Isaiah 1:18 Declaration, Exclamation or Interrogation? -- By: Robert D. Culver

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 012:3 (Summer 1969)
Article: Isaiah 1:18 Declaration, Exclamation or Interrogation?
Author: Robert D. Culver


Isaiah 1:18
Declaration, Exclamation or Interrogation?

Robert D. Culver, Th.D.*

*Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” These words from the Authorized Version (1611) of the Bible are as familiar as any portion of the Old Testament except perhaps for Psalm 23. They have long been lovingly and fervently received, in what many scholars would insist is the prima facie sense of the passage, as an appeal to sinners to yield to God and receive full forgiveness of all their sins. In this day when many foundations of the settled religious life seem to be trembling I find no pleasure in disturbing a single person’s faith in the forgiveness of sins by the God whose name is Holy. This I do not propose to attempt. The doctrine of divine forgiveness has plenty of textual foundations on which to rest secure, not the least in Isaiah. I do, however, question the propriety of resting such faith in this particular text.

No standard English translation whether Protestant, Roman Catholic or Jewish has come to my attention which varies essentially from the Common Version. Variations from the usual understanding of Isaiah 1:18 are not frequent even among the commentators. The International Critical Commentary takes note of some of these variations but commits its author to none of them. Two important modem works have agreed on one alternate understanding. They are The New Century Bible1 and The Interpreters Bible.2 Authors of both works feel that considerations of context and lack of any call to repentance or expression of it in a context of divine justice show that the sentences in question are ironical. The New Century Bible in bringing out this meaning translates “let them be white as snow!” etc. The Interpreters Bible (both authors concurring) affirms that the pair of conditional sentences “then, is the claim of the accused as summed up by the judge speaking in scorn. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be white as snow [!] though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool[!]’ Not so! The judge will have none of such hypocrisy, nor condone glaring sin.” Duhm and Marti have similar views. They “prefer to give the saying a sarcastic tone: though your sins were scarlet, of course they can easily turn white: of course you know bow to make innocent lambs of yourselves .”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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