The Atonement In Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) -- By: Peter J. Gentry

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 11:2 (Summer 2007)
Article: The Atonement In Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
Author: Peter J. Gentry

The Atonement In Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)1

Peter J. Gentry

Peter J. Gentry is Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Director of the Hexapla Institute at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served on the faculty of Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College and also taught at the University of Toronto, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Tyndale Seminary. Dr. Gentry is the author of many articles and book reviews and is currently preparing a critical text of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes for the Göttingen Septuagint.

Many exegetes and theologians have mined Isa 52:13–53:12 for biblical instruction on the death of the Servant and expounded its meaning in terms of a penal substitutionary atonement, focusing in particular on the contribution of the third stanza (53:4–6). This exegetical study will focus specifically on the first and fifth stanzas (52:13–15 and 53:10–12) as improved interpretations of these stanzas can provide a full-orbed understanding of the meaning and significance of the death of the Servant.

Situating the Text in the Larger Work

Interpretation of the Fourth Servant Song2 should begin by situating the text within the larger literary structure of the book as a whole. Although recent studies of Isaiah have focused more on the canonical shape of the text rather than fragmentary sources adduced by critical scholarship, few have laboured to discover the larger literary structure inherent to the work as a whole.3 Prophetic preaching and writing certainly does not follow the patterns of Aristotelian rectilinear logic so fundamental to our discourse in the western world. Instead, the approach in ancient Hebrew literature is to take up a topic and develop it from a particular perspective and then to stop and take up the same theme again from another point of view. This pattern is kaleidoscopic and recursive. The book of Isaiah is no exception to this technique. After the topic is presented in approximately seven major sections, the reader ends up with a full-orbed mental picture, the equivalent of stereo surround-sound in the audio world.4

Isaiah makes the first round of his theme in 1:2–2:5, beginning with the broken covenant between God and Israel—excoriating the people for their sins—and concluding ...

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