Does it matter who wrote Isaiah?

2 thoughts on “Does it matter who wrote Isaiah?”

  1. Just followed a link to your site, and found this question interesting. I would ask the pastoral question of what are you doing to their faith by challenging them that there may be three different authors of ‘Isaiah’? I think back to my seminary days… the concepts I felt unable to engage with well were those that the lecturer had not engaged with me as his student pastorally to see the effect of his academic teaching on my (and other students’) faith. It may be that this question of authorship needs a pastoral approach and discernment/insight as to the implications for the students’ faith in your context.

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    1. Thanks for the comment.

      First, the way that the curriculum is structured here in Malawi means that one of the goals is to “present the historical sources and literary forms of the books of the Major Prophets.” I think it is hard to discuss the historical sources of Isaiah without talking about the fact that it seems to have been written in three distinct time periods that are hundreds of years apart. We might question whether the curriculum should be as academically oriented as it is but I would do a disservice to my students if I didn’t at least touch on it since it could be on their final exam.

      Second, I think the post was trying to struggle with the question that you are pointing to. Does it make a difference, pastorally, if there were three authors of Isaiah? Or, is this an academic distraction that takes away from students being able to really dig deep into understanding the message that Isaiah has for the world today? I actually don’t think it is worth challenging students on authorship questions. There just isn’t enough pedagogical or pastoral benefit to it. I would hope that in the way that I approach my students is pastoral, that I care about them and their own faiths and what God calls them to do. Teaching is always a mixture of challenging and affirming, challenging into the new and affirming the good of the old. Walking that line is tricky but I hope that I do so with wisdom and care.

      Third, the issue though, and this doesn’t come out in the post as much, is why do students need to and want to claim single authorship? Initially it is because they have a naive reading of the text. Isaiah says that he wrote it so Isaiah wrote it. This naivety is easy enough to deal with. Jeremiah for instance has Baruch and it is clear that he didn’t write everything although the book is claimed as his. But when a student persists, even out of context and against the evidence, on insisting on single authorship, I wonder why?

      My conclusion has to do with the sources of authority of Scripture. For my students it is very important that God spoke to one heroic individual who recorded his thoughts and words. The authority of the text as the Word of God rests on that relationship. The words that they read only have authority for them because of that relationship and so they resist anything that might question it. I personally think that is a bad place to put the authority for the Bible. I put the authority on the text itself so regardless of who wrote it (or who heard it first) it is still authoritative for me, the church, and the world. For instance, I’m not sure that Paul wrote all the books attributed to him but I count them all as Scripture and authoritative. The authority of Scripture should not rest on a particular author who we may or may not be able to determine if they actually wrote something. The authority of Scripture should rest on the revealed words as we have received and affirmed them by the power of the Holy Spirit.

      This placing of authority does seem to me to be important for future pastors to sort out and I’m willing to engage in a bit of a challenge on this. In Malawi it makes a difference. For instance, does a modern day “prophet” who claims the same experience as Isaiah have the same authority? On what grounds do we say yes to Isaiah and no to the modern day “prophet”? As I said before, I’d like to think that as I challenge students I do so pastorally but my obligation is to educate and equip them so that will involve some discomfort on their parts as they learn. I don’t challenge them simply to challenge them; I challenge them so that they might grow into a deeper understanding of who God is and how they might engage with the written Word of God.

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