The Purpose Of The Book Of Isaiah -- By: William J. Dumbrell

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 36:1 (NA 1985)
Article: The Purpose Of The Book Of Isaiah
Author: William J. Dumbrell

The Purpose Of The Book Of Isaiah

William J. Dumbrell

The question of the literary and theological unity of the book of Isaiah has consumed the interest of nineteenth- an twentieth-century researchers. Since the epoch-making commentary of B. Duhm (1892) the division of the book into three segments (1–39, 40–55, 56–66), each with its own historical or thematic interest, has been a widely accepted conclusion of biblical scholarship. Indeed since 1892 fragmentation of the book has proceeded apace. The problem with such approaches is the fact that the book of Isaiah was received into the Canon as a unity. This suggests that the sixty-six chapters have a literary cohesiveness which may be related to a major aspect of the purpose of the book. To postulate a ‘school of disciples’ (cf. Is 8:16) as responsible for the whole book, continuing the tradition begun by an Isaiah of Jerusalem, is really to beg the essential question and to explain one unknown by another.

Recent discussion has tended to look more for the inner theological connections which may be reasonably asserted to bind the book together. Factors such as divine kingship, the notion of holiness, the Davidic and Zionistic emphasis of much of the book (Davidic only in Isaiah 1–39, however), as well as the very high ethical tone of the whole have been pointed to as general tendencies giving a common theological direction.1 At the same time B. S. Childs has suggested that Isaiah 40–55 functions as prophetic interpretation and elaboration of the traditions of Isaiah 1–39 (the ‘former things’ of ‘the former and latter things’, being on his view references to the prophecies of 1–39), while Childs and others

have seen Isaiah 56–66 as an elaboration and application of the message of Isaiah 40–55.2

Approaches of this character (particularly endeavours to interrelate the materials of the book as initial prophecy, 1–39, upon which successive sections build) have been helpful, but are not sufficiently precise. If the book is read as a unit there is an overmastering theme which may b...

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