The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 Book Analysis & Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology

Mitch Glaser and Darrell Bock team up with nine other top scholars in their respective fields of study to examine and present a variety of ways in which Isaiah 53 has been and should be interpreted by both Jews and Christians, and also how to appropriately use this essential chapter of Scripture today in preaching, teaching, and evangelistic occasions. Glaser, President of Chosen People Ministries asserts, “The Bible is the inspired Word of God and Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel – and the simple message of His death and resurrection has the power to transform the lives of both Jews and Gentiles.”[1] Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary[2] also contributes considerable insight on Isaiah 53’s use in Luke’s accounts, to show that, “His death was a ransom for sin, [which] connects Jesus to all of us, potentially and actually.”[3] This book analysis is written in light of the entire text, but will focus primarily on chapters one, three, and four through six, which reveal how Isaiah 53 was essentially, “God pulling aside the curtain of time to let the people of Isaiah’s day look ahead to the suffering of the future Messiah and the resulting forgiveness made available to all people.”[4] The main objective of this analysis will detail the relationship between the Messiah and the Servant presented in Isaiah, and in the New Testament, and will also examine several key passages and their interpretive issues.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE MESSIAH AND THE SERVANT IN ISAIAH

Two of the key questions Michael Wilkins poses are: “Did Jesus see Himself as the prophesied servant in Isaiah 53 and how did the early church understand Jesus’ life and ministry in the light of Isaiah’s prophecy?”[5] After the baptism and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, He returns to His hometown of Nazareth and goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, where He reads Isaiah 61 from the scroll and declares, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:20b). This act would be the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, yet even in His hometown, the people drove Him out and went as far as trying to throw Him down a cliff. It should be no surprise that some people today struggle with identifying Jesus as the Messiah when even His own disciples did not understand when He spoke of His own death and resurrection. Part of the confusion is rooted in the enigma of the corporate and individual servant spoken of throughout the book of Isaiah. Wilkins explains, “The people of Israel understood that God was using them as a people to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah, yet the prophecies of the servant vary in that some allude to a corporate entity, and some allude to a single individual.”[6] In Isaiah 41:8, Israel as a nation is clearly in mind as being the servant of the Lord because God had given them a place of honor and esteem so that they might be a witness to the other nations of God’s blessing. Gary Yates explains, “In the Mosaic Law, God told them that they would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. In other words, they would mediate God’s presence and blessings to all the nations on the earth.”[7] However, the problem was that Israel, as a nation, had failed in its mission and as a result had become a blind and deaf servant (Isaiah 42:18-25). As John Oswalt demonstrates, “Verse 7 said that the Servant of the Lord would lead the blind and imprisoned out into the light, [so Oswalt rightly asserts] that this Servant could not be the nation Israel, even though in other places (Isaiah 41:8; 43:10) the nation is clearly identified as the servant of the Lord.”[8] Instead of leading the people of other nations to Yahweh, the people of Israel often did the exact opposite by worshipping the false gods of other nations. In the midst of this apostasy, Isaiah promises that God would provide a solution to the problem, which was the raising up of an individual Servant who would restore the national/corporate servant. Another example of this individual and corporate servant paradigm is found in Isaiah 49:3, which first depicts Israel as the servant, but then in verse six, the Servant is an individual who has a ministry to Israel. It is this individual Servant who is going to be the one who restores the national servant.

KEY PASSAGES AND INTERPRETIVE ISSUES

As Christians, it can be very easy to read chapters of Scripture like Isaiah 53 and immediately identify the Servant of the Lord or the Suffering Servant as being Jesus Christ. However, this is problematic, especially when looking at the Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. In this passage, the Servant is rejected and dies for the sins of others and Yates reveals how this action highlights four differences: (1) Israel suffers for its own sin, while the individual Servant suffers for the sins of others; (2) Israel fails in its mission, as a blind and deaf servant, but the individual Servant fulfills His mission faithfully and in spite of intense persecution; (3) Israel suffers at the hands of the surrounding nations, yet the individual Servant suffers at the hands of His own people; and (4) Israel complains in its own suffering that God has abandoned and rejected her, but the individual Servant trusts God completely and suffers without ever complaining.[9]

One of the ongoing debates Richard Averbeck discusses is the suffering, sacrifice, and atonement presented in Isaiah 53:10. The main question contested is if Isaiah had in mind a vicarious, sacrificial substitution to make atonement for sin, but what Averbeck says with certainty is, “The main historical issue being dealt with was the restoration of Israel to its land and to its function as God’s servant.”[10] This conclusion fits both a prophetic perspective as well as a real-time context, such as the Babylonian captivity. Averbeck also provides clear insight on the context of ‏אָשָׁם or ʾāšām to mean guilt offering and concludes, “From Isaiah’s point of view, the suffering of the Isaiah 53 Servant was as essential to the restoration of the exiled people back to their Promised Land as the guilt offering was for the restoration of the skin-diseased person to the community.”[11] The shift in third person to first person references is another valuable contribution Averbeck highlights, in addition to the prophet who wrote this adding himself among the “we, us, our” audience. This further advances the argument that Isaiah was not the suffering servant, since as Averbeck shows, “The writer is a recipient of the Suffering Servant’s ministry and is not to be identified as the Servant Himself.”[12]

PORTRAYAL OF SERVANT IN ISAIAH AND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Upon addressing both the corporate and individual identity of the servant, Wilkins addresses the paradox of “How could this passive, sheep-like individual be the mighty arm of the Lord (cf. Isa. 51:9; 53:1) that Israel understood herself to be as God’s servant in His plan of salvation and how could He be exalted and yet despised?”[13] Matthew’s perspective on Jesus as the servant in Isaiah 53 is quite profound, and Wilkins shows how he divides Jesus’ ministry into five clear stages: Jesus’s Infancy – Divine Nazarene, Jesus’ Baptism – Righteous Son, Jesus’ Earthly Ministry – Healing Servant, Jesus’ Passion Ministry – Blood Ransom, and Jesus’ Burial and Resurrection – Transforming Master.[14] Ultimately, the Son of Man came to serve and not be served, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In this passage, R. T. France explains, “Jesus’ belief that He ‘must’ suffer and die may be attributed most plausibly to that OT background, and here the language brings us significantly closer to Isaiah 53. It would be hard to compose a better brief summary of the central thrust of Isaiah 53 than ‘to give His life as a ransom in place of many.’”[15] Mark 10:45 is identical to Matthew’s account and William Lane shows how, “The specific thought underlying the reference to the ransom is expressed in Isaiah 53:10 which speaks of ‘making His life an offering for sin. Jesus, as the Messianic Servant, offers Himself as a guilt offering (Lev. 5:14-6:7; 7:1-7; Num. 5:5-8) in compensation for the sins of the people.”[16] These passages back up Wilkins’ findings that, “The early church applied to Jesus the prophecies of Isaiah 53, in an attempt to understand His crucifixion and death [and] Jesus’ own understanding of His mission and death in the light of Isaiah 53 was clearly the root of the early church’s understanding.”[17]

While the New Testament quotes or alludes to Isaiah 53 more than a dozen times, Darrell Bock offers considerable insight into one of the most revealing occurrences in Acts 8:26-40 as Philip is directed by the Spirit to an Ethiopian eunuch who was traveling on the Jerusalem-to-Gaza road. During this encounter, the eunuch asks Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about Himself or about someone else?” Here, F. F. Bruce illuminates that, “During a time when not one line of any New Testament document had been written, what Scripture could any evangelist have used more fittingly as a starting point for presenting the story of Jesus to one who did not know Him? It was Jesus, and no other, who offered up His life as a sacrifice for sin, and justified many by bearing their iniquities, as the obedient Servant.”[18] As Bock demonstrates by the eunuch’s actions, there is much that can be learned and gained, but most importantly is how, “[Jesus was] unjustly humiliated and He took our place so we can experience cleansing and new life with God, something God showed that Jesus had done by raising Jesus from the dead and taking Jesus to His side in heaven.”[19] This passage of Scripture beautifully contrasts Jesus’s silent humiliation and unjust crucifixion with God’s vindication and resurrection of the suffering Servant, which Bock concludes, “Was actually part of God’s divine work to pay a price, even for those who had rejected Him.”[20]

Craig Evans then offers substantial insight on the theologies of Peter, Paul, John, and the author of Hebrews. Between these epistles, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is quoted or alluded to nearly twenty times. Evan’s section on Hebrews seemed the most insightful, considering this sermon/homily was most likely written to a group of Jewish Christians who were considering going back to Judaism. In Hebrews 9:26, Evans states, “The death of Jesus constitutes a sacrifice on behalf of humanity that need never be repeated, and as heavenly High Priest, who mediates the new covenant, the benefits that Jesus bestows on humanity only continues to grow.”[21] Interacting with the theologies of Peter, Paul, Hebrews, and John demonstrates the suffering and death further proves Jesus was the Messiah, and that all the prophecies are fulfilled in Scripture. Evans closes this section by illuminating, “What is especially intriguing is that the famous Suffering Servant hymn apparently lay at the heart of an evangelism and apologetic primarily intended for the synagogue.”[22] Ironically, it would be the synagogues that would be visited by Jesus, the disciples, and the apostle Paul to spread the life-saving gospel message.

CONCLUSION

The message of Isaiah 53, when illuminated by the rest of Scripture, reveals that the promised Messiah, the suffering Servant is one and the same individual. Only Jesus Christ fulfills both of these roles as He rules and reigns forever, as a result of His perfect faith and trust in God and His suffering and ultimate sacrifice, which saved His people and became a ransom for many. The idea of the Servant of the Lord is indeed a complex idea because in Isaiah this entity is depicted as both the nation of Israel and as an individual Servant who suffers and dies to restore God’s people. After Israel’s failure to be a light to the other nations, they became a blind and deaf servant, but the individual suffering Servant, the Messiah, arose out of this corporate failure and was empowered by God and attains great victories in the power of the Lord and has made a way, as Bock describes, to, “Clear the way to remove guilt and defilement and provide the gift of life through the Spirit of God by removing the obstacle that sin generates between people and God. [However,] the application of that removal requires that we accept the gift of God’s work through Jesus, asking that His forgiveness be applied specifically to us.”[23]

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 is well suited for anyone interested in discovering and viewing the Suffering Servant’s identity and role through the individual lenses of the Old and New Testament and then through the combined lens of all Scripture. This scholarly work should stand the test of time and have great impact amongst both the Jewish and Christian community.

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. By Richard E. Averbeck, Michael L. Brown, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Michael J. Wilkins, Darrell L. Bock, Craig A. Evans, David L. Allen, Robert B. Chisholm Jr., John S. Feinberg, Mitch Glaser, and Donald R. Sunukjian. Edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012, 334 pp. $27.99 (Paperback).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012.

Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988.

Dallas Theological Seminary Website. “Darrell L. Bock.” http://www.dts.edu/about/faculty/dbock/ (accessed August 11, 2017).

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Glaser, Mitch. “President’s Introduction.” Chosen People Website. https://www.chosenpeople.com/site/our-mission/presidents-introduction/ (accessed, August 11, 2017).

Grogan, Geoffrey W. Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Lane, William L. The Gospel of Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974.

LaSor, William S., David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush. Old Testament Survey. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Life Application Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988.

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

________. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Yates, Gary. “The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 12:26, (accessed August 14, 2017).

[1] Mitch Glaser, “President’s Introduction,” Chosen People Website, https://www.chosenpeople.com/site/our-mission/presidents-introduction/ (accessed, August 11, 2017).

[2] Dallas Theological Seminary Website, “Darrell L. Bock,” http://www.dts.edu/about/faculty/dbock/ (accessed August 11, 2017).

[3] Darrell L. Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 143.

[4] Life Application Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), 1176.

[5] Michael J. Wilkins, “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 109.

[6] Ibid., 110.

[7] Gary Yates, “The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 12:26, (accessed August 14, 2017).

[8] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 130.

[9] Yates, “The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah.”

[10] Richard E. Averbeck, “Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 53.

[11] Ibid., 59.

[12] Averbeck, “Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53,” 60.

[13] Wilkins, “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” 111.

[14] Ibid., 115.

[15] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 761.

[16] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 383.

[17] Wilkins, “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” 131.

[18] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 176.

[19] Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” 144.

[20] Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” 143.

[21] Craig A. Evans, “Isaiah 53 in the Letters of Peter, Paul, Hebrews, and John,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 162.

[22] Ibid., 170.

[23] Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” 143.

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Identity of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14 & Matthew 1:23

immanuel

While the issue of Immanuel’s identity in Isaiah 7:14 and its reuse in Matthew 1:23 continues to be a highly debated topic, the interpretation of “עַלְמָה” or “ʿalmāh” also presents an additional layer of exegesis needed to fully understand what this passage meant to the original audience and what implication it possibly makes towards a future fulfillment. Most scholars do not recognize a single fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 in Jesus, so the key question that must be answered is how the birth of Jesus could have fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah. This interpretive essay will assert Isaiah 7:14 contains a double fulfillment, involving sensus plenior, as Matthew expands the meaning of Isaiah’s words to include a reference to Jesus’ conception and birth.[1]

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

When attempting to decipher what the prophet Isaiah is saying, the interpreter must first have a clear understanding of the historical setting and background. During the 8th century, Assyria had become the dominant kingdom and God ultimately uses the Assyrian army to confront the people’s sinfulness and bring about judgment and salvation. “Assyria was the rod of Yahweh’s anger and the staff in their hands was His fury” (Isaiah 10:5). In chapter six, Isaiah takes up his role as prophet, after he witnesses the holiness of the Lord in his vision. During this encounter, he is compelled by the experience, and he confesses his sin, which leads to him being cleansed by a hot coal from the altar. However, the people of Israel and Judah would have a different reaction to the Lord’s holiness, as they would come to experience His divine judgment. Thus, the main purpose of Isaiah’s preaching is to confront the people’s sinfulness and to compel them to repent. The power of God’s grace is a common thread throughout the book, but the people refused to acknowledge God as their king; instead, relying on military prowess, alliances, and politics, while what they should have focused on was their spiritual apathy and apostasy.

In 734 – 732 B.C., Israel and her neighbor Syria made an alliance to stand against Assyria. However, Judah and king Ahaz, one of the most ungodly kings, wanted no part of this alliance, so Israel and Syria planned to invade Judah, in an attempt to replace king Ahaz with a king who would support their alliance. Upon learning Syria was in league with Ephraim, and that the Davidic king and ultimately the Davidic line was faced with imminent demise, Isaiah goes to meet king Ahaz with a message of hope. However, king Ahaz was so terrified of invasion that he called upon the king of Assyria to render aid, who was more than glad to help crush the Syro-Ephraimite coalition. Despite Isaiah’s promise of protection from the Lord, king Ahaz did not trust God because he did not have a relationship with Him. With the aid of Assyria, Israel was reduced to a small area surrounding Samaria and Judah was delivered, but the problem was now king Ahaz and the nation of Judah had come under the control of Assyria, which meant they had to pay monetary tribute for protection. To make matters even worse, following the example of king Ahaz, many would even adopt the pagan religious practices of Assyria. As Edward Young shows, “Ahaz’ wickedness is seen in the fact that by his stubbornness he was in fact rejecting the very foundation of the covenant. God had promised to be a God and a Deliverer to His people. Syria and Israel, therefore, will not overthrow the Davidic dynasty, for if they could, the promises of God would be void and the Messiah would not ultimately accomplish salvation.”[2]

MEANING OF IMMANUEL & ALMAH IN ISAIAH 7:14 & MATTHEW 1:23

Isaiah 7:14 says, “A virgin will conceive and you will call his name Immanuel” and Matthew 1:23 says, “The virgin shall conceive and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us.’” Isaiah 7 shows the Immanuel child was to be a sign to king Ahaz, but Ahaz declines a sign, which God provides anyway. John Walton proposes, “Perhaps his hesitancy is due to a pagan understanding, that a sign once given inevitably leads to the next event, which Ahaz does not want to encounter, whatever it might be.”[3] Either way, the nature of the sign was to serve as a reminder of his mistake in not trusting God, but since Jesus was born seven hundred years later, it seems difficult to say this was referring exclusively to the birth of Christ. Some scholars believe there is also a connection with king Ahaz and Isaiah in 8:1-4, regarding the Immanuel prophecy, with the birth of Isaiah’s own son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. They contend there seems to be a correlation between the child prophesied about in chapter seven with the one born in chapter eight, because the prophecy said the two enemies king Ahaz feared would no longer be around. However, if this were referring to Christ’s birth it would not make sense. Because of what both Matthew and Isaiah say, Gary Yates demonstrates how, “Some commentators interpret the Immanuel prophecy: as an exclusive reference to the virgin birth of Jesus, as exclusively referring to a child or group of children born in the days of Isaiah, or as a double fulfillment prophecy with a near fulfillment in the days of Isaiah and a far fulfillment with the virgin birth of Jesus, while others use typology to explain the prophecy.”[4] Bruce Compton explains proponents of a double fulfillment either explain that Matthew basically “Expands the meaning of Isaiah’s words in their original setting to include a reference to Jesus’s conception and birth, [or] they understand the relationship to involve typology, where Matthew takes Isaiah’s words as foreshadowing something beyond their immediate context and applies them to Jesus in a type-antitype relationship.”[5] Each approach used to harmonize what appears in both Isaiah and Matthew is met with hermeneutical obstacles. While this writer holds to the double fulfillment view, it is impossible to argue that sensus plenior does not violate the principle the univocal language. That being said, context is key and determining the author’s intended meaning must be accomplished before proposing a passage of Scripture could mean something in the future that it did not fully fulfill in the time of the original audience. Even typology fails to fully address the issue as Compton reveals, “Ultimately, the difficultly in identifying the Immanuel prophecy with an eighth century fulfillment as the type is that this interpretation fails to link the prophecy with what Isaiah says elsewhere about the child”[6] e.g. when Isaiah 8:8 references Immanuel having control over all the land. This passage raises the same question again: “Is Maher-shalal-hash-baz the initial fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy?” To this question, Oswalt asserts:

Immanuel is the owner of the land, the one against whom Assyria’s threats are ultimately lodged, the one upon whom deliverance depends. That cannot be Isaiah’s son, or even some unknown son of Ahaz. It can only be the Messiah, in whom all hope resides. It is as if Isaiah, plunging deeper and deeper into the dark implications of his sign, is suddenly brought up short by the deepest implication: God is with us, and best of all, will be with us, not merely in the impersonal developments of history, but somehow as a person.[7]

Compton disagrees and sees Isaiah’s message of hope as a single prophecy with two parts, the first part relating to the threat of the Davidic line and the second part pertaining to the threat to king Ahaz. Isaiah says by the time the child would be old enough to know right from wrong the two nations and their kings who threatened Judah and king Ahaz would be overthrown.

As William Klein et al. assert, “We suggest there are instances where NT authors found meaning in an OT text that the OT author did not intend.”[8] Upon this assumption, Paul Wegner determines, “If they are correct, then at least three questions need to be addressed: (1) How is Isaiah 7:14–17 related to its context? (2) How is Isaiah 7:14–17 fulfilled in Christ? and (3) Is there more than one virgin birth in the Bible?”[9] With context already established, looking at how Isaiah 7:14-17 is fulfilled in Christ must now be quantified. Wegner highlights the dilemma with this passage, “First, it is important to remember this is not a prophecy, but a sign, [which Matthew says is fulfilled in Christ and] second, scholars offer a variety of explanations as to how NT writers could use OT passages and apply them to different situations.”[10] Each of these methods walks a hermeneutical tightrope and claims either:

The author intends one meaning, but it can have many applications or significances; an author intends to convey multiple meanings or levels of meaning; a later author invents or reads into a biblical text a meaning not intended by the author; there is a literal sense intended by the human author, but alongside this literal meaning is a hidden meaning embedded by the Holy Spirit that was unknown to the human author; or the biblical author intended the text to have a single meaning, but a later biblical author may have discovered an additional meaning in that text.[11]

Of these approaches, the fundamental key to determining how to use Old Testament passages in a modern-day context is first, understanding that God uses patterns throughout the Bible, and second, the New Testament writers read the Old Testament through the lens of Christ’s arrival. This writer agrees with Wegner’s conclusion that, “Matthew employs the Greek word πληρóω meaning ‘to make full, fill, fill up, complete,’ to indicate that he believes the OT passage is being “filled up” by Jesus. Matthew thus understands the OT passage as a pattern that is being filled up with more meaning.”[12]

The interpretation of virgin in Isaiah 7:14 is the next issue that must be addressed. The main issue revolves around whether Isaiah meant to use “עַלְמָה” or “ʿalmāh” to mean virgin or whether he meant to use “בְּתוּלָה” or “bĕtûlâ” to describe a physically mature woman of marriageable age. As Compton demonstrates, an examination of Old Testament uses of both words reveals ʿalmāh is the less ambiguous term for a virgin, while bĕtûlâ is the term commonly used to describe a young mature and unmarried virgin. Therefore, Compton illustrates, “Assuming then that ʿalmāh is the less ambiguous term for virgin, the prophet selected ʿalmāh over bĕtûlâ to communicate more precisely the meaning intended in the prophecy.”[13] But if Isaiah wished to stress the virginity of the mother here, why did he not use bĕtûlâ? Young, noting some such statement frequently accompanies bĕtûlâ, as ‘she had not known a man,’ argues that it was the ambiguous term. However, Oswalt demonstrates, “This is clearly not so, because, bĕtûlâ has no implication in addition to virginity, whereas ʿalmāh does. The conclusion to which we are driven is that while the prophet did not want to stress the virginity, neither did he wish to leave it aside[14] and he may have used this term because of its richness and diversity.”[15]

With the variety of words available to the authors and the multiple uses each represents throughout Scripture, the real question of Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 7:14 is, “Are there more than one virgin birth in the Bible?” The answer is no and Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 is meant to refer to Mary, who as a virgin, conceived a child through the power of the Holy Spirit, and gave birth to Jesus, the far and ultimate fulfillment of Immanuel, “God with us.” While Matthew uses the text to refer to Mary and Jesus, the issue of whom Isaiah was referring to in chapter seven still remains. Some scholars believe the woman was the wife of king Ahaz, making the child the king’s son. This sign and constant reminder of failing to trust God would be unavoidable had the Immanuel been the king’s own son. Hezekiah has been named by some as a likely candidate, but this does not seem likely due to chronological evidence. Other scholars contend the ʿalmāh spoken of is Isaiah’s wife, the prophetess mentioned in Isaiah 8:3. Herbert Wolf contends, “The birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz is the immediate fulfillment of the prophecy and the designation of Isaiah’s sons as ‘signs’ in Isaiah 8:18 implies that Immanuel was one of those signs.”[16] The problem with this solution is Immanuel was meant to express the promise aspect of the sign that God is with us, whereas Maher-shalal-hash-baz conveys the more judgmental side of God. Wolf rightly shows, “Immanuel denoted the promise that God would be there to defeat Samaria and Damascus, and ‘Maher-shalal-hash-baz’ meant that Assyria would soon carry off the wealth of those two nations, before turning to devastate Judah. The references to the child knowing the difference between good and evil explain each other and refer to the same period of time.”[17] Regarding this proposed solution, it seems most evident the woman referenced as the virgin was a harem in king Ahaz’ court and that she would bear a child named Immanuel. John Walton rightly shows, “Ahaz’ stubborn disbelief brings the response of a sign that is connected with the prophecy of judgment that has been pronounced against Pekah and Rezin. That sign is that by the time the pregnant ʿalmāh from Ahaz’ harem gives birth to her son the political climate will be such that she will give him a name of hope.” This explanation fits contextually and exegetically and Matthew could have easily drawn from this sign in his writings.

OTHER FULFILLMENT PASSAGES

In the same way a child born in Isaiah’s day would announce, “God is with us,” during a time of crisis; a second child referred to in Isaiah 9:6 would be a reference to a child born in the future who would be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This is clearly a reference to the future Messiah because many of these characteristics would have been completely foreign during Isaiah’s time. The future Messiah would be empowered by God Himself and would rule and reign forever. The king was also representative as the people’s father because of the protection he guaranteed. The prophesied Messiah could only have ushered this peaceful rule and reign spoken of. Another interesting passage is Isaiah 11:7-12, which references the root of Jesse being the seed of the Messianic hope in the Old Testament. God keeps His covenant promises despite humanity’s failures and as John Oswalt illustrates, “Not only will he keep His promises to his people, He will also keep His promises to Jesse’s son. Though the hand of God may destroy, it will ultimately be used to redeem. This truth is underlined when we look at the full revelation of the Messiah in Jesus Christ.”[18]

Wolf further illustrates, “Matthew’s use of this passage in the NT is consistent with his references to other OT verses. On occasion he employs a secondary interpretation that differed considerably from the primary message.”[19] For example, in Matthew 2:15 Jesus’ stay in Egypt fulfilled Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:18, cites Jeremiah 31:15, which describes the agony over Herod’s murder of young boys in Bethlehem, where Wolf demonstrates, “Rachel wept over her children in Ramah and this mourning is related to the captivity of Israel and is illustrative of the intense suffering brought on by Herod’s act. Jeremiahs prophecy also received a ‘new fulfillment’ through Herod’s atrocity.”[20] R. T. France explains how Matthew’s use of Old Testament prophecy, which were generally a single specific fulfillment of a prophet’s prediction, take on a typological pattern that will recur repeatedly throughout God’s dealings with His people. France explains, “In this case, he has good warrant for taking the prophecy concerning Immanuel as having a relevance beyond its undoubted immediate aim, for the name Immanuel will occur again in Isaiah 8:8 as that of the one to whom the land of Judah belongs, and its meaning will be developed in 8:10, ‘for God is with us.’”[21] Further, the prophecy/sign in Isaiah 7:14 of the birth of Immanuel leads to the description in Isaiah 9:6-7 of a child who is to be born for us: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. France demonstrates this theme will be taken up again in Isaiah 11:1-5 with the prophecy of the spiritually endowed shoot from the stump of Jesse. Ultimately, “These last two passages would have been recognized then, as they still are today, as Messianic prophecies, and it seems likely that Isaiah’s thought has moved progressively from the virgin’s child, ‘God with us,’ and it points beyond the immediate political crisis of the eighth century B.C., not only in Matthew’s typological scheme but also in Isaiah’s intention.”[22] Barry Webb agrees and emphasizes Matthew was right to see the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanuel saying in Jesus Christ.[23] [24]

CONCLUSION

It is this writer’s view the virgin referenced in Isaiah 7:14 is one of king Ahaz’ harem and that she would conceive a child called Immanuel. The true identity remains a mystery, but if this child were Hezekiah, this would mean the mother was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah, the son of Jeberechiah. While New Testament authors were certainly able to view the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus Christ and were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there still must be considerable care given when trying to determine what the original author intended. As Wegner illustrates, “God’s coming to earth through the birth of a Son to a virgin once again reminds us that God does things we might never comprehend unless He revealed them to us.”[25] When trying to answer the question of whether Matthew used acceptable hermeneutical methods, Walton correctly explains, “Authority is attributed to Matthew’s statements not because of their objectivity but because he is inspired. We believe his subjective conclusions because of his endowment, [and] that does not give us the right to make subjective conclusions and force them on others.”[26] Sound exegesis then reveals a partial fulfillment during the time of Isaiah, and the full fulfillment upon the birth of Jesus Christ.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, ed. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012.

Compton, R. Bruce. “The Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-16 and Its Use in Matthew 1:23: Harmonizing Historical Context and Single Meaning.” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 12 (2007): 3-15.

France, R. T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 2nd ed. Dallas, TX: Word, 2004.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Sandy, D. Brent. Plowshares & Pruning Hook: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Walton, John H. “Isa 7:14: what’s in a name?” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 30, no. 3 (September 1987): 289-306. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 13, 2017).

_________., ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel. USA: Zondervan, 2009.

Webb, Barry G. The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. Edited by J. A. Motyer. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Wegner, Paul D. “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible? (ISAIAH 7:14): A Prophetic Pattern Approach.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54, no. 3 (September 2011): 467-84. (accessed July 13, 2017).

Wolf, Herbert M. “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22.” Journal of Biblical Literature 91, no. 4 (December 1972): 449-56.

_________. Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 89-92.

_________. “Solution to the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 91, no. 4 (December 1972): 449-456. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 13, 2017).

Yates, Gary. “Prophetic Genres: Part One.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 12:55, (accessed July 5, 2017).

_________. “The Message of Isaiah 7-12.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 11:32, (accessed July 11, 2017).

Young, E. J. The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-18, vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965.

[1] Herbert M. Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 89-92.

[2] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-18, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 5.

[3] John H. Walton, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel (USA: Zondervan, 2009), 41.

[4] Gary Yates, “The Message of Isaiah 7-12,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 11:32, (accessed July 11, 2017).

[5] Bruce R. Compton, “The Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-16 and Its Use in Matthew 1:23: Harmonizing Historical Context and Single Meaning,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 12 (2007): 6.

[6] Compton, “The Immanuel Prophecy,” 11.

[7] Oswalt, TNICOT– The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, 227.

[8] William W. Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word, 2004), 121.

[9] Paul D. Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible? (ISAIAH 7:14): A Prophetic Pattern Approach,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54, no. 3 (September 2011): 467. (accessed July 13, 2017).

[10] Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible?” 478.

[11] Ibid., 478-480.

[12] Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible?” 481.

[13] Compton, “The Immanuel Prophecy,” 8.

[14] He could have done so by using ʾišŝa or some other term for “woman.”

[15] Oswalt, TNICOT– The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, 210.

[16] Herbert M. Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22,” Journal of Biblical Literature 91, no. 4 (December 1972): 450.

[17] Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy.” 455.

[18] Oswalt, TNICOT– The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, 287.

[19] Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy.” 456.

[20] Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy.” 456.

[21] R. T. France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 56.

[22] France, TNICNT– The Gospel of Matthew, 57.

[23] Barry G. Webb, The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. ed., J. A. Motyer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 63.

[24] In applying this verse to Christ, Matthew quotes from the LXX, which uses the more specific term parthenos, ‘virgin’ (Matthew 1:23).

[25] Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible?” 484.

[26] John H. Walton, “Isa 7:14: what’s in a name?” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 30, no. 3 (September 1987): 301. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 13, 2017).