In Bible study Isaiah speaks more powerfully to the postmodern church than any other Old Testament prophet

In Bible study Isaiah is widely accepted as “the greatest Old Testament prophet with a message for today," in the words of Bible teacher and pastor Charles P. Schmidt. Isaiah has also been called both the “messianic prophet” and the “evangelical prophet.”

Old Testament scholar Barry Webb describes the book as the “Romans” of the Old Testament, because “it is here that the threads come together and the big picture of God’s purposes for his people and for his world is most clearly set forth.”

Prof. John F. A. Sawyer describes the Book of Isaiah “the Fifth Gospel.”

Isaiah prophesies for all future ages, predicting both the first and second advents of Christ. In Bible study Isaiah speaks more powerfully and appropriately to the postmodern church than any other prophetic book from the ancient Hebrew Bible.

On this page I will address frequently asked questions regarding the background to the Isaianic literature:

Who was Isaiah?

How did the Book of Isaiah come to be written and compiled?

Was there more than one Isaiah?

Below are links to two inspiring Bible studies with printable study guides for students. The first study is on the opening verses of First Isaiah (1:1-18) and the second from one of the most beloved texts from the opening chapter of Deutro-Isaiah (40:31).

Please use these study materials for your Bible study group or church absolutely free.

These studies are part of a complete lecture series on the Book of Isaiah. A Complete teacher's guide, study notes, power point illustrations, and my lectures on MP3 are available for purchase from Teach the Nations, Inc.

A wealth of Bible study material supported by historical and critical introduction drawing upon the latest in critical Isaianic research is available in my e-book, Insights into Isaiah, Second Edition.

For Bible study Isaiah contains a wealth of life-changing lessons:

Isaiah Study 1: Teacher's Guide.

Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Isaiah Study 1: Student Outline.

Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Isaiah Study 2: Teacher's Guide.

Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Isaiah Study 2: Student Outline.

Right-click to download this PDF file here.

Podcast: Listen to Dr. Bond lecture on the Book of Isaiah


Who was Isaiah?

Little is known of the personal life of the prophet, but in Bible study Isaiah is considered to be one of the greatest of all the Hebrew prophets. He lived and worked in Jerusalem from about 750 to 700 BCE.

The name “Isaiah” is derived from the Hebrew Yeshayah, meaning “Salvation of YA[hwe]H.” The book uses derivatives of this name (Yeshua, Yasha) nearly 50 times.

Isaiah was a prophet to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and to its capital city, Jerusalem.

As a young man he was influenced by the prophets Amos and Hosea (compare Isa. 1:1 with Amos 1:1 and Hos. 1:1), who were prophets to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and were contemporaries with Isaiah. He was also contemporary with Micah (see Mic. 1:1), whose burden for the oppression of the poor, the selfish indulgence of the rich, their indifference towards God and their dead worship, Isaiah deeply shared.

In Bible study Isaiah has been called the “Evangelical Prophet,” because the writings attributed to him are the most frequently quoted Old Testament prophecy by Jesus and the New Testament writers.

Isaiah was married to a prophetess and had at least two sons: “Then the LORD said to Isaiah, ‘Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz...’” (Isa. 7:3); “Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the LORD said to me, ‘Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz’” (Isa. 8:3).The prophet was the son of Amoz, who experienced over sixty years of public life and ministry in an effort to bring the nation back to Yahweh. He entered his public ministry around 750 BCE, about the time of the founding of Rome and the first Olympic Games of the Greeks.

According to tradition he was sawn in half by Manasseh, the wicked son of Hezekiah. Some scholars believe that the writer to the Letter to the Hebrews refers to the assassination of Isaiah: “They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword” (Heb. 11:37).

Isaiah prophesied in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, and also may have lived past Hezekiah into the reign of Manasseh. Assuming that he was a young man at the death of Uzziah in 742 BCE when his official ministry began, he might have been 70 or 80 at the time of his death (ca. 680 BCE).

According to tradition, Isaiah may also have been related to the royal family, conferring with Kings as with equals, sensing himself to be the Lord’s royal ambassador to them.

Background to the Isaianic writings

The writings attributed to Isaiah are by a brilliant writer (or writers), using nearly 2,200 different Hebrew words—more than any other Old Testament writer.

From Bible study Isaiah’s poetic nature and worshipful heart are revealed in his sacred songs. For example as in Isaiah 5:1, “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside."

The collection of Isaianic writings fits the progression of Israel’s history over this time. Isaiah began preaching during the Assyrian crisis, shortly before Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom and was threatening the southern kingdom.

As in all Bible study Isaiah must be read first within it's historical context.

Hezekiah, king of the southern kingdom of Judah, was able to survive that invasion through the help of the prophet. Later he foolishly allowed ambassadors from Babylon to see all the treasures of the kingdom, a sin that brought Isaiah’s prediction of the Babylonian captivity in the future.

The second half of the book focuses on the coming exile and captivity in Babylon. The prophet has no idea when this will happen. For Isaiah it could have come right after the death of Hezekiah, which means his audience might be the very people to go into the exile. So he began to prepare them. However, history shows that it would not be that generation, for the exile began about one hundred years after the death of Isaiah

The second half of the book looks in a more general way to that future time and offers a message of comfort and hope for the exiles of Judah, as well as descriptions of the restoration to Jerusalem. The hope of such a salvation culminates in a glorious vision of the new heavens and the new earth in the age to come. Thus for Bible study Isaiah ultimately has universal application for all humanity.

The Sitz-im-Leben (“seat-in-life”) of the first half of the book is Judah under the Assyrian threat. The Sitz-im-Leben of the second half of the book is Babylon, then Jerusalem again, and ultimately beyond in the age to come. The intended audience of the first half of the book is pre-exilic Israel; the target audience in the second half of the book is clearly Israel during the exile and at the return.

The clearly discernible First, Deutero (second), and even Trito (third) Isaiahs within the one book has generated considerable discussion among critical scholars concerning the unity of the book and the prophet himself.

The authorship and unity of the Book of Isaiah

In Bible study Isaiah as author and the unity of the Book are very complicated issues. Many modern scholars have accepted the view that there are multiple authors of the book. According to Old Testament scholar R. K. Harrison, “questions about the authorship of this book form one of the most widely discussed issues in the entire field of modern Old Testament scholarship.”

Before the 18th century, in Bible study Isaiah's unity was never questioned. In critical Bible study Isaiah is believed to have been written by two, or even three, authors. Two types of evidence are presented:

(1) Isaiah 1-35 reflects pre-exilic conditions.

Isaiah 40-66 has a post-exilic perspective. It describes the fall of Babylon, and Isaiah 44 and 45 even names its conqueror, Cyrus.

(2) Linguistic analysis shows differences in vocabulary and style between the two major sections of Isaiah.

So far as the language is concerned, C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch claim “there is nothing more finished or more elevated in the whole of the Old Testament than this trilogy of addresses by Isaiah.”

From detailed linguistic Bible study Isaiah 40-66 appears non-Isaianic in nature. Some critics see these chapters as an essential unity and suggest that they are the work of an unknown prophet of the exile, known to scholars as Deutero- or Second Isaiah. Other critics are unconvinced that chapters 40-66 were the work of one individual. They argue that Deutero Isaiah composed chapters 40-55 in Babylon prior to 538 BCE, while a Third or Trito-Isaiah wrote chapters 56-66, which are thought to have been written in Palestine after 538 BCE.

In theologically conservative Bible study Isaiah is regarded as having an essential unity. Edward Young is convinced “that Isaiah himself wrote the entire prophecy.” While chapters 40-66 assume that the exile has already occurred and that Jerusalem is in ruins, Prof. Robert Chisholm believes “this does not preclude Isaianic authorship of the section.” Biblical prophets often speak as if witnessing the future events they describe.

The linguistic differences can be explained by the difference in subject matter between the two sections.

There is evidence against the critical theory of two Isaiahs. No early tradition supports it. New Testament authors quote from Isaiah some 50 times, and treat both sections as the work of Isaiah (see Matt. 4:14; Luke 4:17; John 12:38-41). Manuscripts of Isaiah found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating to about 150 BCE, show no division of the book.

For Bible study Isaiah must be viewed in light of these critical issues. Prof. Walter Brueggemann identifies three distinct models of interpretation of the Book of Isaiah:

(1) A pre-critical, or traditional, understanding.

This approach reflects conservative scholarship, which seeks to keep the entire book connected to the prophet Isaiah and to the eighth century BCE. Much of the first part of the book refers unequivocally to such a historical character, and that the later part beyond question refers to circumstances and events long after the lifetime of the prophet.

Brueggemann rightly observes, “this reality poses no problem for what is essentially the traditional approach, for with the genre of ‘prophecy,’ it is entirely credible to judge that the eighth-century prophetic figure, by special grace as a prophet, was able to anticipate all that comes subsequently in the book.”

He concedes, “there is nothing intrinsically impossible about such an approach.” However, scholars who accept the methodology of “historical criticism” generally reject the traditional approach.

(2) A critical understanding.

According to the historical-critical consensus, chapters 1-39 are associated with Isaiah of the eighth century BCE in the context of the Assyrian Empire between 742 and 701. Chapters 40-55 are usually dated to 540 BCE, around the time when the rising Persian Empire displaced the hated and brutal rule of the Babylonians. Chapters 56-66 are dated as late as 520 BCE, when the Jews who had returned from the exile where engaged in the difficult task of rebuilding and reshaping the faith-community after its long exile.

The supposed “Three Isaiahs” only exist back-to-back in a single book as an editorial convenience, but without any integral connection to each other. Brueggemann notes that this approach continues to dominate modern scholarship.

(3) The canonical study of the Book of Isaiah.

This is not a wholesale return to the traditional approach. According to Brueggemann, a canonical approach “seeks to understand the final form of the complex text as an integral statement offered by the shapers of the book for theological reasons.” While this approach does draw upon supposed historical-critical gains, it does seek to move beyond them toward theological interpretation in the canonical context.

Webb is convinced that in Bible study Isaiah can be seen as a unity. However, he is right to point out that there are various kinds of unity, of which unity of authorship is only one. A book may be from various hands, but have an editorial unity imposed by a final redactor (editor) who gives the material its final form. The book may have a fundamental theological unity because it is the expression of a single theological tradition. Webb suggests the plausible possibility of “an ‘Isaiah school,’ consisting of Isaiah himself and several generations of his disciples.”

I find much to commend Brueggemann's third interpretation model as well as Webb's helpful reconstruction. I also agree with scholars Harrison’s and Sawyer’s conclusion that the extant (still in existence) prophecy of Isaiah was compiled as an anthology of utterances and proclamations of Isaiah ben Amoz by the disciples of the prophet. The composition may have been in its extant form within fifty years of Isaiah’s death, and thus may be dated around 630 BCE.

For Bible study Isaiah is best accepted as it is presented in Scripture: a unified work by the greatest Old Testament prophet with a message for today.

Insights Into Isaiah

For a more thorough discussion of the fascinating subject of the authorship and unity of Isaiah with footnotes and bibliography, order my eBook Insights into Isaiah, second Edition.

You may purchase the .pdf eBook for $20.00 through our secure PayPal service. You will be asked to supply an email delivery address to which we can email your .pdf eBook.

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For more than two decades I have had the privilege of lecturing on the Book of Isaiah in universities, colleges and churches throughout the United States.

The basic class requires 10 hours of class time. This is ideal for a weekend seminar.

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I am able to conduct an Insights into Isaiah seminar at your church, school, or study group throughout the United States and Canada. I am also available to facilitate seminars in other countries on a more limited basis.

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To learn more about the Book of Isaiah order my eBook Insights into Isaiah, second Edition.

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There are many fine commentaries on the Isaiah. I have recommended those that I have personally found most beneficial in my study of this beloved New Testament book.

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