for the book. For many, accepting that assertion as a fact has meant that they have felt compelled to maintain that the primary audience of chapters 40-66 was persons alive during the prophet’s ministry.2 This article argues for neither of these positions. Instead, it argues that Isaiah addressed persons some 150 years in the future from himself. This is a risky position in that it opens one to the charge, in the words of Brevard Childs, of believing in clairvoyance,3 since to Childs and many others it is incredible that anyone could address persons 150 years in the future.

Isaiah Wrote To Persons In The Future

Other biblical prophets talked about the future, but no other prophet talked to people in the future, especially as far distant as 150 years from their own day. But before dismissing the possibility, the alternatives need to be considered. If that point of address is denied, one is forced to gloss over some strong evidence, cited below, that points in that direction. On the other hand, if one assumes that such strong evidence must point to the chapters having been written during the exile and afterwards, then it is clear that later writers and editors did their best to make it appear that their work was actually that of Isaiah, and that he really did foretell the circumstances of the exilic and postexilic people to the point of being able to speak to them in advance. Childs is forthright in this, stating that the exilic and postexilic writers of chapters 40-66 would have originally included more specific historical details, in the tradition of biblical writing, and that those details have been expunged to make the section appear to be the work of the earlier prophet.4

However, does it not make better sense to recognize that those details were not included because the earlier prophet did not know them, as the book seems to assert? A further po...

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